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Carnival Cruise Line to start Cuba calls
by Phil Davies Mar 17th 2017, 11:47

Carnival Cruise Line has won approval to sail to Cuba with Havana
featuring on itineraries from June.

Overnight calls to the island's capital will be added to selected
Carnival Paradise voyages from Tampa.

Havana will be included on 12 four- and five-day cruises from June 29 by
the 2,052-passenger ship.

The visits to Havana comply with regulations of the US Department of
Treasury that permit travel operators to transport approved travellers
to Cuba to engage in activities as defined by the US Department of
Commerce, Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The move follows parent company Carnival Corporation's 'social impact'
brand Fathom starting cruises from Miami to Cuba last year using
revamped P&O Cruises small ship Adonia.

The Fathom ship is being returned to the UK line ahead of the summer
season with the brand being used instead for selected tours across
various of the parent company's cruise brands.

Carnival Cruise Line president, Christine Duffy, said: "Cuba is an
island jewel unique from anywhere else in the Caribbean and we are
thrilled to have this rare opportunity to take our guests to this
fascinating destination.

"The opportunity to visit Havana, combined with the fun, relaxed
ambiance and wide variety of amenities and features offered on Carnival
Paradise, will make for a truly one-of-a-kind vacation experience."

Source: Carnival Cruise Line to start Cuba calls | Travel Weekly - Continue reading
The Day Castro Buried Capitalism / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, 13 March 2017 – This 13 March is the 49th
anniversary of the Great Revolutionary Offensive, that economic project
that emerged from the little brain of the "Enlightened Undefeated One,"
to ruin the Cuban economy even further.

Although each year the so-called Castro Revolution was a real disgrace
for all Cubans, the worst of all was the day that Fidel Castro did away
with more than 50,000 small private businesses: establishment where
coffee with milk and bread with butter was served, high quality
restaurants mostly for ordinary Cubans; expert carpentry workshops; the
little Chinese-run fritter stands; fried food stalls which, for those
who don't remember, used prime beef; shoe shiners who plied their trade
along the streets; people who sold fruit from little carts; milkmen who
delivered to homes, etc. A project that caused unemployment among
workers with long experience and that upset people.

Under the slogan of creating "a New Man," something that today inspires
laughter, the Great Revolutionary Offensive is no longer mentioned. Not
even one more anniversary of that nonsense is mentioned in the media, as
if nobody remembers the great mistake of the Commander in Chief.

The "New Man," proposed as a part of this, ended up losing his skills
and trades forever: cabinetmakers, turners, gypsum and putty
specialists, blacksmiths, longtime carpenters, tailors, seamstresses,
book restorers and many others, were forced to give up their work and
take up screaming "Homeland or death, we will win!" Over the years,
between the invasive marabou weed and the "magic" moringa tree, they
were converted into the now well-known undisciplined, lazy, lethargic,
absent, stealing in their workplaces and dreaming of working outside
their country. A kind of worker who, it is true, thanks to the crazy
economic juggling of Fidel Castro, is inefficient even faced with
cutting-edge technology.

A recent example has been widely commented upon by Havanans: two hundred
Indian workers have been hired for the construction of the Gran Manzana
Kempinski Hotel, under the argument that Cuban workers cannot deliver
the same performance.

Those who ask whether this is appropriate, seem to have forgotten that
Cuba still suffers the great drama of lost trades.

The elders of today, who analyze everything through the great magnifying
glass of time, come to the correct conclusion that these workers have
been not only victims of the economic disaster that the country suffers,
and then converted by force into members of a first opposition against
the regime, an opposition that has done a lot of damage and the result
of which has been to live in a country lacking development and
technology for decades and, therefore, instead of good pay they receive
alms, as a punishment to shame them.

Raúl Castro said it recently: "We have to erase forever the idea that
Cuba is the only country in the world where it is not necessary to
work." Would it not have been more accurate to say: "the only country
where people do not want to work, so that the socialist dictatorship
will end?"

That would be the real solution.

If Raul does not say it, it is because he is afraid to be
sincere. Miguel Díaz Canel, his first Vice-President, may say it through
his always lost looks, as lost as those trade that reigned in a Cuba
that was not Fidel's.

Source: The Day Castro Buried Capitalism / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Taliban Has Returned / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 15 March 2017 – At the beginning of the last
decade, when Fidel Castro would call a "march of the fighting people"
for any reason whatsoever and the multitudes who seemed to have arrived
from Pyongyang would chant slogans and wave little paper flags,
prominent for his impetuous verbiage was a young man called Hassan Perez

Gesticulating like a dervish, with a crew cut, camouflage trousers, and
huge Russian military boots that seemed suitable for kicking any
dissenters, Hassan Perez, who at that time was the second secretary of
the Union of Young Communists (UJC), was the most Taliban of the Taliban
of the so-called Battle of Ideas, Fidel Castro's personal version of
Mao's cultural revolution. In this "battle," young men like the
bellicose Hassan, indoctrinated to the core and supposedly immune to the
corruption, were called to play the role of the Red Guards.

Hassan Perez, who improvised his leftist militant teques* of the
barricade with the ease of a Candido Fabré, seemed to have no brake.
Nothing contained his quarrelsome and intolerant eloquence. When in
2002, in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, the former American
president Jimmy Carter referred to the Varela Project, quickly and
aggressively Hassan Pérez requested the floor to refute him, in the
presence of the Maximum Leader, who observed him pleased, although ready
to stop his jackal if he let his passion run away with him.

With the retirement of Fidel Castro in July 2006, the Battle of Ideas
was fading away, and the Taliban, who with their supra-institutional
nonsense represented a nuisance to the succession and the Raul regime
reformers, were removed from the scene.

In 2008, in an extraordinary meeting, the National Communist Youth
Bureau agreed to work with Hassan Pérez and send him as a professor to a
university of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Although they acknowledged
his work as a youth leader, first in the Federation of Middle School
Students (FEEM) and later with the University Student Federation (FEU)
and Communist Youth, this was interpreted as a setback. Especially given
that, shortly before, at the Fifth Congress of the UJC, he had not been
elect, as expected, first secretary of the organization.

From that point Hassan Perez lectured in full military uniform – which
must have been to his liking, in view of his fondness for military
attire – as a lieutenant, in the classrooms of the Military Technical
Institute (ITM) teaching history classes.

For almost eleven years there was no mention of Hassan Perez. He only
saw himself on TV, dressed in uniform and in his delegate's chair,
during a meeting of the National Assembly of People's Power, where he
voted unanimously in favor of everything that was put before him.

But now, the entrenchment of immobile orthodoxy is generating a
neo-Stalinist reflux that has once again brought Hassan Perez to the
fore. He is now an assistant professor at the Center for Hemispheric
Studies and the United States at the University of Havana and his
extensive and bizarre articles appear in the official press.

It seems that Castro's monks do not have too many better options to
choose from if they have had to dust off and get to grips with the
annoying Hassan Perez. In short, if it is a question of becoming
intolerant and frightening in the discourse toward the sheep who want to
go astray, the boy does the job well. And in the years that he spent in
professorial penance he is assumed to have overcome the immaturity that
he was previously reproached for.

*Translator's note: (Source: Conflict and Change in Cuba, Baloyra and
Morris) "El teque is Cuban slang for the unrefrained barrage of official
rhetoric that emanates from the state. I is the old, the formal, the
staid, that which has become meaningless through repetition. El Teque is
the officialese, the discourse of a revolution that is no longer

Source: The Taliban Has Returned / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuban Journalists Demand Greater Access To Sources / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – Whether they are
independent or official, reporters share the same complaint against
institutions, which they accuse of hindering access to information and
hiding data. And for this reason all informants have the same
requirement: greater access to sources.

Gabriela Daihuela studies journalism and dreams of dedicating herself to
investigative reporting, a specialty she considers missing in Cuba's
current press. Every day she likes her career more, she says, because
"there are many issues that are worthy of being addressed that are not

The student is currently preparing a reporting piece that has taken her
to the Ministry of Education. "They have given us a huge runaround," she
confesses. "When we go to the institution, which is in charge and we
know they should be able to tell us what we want to know, they say there
is no data or they can't share it or they can't find it," she complains.

Daihuela believes that "the press should have more freedom," not only
"at the time of writing" but also to investigate. "They are closing the
doors to us, and given that we are students, I imagine that for a
journalist already graduated and recognized it must be much worse
because they must be afraid."

In the middle of last year, a group of young journalists from the
newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara published a letter expressing their
concerns. They complained that media bosses argue that the ideas
expressed in their articles "do not suit the interests of the country at
the current time," or that their reports and comments are "too critical."

The reporters believe that "so many decades and so many uncritical media
dedicated to presenting triumphalist visions of events have provoked a
hypercritical avalanche in Cuba.

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated, due to
the illegality in which the alternative means exist in a country where
only the circulation of the official press is allowed.

Freelance reporter María Matienzo agrees with other colleagues in the
independent press that journalism is "a high-risk sport." The most
common obstacles she points out are the confiscation of the tools of the
trade – such as phones, recorders, computers and cameras –
interrogations and surveillance. "It's a huge psychological pressure
[but] we have to overcome it."

"Losing friends and winning others" is also part of the side effects of
the work of informing. "It's the classic profession to be declared a
pest in certain places." Always try to approach " the primary source as
much as possible," and "confirm by all possible means."

The demand for a Press Law has risen in recent months, among journalists
linked to both official and alternative media, but no legislative
changes have been announced at this time. At the next congress of the
Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), convened for 2018, there may be an answer.

University professor Graziella Pogolotti was quoted in Juventude Rebelde
(Rebel Youth) saying that the new law "will establish, with mandatory
regulations, the institutional commitment to provide journalists with
quick and pertinent information."

In independent audiovisual media, Ignacio González has won a place with
his space En Caliente Prensa Libre (Free Press in the Heat of the
Moment). The reporter denounces the "ideological filter" that is applied
to students applying to be admitted the faculty of Journalism, a
requirement that prevents many interested people from becoming journalists.

Autonomous journalists exist in a scenario that makes it "difficult to
investigate." In addition, they are not issued "credentials or permits"
to access official events and "cannot knock at the doors of any
official," he laments. Arbitrary arrests and the confiscation of the
tools of the trade also add to the challenges they must overcome.

However, Gonzalez feels gratified when he does a report that ends up
solving problems. In his opinion, the population "has begun to
understand the importance of audiovisual journalism." However, he must
sometimes mask the face of an interviewee to avoid possible reprisals
from the authorities.

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to
social networks. Kata Mojena is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba
(UNPACU) and disseminates different information through Twitter and
YouTube, ranging from the activities carried out by the opposition
organization to social problems suffered by residents of eastern Cuba.

"Twitter is a way to make complaints with immediacy so that the media
can then broaden and corroborate the information," says the
reporter. UNPACU's structure, which is "made up of cells," facilitates
"confirming the veracity of the information received," she explained to
this newspaper.

She also laments the continued telephone hackings she suffers in order
to prevent her from publishing content, and the difficulties in
accessing official sources to obtain their version of any
event. Ultimately, her demands do not differ much from those of a young
journalist sitting in newsroom of a state-owned media outlet.

Source: Cuban Journalists Demand Greater Access To Sources / 14ymedio,
Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Official Press and the Art of "Sweetening The Pill" / 14ymedio,
Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – After contemplating
several ideas of what to write about on this Day of the Press in Cuba, I
decided to share with my readers an extract from an unpublished
autobiography where I relate the vicissitudes of a journalist in the
late eighties of the last century .

It is the best testimony I have on hand to illustrate the art of
"sweetening the pill" that for years has characterized the official
press and that causes so much damage to our profession. I hope you enjoy
it and that it will help you better understand why I decided to assume
the risks of being an independent journalist.

The complicated task of telling the truth

Before leaving for the factory, the journalist was warned by the
editor-in-chief of the Government's interest in having the magazine Cuba
International write about the quality of the batteries that were
produced on its assembly line.

When Antonio and Juan Carlos, the young photographer, announced their
presence at the factory, the guard on the door made two calls. The first
one to the Director and the second one to a colleague to warn him: "Hey,
tell Cuco that the journalists are here, hurry up…"

A short time later an employee appeared and asked them to accompany him
to the director's office. Cuco also arrived, and in a trembling voice
addressed Antonio:

"Journalist, I am the union's representative: I want you to talk to us
before you leave."

"Of course," said the reporter.

The administrator exchanged a hard look with the union leader and
emphasized to the newcomers the gesture of "follow me."

The office they entered had a model that reproduced the whole
installation. In front of it the director waited for them, and
introduced an engineer with a pointer in his hand, who explained the
industrial process.

Juan Carlos took a couple of photos of the small scale model and others
of the showcase with the types of batteries that the factory was able to
produce. The engineer announced that they would visit two sections: the
laboratory and the assembly line.

"We also want to go through the area of ​​chemical components and the
warehouses," Antonio said.

"We do not have authorization for that," said the engineer.

When they arrived at the laboratory they saw a range of sophisticated
instruments that could diagnose of the quality of the products and the
conditions of the raw material.

At the request of Juan Carlos, two smiling girls stood in front of the
devices as if they were handling them. Minutes later they went to the
assembly line to organize "a cover photo."

Juan Carlos chose an angle in which the nozzle of the plastic packing
and the conveyor belt with the finished batteries could be captured. In
the background, a forklift, frozen for the snapshot, filled a container.

"What do you think?" he asked the reporter.

Everything was perfect, clean and in order. The image offered an obvious
sense of efficiency and modernity, but Antonio realized that there were
only two batteries on the conveyor belt.

"Can we put some more there?" he asked the engineer.

"The number of finished pieces is an index of our productive rhythm,"
said the specialist.

"And what would be the optimum?" inquired the reporter.

"Someday we'll have between four and six examples on this same stretch,"
he replied in response.

"Can we put five?"

"Yes," said the engineer, "up to five."

After the photo shoot, Antonio inquired about Cuco.

"He works in the area of ​​chemical components and we cannot go through
there, but I'm going go look for him."

The union leader arrived more calm than he had been earlier.

"Ten minutes to lunch," he said. "Would you accept an invitation to join
me in the dining room?" he asked, so we talked.

The first surprise was to see that the workers did not eat where the
engineer had indicated with the pointer on the model, a place he
described as "a large, bright and ventilated room with comfortable
tables and chairs," but rather in a closed area, originally intended to
store the finished products.

Cuco began without beating around the bush.

"I don't know if you know that this factory was started 11 years ago.
One night a caravan arrived with a large crane and unloaded the
machinery. They left it outside, because there wasn't a single place
with a roof.

"It sat out there for three years and the boxes were taken away by the
neighbors. They started with the clocks, the light bulbs, the electrical
cables, and nuts and screws. They didn't leave a single ball bearing,
because everything ended up in strollers, water pumps or old cars.

"One day the order came to finish everything in six months. Two hours
before the opening, volunteers from the Communist Party Municipal
Committee hid all the debris and planted a garden as fast as they could.
Among them were several of the predators who had made off with the
machines when it appeared they had been abandoned.

"The artist who painted the portrait of the martyr, whom the factory is
named for, spent 14 hours without getting down from the scaffolding.
That's why the portrait looks cross-eyed and with a mustache tilting to
the left. The hero's mother was about to cause a scandal because of what
her son looked like.

"In the haste, they didn't build the workers' bathrooms, they didn't
finish the dining room and they didn't put the fans in the areas where
chemicals are used. Nor did they complete the tank for processing toxic
waste and now they dump it in a lagoon where before there were fish but
now there aren't even mosquitoes."

Antonio listened to the story in silence.

"All that data you copied into your notebook is real, but I bet you
anything that they never told you what was produced, just what the
factory is capable of producing. You will only have heard of the
possibilities, not of the results achieved."

Antonio opened his notebook. Indeed, before each figure appeared
formulas of the kind: "When the installation is in full operation it can
reach …", "We are designed to produce …", "The line has a maximum
capacity of …" but not a single word of what was being produced.

"And what is the reality?" I ask.

"What is being completed in a month is what the factory should produce
in a week. We should make at least six models and we are only making two."

"And the ones in the showcase?" the reporter asked.

"Those came as a sample along with the machinery."

Cuco continued.

"You want to help us? Then publish the truth. Your article could play a
very important role in improving our working conditions," said the trade

"Our magazine has been commissioned to produce a report to attract
buyers from abroad," justified the reporter. "I can only speak about the
bright side."

Cuco looked at his watch. He had no desire to ask Antonio if he knew a
journalist who was paid to tell the truth, but intuited his lack of
guilt in the matter and only managed to say goodbye with a phrase:

"Do not look for trouble for us, journalist, and I hope you can sleep easy."

Antonio would have preferred to be insulted. He would have liked to say
that he preferred to breathe poison in the area of ​​chemical elements
rather than sweeten the reality that the union leader had tried to denounce.

But it was false. They paid him for "sweetening the pill" and they not
only paid well, they demanded only three or four articles a month. He
received food and cash allowances for transportation. His position also
served to develop relationships in many places and to gain prestige
among those who considered the magazine Cuba International an enviable
place for a journalist to work.

I did not work in that publication to tell the truth, but to contribute
to making it up.

Source: The Official Press and the Art of "Sweetening The Pill" /
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Illinois Eyes Expanded Trade With Cuba
Alex Ruppenthal | March 13, 2017 4:55 pm

Relaxing trade barriers between the U.S. and Cuba could unlock millions
of dollars in exports for Illinois agriculture producers, estimates
show, and industry advocates are optimistic such a change is coming.

In January, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas introduced a resolution
called the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which would allow U.S.
agricultural exporters to extend credit to Cuban buyers. Currently, U.S.
companies are prohibited from offering credit to Cuban entities under
the U.S. embargo, which has been in effect since 1960.

In 2000, Congress passed the Trade Sanction Reform and Export
Enhancement Act, opening trade of certain agricultural commodities and
medicinal products. The U.S. has since authorized $4.5 billion in sales
of agricultural goods to Cuba, according to U.S. Census Bureau Foreign
Trade Reports, with a significant portion from Illinois.

According to the Illinois Soybean Growers, at least 20 percent of Cuba's
soy and corn imports from the U.S. come from Illinois. At the peak of
U.S. corn and soy exports to Cuba in 2008, ISG estimates Illinois
provided $66 million in corn and soy exports to the Caribbean island.

"I look at Illinois as one of those states that could be a driver in
Cuba's economy," said Paul Johnson, executive director of the Illinois
Cuba Working Group, which formed in 2013 at the request of the Illinois
General Assembly to strengthen trade relations with Cuba.

On Monday, members of the Illinois Corn Growers Association – which is
part of the working group – were scheduled to meet with officials at the
Cuban Embassy in Washington to discuss trade opportunities.

According to the Illinois Farm Bureau, also part of the working group,
Illinois ranks sixth among U.S. states for lost opportunities to its
agriculture sector because of the U.S. embargo with Cuba.

The proposed legislation comes at an important time for the agriculture
industry. U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell to $148.9 million in
2015, the lowest since 2002, according to ISG. Industry advocates say
trade is held back by a U.S. rule requiring Cuba to pay cash in advance
of any deals.

Previously proposed legislation to expand U.S.-Cuba trade has stalled,
in part because of opposition from members of Florida's Congressional
delegation. Many of the Cuban exiles who moved to South Florida after
Fidel Castro's rise to power remain opposed to normalizing relations
with their home country.

But Johnson said he is optimistic about the newly introduced bill.

"It's fairly narrow. It just focuses on credit/finance," Johnson said.
"I think it's got a good shot of passing."

Four U.S. representatives from Illinois have signed on as cosponsors of
the bill: Robin Kelly (D-2nd District) of Matteson, Rodney Davis (R-13th
District) of Taylorville, Cheri Bustos (D-17th District) of East Moline
and Darin LaHood (R-18th District) of Dunlap.

If trade regulations are relaxed, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba
could exceed $1 billion annually, according to an estimation provided by
Texas A&M University economist Parr Rosson to the U.S. Senate in 2015.

Ultimately, industry advocates hope Congress will end the U.S. embargo
with Cuba, which they say makes it difficult for U.S. agricultural
exporters to compete with competitors in South America and other regions.

The embargo also does not allow U.S. companies to bring shipments back
from Cuba, driving up their costs.

"We've been to Cuba 10 times," said ISG President Daryl Cates in a press
release last year. "We've listened to Cuban officials and hosted them in
Illinois. We believe that the embargo needs to end. We believe that the
improvement of economic trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba is the
foundation for future success between the two countries.

"We believe that the development of the Cuban economy is as beneficial
to Cuba as it is the U.S. and our Illinois soybean farmers," Cates said.

In 1999, Illinois became the first state to have a sitting governor lead
a delegation to Cuba since the country's 1959 revolution.

The state then established the Illinois Cuba Working Group in 2013 to
work toward a number of goals, including expanding the list of exports
licensed for sale to Cuba, permitting food companies to negotiate trade
terms with Cuba and opening a trade office in Cuba to facilitate market
entry and exchanges between the two countries.

"I think we're getting closer," Johnson said about the office. "I'm
confident that we're going to have it someday."

Johnson said action on the newly proposed bill could come as soon as April.

"I think this [legislation] does get us closer to our goal of ending the
embargo," he said. "What [Cuba has] been asking for all along is
normalized relations. They want to be treated like any other trading

Follow Alex Ruppenthal on Twitter: @arupp

Source: Illinois Eyes Expanded Trade With Cuba | Chicago Tonight | WTTW
- Continue reading
Russia's largest carmaker sets its sights on Cuba

2017 is the year when Russia's top carmaker returns to the Caribbean
island after 12 years away. But experts are skeptical whether the
impoverished socialist nation can become a major market for AvtoVAZ.

Visitors sit inside a Lada Vesta car, Moscow, March 14, 2016. Source:
In May, Russia's leading automobile manufacturer AvtoVAZ plans to
deliver a batch of about 300 Lada cars to Cuba, said the company's
president Nicolas Maure, speaking at an AvtoVAZ presentation for Cuban
transport companies in Havana, reported TASS.

"Last time we sold Cuba new cars was 12 years ago, and so the question
now is how we can return to this market," said Maure, adding that for
now it's just two models - Vesta and Largus.

"AvtoVAZ is interested in Cuba's car market because there's big demand
here; moreover Cuba's ban on imports of new cars was lifted relatively
recently," said Yevgeny Yeskov, chief editor of the website

For half a century the bulk of the local car market consisted of
secondhand American and Soviet cars. Cubans know Russian cars, and this
works in AvtoVAZ's favor, added Yeskov.

The first cars to arrive on the island will be at the disposal of taxi,
rental and tourist companies. If the trial run is successful, and Cuba
decides to buy more Russian cars, then a contract can be signed as early
as 2018.

The test batch of 300 cars will make it clear how to develop car exports
in the future. "Most likely, this volume of new cars seems optimal to
begin with and then everything will depend on sales results," said Yeskov.

According to, the average retail price of a Lada Largus on the
Russian market is 600,000 rubles ($10,000), and for a Lada Vesta the
price is 640,000 rubles ($11,000). Income levels in Cuba, however, are
very low and few residents can afford a new car.

"In the long term, Cuba could become an important market for AvtoVAZ but
not its main one because sales volumes are unlikely to meet the
manufacturer's export needs in full," said Yeskov.

In 2013, Cuban authorities ended the ban on imports and retail sales of
new cars, which had been in force since 1959. Until then, Cubans could
only buy and sell used cars, and only to each other. A small number of
imports, however, were supplied to the island from the USSR and
socialist bloc countries, but they mainly consisted of trucks and
ambulance or fire-fighting vehicles.

Source: Russia's largest carmaker sets its sights on Cuba | Russia
Beyond The Headlines - Continue reading
State of the Cruise Industry: Trump Effect, Cuba and More
by Susan Young | Mar 15, 2017 9:32am

"Demand for cruising in the last 10 years has increased 62
percent," Cindy D'Aoust, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International
Association (CLIA), told thousands attending the Seatrade Cruise Global
conference's "State of the Industry" general session at Port Everglades,
FL, on Tuesday.

Some 25.3 million ocean passengers will sail on CLIA lines in 2016, she
said, noting that more than $50 billion in new cruise ship orders are on
the books right now. That's twice as many new ship orders than what the
industry had a decade ago, emphasized D'Aoust.

What's Driving Business?

The four major cruise company executives then sat for a "State of the
Industry" discussion with reporter Susan Li of MSNBC, the session's
moderator. "What's driving business?" she asked.

"All of us have great experiences onboard our very differentiated
brands," said Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival
Corporation. "People love cruising, they see it as a great value and
they can't stop talking about it to all their friends and relatives and
we all do a reasonably good job of now promoting [the experience]."

"Customers are happy, the economy is doing well and we've had the Trump
effect," said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line
Holdings,who said the stock market is at an all time high.

Dio Rio continued: "We haven't had any external shocks to the system, so
all systems are go and I think all of us are seeing that in bookings and
pricing. It's going to be a good year."

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises, focused on the
ability of cruising to give people the freedom to travel -- to go to
places in the world they might not go to on land.

Vago said the cruise industry's focus on safety and security makes them
feel cocooned and confident to travel: "Customers think, 'I can visit
that part of the world and I can do it in a safe mode. I can explore,
and I can 'touch' places."

From the perspective of Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean
Cruises Ltd.: "For a long time, we've really been expecting this – [a
strong surge in demand for cruise vacations] -- and in the last few
years, we've had a lot of things that retarded this, but all of a
sudden, I think the understanding of what a cruise offers, seems to have
taken hold."

He said it's almost as though someone released it from a bag. "We're
seeing it in the United States, which is a tremendous market because of
consumer confidence and the economy doing well," said Fain, but added
"actually we're [also] seeing it in Europe and Asia is just exploding."
Donald added that part of the burgeoning demand is because "we've
invested a lot to create demand." He said there's "no big correlation
between economic growth and demand. One factor? The industry is all over
the world, so it has the ability to weather any recession that hits one
region or economy.

The Trump Effect

What about the Trump effect? Li asked. "What about policies that U.S.
President Donald J. Trump's administration may take that could have an
effect on corporations, such as border taxes, corporate taxes that may
be cut?"

"It's too early to tell," said Donald. "We just have to wait to see what
the taxes are." He said his company pays taxes everywhere in the world
and operates in lots of political environments…so the industry
just has to wait for specifics of any policy changes.

Donald noted that the cruise industry pays lots of taxes that other
industries don't pay, and in some cases, there are taxes the industry
doesn't pay.
Vago emphasized that it wasn't Washington as much as Brussels [the
European Union] that was impacting the cruise industry. "From the
regulatory side, Brussels sometimes is certainly more the driver for our
industry," Vago stressed.

"One of the things that is very heartening to me…is that people do
understand the economic benefit that we all contribute to the local
society," Fain said, pointing to CLIA's release of annual numbers and a
thorough economic analysis that show the local economic impact in jobs
and other factors.
For example, Fain noted that CLIA's recent numbers show the cruise
industry is responsible for 350,000 jobs, just in the United States, and
there are many more across the globe.

"When you have that kind of economic impact, governments tend to want to
help [the industry involved]," Fain said. "While nobody can predict the
future, we have some really good reasons to believe that maybe we're not
as vulnerable than some."

Del Rio said "most businesses today recognize that the Trump
administration is a pro-business government and we're all going to
benefit from a basket of initiatives, whether it's infrastructure,
whether it's less regulations, tax reform that could put more money in
consumers' pockets, and that's good for all businesses."

Today, the industry carries 25 million people across all social/economic
levels, Deo Rio noted: "So everyone is going to benefit if it's true
that these kind of initiatives come to fruition."

"I agree we have to wait and see," he added, "but at least we're talking
about the right things and that puts a bounce in everybody's step, and
has triggered the Trump Effect."

He said the stock market is up nearly 13 percent since the beginning of
the year "and that's...great for business."

But What About Cuba?

Del Rio, a Cuban American who emigrated to the U.S. when he was seven,
is now head of a company that sails to Cuba and has publicly expressed
his delight at that development. All three of his line's brands are
sailing there this year.

So Li asked Del Rio about President Trump's potential "revisiting" of
the Cuba situation – with the potential for Trump to roll back existing
policies put in place by former President Obama allowing the cruise
industry to begin service.

"Let's hope he revisits it in a positive way," said Del Rio. "I'm all
for lifting the embargo. It's been a failed policy for 57 [or so]
years." He said that after that time frame, "you'd think someone wants
to try something new."

Del Rio continued: I salute President Obama for starting that process.
All of us are going to Cuba or have already gone. It's a major market
that could develop over time."

He noted that "Cuba has infrastructure limitations today but certainly
Cuba can be a major force in the cruise business for years to come, and
I hope the administration sees that potential. They are business oriented."

As for discussing the issue, "I think it's in the best interest always
to just bring people together," said Donald. "Who knows what the
administration is going to come up with. I have no particular insight on

Donald said that as long as the Cuba policy that impacts cruise travel
isn't rolled back, "we'll continue to forge forward." He agreed with Del
Rio that the embargo being lifted would be the best policy for Americans
and for the Cuban people.

"But the powers that be will discuss that," Donald stressed. "We're just
privileged and honored to be able to sail there."

He said Cuba is a beautiful country with beautiful people and "so many
Americans want to go there."

Fain found it interesting that the cruise industry is so much in the
center of the discussion about Cuba, and says it demonstrates the
industry's advantage: "Nobody's talking about, 'oh, this is great for
the hotel industry.' Nobody is talking about, 'oh, this is great for the
airline industry.'"

Cruising offers an opportunity to visit ports of call or places that
would be a little more difficult to visit, said Fain. Even though Cuba
is a fairly insignificant part of any cruise line's business right now,
"I think it says something about one of the great attributes of
cruising, which is that we bring that infrastructure with us."

China Potential

Li asked if the administration would opt to label China a currency
manipulator, what effect that would have? Doesn't that hurt businesses
that do business in China?

"China one day – it's inevitable -- will be the largest cruise market in
the world," said Donald. Probably, larger than the entire cruise
industry is today and it's just sheer numbers of people."

He added that the China market will take a long time to develop, the
industry has to build ships to serve it, and there isn't enough shipyard
capacity to make it happen in a short time frame.

"But for us again, we're in the business of travel and we can connect
people," said Donald, adding that currency manipulation as a topic for
cruise leaders to weigh in on, "is kind of beyond us."

Vago emphasized that "our assets are movable," referring to the ability
of ships to be moved to markets, based on global conditions. "The world
is the oyster," he said, pointing to the industry's three percent market
penetration, which reveals great potential.

Whether executives are talking about China or Cuba, Vago said it's
important to remember that the cruise industry's assets can move as
needed. Still, he's excited about the potential for those markets and
others across the globe.

Source: State of the Cruise Industry: Trump Effect, Cuba and More |
Travel Agent Central - Continue reading
The Nomads Of The Commerce Travel The Towns Of Cuba / 14ymedio, Bertha

14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, Candelaria, Cuba, 13 March 2017 — Apples,
disposable diapers and fried foods are some of the products on display
on the stands of the traveling fairs that make the rounds of Cuban
towns. Nomadic caravans that recall the circuses of the olden days, but
without the jugglers or wild beasts.

Rosario González is 47 years old and lives in Los Palacios, Pinar del
Río. For a decade he was employed at a state coffee shop, but a few
years ago he decided to have his own business. Now he dedicates himself
to preparing and selling snacks in a nomadic fair that travels
throughout the west of the Island.

Rosario's competition is strong, and he must add new options and
products to make his offerings more attractive. At the end of February
there were some 539,952 people with self-employment licenses. Of these,
59,700 are engaged in preparing and selling food.

The license to engage in this occupation allows the seller to move from
one municipality to another and also between provinces. "I had some
neighbors who were involved in this business and I realized that it was
worth it. So I threw myself into it," Rosario tells 14ymedio.

This man from Pinar del Rio is part of a group that keeps tabs on patron
saint parties, carnivals, or any kind of local festival. They arrive at
the place and set up their improvised stands, made out of the same metal
cots they sleep on at night.

The merchants go from here to there and spend the greatest part of their
time on the highways, roads and public plazas. Some of them don't even
have homes and choose the traveling business without ties to any place
they can return to. They are this century's nomads, in a country that
has a housing deficit of 600,000 units.

"At the beginning it was a little complicated, because my previous life
was so peaceful," says Rosario. The state café where he worked was known
as "the king of the flies" because it had very few products and even
fewer customers. He then took a risky step and now he is used to the
"festive atmosphere and the crowds of people."

In a nearby timbiriche – the Cuban word for a tiny commercial stand – is
Yaumara, a jewelry seller born in Bahia Honda. She displays necklaces,
rings for all sizes, and jewelry made from surgical steel, very popular
among those who can't afford gold or silver.

"I always liked a party," the merchant confesses, so her current job "is
easier" for her.

When the swarm of vendors arrive in a town they register at the
municipal Physical Planning Office. They rent a space for their flea
market and show their licenses from the National Tax Administration
Office (ONAT), which allows them to engage in activities ranging from
the sale of good to the management of children's games.

Among the sellers bonds of friendship and family are created. In the
caravan there are several married couples and some have even found love
along the road. They take care of each other and warn of possible police
controls. When an inspector demands they report on a colleague, everyone
remains silent.

Despite the restrictions on selling imported merchandise, many products
sold at the fairs come from Panama, Russia or the United States. What
they display openly is only a small part of what they have on offer.
"Here we have something for every taste and pocketbook," says a
home-appliance salesman who also offers light hardware.

Another part of the merchandise comes from the network of hard currency
stores managed by the State. In towns where shortages are a much more
chronic problem than in provincial capitals, resale has become a
widespread practice. The merchants supply sponges for scrubbing, pens,
flip-flops and belts.

"We sell at retail and that's good because there are people who can't
afford a packet of detergent but can buy the small bags we repackage it
into," says Maurilio, who has spent at least five years "in these
comings and goings."

The group evaluates how long to stay in each village. "We see how things
are, the atmosphere of partying and how sales go on the first day, then
we decide whether to stay or not," clarifies the entrepreneur.

Most of the inhabitants of the hamlets and settlements welcome them. "I
look forward to the fair because it is an opportunity to buy things for
the house and also my children love it," says a resident of
Candelaria. However, some residents closer to the points of sale
complain that the travelers sleep on porches or take care of their
personal needs in the street.

Ernesto and Uvisneido have solved that problem. Coming from the distant
city of Guantánamo, they entered the business with a supply of toy
cars. With the profits they bought a small trailer with three bunk beds
and a bathroom. "So we do not have to sleep outdoors," says Ernesto.

"We also have a dragon toy, a small inflatable jumping structure and a
swinging chair carnival-type ride," he adds. His customers are children
who pay about 5 Cuban pesos for each turn on the ride or for a few
minutes of jumping on the inflatable.

"There is always some inspector who spoils the party, but with this work
we make out," says Ernesto. Traders who have not managed to get a
trailer to sleep in at night, set up their cots anywhere and pay a guard
to patrol the vicinity.

With the first rays of the sun, they need to begin to proclaim their
products or undertake the journey to the next town. Trade nomads know
that their business only works if they travel everywhere.

Source: The Nomads Of The Commerce Travel The Towns Of Cuba / 14ymedio,
Bertha Guillen – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta
Labrada and Mario Penton

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March
2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a
visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal
market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of
electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do not want to wait
hours for a bus or pay the fares charged by the fixed-route shared taxis
known as almendrones (after the "almond" shape of the classic American
cars widely used in this service).

At first, he sold these light vehicles discreetly from his garage on
23rd Street, centrally located in Havana's Vedado district, he told
14ymedio. He asked between 2,500 and 3,000 Cuban Convertible pesos* for
each bike, three to four times his investment. It was a "solid
business," he confesses.

"So we had several months until things went bad," he recalls, referring
to the visa controls that the government of Rafael Correa imposed on
Cubans at the end of 2015.

The visa waiver Cubans had enjoyed in Ecuador since 2008, along with the
immigration reform approved by Raúl Castro in 2013, led to an "airlift"
with thousands of trips made each year by private individuals, allowing
them to supply the Cuban informal market with products from the Andean
nation. As the Ecuadorian door closed, there were other shopping
destinations, including Russia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

For Yamilet García, a Cuban based in Miami, the 'motorinas', as they are
called, are 'a blessing'

"It is now more difficult" to find customers who are willing to pay what
he was formerly able to charge for an electric scooters, explains
Carlos. "There are a lot of people traveling," so the number of
"scooters of different brands and colors" has soared.

In South Florida, where the largest concentration of Cubans outside the
Island is located, this business opportunity did not go unnoticed.

Yudelkis Barceló, owner of the agency Envios y Más based in Miami,
explained to 14ymedio that for the last three years they have been in
the business of shipping electric scooters to Cuba.

"The customer acquires the product and in a period of six to eight weeks
they can pick it up at the Palco agency, west of Havana. Payment is made
in Miami. The company offers Voltage brand bikes of 750 Watts and 1,000
Watts, which cost $1,450 and $1,600 respectively, plus customs costs (70
Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) plus 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the first
case; and 170 CUC plus 400 CUP in the second case).

There are also other models of scooters: the Ava Aguila costs 1,950 CUC,
the Hornet is 1,850 CUC and the Mitshozuki is 1,750 CUC.

Barceló notes that the shipment of this equipment is intended for
personal use only, so his company does not violate the US
embargo. Shipments are made by sea.

"Everybody knows what transportation is like in Cuba. I sent one to my
brother who lives in Cotorro and he's happy because he doesn't have to
wait for the bus or take the shared-taxis," he says.

The Caribbean Express agency is another company that sends motorinas to
the Island.

"They are taking four to five months" to be delivered, explains one of
the sales agents who for protocol reasons prefers not to be identified.

"Only the Palco agency receives this type of product because it has the
scanner to analyze them, so there is a delay," he adds.

Another popular article among relatives who send products to Cuba are
electric bicycles, much cheaper than scooters and with speeds of between
15 mph and 30 mph.

On the Island you can buy the 60 volt LT1060 model with a three phase
1000 watt motor that the Angel Villareal Bravo Company of Santa Clara
assembles from components from China.

These are higher powered bikes compared to those previously produced by
that factory, and they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 mph.
They have hand controls to activate the horn, digital screen and disk
brakes, among other features.

This model "has characteristics similar to those currently imported by
many individuals" and will be sold in the government chain of "TRD
stores at a price of 1,261 CUC," Elier Pérez Pérez, deputy director of
the factory explained to the government newspaper Granma, saying they
expect to produce 5,000 units by the end of the year.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent
months, has contributed to a rebound in orders.

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be
registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment. A
condition that many riders do not meet.

However, many motorists and passers-by complain, "If anybody hits you,
they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about
it," says Pascual, a driver of a state vehicle.

"I've even found children under 16 driving these things," he complains.

"I take care of it like it's my child and the truth is that it has saved
me from a thousand problems," says Maikel, a computer engineer with a
Voltage Racing bike.

His problems go in another direction. "There are few parking lots where
I can feel safe leaving the bike and the cars don't show me any respect
on the road," he complains.

However, he says that the motorina has totally changed his life by
giving him a freedom of movement that he did not have before.

*Translator's note: Cuba has two currencies. Cuban Convertible pesos are
officially worth one US dollar each, although transaction fees raise the
cost for foreigners converting money on the island. Cuban pesos are
worth roughly 4 cents US each.

Source: Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio,
Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
13 March 1957: The Assault on the Presidential Palace / Somos+

We trust in the purity of our intention,
May God favor us,
To achieve the Empire of Justice in our country.
José Antonio Echeverría Bianchi

Somos+, Jose Presol, 13 March 2017 — Today, March 13, we celebrate a
date that, fifty years ago, could have radically changed the history of
Cuba. A date that could have been, but was not. And it was not because
of betrayals that, even today, are not clearly defined

That day, according to the policy of the Revolutionary Directorate, was
"to attack the head." A very high "head": Fulgencio Batista.

From the beginning of the idea, towards the end of 1955, the goal was
unity of action between its time.

In 1956, the plan was picked up again and, recalling the pact between
the Directorate and the M26J (26th of July Movement) so-called Mexican
Letter, Faustina Perez who was heading the "26th" in Havana was
contacted, and he refused to collaborate on orders of Fidel. The writer
doesn't know of any reference to the proposal being communicated to
Frank Pais or to other members of the National Directorate, on some
dates when Fidel was by no means the Maximum Leader.

Thus, everything was conceived, planned and executed by the joint forces
of the Authentic Organization and the Revolutionary Directorate.

Nothing was left to chance. There were enough weapons. Surveillance
equipment. Political and military leadership. The leaders were Menelao
Mora (for the Authentics) and Jose Antonio Echeverría (for the
Directorate). The military commander was Carlos Gutiérrez Menoyo, who
had been an officer with the Free French Forces during World War II.

Those who did not participate in the action were intended to: (1) Start
the guerrilla action in the Escambray Mountains, (2) Arm and reorganize
the Revolutionary Directorate in Havana, (3) Send troops to Frank Pais
to be used in the El Uvero combat and to initiate the 2nd Eastern Front.

The plan was complex and simple at the same time: A frontal attack by a
group transported in a delivery truck and two cars, which would go up to
Batista's office and take him prisoner or execute him, and that would be
supported by men distributed on nearby roofs, to prevent the arrival of
reinforcements; others as support and in reserve along the Paseo del
Prado; and a main reserve that would arrive from Guanabacoa.

Messages would be broadcast for the uprising of the militants and
sympathizers of the FEU and the Authentic Party throughout Cuba. In
Havana they had to concentrate on the School of Architecture, where the
group that had previously occupied Rádio Reloj would be organized, armed
and instructed to occupy their objectives. As for the Army, the officers
of higher rank next to the Authentics would take control of the garrisons.

Menelao Mora would assume the provisional presidency, until the arrival
of the previous President-elect, Carlos Prío Socarrás, and then the
process of elections interrupted by Batista with his coup d'etat would

But, if everything was so measured and calculated, what was it that
failed? Well two things:

Batista fled from the Presidential Palace at the moment of the attack
through a door the assailants didn't know about.
Someone sabotaged the action. I base this on two things.
A. Everything (weapons, communications and vehicles) was checked several
times and was in order. On leaving the Presidential Palace a tires of
the delivery truck were low in air, affecting the suspension. The
driver, Amado Silveriño, insisted on continuing, promising to get
there. Did someone let the air out? It is not known.

B. The reserves did not receive the order to mobilize. Who was in charge
of sending it? Someone who still walks around Havana: Fauré Chomón. The
men who had to occupy the access points and those concentrated in
Guanabacoa never moved of their collection point.

The result was, apart from the failure of action, the almost total
dismissal of the only two organizations that could have cast shadows
Fidel Castro's aspirations: the Authentic Party and the Revolutionary

Fidel can be considered the only winner of the failed attack.

Translated by Jim

Source: 13 March 1957: The Assault on the Presidential Palace / Somos+ –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Mexico Deports 49 Cuban Migrants / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana. 13 March 2017 – Mexico's National Institute of
Migration (INM) reported in a press release that on Monday morning it
repatriated 49 Cubans who were in the country in an irregular
situation. At 7:30 a.m. (local time) they were sent on a Federal Police
plane from Quintana Roo to Jose Marti Airport in Havana.

The migrants – 40 men and nine women – had arrived in Mexico on
different dates and were waiting to obtain a transit permit that would
have allowed them to reach the US border.

Since the ending of the previous US wet foot/dry foot immigration
policy, the Mexican government no longer gives Cubans without visas
trnsit permits, which allow foreigners without recognized nationality to
legally travel for 20 days through the country.

In contrast, Mexican authorities have since implemented a bilateral
agreement with Havana, which allows the return of citizens of the
Caribbean country, if the Cuban consulate in Mexico recognizes their
Cuban citizenship.

According to the official Cubadebate newspaper, between January 12 – the
end of the previous US immigration policy – and February 15, 264 Cubans
were deported by the Mexican INM following the same procedure.

As of February 18, a total of 680 migrants were repatriated to the
island from different countries, mostly from the United States.

Source: Mexico Deports 49 Cuban Migrants / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Two U.S. Airlines Are Already Done With Cuba
Too many flights and too little demand send Silver and Frontier packing.
by Justin Bachman
March 14, 2017, 9:45 AM GMT+1

U.S. airlines that rushed into Cuba last year knew the going would be
tough. But it's turned out to be such an unexpected financial slog that
two carriers are now quitting the island.

On Monday, Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. and Silver Airways Corp.
announced plans to drop service entirely. Citing a 300 percent surge in
airline capacity, Silver said it will end flights on April 22 to its
nine Cuban destinations, which didn't include Havana. The Fort
Lauderdale, Fla.-based company failed to win regulatory approvals last
year to fly to the Cuban capital, the biggest prize for U.S. carriers.

"It is not in the best interest of Silver and its team members to behave
in the same irrational manner as other airlines," spokeswoman Misty
Pinson said in an email. "However, Silver will continue to monitor Cuba
routes and will consider resuming service in the future if the
commercial environment changes."

Silver had already reduced weekly flights to six Cuban cities, given
what it called "too many flights and oversized aircraft" from the U.S.,
and begun to shift its 34-seat Saab aircraft to focus on service to the
Bahamas. The inability to sell Cuba flights via the major online travel
agencies such as Expedia Inc. and Priceline Group Inc. had also hurt
route performance, Pinson wrote.

Denver-based Frontier, meanwhile, said it will end its daily
Miami-Havana flight on June 4 due to overcapacity and operating costs
that were "significantly" higher than expected.

The cancellations aren't surprising, given the relative imbalance of
U.S. airline supply and traveler demand on the Cuba routes. Frontier is
regularly quick to drop underperforming service, and Silver had publicly
decried the capacity rivals were pouring into the island, even before
the new flights began.

Earlier this year, the largest carrier flying to Cuba, American Airlines
Group Inc., cut daily service by 25 percent and switched to smaller jets
on some routes. Meanwhile, JetBlue Airways Corp. has announced it will
use smaller planes on several routes to match lower-than-expected demand.

"Patience is the word for now," Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest
Airlines Co., told employees late last month. He said the airline didn't
set "any high expectations" for its six daily Cuba flights to Havana and
two other cities. "We went into Cuba with the idea we would stick with
them for quite some time—at least a year—and then reevaluate, give them
time to develop. We've got minimal investments with these flights, and
in the airline business, if you don't like that market you can easily
redeploy the aircraft."

Airlines flew into Cuba last autumn with only educated guesses about the
demand picture, and were overly ambitious when they jostled for the
limited routes available. With a mandate for only 110 daily U.S.
flights—20 into Havana, the most popular destination—the
carriers tumbled over each other to get a piece of the pie.

The air rush into Cuba came with "no data to give you any idea as to
what the level of demand was going to be," American Airlines CEO Doug
Parker said March 2 at an aviation conference. "We erred on the side of
putting in more seats than less, and now we've adjusted."

Still, the opportunity to serve Cuba was a risk worth taking, given the
scarcity of slots Cuban authorities allowed for Havana. And if the U.S.
embargo were to be weakened or dismantled, airlines could easily see
U.S. traveler demand—and fares—surge.

Last week, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas,
introduced a bill that would lift the trade embargo for U.S.
agricultural products, allowing farmers, ranchers, and other businesses
to sell to the Cuban market. Similar measures have been introduced in
the House of Representatives, as well as bills to end the restrictions
on U.S. travelers.

President Obama announced an opening of relations with Cuba in December
2014, calling previous U.S. policy seeking to isolate the communist
government a failure. Despite Obama's efforts, including a state visit
in March 2016, the 54-year-old U.S. embargo remains in place. The law
prohibits tourism to the island by Americans and makes financial
transactions burdensome. Today, most people traveling to Cuba
individually classify themselves as participants in "people-to-people"
exchanges, one of a dozen categories authorizing travel under U.S.
Treasury regulations.

—With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas and Alan Levin in

Source: Two U.S. Airlines Are Already Done With Cuba - Bloomberg - Continue reading
THE SPY WHO SANG TO ME Teen idol Adam Faith claimed to be 'MI6 spy sent
to Cuba' in new book by close friend
Music producer David Courtney says the Sixties singer and actor was
tapped up by British spooks because of his business connections on the
Caribbean island
By George Sandeman
12th March 2017, 10:16 am Updated: 12th March 2017, 10:18 am

SIXTIES teen idol Adam Faith worked as an MI6 spy in Cuba, it has been

The multi-talented singer and actor, who died at the age of 62 in 2003,
was said to have been tapped up by the British secret service because of
his business connections on the Caribbean island.
The claims have been made in a new book published by close friend David
Courtney, a music producer, who said he met Faith while the star was
having a meeting with a spook at the Savoy hotel in London.

He told The Sunday Times: "[Faith] called me to one side and asked me to
sit at a table across the way while he continued his meeting.

"I could see he had become more animated with his hands and nodding his
head. After about 15 minutes he waved over to me to join them. The guy
in question was a very pleasant unassuming chap. We talked for a while
and he left.

"I said to Adam 'What was that all about?' 'Well,' he said, 'I am going
to tell you something but you must never repeat it.' I agreed. 'I have
been filming a travelogue series for the BBC in Cuba, and that guy is
from MI6.

"'They approached me and said they knew I had built up connections in
Havana and asked me to do some work for them there, basically spy for
them in preparation for the post-Castro era.'"

The meeting was understood to have taken place ahead of a 1997 trip to
the Communist island which was in the process of opening up following
the fall of the Soviet Union six years earlier.

Faith was tapped up because of his business dealings on the Caribbean island
Courtney, who discovered Leo Sayer and also worked with Paul McCartney,
Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, is currently writing his memoirs and said
that Faith told him he was "crapping himself with fear" about the
dictator knowing he had spoken to MI6.

He said that Faith told him about being shown into a room where Castro
was seated behind a grand desk. "He looked up at me and said, 'I know
you.' He held up a copy of my first record in his hand and said to me in
broken English: 'What do you want if you don't want money?'"

Courtney said Faith never told him about what he did specifically for
MI6 but the music producer is convinced his friend, real name Terence
Nelhams-Wright, was telling the truth about Castro.

Source: Teen idol Adam Faith claimed to be 'MI6 spy sent to Cuba' in new
book by close friend - Continue reading
Airlines Drop Cuba Flights, Citing Lower Demand Than Anticipated

Just six months after being the first airline to sell seats on regularly
scheduled flights to Cuba, Silver Airways, a regional carrier based in
Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that specializes in smaller markets, will scrap
its service to the island next month. It is the latest industry move to
underscore that fewer Americans are traveling to Cuba than originally

Citing low demand and competition from major airlines, Silver said it
would cease its operations in Cuba effective April 22. The move follows
other reductions by American Airlines and JetBlue, which in recent weeks
either switched to smaller aircraft or cut back on the number of
flights. Experts say the changes in the young market illustrate not so
much a lack of passengers, but the rush of airlines into new territory
with an abundance of seats the market could not possibly fill.

"Other airlines continue to serve this market with too many flights and
oversized aircraft, which has led to an increase in capacity of
approximately 300 percent between the U.S. and Cuba," said Misty Pinson,
the director of communications for Silver. "It is not in the best
interest of Silver and its team members to behave in the same irrational
manner as other airlines."

On Monday, Denver-based Frontier Airlines said that it would cease its
daily flight to Havana from Miami on June 4. The airline said costs in
Havana significantly exceeded initial assumptions, "market conditions
failed to materialize" and too much capacity had been allocated between
Florida and Cuba.

Regularly scheduled passenger jet service to Cuba had been cut off for
more than 50 years. Americans who wanted to go there had to go through
third countries or take expensive charter flights that were notorious
for long delays and steep baggage fees.

President Barack Obama renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015,
and then brought back commercial airline travel last year. The companies
that were authorized by the Department of Transportation booked routes
not just to Havana, but also to less traveled cities such as Manzanillo
and Holguín. With no history of commercial airline traffic to judge by,
the airlines were largely guessing how many United States citizens and
Cubans would line up for tickets.

United Airlines has service from Newark and Houston, and Alaska Airlines
flies to Havana from Los Angeles. Delta offers three daily flights to
Havana from Atlanta, Miami and Kennedy International Airport in New
York. Destinations like Santa Clara proved to be less popular than the
airlines had hoped, and some were forced to scale back.

"We started pretty big in Cuba," said Laura Masvidal, a spokeswoman for
American Airlines. "We made some adjustments to adjust to the market

Until February, American Airlines offered 1,920 seats a day to Cuba. The
number dropped last month to 1,472, a nearly 25 percent reduction. The
airline cut flights to Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily
flight from two, Ms. Masvidal said.

JetBlue Airways, which on Aug. 31 was the first to fly to Cuba, still
offers nearly 50 weekly round-trip flights between the United States and
four Cuban cities, but the airline recently switched to smaller planes.

"We have made some adjustment to aircraft types assigned to the routes,
which is common as we constantly evaluate how to best utilize our
aircraft fleet within our network," said Doug McGraw, an airline spokesman.

Silver Airways has been flying 22 flights a week with smaller aircraft
to nine Cuban destinations other than the capital, including Santa
Clara, Holguín and Cayo Coco. Demand, Ms. Pinson said, was depressed by
complications with online travel agency distribution and code-share
agreements that still have not been resolved. The airline had already
tried reducing its offerings.

The airline's decision comes even as passenger traffic to Cuba is
actually increasing at a brisk pace.

"The market is exploding," said Chad Olin, the president of Cuba
Candela, which specializes in booking trips to Cuba for the millennial
traveler. "There is some demand adjustment happening as well, but net
outcome is still one of the fastest growing markets in global tourism

Mr. Olin said restaurants, bars and private home rentals are now much
more crowded with Americans than even just a few months ago. "You hear
American English spoken everywhere," he said in an email.

And to hear the Cuban government media tell it, Americans interested in
visiting Cuba were triggered by a message that told everyone to "travel

The number of Americans who visited Cuba was up 125 percent in January,
compared with the same month last year, the government reported, calling
it a "virtual stampede." Americans, the report said, were prompted by
President Trump's administration calling for a total review of the Cuba
policies enacted by Mr. Obama.

Under the administration of George W. Bush, Cuban-Americans were limited
to how often they could visit their families, so that niche also had a
38 percent increase, the Cuban media report said.

But it was still not enough to fill the flights.

"I think that a lot of airlines thought that there would be more demand
than there is," said Paul Berry, a spokesman for Spirit airlines, which
flies twice a day to Havana from Fort Lauderdale. "Loads are not very

Mr. Berry said there are still glitches, including not being able to
easily use American credit cards. Cuban hotels are pricey, and some
travelers are turned off by the extra costs for things like required
traveler's medical insurance and visas. The landing fees alone, Mr.
Berry said, are sometimes more expensive than the actual airfare.

American citizens are still required to report which of the 12
authorized types of travel they are undertaking, which could also be
limiting the number of potential passengers, he said. Religious and
educational trips are allowed, but tanning on the beach is not. Many
Americans are "not willing to flat-out lie" about why they are going,
Mr. Berry said.

"A lot of people are not traveling; I think that's why you see other
airlines scale back," he said. "There's just not as much demand to go

Source: Airline Drops Cuba Flights, Citing Lower Demand Than Anticipated
- The New York Times - Continue reading
It's time for brands to invest in Cuba
13 March 2017

HAVANA: Although the US trade embargo on Cuba still exists, a new report
from Kantar Millward Brown advises international brands to take a
serious look at the opportunities the country presents.

WPP's global research agency, which produces the respected BrandZ
studies, has now released a BrandZ Spotlight on Cuba report, which
highlights the potential for local and international brands to grow in
this market of 11m educated consumers.

Focusing on 43 brands in four key categories – covering coffee, spirits,
beer and tobacco – the report found that Cuba has one of the highest
rates in the world for brands dubbed "clean slates".

Kantar Millward Brown said these "clean slates" are brands that most
people don't know exist, or people recognise the name but don't know
what the name stands for.

The proportion of "clean slates" stands at 38% in Cuba, compared to a
global average of 14%, and the report said "this gap represents a huge
opportunity for brands in Cuba".

Furthermore, the report's personality analysis revealed that Cuba hosts
a high proportion of brands which are perceived to be "sexy",
"desirable" and "rebellious".

Elsewhere, Havana Club rum is seen as the most innovative brand in Cuba,
while Cristal beer is the most loved brand, closely followed by Heineken
and Café Serrano coffee.

Havana Club also tops the BrandZ measure of Brand Power, which assesses
how meaningfully different and well known a brand is.

"Cuba is an island paradox and a market like no other in the world. A
standard 'fast-growing markets' strategy just won't work here," said
David Roth, CEO of The Store WPP, EMEA and Asia.

"Negotiating the nuances of working and building brands in this country
– and navigating apparent contradictions – requires local insight and a
lot of patience, but now's the time to invest that energy and those
resources," he added.

"As Cuba continues to transform, there is a clear opportunity for local
and international brands to play a part in the development of its
economy – and grow their business in the process."

Data sourced from Kantar Millward Brown; additional content by Warc staff

Source: It's time for brands to invest in Cuba| - Continue reading
The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave: cruises

Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed
across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of
rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via sea since John F. Kennedy
was president.

The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.

For passengers on this historic voyage, the visit included hours of
tours through the city's highlight reel. Dinner at a private Cuban
restaurant, un paladar. Rides in classic — Cubans would call them rustic
— 1950s cars, los almendrones. Strolls through the centuries-old Spanish
squares of La Habana Vieja.

But for Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron and his son Bryan, then 13,
Cuba's unique allure really came to life when they walked into a Havana
historical powerhouse: el Hotel Nacional.

Built in 1930 by a U.S. firm and U.S. architects, el Nacional was a
haven for American mobsters and starlets. It also was the scene of a
bloody siege key to the eventual rise of former dictator Fulgencio
Batista. A bunker on the grounds dates to the Cuban Missile Crisis — the
threat that eventually prompted Kennedy to sign the Cuba trade embargo
that banned most trade and travel between U.S. citizens and the
Communist island.

The embargo is still in place. But rules relaxed in 2014 by the U.S.
government that allow its citizens to visit for cultural exchanges
brought about 615,000 U.S. tourists last year to taste the
long-forbidden apple in the Caribbean's Garden of Eden. This year, an
estimated 172,000 tourists will come via nine ships from eight
U.S.-based cruise lines.

Until now, other travel sectors, such as airlines and hotels, have
struggled to satiate a massive American appetite to see Cuba while
dealing with the island's antiquated infrastructure. Airlines have
reduced flights and hotels have lowered their inflated prices. The
cruise lines are expected to face that conundrum too, but to a much
lesser degree because their unique form of accommodation offers a
protection from the island's shortage of modern hotels and efficient
highways — for now.

"Everybody knows, both here and there, that there will have to be
infrastructure development to support the onward growth," said Adam
Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean
Cruises, whose lines Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club
Cruises will sail to Cuba this year. "Those are just the realities of
going to a place that is super interesting and has limitations [and]
constraints." Over time, Cuba's restaurants, ports, roads, hotels and
other tourist facilities will improve, he believes. "But all of that is
[still] totally in its infancy."

In the travel boom spurred by former President Barack Obama's 2014
announcement of detente, international hotel companies signed building
contracts and airlines scrambled to earn a chunk of the 110 available
daily flight slots. U.S. arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34 percent between
2015 and 2016, according to Josefina Vidal, Cuba's chief negotiator with
the U.S. Hotel rates soared between 100 and 400 percent, with rooms
previously priced at $150 per night skyrocketing to $650, according to
New York-based tour operator Insight Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue,
Spirit and others started operating daily flights to 10 cities,
including airports that hadn't welcomed U.S. airlines in decades.

As the dust has started to settle, hotel rates have normalized. Airlines
that overshot demand for Cuba are cutting back on routes and using
smaller planes. The reason: Cuba can be comparatively expensive and
traveling there is sometimes cumbersome.

The average round-trip airfare for Cuba from the U.S. was about $342 in
February, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corp. While less
than the Caribbean round-trip average that month of $594, the fare is
relatively high for travel to an island that has a limited number of
hotel rooms — only 64,231 in 2015, according to a December Florida
International University report on tourism in Cuba, or about 10,000 more
than in Miami-Dade — meaning travelers may be hard pressed to find
accommodations in their budget. Even taxi drivers, classic car drivers
and paladar owners have increased their prices, sometimes doubling or
tripling them, according to Insight Cuba.

But many of those challenges don't exist on a cruise ship. So while
airlines have cut back, cruise lines have pushed forward, adding
itineraries through the end of the year. By the end of 2017, eight U.S.
lines — seven based in Miami — will offer Cuba itineraries. Sailings
aboard Carnival Corp.'s pioneering Fathom, which inaugurated U.S. cruise
service, will be discontinued after June, but only because demand for
its every-other-week trips to the Dominican Republic didn't match the
strength of its Cuba component.

"The cruise industry is pretty well contained, so we bring our own food,
we bring our own garbage disposal systems, we want to leave as little
footprint as possible but add to the economic prosperity that tourism
overall brings," said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian
Cruise Line Holdings, which will sail to Cuba on all three of its lines:
Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Ships also bring their own accommodations, skirting hotel infrastructure
limitations, and set up the excursions to ensure travelers follow U.S.
guidelines. The trips are paid for ahead of time. (Hotel rentals and all
purchases on the island are cash transactions.)

"There's less hoops people have to go through," said Debbie Fiorino,
vice president of Fort Lauderdale-based travel agency CruiseOne/Dream
Vacations and Cruises Inc. "You don't have to worry if everything in
Cuba is built up."

That's why Olga Cormier, who lives in Miramar, is visiting Cuba via a
ship. The avid cruiser, who is of Cuban heritage, has plans for a fall
trip on Norwegian Cruise Line's 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky, one of
the largest American ships sailing to the island, because the ship has
an overnight stay in Havana.

"It's just with all the time and limitations and everything else, I
don't know that I'm ready to go via plane ride and do the whole tourist
thing that way," Cormier said. "One of the advantages of cruising is
that it is sort of a sampler platter — you see a place and then decide
if you want to go and stay."

Managing massive growth
On the wall behind Del Rio's desk in his Miami office are two large,
slightly yellowed, black-and-white photographs of cruise ships entering
Havana Harbor in the 1930s. The space next to it is blank, ready to
welcome an image shot last week, when Oceania's Marina sailed into Havana.

"I've said for many years that in my upper right hand drawer there are
itineraries ready to go and they were ready the day I launched Oceania
back in 2003," said Del Rio, who emigrated from Cuba in 1961 at age 6.

That was the same year American cruise ships stopped calling in Cuba.
Then, thanks to financial support from the Soviet Union, Cuba stopped
relying on tourism. That was in stark contrast with the 1950s, when
cruising to Cuba from the U.S. was a staple, said Christopher Baker, a
Cuba expert and travel writer.

Then in 2014, some European lines began calling in Cuba on their weekly
winter sailings, Baker said. Those included Greek line Variety Cruises,
French lines Le Ponant and Club Med, Swiss line MSC and British line
Noble Caledonia.

The small ships of those European lines have "not put undue stress" on
Havana, Baker said. The port there features a modest air-conditioned
terminal and space for a medium-sized cruise ship (no bigger than
Norwegian's 850-foot long Sky) on one side and a small vessel on the other.

The Oceania ships are considered small compared to some of the world's
largest; the 1,250-passenger Marina and 684-passenger Insignia, which
will both go to Cuba, are a fraction of the size of Royal Caribbean
International's 6,000-passenger plus ships. But Norwegian Cruise Line's
2,004-passenger Sky is slated to overlap on its trips to Havana with
Royal Caribbean International's 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas
nearly a dozen times this year. That will dump more than 3,000 tourists
into the Cuban capital at once.

That volume is more than four times the number of passengers Fathom was
unloading in Havana on a bimonthly basis last year when it was the only
American line in Cuba. Through the end of the year, cruise ships will be
in Havana about five days a week, according to the line's announced

"It has been rare to find more than one cruise ship at a time berthed in
Havana," Baker said in an email. "I expect that the arrival of larger
ships will begin to test the infrastructure. More buses and guides will
be required to ferry passengers once ashore; lunchtime restaurants will
be squeezed to accommodate all the passengers; and the plazas of
colonial Habana Vieja are already crowded."

Baker said the cruise influx has displaced U.S. tour operators, which
have been operating people-to-people trips in Cuba for several years,
from restaurants, leading tour companies to complain about getting
crowded out of popular venues.

And cruise ship passengers, unlike land-based travelers, are less likely
to financially support the country's growing roster of private
homeowners who rent their homes or run restaurants, Baker said.

"Cruise ship passengers are less likely to contribute directly to the
local economy, as their spending is typically relegated to the purchase
of souvenirs; the key benefit will be to the Cuban state for berthing
fees and charges for the use of state-employed guides and buses," Baker

Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, which has been leading U.S. tours
on the island since 2000, said the cruise influx creates challenges for
on-the-ground tour operations — but only for short periods and for a
worthy payoff, he said.

"Any kind of opportunity for Cuba to get into the 21st century and be a
viable tourist destination is going to involve these things and involve
change," Popper said.

Still, there is a chance President Donald Trump may throw a monkey
wrench into the situation.

Politics play a large role in Cuba's decision to make large
infrastructure changes or approve additional tourism into the island,
Popper said.

"It's just the way their apparatus works — with extreme caution. They
have limited resources and the embargo has a very cataclysmic effect on
their economy," he said. "Their philosophy has always been, 'When we see
it, we will build it.'"

The Cuban government's only announced tourism goal is to add 108,000
hotel rooms to the existing stock of three-star or better accommodations
by 2030. That objective would require a $33 billion investment,
according to the FIU study. The study predicts it is unlikely Cuba will
meet that goal unless the embargo ends.

That possibility remains unlikely under Trump, who has previously warned
that if the U.S. can't strike a better deal that includes political
concessions from the Cuban government, he may reverse Obama's softened
travel restrictions.

Worried about a potential change, more than 100 Cuban entrepreneurs sent
Trump a letter in December detailing the importance of tourism, among
other things, for economic growth on the island.

"An influx of American and Cuban-American visitors stimulates growth for
our businesses, directly and indirectly," the letter read. "Increased
interaction and business dealings with U.S. travelers and U.S. companies
has had important economic benefits, the exchanges of ideas and
knowledge, and offered much hope for the future."

A tearful welcome
In the grand scheme of Caribbean cruise travel, Cuba's impact is
limited. Only Norwegian has weekly trips to the island beginning in May,
while the other lines have scattered trips scheduled around port

"In terms of the materiality to our overall business portfolio, [Cuba]
is de minimis — much less than 1 percent," said Royal Caribbean's
Goldstein. "[Still], for many many years, there has been a pent-up
demand to be able to cruise to Cuba."

Eventually, the lines foresee participating in infrastructure changes,
said Norwegian Holdings' Del Rio.

"[Improving port infrastructure] is something the cruise industry
routinely does around the world to help the local authorities improve
the cruise infrastructure faster than it otherwise might and my guess is
that Havana and the other Cuban ports will be no exception when we are
allowed to do so," he said.

Bookings for sailings featuring Cuba are strong, travel agents said,
albeit less robust than at the height of the Cuba rush in 2015. Now, the
cruise lines are entering the scene during Cuba's "new normal" of
heightened travel interest, Popper said.

"Cuba is going to remain one of those destinations for Americans for
years because millions of people want to visit and they will over time,"
he said. "If you're Cuban and you live in Havana, you're happy."

For U.S. visitors like Chiron and his son, Cuba's history will continue
to be a lure. For them, the time at Hotel Nacional brought alive a past
they had long heard about in Miami.

"There's a window with a phone that dates back to the Cuban Missile
Crisis, large cannons that were used to defend the port when they
attacked the USS Montgomery [during the Spanish American war]," Chiron
recalled. "[Later,] we went back to the bar to have our first mojito and
you look at the pictures of the people on the wall, there are
celebrities, but you had these big pictures of the president of China
and you have [Russia's] Vladimir Putin on the wall.

"It was interesting to see history from a different perspective."

For their part, Cubans have welcomed American travelers with unexpected
openness, said Baker, the Cuba expert.

"Cubans gave [Fathom's] Adonia a tearful welcome," Baker said. "It was
immensely symbolic. Cubans love Americans and U.S. visitors are often
surprised at the degree to which Cubans on the street display their open
affection for Americans."

Del Rio experienced that openness when he visited his former elementary
school, now a middle school, in Havana during one of his business trips
to the island. While there, he spoke to about 40 students.

"I asked them all sorts of questions and the overwhelming general
consensus is that they as the youth, they're very proud of their country
but they would really like to reengage with America," Del Rio said. "I
asked them point blank, 'Do you see America as an amigo, or an enemigo'
— friend or foe?

"And unanimous, it was friend."


Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

Norwegian Cruise Line on the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky

Royal Caribbean International on the 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas

Carnival Cruise Line on the 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise

Azamara Club Cruises on the 690-passenger Azamara Quest

Oceania Cruises on the 1,250-passenger Marina and 684-passenger Insignia

Regent Seven Seas on the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner

Pearl Seas Cruises on the 210-passenger Pearl Mist

Fathom on the 704-passenger Adonia

Source: The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave:
cruises | Miami Herald - Continue reading
"This Job Is Not To Make Money"/ 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 – The Cuban state has begun a gradual
process of privatizing the sale of the official press in kiosks. Without
announcing the measure in the official media, the kiosks operated by the
"self-employed" have recently been authorized to engage in this activity
under a "postal agent" license (which is among the 201 private
occupations legalized in 2013), as reported by 14ymedio in an extensive
article by Miriam Celaya this Thursday.

"We have five kiosks, but they are already occupied by self-employed
workers," says an employee at the Post Office located at 26th Street in
Havana. The worker explains that "an interested party should locate a
kiosk where they want to work and request it… Once hired, the kiosk
operator should come and get the press here before eight in the
morning," she adds.

"For every newspaper I sell I earn 10 centavos in Cuban pesos (CUP) (a
fraction of a cent US) and if it's the Orbe I earn 20 centavos,"
explains a kiosk operator on 26th and 41st streets. "The problem is that
almost all the other publications are not available," he complains.
"Bohemia has not arrived, there is no Palante or Muchacha," he says in
relation to several missing publications.

"I get between 150 and 200 daily newspapers so I don't earn much,"
explains the self-employed operator. "This job is not to make money," he
said. The three-day course that entrepreneurs must take to occupy one of
these places is "a routine thing," he says. "Almost everything they told
us was to show us where to get the papers and the details of the prices."

The self-employed woman at the Tulipan and Loma street kiosk supplies
"many teachers, because they are required to have the paper but it's not
given to them." She complains about the low profits due to the "lateness
of the press." For her, it's important "that the publications come on
time, but by the time most of them arrive they are already old news."
The woman has to go to a nearby post office to get the dailies and says,
"I have to transport them myself, because most of those engaged in this
work are elderly* and they can't carry very much."

For each copy of Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores, the kiosk
operators pay 19 centavos for a paper that sells at retail for 20
centavos (roughly one cent US). According to a calculation made
by 14ymedio of the number of copies received each day or, when
applicable, each week (181 Granma, 116 Juventud Rebelde, 199 Tribuna,
169 Trabajadores, in addition to the magazines: 27 Orbe and 41 Bohemia),
the kiosk operators would earn about five Cuban pesos a month, if all
their papers and magazines sold at the stated prices.

However, the private operators have to pay a monthly fee of 10 Cuban
pesos for the license and the same for the use of the kiosk. Once these
expenses are deducted, it is clear that the kiosk operators pay the
state to sell the official press, not the reverse as would be normal.
The self-employed are able to assume these expenses because they
commonly collect more for each copy sold – in general buyers will offer
one Cuban peso instead of 20 centavos** – but that is entirely up to the
willingness of the buyers.

Translator's notes:

*It is common for the elderly to informally buy a stack of papers and
then walk around reselling them – providing a convenience for customers
by making the papers available everywhere. They earn a little money
because the customers willingly "overpay" for the papers, in exchange
for the convenience and as a way to help out old people with very meager

**In this example the entrepreneur would earn a "profit" of about 3-4
cents US on each paper sold.

Source: "This Job Is Not To Make Money"/ 14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Rio Mar, a Restaurant Under Surveillance by Alejandro Castro / Juan Juan

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 February 2017 — An unusual combination of powerful
forces has conspired to put Río Mar, a privately owned restaurant, in
the defendant's dock. Who has broken the rules this time?

Río Mar occupies an enviable location on the western bank and at the
mouth of the Almendares River, right across from the former St. Dorothy
of the Moon of Chorrera Fort, erected in 1646, which currently houses
the Mesón de la Chorrera. This small detail gives you some idea of the
cost that comes from having a pedigree like the owners: the stigmatized
and closely watched family of former military men, Antonio and Patricio
de La Guardia, who were convicted in 1989.*

Located on Third Avenue between C Street and Final Street in the Miramar
district, Río Mar has become a favorite of local and international
customers who consider it one of the best of its kind in Cuba. Opened in
2012, the restaurant maintains an unbeatable offering that combines
gastronomic quality, superb service and a delightful environment in just
the right amount. It also offers a fabulous view of Havana and its
seaside promenade.

In this case, it is not the total subordination to military authority
that exists on the island that is so troubling. Rather it is the
astonishingly placid acceptance of how the judicial and legislative
branches serve as a private law firm for the executive — a branch which
in Cuba is synonymous with the Castros — and how this hinders the
performance of the private sector and society as a whole.

Neighbors indicate that Río Mar is not violating rules covering legal
hours of operation for this type of business or regulations governing
noise levels. It cannot be accused of fraudulently transferring
ownership because the building has always been in the family. Instead,
sources close to the investigation indicate the business's problem is
not with the agency that regulates all private-sector work, nor with the
courts, nor with the police, much less with the Provincial
Administrative Council.

The investigation was launched by the Committee for Defense and National
Security** — an unsettling and highly visible organization with no legal
standing — and ordered by the office of the Attorney General of the
Republic of Cuba. This office was set up to oversee the organs of
government, administer state assets, and prevent and prosecute
administrative corruption, not to waste its resources investigating
small privately owned businesses.

"It's really despicable. Look, I'm not an inspector or an owner. I don't
have access to the information the comptroller has… not by a long shot.
The only information I have is from working in this restaurant and that
tells me they are not doing anything illegal here. They obey all the
self-employment regulations because they know better than anyone that
their surname constantly keeps them under the watchful eyes of the
government and its henchmen," says an employee with real bitterness.

Translator's notes:

*Tony de la Guardia was a colonel in the Cuban Interior Ministry who
was executed after being convicted of cocaine trafficking. His twin
brother Patricio was sentenced to thirty years in prison.

** In a previous post, the author described the Committee for Defense
and National Security, an organization headed by General Raúl Castro's
son Alejandro, as an unofficial agency unrecognized by the Cuban
constitution but which nonetheless plays a role in government.

Source: Rio Mar, a Restaurant Under Surveillance by Alejandro Castro /
Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Numbers, Reason and Principles / Somos

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 8 March 2017 — Daily, as part of my functions as
leader of Somos+ (We Are More), I meet people who are interested in
knowing the details of the organization. In theory, these people would
become members of Somos+ if there is a sufficient match between their
ideas and the ones we promulgate.

It turns out that often, I prepare to explain our proposals, program,
explain the logical arguments about the need for changes, etc… but the
first question that I ask is, "Come here… and how many are you?"

It never ceases to amaze me, the extreme importance that many people
give to the number of people who adopt an attitude that they then adopt
as their own. I believe their it would be much more worthwhile to
concern ourselves with the number when we acquire some product for our
use or contract for some service between the number of people previously
satisfied by the same offer could be an indicator of its quality.

Instead, when it's about values, principles, ideologies, justice and
political positions, I don't believe that the priority should be the
number of people who adopt this or that position.

History abounds with examples in which great multitudes committed the
most terrible and horrible crimes. Were they right? No, but they were
many, many more joined them and the wave became so immense and
unstoppable that opposing it would seem an act of uselessness, masochism
or stupidity.

This overwhelming game between majorities and minorities is preferred by
revolutions, because they establish in advance what is the "good side"
and the "bad side" where people can position themselves, and depending
on that decision their lives will be respected or tainted.

For me, democracy will never be described by the reductionist argument
of "the dictatorship of the majorities," because this primitive
mentality is the one that always existed and does not necessarily
contemplate a civilized advance that guarantees the peace and the
participation of the whole society in decision-making. Instead, it will
be the "opportunity for minorities" to exist in dignity and to be
represented that would distinguish a democracy.

We should not be afraid to be alone or accompanied by few in the place
that we consider right. If we think that striking a woman is wrong, we
should not hit her to be in tune with the millions of men who do. Or if
we believe that animals should be protected, or that corruption affects
us all, it is legitimate to say it even though there are probably no de
facto crowds chanting in our favor.

It is thanks to the rebels of the past, those who did not care about the
number of their followers, that today we have, around the world, less
violence, machismo, corruption and oppression than in previous centuries.

A political position is above all a right, but it is also a duty, which
should never be exercised by imitation, enthusiasm, or pressure of any
kind. It must be an act of responsibility based on abundant or full
information, the product of a deep and measured analysis, strictly
attached to what we are and what we believe to be just for us, our
families, our nation and for all humanity.

Only in this way will we feel full, happy and secure in expressing our
opinions or taking action both individually and in groups, voluntarily
or remunerated, supported or rejected, blessed or repressed. Learning to
think for oneself is to be free.

Numbers, reason and principles always have been and will be three
different subjects.

Source: Numbers, Reason and Principles / Somos+ – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Useless Exercise of Rendering Accounts in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 7 March 2017 — The days of the anachronistic "process
of rendering accounts" are approaching. This is period known as the
genuine exercise of socialist democracy because they are neighborhood
meetings in which the people and the leadership (at the base) exchange
opinions about the main problems that afflict each community, and it is
odd that today, although the circus rounds have not yet begun, Cuban
leaders, as if they were master seers, already have on the table an
eight page document issued by the department charged with compiling
popular opinion, which for more than a month have included the
approaches that the voters will take in each one of the assemblies.

An irony that, with a capital "I", escapes any expression of the logic
and respect of the citizenry. Since the end of January the Cuban
government knows that for the coming months — April and May — the voters
will express their dissatisfaction with the water supply, the sewers in
the streets, the failures in communications and public transport, social
security, the retirement age, the indiscipline on the roads, the
occupation and powers of their elected delgate, the need to separate
some functions that today belong to the state, the irregularity of trash
collection and repair of the roads and principle arterials.

We will have to wait. Certainly, no one will talk about individual
rights nor civil liberties. It seems that to govern is to assume
contrdictions. It is a vulgar script for a discordant dramaturgy where
fiction predominated. It is ridiculous to accept that, for example, in
terms of health, in each locality, throughout the island, the assembled
citizens will feel the "spontaneous" need to express opinions only on
how to reduce teen pregnancy, and to strengthen control over pregnant
women who go into maternity homes.

The most striking feature of this document is the prediction it makes
about a group of citizens who, voluntarily, will express concern about
the issue of domestic violence and, in particular, the phenomenon that
doesn't appear in the current penal code as a criminal figure and that
begins to gain space as antisocial conduct. Cases of Cuban fathers who
don't conform to the role of the divorced, and kidnap their kids to hurt
their former wives.

It is not divination, it is simple state inefficiency very eary to
predict because yesterday's problems were never solved and are the same
ones that will be there tomorrow.

Almost all of the deputies to the Peoples Power Assembly session, be
they national, provincial or municipal, are fed up and exceedingly
apathetic, along with the compulsion, attend to kill time and eat the
snacks; listen to the pre-prepared program, vote in favor of everything
and reaffirm their commitment with something that they neither
understand no care about.

Cubans who want to debate and express opinions, suggestions and demands;
but they know well that in Cuba, the Peoples Power is the power of an

Source: The Useless Exercise of Rendering Accounts in Cuba / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Embezzlement Today / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 17 February 2017 — The long laissez faire of the
government with the "if you behave well, I look the other way" has given
birth to a generation (just one?) of the cheerfully shameless, known
generically as "fighters." The nice denomination that began by being
applied a few, no longer has color, sex or occupation. The common
denominator is a very short wage for very long prices. Yes, those same
people who cried in front of a photo with flowers* not yet three months ago.

Poles as distant as commerce and culture converge on this news that can
only be half-confirmed because the official press never covers it
without prior permission, and the friends, family, or co-workers of the
enthroned acquired long ago the Pavlovian reflex of "not getting
involved in things."

The first of the cases, is in the Puentes Grandes Shopping Center, not
yet three years from its opening and it already seems like a place in
decline. There is an internet navigation room equipped on its opening
with five computers and air conditioning. Something happened there that
we have already become accustomed to. The PCs didn't always work, the
air conditioning didn't either. In the room itself there was a counter
with electronic devices such as USB memories, keyboards, headphones and
the like, which was a point of sale for ETECSA, the Cuban
Telecommunications Company that runs the place and maintains the
monopoly of communications and as such keeps its users in a state
between dissatisfaction and disgust.

And I speak about this in the past because no one can tell me if it will
ever operate again; just very hastily in the parking lot an employee
with a corporate image in a uniform one size smaller than necessary,
acrylic nails, keratin-strengthened hair, and black-lace leggings,
without raising her eyebrows or her voice, told me there had been a
"tremendous explosion." An informal taxi-driver on the hunt for a home
refrigerator, was the one who told me that she was very pleased to be
selling articles privately, much more cheaply than in the store.

It's not just the stores. I remember, many remember, some fifteen or
twenty years ago, the scandal in the International Relations Department
of the Ministry of Culture, where artistic delegations were assembled
without artists for the modest price of 500 CUC. Now it was the turn of
the Council of Scenic Arts, and the information came from Colombia,
Mexico or Central America with all the migratory connections, where some
of the vigorous claimants of rights overseas, both university professors
and lowlifes, learned to act although they never made it on stage. They
demanded a red passport, that is an official one, authorized by the
aforementioned Council that is supposed to authorize the travel of
actors and theater groups.

Before, the same or similar matters had been in Heritage and Cultural
Welfare and because of something missing in the works of art and some
surplus in the construction works, appears to have been the reason for
the exit through the back door of the previous Minister of Culture.

Even an octogenarian revolutionary fighter had amassed a modest fortune
for the future, the future that was supposed to belong entirely to
socialism. Barely two months after an anodyne article in the '90s by
Fidel Castro in the already anodyne newspaper Granma.

Nothing astonished Cubans, and from time to time we notice that
corruption accompanies us wherever we go. The employee with the
corporate image and the cultural officials as I already said, share the
salary as a symbol. In the other case, I don't know about you, but to me
to the affair of the octogenarian fighter (for the uninformed his name
is Héctor Rodríguez Llompart), tells me something about how things go
among "the historicals" — as the original leaders and fighters of the
Revolution call themselves.

*Translator's note: A reference to Fidel Castro's death

Translated by Jim

Source: Embezzlement Today / Regina Coyula – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Very Little Unites Us / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 9 March 2017 — The Electric Union (UNE), the Cuban
State Electric Company, plans blackouts for repairs, maintenance and
tree pruning that affect its aerial networks. Generally, the extend from
8:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon, directly affecting
citizens in their homes, and the production of state and private services.

The extended times planned, generally don't correspond to the work done;
it's common to see some workers working and the rest wasting time,
sitting around in the streets and sidewalks, paying homage to
unproductivity or, as a foreign friend ingeniously told me one day,
"Those who don't work, are most of them, and they honor those who do
work, which are the few."

Sometimes the repairs, due to their poor quality, have to be repeated.
On my block, one entire day, they spent time replacing the wires and, a
month later, came back and did it all again. I questioned the brigade
chief about it, and answered that the previous ones weren't adequate. A
similar situation is frequently repeated. It seems that UNE legalizes
the unproductivity and the irresponsibility.

If they had to compensate those affected for all the affects generated
by these "planned blackouts," I'm convinced that they would be much more
careful and productive.

Perhaps they should take account of the experience of the former and
antiquated Cuban Electricity Company which, with much less sophisticated
resources, undertook all these works without affecting the consumers and
with little impact.

The difference is that the previous company was an efficient capitalist
monopoly and UNE is an inefficient socialist monopoly.

Source: Very Little Unites Us / Fernando Dámaso – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast
As icy U.S.-Cuba relations begin to thaw, Cuba's knowledge economy is
waking up. But it's a delicate process

Like many Cubans, Ubaldo Huerta left his homeland during a time of deep
economic crisis following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989,
which decimated Cuba's economy and sent tens of thousands of Cubans
looking for better opportunities abroad. The 47-year-old electrical
engineer quickly found his way to Silicon Valley, where he worked as a
software developer for numerous startups and gained his U.S.
citizenship. Later he relocated to Barcelona, founded a Craigslist-like
online classified website and sold his venture to eBay in 2005.

But despite these accomplishments, Huerta never lost sight of his
homeland. He began splitting his time between Spain and Cuba and three
years ago co-founded, a small startup that enables people
outside of Cuba to make payments to prepaid cell phone and WiFi accounts
used by friends and family in Cuba. The business employs 15 people,
including seven in Havana.

"I want to be in Cuba," Huerta told Salon. "I cannot find better
developers than the ones that I've found here. I used to work in Silicon
Valley so I don't really need the money. I'm doing this because it makes
economic sense, and it's fun."

Cuba is in a better economic position today than it was when Huerta left
25 years ago. Huerta said that he amount of cell phone and WiFi account
deposits Fonoma processes grew by 40 percent last year amid Cuba's
nascent WiFi revolution. Today, the startup handles hundreds of
thousands of dollars' worth of transactions, half of them from the
United States — an online venture that would have been unheard of a
decade ago.

Huerta isn't alone. Last year, computer engineer Bernardo Romero
González came up with an idea to develop an online ordering system that
allows people outside of Cuba to pay for gifts purchased from local
Cuban businesses to be delivered to friends and relatives on the island.
"This platform helps other entrepreneurs in Cuba to grow their
market," Romero told Salon. "Businesses in Cuba are limited to their
town or city because they don't have access to e-commerce. This creates
the financial platform that allows them to put their products on the

Expected to go live before the end of the year, Cubazon will process
credit-card payments outside of Cuba and then wire money through the
same network used by Cubans abroad to send money to relatives back home
to pay the local Cuban business, such as a flower shop or bakery, to
make and deliver the gift. This system legally circumvents current U.S.
Treasury Department restrictions on payment processing in Cuba. Romero
expects 80 percent of his business to come from consumers in the United

Romero was one of 10 winners of last year's 10x10kCuba, a contest
sponsored by U.S. groups promoting Cuban tech innovation that includes
the University of Stanford's School of Engineering. The 33-year-old
programmer recently completed an intense two-week program at Colorado's
Boom Town Accelerator, a Boulder-based tech innovation incubator
participating in the program.

Planting seeds for success

Since Cuba and the United States began the process of thawing their icy
Cold War-era relations, highly educated Cubans like Huerta and Romero
have become two of a small number of tech-industry pioneers cautiously
planting their stakes on their country's future relations with the
United States. Former U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to promote
private-sector engagement, along with a series of reforms in Cuba that
allows small businesses to operate, has made it easier for Cuba's
tech-startup economy, though many challenges still remain.

Proponents of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba argue that
promoting the tech industry in Cuba would unlock a lot of unused
potential, and help prevent Cuba's young tech talent from leaving the
island. Cuba needs these innovators at home to help figure out a way to
support its increasingly aging population.

Tres Mares Group, a Miami-based private equity investment firm that
follows business activity in Cuba, estimates that about 3,000 Cubans
currently work as freelancers in the local knowledge economy — many of
them doing work for companies in Canada and Spain — and as many as
50,000 qualified university-trained computer science engineers are
sitting on the bench, unable to fully utilize their skills. Most of
these computer science degree holders are graduates of the University
Campus José Antonio Echeverría (CUJAE by its Spanish acronym) or the
Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas, which is often compared to MIT.

On the U.S. side, companies are also starting to pay more attention to
the potential pool of Cuban talent.

"There are at least a half dozen firms [in the U.S.] who are working
with Cuban coders and programmers already," James Williams, president of
Engage Cuba, a Washington D.C. nonprofit coalition of private companies
working to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, told Salon. "The challenge is
that since we're in this new period, they're not promoting these
activities yet and keeping them quiet until this becomes more normalized
and routine. But it's something that's already happening."

Indeed, there is still a lot to be done, and a lot that can be undone,
which is why many stakeholders on both sides of the Florida Straits are
being cautious about promoting their activities.

Suspicions abound

On the Cuban side, many hardliners in Cuba's Communist government are
suspicious of U.S. efforts to promote greater Internet access,
suspicions that were confirmed in 2014 when reports emerged that the
U.S. Agency for International Development was secretly funding a project
that used social media to try to foment an Arab Spring-like revolution
in Cuba. Though the failed project ended in 2012, whispers among people
who declined to speak to Salon on the record because of the sensitivity
of the issue claim similar efforts persist through other web-based front
organizations backed by the U.S. government.

On the U.S. side is an 800-pound gorilla in the White House known as
President Donald Trump. On the campaign trail Trump criticized Obama's
Cuba policy and promised to terminate his predecessor's efforts to
normalize relations with Cuba. The president also installed Mauricio
Claver-Carone, an active supporter of the 56-year-old U.S. embargo
against Cuba, to his transition team. Congress, too, is still reticent
to remove the embargo that would be perceived to empower Cuba's
authoritarian regime with a history of human rights violations — despite
the glaring fact that Congress accepts trade and diplomatic ties with
other authoritarian governments like China and Saudi Arabia. Another
concern among proponents of closer U.S.-Cuba trade ties is the fact the
China and Cuba trade ties are growing.

Many, including Huerta and Romero, are watching to see the direction the
president will take, and they're hoping that his business-focused
disposition will encourage him to avoid disrupting efforts to promote
Cuban entrepreneurship.

Romero said he hopes that at worst Trump doesn't upend efforts begun by
Obama three years ago to help him and other Cubans grow a local tech
industry. At best he said he would like to see better access to U.S.
banking services and to be able to market his apps on sites like the
Apple Store.

"After December 2014, when closer relations began between both
countries, I had the opportunity to come to the United States to make
connections and find people to help me to develop my ideas," he said. "I
think that the United States is naturally the country that should do
this work with Cuba."

Source: Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast - - Continue reading
An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro Name / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 February 2017 — In Cuba being a member of the
Castro family is like having a modern-day license to commit piracy.
This inalienable right comes in handy for the dynasty's descendants,
especially those born with the compound surnames Castro Soto del Valle
and Castro Espín.* The most recent example of the prerogatives that come
from sharing a pedigree with the royal family of Cuba is a private
business in Havana's exclusive Miramar district run by Sandro Castro

In addition to being a well-known DJ, the young man is the son of Alexis
Castro Soto del Valle and grandson of the late Cuban leader Fidel
Castro. In the midst of a campaign against drugs, prostitution and
fraud, the capital's municipal government "temporarily" suspended the
issuance of licenses for new privately owned restaurants on September
16, 2016. Yet in that same month it ignored directives from Isabel
Hamze, acting vice-president of the Provincial Administrative Council,
and issued a permit for a new bar and restaurant to be operated by Sandro.

Located at the intersection of 7th Avenue and 70th Street in Miramar,
the former Italian restaurant is now a fashionable discotheque, a place
where an elite young crowd enjoys Havana's nightlife with no concern for
the hour of day, the day of the month, or how much alcohol or other
substances are consumed. The establishment, which reserves the right to
admit whomever it chooses, has a maximum legal occupancy of ninety
people, far beyond the limit set by law for seats in private restaurants.

The restaurant sector grew out of a governmental self-employment
initiative known as cuentapropismo, which was an intended as a
palliative solution to families' economic problems. As a result, there
are now more than 1,700 private restaurants throughout the island. These
small businesses have benefitted from Raul Castro's modest reforms, the
noticeable boom in tourism and the rapprochement with the United States.

"If you like what's cool, what's exclusive, and you like rubbing elbows
with celebrities, Fantasy has what you're looking for. It offers
different environments, good music and a demanding clientele. The
interiors aren't anything great but it's the perfect place to organize
an event. Once inside, you are protected while at the same time you are
beyond the law. It's heaven for party-goers," says a young regular. "In
a country where everything is controlled, it's uncontrolled," he adds.

Another Cuban youth, who lives in Miami but was recently visiting the
island, says he has been to the discotheque a couple of times and claims
that the requirement for getting in is "looking like you have enough
dollars to pay. If not, you are not well received."

"You have to make a reservation beforehand but, if someone gets there
and offers them more money, you run the risk of losing your table.
Individual drinks cost an average three or four dollars and a bottle can
go for as much as eighty-five dollars," adds the young visitor from Miami.

Faced with such blatant chicanery, Havana started reissuing licenses for
new private restaurants on October 24, although it continues to warn
owners that they must comply with regulations on noise and closing times
(3:00 AM) as well as prohibitions against hiring artists, on the
consumption and sale of drugs, and on prostitution and pimping.

It also announced that there would be routine quarterly inspections of
new and established businesses in which "different factors" — a
euphemism for the regime's various agencies of repression — would
oversee compliance with regulations. It also set up groups in every
region to monitor this new form on non-governmental management.

But Fantasy manages to evade any oversight. It defies easy
categorization. By day it is a pizzeria and by night a nightclub. This
combination leads to a certain "ambiguity" in terms of its actual use
and purpose.

"Where the captain rules, the soldiers have no say. No one can go
against the son of Alexis Castro Soto del Valle. It's a scandal; it's
unbearable. They play music at full volume. Boys come and get into fist
fights. Trucks make deliveries at all hours of the day and night. The
police are here but they don't do anything. Miramar is a residential
area. We have sent a ton of letters complaining to authorities but they
don't dare take any action. Sandro is one of Fidel's grandsons and
that's all that matters," says a neighbor who, like others, prefers to
remain anonymous.

*Translator's note: A reference to the children of Fidel and Raul
Castro respectively.

Source: An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro
Name / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio, Miriam

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2017 — On one of the side
walls, inside a small newspaper stand on Avenida 26, in Nuevo Vedado
(Havana), an unusual sign announces: "This stand became private property."

The event is unique. The elderly self-employed man behind the counter is
normally cautious. Survival instinct has taught Cubans to mistrust those
who ask too many questions, particularly when what's in play is the
relative security of some additional monetary income to round off the
meager retirement income.

However, when an informal conversation is established, some information
and small details always surface which, at least in principle, confirm
that a new secret experiment has been initiated by the
State-Party-Government: the process of legal privatization of the sale
of the main ideological weapon of the revolution: the press.

It is obvious, in addition, that this event is taking place barely three
months after the death of the infamous creator of the information
monopoly, as soon as the last prop tears of his faithful have dried up
and in the midst of constant invocations in the press "to his memory,
his legacy and his work." No one can ignore that the colossal Castro
press, and especially the Granma newspaper, was the apple of Fidel
Castro's eye, who commanded it for decades from his office, from where
he was taken daily through the tunnel connecting the Granma building
with the Palace of the Revolution, for his final approval, before going
to press.

The true nature of the information about the new measure that includes
the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship
activity was confirmed to this publication by Yordanka Díaz, director of
the Cuban Postal Service Habana-Centro, in the Plaza of the Revolution
municipality. "It is necessary to satisfactorily complete a 3-day
course, after which the contract is made and then the worker must go to
the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) to try to obtain his

The official director added that, in the municipality under her
management, there are at least three vacant places to negotiate a
newspaper stand. So far, those who have filled the previous vacancies
are retired workers or housewives returning to the workforce.

Although the vendor at the Avenida 26 location has misgivings that make
him seem unwilling to reveal many details, it is obvious that he is more
satisfied with his new status as self-employed, than that of his former
status as an employee of the State. "Before, the State paid me a salary
of 120 Cuban pesos a month, now I must pay 10 pesos a day. The price of
a newspaper is still 20 cents in national currency, so I would have to
sell 300 newspapers to earn 3 pesos, but people 'help me', some leave me
a peso or 50 cents The state does not have to pay me a salary, but it
charges me 300 a month; they win, I earn more now …and everyone is happy."

The vendor does not reveal that, in fact, his greatest gain is in the
established practice of selling wholesale to unlicensed street dealers,
or informal home delivery, where there is a fixed minimum monthly rate
of 30 Cuban pesos, which may be higher if the customer receives more
than one daily newspaper. It is not a business that yields significant
profits, but it does not require much effort or investment, and it helps
to put food on the table.

Something else that's new is that the State will not distribute the
papers to the sellers working as "self-employed," rather it will be the
responsibility of the vendors to pick up and transport the papers to
their individual stands, which is another advantage for the State, since
transportation costs from the printing locations to the stands
throughout the city are no longer the State's responsibility. There is
also a fixed allocation of newspapers for each seller, in order to avoid

The vendor becomes more talkative as the conversation progresses. "They
say they are going to repair the kiosks, which are in very bad
condition, they are going to fix the ceilings and paint them, but I'm
not sure about that. The stands are theirs, the sales, mine."

"But I can only sell newspapers, no magazines, no books, no calendars or
anything like that," the old man explains. "But it's okay, I don't
complain. It's always easier to unload newspapers; people buy them more
readily than they do magazines. They even buy old newspaper… imagine, of
course they'll sell, seeing how difficult it is to get toilet paper!"

At this point, everything has a certain logic, though it would seem, at
least paradoxical, that the airtight press monopoly – so pure, so
anti-capitalist, so Marxist – has consented, at least partially, to the
commercialization of this important "trench" to the private sector, even
if it is such a humble and low-profit activity as the sale of
newspapers, usually taken over by retirees or other low-income workers.

However, taking into account the calamitous economic situation and the
high costs arising from this archaic way of disseminating information,
the State is compelled to exploit any way of lightening the load that
results from the maintenance of a printed press monopoly in a country
where limited and costly internet access, coupled with the Government's
imperative need to control information, prevents the absolute
digitization of the media.

This way, the government is tied to its own Gordian knot: the monopoly
of the press and the country's laughable internet access are musts for
the regime if it wants to keep the population uninformed or
ill-informed, without other alternative sources of information about
what is happening in the world or even within the nation, and without
the possibility of comparing the news offered by the official media. But
this, in turn, forces the government to sustain an unaffordable industry
of the press in the middle of an economic crisis that produced negative
numbers in 2016 and threatens an even more unfortunate 2017.

In reality, the rationing process of the official press machinery has
been showing signs for a long time. Recently, the country's main
newspaper, Granma, with only eight pages (four flat sheets) renewed its
old and recharged design, not so much to improve its print quality and
presentation – which remain aesthetically deplorable – but to save ink.
For a long time there has been only one national edition in circulation.

Now, by allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the
Government has simply legalized another black market item – a phenomenon
that has marked the entire "list" of what is regulated for the private
sector – since for many years and to date the private (illegal) sale of
the official press has existed, carried out by elderly and needy people
who, not trying to disguise the act, and with their face uncovered,
loudly yell out the headlines and sell without fuss in the middle of the
road, buying the papers at 20 centavos and selling them at the price of
one peso in national currency. In short, the black market of the
official press has been legalized.

Curiously, this new form of self-employment has not been reviewed by the
official press, although it is news of a clear symbolic meaning.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio,
Miriam Celaya – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel

In memory of Oswaldo Payá

14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 9 March 2017 – We take as a given that all
people aspire to be free, but the idea of ​​individual freedoms is not
universally accepted.

Defenders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes argue that a
dictatorial approach to government is moral, just, and necessary. Some
preach that a developing nation needs a strong man to effectively
promote economic growth without the complications of democracy.

Others feel that an authoritarian government is necessary to ensure law
and order. Others prefer monarchies and other hereditary forms of
government to protect the traditions and customs of their people. Others
believe that their church and government are one and the same, and that
their religious beliefs are about selfish desires for freedom. Marxists
sacrifice individual freedoms on the altar of collectivism.

If that is their decision, those believers in the permanent dominion of
a single party should be free not to be free, preferably on another
planet. But this implies the question of how a society should decide its
form of government. The dictatorial response is to remain in power
indefinitely, as we can see in totalitarian states such as North Korea
and Cuba. The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive,
multiparty and frequent elections.

That is why the Cuba Decide plebiscite project, headed by Rosa Maria
Payá Acevedo, seems to me to be a refreshing proposal after nearly six
decades of Castro rule in Cuba. Rosa María is the young and eloquent
daughter of the late democratic activist Oswaldo Payá, winner of the
prestigious European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of
Thought. Rosa María, as president of the Latin American Youth for
Democracy Network, continues her father's work to promote democracy on
the tragic island.

The Cuban Decide initiative proposes that voters respond with a simple
"Yes" or "No," to a basic but transcendental question:

Do you agree with free, fair and plural elections, exercising freedom of
expression and of the press; and organizing freely in political parties
and social organizations with total plurality? Yes or No?

It would be naive to expect the Castro regime to accept such a
plebiscite. But, at the very least, promoting the plebiscite provides a
strategic tool to stimulate in Cuba and in international forums a
solidly focused political debate and public dialogue. The plebiscite
focuses attention on the fact that deciding how to be governed is the
prerogative of the people, and no one else.

Few would reject the central postulate of the plebiscite that Cubans
should be free to decide their future. Even sympathizers of the Castro
regime would find it ideologically difficult to refuse to ask such a
simple question to the Cuban people.

The only intellectually honest way to oppose a plebiscite that empowers
the people in this way would be to argue that the people have nothing to
say about their future, and that dictatorships are the preferable forms
of government. Not many international leaders would be willing to
publicly proclaim that preference.

The Cuba Decide Plebiscite is not a political platform, but rather a
tool to begin the change that would be justified if the Cuban people
decide, by a "Yes" vote, and that offers the possibility of
alternatives. The "No" vote would legitimize the one-party permanent
mandate. To some extent the idea of ​​the plebiscite offers the
leadership of Raúl Castro's successors an elegant and accepted way of
changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing one-party rule. In
post-Castro Cuba, the initiative of the Cuba Decide plebiscite promoted
by young people can become a key component of a legitimate transition.

Freedom has consequences, not all of them useful, but it is immoral to
deprive the people of their liberties, as dictators do. Our rational
approach is our basic way of living. If we cannot act according to our
free opinions we can not live fully as human beings. And we need freedom
to act according to our reasons.

After decades of living without freedom under a totalitarian government,
the Cuba Decide Plebiscite is an initiative promoted by citizens
presenting to the Cuban people a question with rational criteria: Do you
want to be free? "Yes or No." Who could oppose such a question? The
answer should enlighten us all.


Editor's Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute of
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author
of the book Mañana in Cuba.

Source: Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel – Translating Cuba
- Continue reading

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José Daniel Ferrer: "This Type Of Assault Does Not Discourage Us" / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 — The leader of the Patriotic Union of
Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer, was released Thursday after being detained for
more than 24 hours. The opponent denounced an "increase in
the repression" against the activists of his movement, in a phone call
to 14ymedio a few minutes after his release.

"The search of the homes began at six in the morning," explains Ferrer,
who was taken out of his home at eight o'clock in the morning this
Wednesday and taken to the First Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, known
as Micro 9.

The former prisoner of the Black Spring explains that the police raided
six properties of UNPACU members. They seized "food, a hard disc,
several USB memories, two laptops, five cellphones, seven wireless
devices, a stereo, a large refrigerator, an electric typewriter and a

"I spent more than six hours in an office with a guard," Ferrer recalls.
"Then they put me in a cell where you could have filmed a horror movie
for the amount of blood on the walls of someone who had been cut."

The dissident was interrogated by an official who identified himself as
Captain Quiñones, who threatened to send him to prison for "incitement
to violence," in a recent video posted on Twitter. Ferrer flatly denies
the accusation.

During the operation they also confiscated medications such as aspirin,
duralgine, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

"Most of our activists are in high spirits," says Ferrer. "This type of
assault does not discourage us," he adds. He says that "from November
2015 to date, there have been more than 140" raids of houses of members
of the organization.

On 18 December, at least nine houses of members of the opposition
movement were searched and numerous personal belongings seized by
members of the Ministry of Interior.

Among those who still have not been released are the activists Jorge
Cervantes, coordinator of UNPACU in Las Tunas, and Juan Salgado, both of
whom are being held in the third police unit in that eastern city. The
whereabouts of opponent Esquizander Benítez remain unknown. In addition,
about 50 of UNPACU's militants are being held in several prisons in the
country, which makes the it the opposition organization with the most
political prisoners in the country.

Source: José Daniel Ferrer: "This Type Of Assault Does Not Discourage
Us" / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Police Forces Assault UNPACU Headquarters, Activists Arrested / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 8 March 2017 — The headquarters of the Patriotic Union
of Cuba (UNPACU) were assaulted by police forces in the early hours of
Wednesday. The troops forcibly entered five homes located in the
Altamira and José María Heredia areas in Santiago de Cuba, where they
arrested a dozen opponents, according to opposition sources.

Two buildings that operate as UNPACU headquarters and three belonging to
members of the movement were the object of a wave of searches carried
out by agents of the political police and brigades of the National
Revolutionary Police (PNR).

The homes were "looted" simultaneously according to activist Ernesto
Oliva Torres, who reported that at the main headquarters the troops
confiscated "a refrigerator, a television, two laptops, six cordless
phones, among other items."

The searches were accompanied by arbitrary arrests and the interruption
of the telephone communications of most of the UNPACU activists.

Among those arrested on Wednesday morning were Liettys Rachel Reyes,
Carlos Amel Oliva and his father Carlos Oliva, Alexei Martínez, Ernesto
Morán, Juan Salgado, Roilán Zamora, Yriade Hernández, Jorge Cervantes
and his wife Gretchen, David Fernández, Miraida Martín, and the national
coordinator of the movement, José Daniel Ferrer.

14ymedio was able to confirm that Carlos Amel Oliva was released on
Wednesday night, but several of the dissidents remain incommunicado.
Oliva's telephone line had serious problems that prevented the dissident
from communicating with the press.

Liettys Rachel Reyes, 30 weeks pregnant, was under arrest for about
three hours and then released. The whereabouts of the rest of the
detainees remain unknown.

Source: Police Forces Assault UNPACU Headquarters, Activists Arrested /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed),
43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents
said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the
depths of Cuba.

The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked
asphalt and the small of cane juice, revolved around the sugar mill and
the usual thing was that grandfathers, fathers and grandsons worked in
the sugar industry.

It was a sugar mill town like many others. Squat brick houses half
plastered, a handful of white wood houses, guarded by five or six grungy
prefabricated buildings, built after Fidel Castro's Revolution.

The present and future of the village was to drink alcohol distilled
from cane, playing baseball on scrub ground and taming some lost mare
around some stinking green creek.

But Nivaldo wasn't a cane cutter nor a worker at the mill. He graduated
as a doctor on a rainy night in 1997 and after completing his social
service in a mountainous area of Santiago de Cuba, specialized in

When he stepped in Havana for the first time, like almost all the
country people, he took a photo at the base of the Capitol, and used a
finger to count the number of floors in the Habana Libre Hotel or the
Fosca Building.

"My dream was to be a doctor. Have a family and live according to my
professional status. I'm a specialist, I have a marvelous family, but in
order to maintain it I do things I'm not proud of."

"I have been on international missions in South Africa, Pakistan and
Venezuela. Not out of conviction but simply to earn money and repair and
furnish my house. In Cuba it's hard to find a doctor who hasn't violated
the Hippocratic oath, and accepted gifts or money to maintain his
family. In the countries where I have worked, I've seen patients under
the table who have paid me. In Cuba I have groups of patients who've
given me gifts, a box of beer that costs sixty Cuban convertible pesos,
according to the seriousness of their suffering."

On the Castro brother's island a lot of things don't work. You can wait
an hour and a half to get from one part of town to another because the
chaos that is public transport.

From the time you get up in the morning the problems accumulate.
There's no water in the tank. There's no money to buy a pair of shoes
for the kids. Or you have to eat whatever there is, not what you need or

Let's not even talk about other things, also important for human beings,
like freedom of expression, the right to join a party other than the
communist party, or to elect the president of the Republic.

But healthcare, universal coverage, was the pride of the autocrat Fidel
Castro. It worked well as long as the former USSR was sending checks
worth millions and connected a pipeline of petroleum coming from the

Later with the fall of Soviet Communism the deficit came. Ruined
hospitals, nurses looking like police agents and missing medical
specialists. The Raul Castro regime tried to keep the the flagship of
the Revolution afloat, but it was taking on water everywhere.

The first ones who become fed up are the doctors. If not all of them, at
least a broad segment. The causes vary, but the keys are the low
salaries and the lack of recognition for their work.

Migdalia, a dermatologist points out that "for six years I earned 700
Cuban pesos — about 35 dollars — and the salary was barely enough for me
to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. Now I get 1,600 Cuban pesos
— almost 75 dollars — and it's not enough either. So I accept patients
who give me bread and ham, or a piece of clothing, or money in cash, and
I give them personalized attention."

Joel, an allergist, wonders why, if what the international media says is
true and the government gets between 7 and 8 billion dollars from the
sale of medical services, "they don't pay us salaries consistent with
the inflation in the country. I was in Venezuela two years. The
neighbors gave me food and gave me gifts of clothing and things. Rather
than a doctor, I looked like a merchant buying stuff to sell when I came
back. I got to Cuba, after three years on a mission, between business
and the money I saved I had some four thousand dollars, not even enough
to rebuild my house. Now I'm chasing a mission in Trinidad and Tobago or
Qatar, but to get it you have to pay some official at the Ministry of
Public Health (MINSAP) some 400 or 500 bucks for them to put you on the
list. For these reasons, among others, many doctors decide to emigrate."

If we credit the statistics, a little more than three thousand doctors
have deserted in the last seven years. Venezuela is a destination that
puts their lives at risk. The delirious criminality in the South
American country has provoked, according to a statistic from 2010, the
deaths of 67 Cuban health professionals.

The lack of high-quality specialists makes it difficult to care for
patients in Cuba. Daniel has been looking for an ear specialist for six
months to diagnose and treat a problem.

"They only treat you as am emergency in a hospital if you're dying.
Diseases and symptoms that require lab tests, exams with equipment such
as cat scans or x-rays. can only be obtained quickly by paying with
money or gifts. Preventive medicine on the island is in crisis," Daniel

Twice a month, Marta pays 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to the
dentist who sees her daughter. "It's the only way to get high quality
care. If you don't pay, and try to work through the system, they don't
fix your mouth or they do it badly."

Aida, who works for a bank, waited almost a year to get an appointment
with an allergist. "Her appointment at the polyclinic was once a month.
But she never went. With two little bites of ham, two soft drinks and 5
CUC I was able to get an allergist to see me. Then, if they see that you
have resources, then they stretch out the attention to get more money
out of you. Some doctors have become hucksters. It's painful."

When you go to appointments at hospitals, you see that the majority of
patients are bringing gifts for the doctor. But it can be a gift in
kind. Though many prefer cash.

Source: Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age
67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer
"trained by the Revolution," scavenges among the garbage for the
sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured
spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons,
cans and empty containers.

"My last name? Why? And I don't want any photos. I have children and I
had a life. I don't want people to talk about me," she says while
agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and
disappointment. "I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of
those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes."

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to
official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even
the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become
acute before 2025.

With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an
economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a
result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the
biggest challenges in its history.

"I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars).
From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier
refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older,
less energy efficient models] and an additional 100 pesos for the
purchase of medicines," says Raquel.

Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines
she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program
does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with

"One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a
significant increase in public spending and the decline of the
population of childbearing age," explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist
based on the island and author of several books on the subject.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from
11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country's
fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the
population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4
children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were
126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.

For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such
as those facing Cuba.

One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return,
according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.

In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and
socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about
20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and
physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer
to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive
thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia
nursing home, in Havana's Cerro district.

The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a
month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security
grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that
they can't pay the cost.

Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security
systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it
received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65
billion dollars over 30 years.

"Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system
provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and
food at subsidized prices," explains the economist.

"It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults.
They don't give me any subsides because I live with my son, my
daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own
expenses and cannot take care of me," says Raquel.

"I need dentures and if you don't bring the dentist a gift they make
them badly or it takes months," she adds.

With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy
pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In
1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension
would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of
pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special
Period, according to Mesa-Lago's calculations.

Raúl Castro's administration drastically reduced the number of
beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called "the
elimination of gratuities." From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some
5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of
the population.

Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through
the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and
matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.

The government has authorized some assistance programs for the
elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income
elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small
figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people
in Cuba.

Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.

"People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an
avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in
1983, in the Andropov era," Raquel explains.

When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal
tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited
by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district,
until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.

"They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth
floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to
leave it, even though they paid well," she says.

For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars)
almost half as much as her pension.

Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although
she confesses that she wants "like mad" to get a contract with a small
private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state
company and its delays.

In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she
collects in the streets.

"In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have
to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can
not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos.
It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans."

In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data
available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1%
of the population were "at risk of not meeting some essential needs." A
survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income
insufficient to cover their living expenses.

Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were
mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something
from their work and remittances from abroad.

Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy
on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or
search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant
increase in beggars on the streets of the country's main cities has
become apparent.

"It doesn't bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one
who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school," says Raquel.

"The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very
good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He
always comes out and defends me from mockery," she says proudly.

Source: With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash
/ 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US embargo
By KATARINA HALL • 3/8/17 8:00 PM

At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the
Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on
United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16
other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an
initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade
and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.

Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will
alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The
president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural
Expansion Act would "increase US agricultural exports, create jobs
across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality
American food." While these efforts are an important step in improving
American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform
its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its
desired effect.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was
implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that
restricting the population's access to cheap foreign goods makes the
country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its
widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one
thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice
for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.

While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an
important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods
will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal

I spent last year doing research on economic remittances in Cuba.
Throughout my time there, I conducted several interviews with Havana
residents. Like many Cuba observers, I went in thinking that the
external embargo was Cuba's main stumbling block toward development.
Through these conversations I learned that many Cubans think
differently, against the wishes of state propaganda officials.

As one of my interviewees, Jorge, put it: "The embargo that most affects
us is internal. We don't need the United States; we can buy things from
Mexico, Panama, China." The problem, he explained, is that import taxes
in Cuba are so high that it makes it impossible for anyone to buy things
from other countries. "Either that," Jorge continued, "or the customs
officials steal your goods because they can." One time, Jorge went as
far as to destroy a new microwave he had purchased in St. Martin because
custom officials would not let him keep it. "If they wouldn't let me
keep my microwave, I wasn't going to let them have it."

Even if companies are able to legally pay the taxes, the price of goods
drastically increases well beyond the reach of an average Cuban. My
Havana neighbor, Maria Elena, explained that in Cuba you do see imported
goods like refrigerators from China, anti-electricity antennas from
Spain, even your occasional Nestlé ice cream. "But I can't afford any of
these with my $20 a month salary," she said, "a $3 ice cream becomes a
luxury." A resident from the next-door building, Lismary, said that
sometimes import taxes raise the price of a good by 110 percent. With
these prices, American products entering the Cuban market could only be
sold at stores for foreigners or hotels, not your average Cuban store.

If U.S. companies were to become established in Cuba, they would run
into another problem: it takes ages for customs to process goods.
Manuel, a Havana resident who worked for a Spanish company, told me that
sometimes it took his company six months to a year to get the permits
needed for their products to be released by customs. "That is, 6 months
plus countless bribes," he said, "and sometimes we get the products too
late, when we don't need them anymore." Having products stuck so long in
customs could eventually lead to losses for Cubans importing goods and
American companies in Cuba.

Despite their intentions, efforts like the Senate legislation are
unlikely to help average Cubans. While it is true that these efforts
might help the economic growth of some states, and perhaps the communist
regime, they will not provide cheap foods for the Cuban population. As
noble as the intentions of such campaigns might be, it will not be until
the internal embargo in Cuba is removed that Cuban people will begin to
benefit from trade with the U.S.

Katarina Hall is the director of the Human Rights Center at Universidad
Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. She is also a Young Voices Advocate.

Source: Cuba's self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US
embargo | Washington Examiner - Continue reading
Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in Syracuse
Michael Greenlar |

on March 09, 2017 at 1:54 PM, updated March 09, 2017 at 2:11 PM
Syracuse, N.Y. -- Alejandro Cobus would leave his apartment in Syracuse
for his ballet class three hours early. He'd walk nearly six miles in
the snow and cold in sneakers. Then he'd warm up, dance for the next
three hours, and walk the same route home in the dark.

He never complained.

"We had no idea," Kathleen Rathbun said. Rathbun is the artistic
director of the Syracuse City Ballet and its school, Ballet & Dance of
Upstate NY. When they found out, the parents of other dancers and
Rathbun began giving Cobus rides.

Until December, Cobus and Jose Carlos Pino were dancers with the elite
national ballet company of Cuba, Ballet de Camaguey. The men, 20, began
their careers at the age of 8 in Cuba. The government program in the
communist country chooses the dancers. They leave their families for school.

"This is your career," Cobus said through an interpreter.

Getting into the program, and staying in, is a tremendous
accomplishment. Cuba, like Russia, trains some of the best ballet
dancers in the world. Now, fate and circumstance have dropped the two
young men in Syracuse where they are dancing with the Syracuse City
Ballet in its production of Snow White.

In Cuba, Cobus and Pino found little opportunity and meager pay. Dancers
were given a place to live and paid $10 a month, they said. They were
given small rations of meat and rice, they said, but it was not nearly
enough to fuel their constant movement. Both men said they often went

Beyond those practical struggles, they saw, stretched before them, a
world of little opportunity. There are only a few good roles for men in
the company. And that company was the only company available to them in
a world where the government controls every choice.

In December, when the company was touring in Mexico, the two men walked
away from everything they knew. They defected from Cuba, crossing the
border into Texas, legally, as political refugees.

They left behind their families. The mothers of both young men are
school teachers who make about $20 a month. The pay is so meager that in
all of their years of dancing, neither man's mother has seen him on stage.

The road to Syracuse for both men has been accidental in the way fate
sometimes seems. At first, Pino and Cobus split up. Pino had relatives
in Houston, so he stayed there for a while. Cobus had no one and no money.

Cobus got a job driving a van until he saved up enough money to make it
to Miami. When he was in Miami, Cobus said, he found help at a church.
There, someone made a connection for him with InterFaith Works in
Syracuse, which brought him to Syracuse and helped him find an
apartment. They also helped him find the ballet and are continuing to
help him learn English.

On the surface, Syracuse seems like a place that couldn't be farther
from Cobus' tropical home. But when he found a place to dance, he found
a new home. Ballet, after all, is the same in every tongue. And he found
warmth, family even, in Rathbun and her ballet company.

Cobus called Pino to tell him he found a place where they could both
live and dance.

Pino arrived two weeks ago. He and Cobus are sharing the small apartment
in Syracuse. They are friends, but more like "hermanos," brothers. And
opposite in so many ways.

Cobus leans forward as they talk, pointing and unpointing his toes. The
men are paid a little by the ballet, but they need other work, Cobus
says. He tries to think what he could do with his meager English -
cleaning during the day maybe, so he can dance at night?

Pino leans back in his chair, he legs outstretched. He smiles and tells
Cobus he worries too much. All will be fine.

They bicker, in a friendly way. Cobus gets up too early, Pino says.
Cobus says Pino sleeps too late.

Rathbun smiles at them and laughs before their words are even
translated. She calls them, "the boys." She and dance moms from the
school have clothed them, driven them. A dance mom, Erica Stark,
translates for them. As they talk before rehearsal, another mother
brings sandwiches for them.

When asked what their ultimate goal is, Rathbun already knows the answer
for Cobus: Basilio in Don Quixote.

"He is always doing it in the studio," Rathbun says. The role is full of
dramatic leaps, including a spiraling, dangerous one that Cobus adds.
(That makes Rathbun grimace because she worries he'll fall).

Pino would be Albrecht in Giselle, he says.

While dance was chosen for them, neither man would change his life path.
They live to dance.

In a back room studio at the Civic Center, where the ballet is doing its
dress rehearsal for Snow White, Cobus and Pino take turns running
through leaps and twists across the floor. It is a friendly show of
one-upping. One man runs and leaps, the other take a cell phone video.
Then they switch.

Cobus does that spiraling leap that makes Rathbun nervous. The first
time, he falters and puts him hand down. The second time, he nails it.

Here, though they have so little, their dreams seem closer. Even this
one: Perhaps one day their mothers, who gave them to the ballet when
they were still little boys, will see them fill the stage with leaps so
large it seems like there must be a tiny bit of magic somewhere.

"Algun dia," they both say. And smile.

Some day.

Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, life and culture in Central New York.

Source: Dancers who defected from Cuba are building new dreams in
Syracuse | - Continue reading
American cruise travelers bump into Cuba's rules

After a calm winter's night at anchor on Cuba's remote Siguanea Bay, 34
American travelers on the 150-foot motor-sailor Panorama II awakened
before dawn and collected their snorkeling gear, prepared for a ride on
a local boat to the southwest corner of Isla de la Juventud (formerly
Isle of Pines).

But on this day, the schedule, which had been arranged with and approved
by top tourism officials in Havana, was not to be.

Communication about changing procedures is not an attribute of central
government in Cuba, a country known for breakdowns in plans and
mechanics and disincentives for individual decision-making. Military
guards in charge of the island docks had received no written
instructions from Havana (though an approving word would filter down for
Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic trips in weeks that followed).

So, no local boat would be coming to tender us from our ship to shore as
the sun began to rise. Ever resourceful, expedition guides attempted
alternative transportation, rolling out zodiacs that belonged to our
chartered Greek vessel. Alas, Panorama II's captain called off our
morning journey to a white sandy beach for swimming and snorkeling at
Punta Frances Marine National Park. Instead, we would cruise directly to
Cienfuegos, our last city on the 11-day Cuba expedition.

During the course of the cruise, our schedule changed almost daily from
our printed itinerary.

The previous day on Juventud, we had reached shore without a hitch. We
toured Presidio Modelo, where Fidel Castro and fellow revolutionaries
were imprisoned in 1953 through 1955. We then made a delightful visit to
Nueva Gerona's Escuela de Arte Leonardo Luberta, a music school for
gifted children.

We walked El Búlevar, a pedestrian-only boulevard where city residents
turned out to watch us watch a terrific show. The show featured models
dressed in minimalist pirate's clothing made of newspapers, and two
local bands, one playing for a presentation by children of a folkloric
dance, a second performing music of the Santeria Church as dancers
representing the orishas, Yemayá and Eleggua, swirled.

"After such an inspiring day among the creativity, talent and spirit of
the local people, and after seeing the benefits from so many of the
government institutions like art schools and hospitals, today we faced
our share of difficulties," said Tom O'Brien, our expedition leader, as
we motor-sailed east to Cienfuegos (toasting with a spontaneous round of
Bloody Marys).

Earlier in the week we had been turned away from two seaside sites,
including famed Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) Marine Park,
the attraction that had drawn some of the passengers to book this
voyage. Now we had been outmaneuvered by the Cuban military, although
they did it politely and respectfully.

O'Brien applauded passengers for their patience, flexibility, open minds
and "surprisingly high spirits."

Why not? While snorkeling and swimming were out — in fact, we never
dipped our bodies into the water during the entire week at sea — we
remained a satisfied lot of travelers, sailing in and around ports on
the southwestern coast of Cuba, which largely has been closed to
Americans since the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Fifty-five years later, we had floated up to the infamous Bay of Pigs
and calmly walked ashore to visit a museum in Playa Girón for Cuba's
version of the failed invasion. We began the morning at daybreak for a
woodsy birdwatching walk that did not yield a Cuban green woodpecker but
did lead us to exciting views of a dozen indigenous species, including
the Cuban pygmy-owl and the bee hummingbird, smallest bird in the world
at 2 ½ inches.

The Lindblad/National Geographic expedition to Cuba — three nights in
Havana at the venerable, outdated Nacional Hotel and seven nights
cruising on the cozy Panorama II — was described as a people-to-people
tour, as spelled out in a contract with the Cuban government. That's
what we did — meeting, listening to and/or watching talented Cubans
speak, entertain and show off their homes, businesses and creations in
Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Nueva Gerona. Even our free time one
morning at the 60-block Havana cemetery, Cementerio Colón, seemed to
qualify as a people-to-people visit.

In Havana, the Habana Compás dance troupe drummed and danced to blends
of the rhythms of Cuba. In a private rooftop performance, Grammy-winning
Septeto Nacional, founded in 1927 and now in its fourth generation,
played Cuban music with special guest singers that included Pedro
Godinez, 90. We rode in classic American cars from the 1950s; toured
Ernest Hemingway's former home, Finca Vigía; and met with artists and
young journalists (at, which is published in the
United States).

In Cienfuegos, the Cantores de Cienfuegos choir sang religious and
classical Cuban songs. In a specially arranged musical program, children
performed "Cucarachita Martina" at a harborside pavilion.

We ate well, and viewed even better at seaside rooftop restaurants and
in historic homes where Cubans are expanding their businesses and
presentations for an anticipated rise in visitors.

Havana, said guidebook author and lecturer Christopher Baker, is in the
midst of a gastro-revolution thanks to the creativity of cuentapropistas
(private entrepreneurs). Cuban food was tasty, although without much in
the way of fresh vegetables. On Panorama II, meals were more creative
than those on land, all of which were well-prepared combinations of rice
and either meat or fish.

Twice when we arrived at Cuban ports, passengers and guides lined up to
have their temperatures taken by a local nurse. That was a first for me.
In Cuba, at least on the southwestern coast, the government doesn't want
travelers bringing any germs ashore.

Travelers on this expedition unanimously reported a positive feeling
about the island and their many contacts with its residents. American
travel guides who have spent time in Cuba call it a country of
scarcities when speaking of material goods but with no scarcity of
enthusiasm and confidence among the people. That was an accurate
portrayal of the Cuban folks we met, both the people we were guided
toward and those we met casually on the streets.

By its nature, expedition cruising is significantly more adventurous
than relaxing. Such a cruise draws a special breed of travelers who are
flexible and patient about outcomes. Although Lindblad/National
Geographic expeditions are well guided by experts of the land, nature
and photography, travelers do not know for certain what expectations
will be realized, and when. That is part of the fun.

New expeditions, such as cruising the southwestern coast of Cuba,
require an additional degree of open-mindedness, anticipating a surprise
every day.

▪ Eleven-day cruises of Cuba on Panorama II start at $9,500 per person
double occupancy and are available through March, then again in December
through March 2018. Information: 800-397-3348 or

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of

Source: Adjusting to Cuba's rules on a Lindblad cruise of the island |
Miami Herald - Continue reading
Boulder company helps Cuba catch up in the tech race
Next with Kyle Clark. 9NEWS @ 6. 3/7/2017
Mike Grady , KUSA 2:52 PM. MST March 08, 2017

BOULDER, COLO. - A good laugh can be a great cure for a lack of
creativity. That's why you'll hear plenty of it at Boomtown Accelerator
in Boulder.

Jose Vieitez, the co-founder, helps startups fine tune their software,
business strategy and other elements essential to a successful business.

"When you start a company, it's very easy to start building product and
figure out how to make money later," he says.

But this group is not made up of Boulder techies

"My company is called Isladentro," Indhira Sotillo says through a
translator. "It is a mobile application that acts as a guide to Cuba."

Her app is essentially a type of Yelp for Cuba.

Sotillo founded Isladentro in Havana in 2013. She visited Boomtown on
Tuesday with two other Cuban tech startups.

"It's been a great benefit to be able to learn about business here, but
also to show what we're able to do in Cuba," Sotillo says.

The companies are among the 10 winners of the 10x10KCuba competition.
They've earned the opportunity to work with accelerators in America and

Running a Cuban based tech company isn't like starting one in the U.S.
It creates unique challenges, which call for creative solutions.
Sotillo's app is offline now because in Cuba people have very limited
internet connectivity.

"All of the information is in the app, so you have the sense of being
online even though you're not."

Vieitez's family still lives in Cuba. He knows firsthand the sacrifice
that Cuban entrepreneurs make daily.

"All the time you have to make sure that you're playing by government
rules, and in addition making good business decisions which can be
difficult," he says.
Vieitez hopes the ideas developed during the two weeks he's spending
with the companies will have a global impact. And Indhira is looking
forward to sharing her foreign tech experience back home.

"Everyone is helping each other be successful in their businesses, and
that's something I'd like to take back to Cuba," she says.

Source: Boulder company helps Cuba catch up in the tech race |
- Continue reading
Future of democracy in Cuba
Posted: Mar 08, 2017 5:48 AM
Updated: Mar 08, 2017 6:09 AM

Two human rights activists from the island nation spoke about what it
will take to secure democracy in the country.

Rosa María Payá with the Christian Liberation Movement and Cuba Decide
and Oswaldo Payá were invited to the university by the Department of
Political Science.

Cuba Decide is a citizen initiative that coordinates the efforts of
those seeking a binding referendum to bring about free, pluralistic, and
fair elections on the island.

"Its important that we all understand is that because Fidel Castro is
gone that doesn't mean that there is a transition process going on in
the island," Payá says. "The transition process is going to start in the
moment in which the Cuban people could have a voice. And in order to
have a voice we need also the support of the international community and
the American people."


Source: Future of democracy in Cuba - | Continuous News
Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette - Continue reading
Want to visit Cuba before it's commercialized? You can't, says 'Havana'

Journalist Mark Kurlansky has a sobering message for Americans who say
they want to visit Havana before it's ruined.

"You can't go before it's wrecked because it's already wrecked," he
says. "It's not the place it was in the 1950s or even the 1970s and
'80s. Americans are so egocentric. They think now suddenly it's going to
become commercial because we're there. But you can be commercial and
touristic without Americans, and Havana has already become that."

A former Chicago Tribune correspondent, Kurlansky covered the Caribbean
in the 1970s and '80s. Author of books on a startling variety of topics
— the histories of cod, salt, oysters, paper, the song "Dancing in the
Street" and frozen food among them — he has turned his attention to what
he calls "the Caribbean's great city" in his 30th book. "Havana: A
Subtropical Delirium" is the latest installment of Bloomsbury's "The
Writer and the City" series, which includes works on Florence (by David
Leavitt), Manhattan (Patrick McGrath) and Prague (John Banville).

Kurlansky, who will talk about the book on March 9 at Books & Books in
Coral Gables, jumped at the chance to produce a book about the city,
about which he writes, "Havana, for all its smells, sweat, crumbling
walls, isolation and difficult history, is the most romantic city in the

"I'm an urban person," says the author, who lives in New York City.
"It's a big city, with lots of neighborhoods and things going on. And
the people are great, such great people. They have a wonderful, cynical
sense of humor. They're warm, welcoming people. That's why it's such a
great tourist place — they're glad to see people. It's economic, but
they want to talk to you, too."

"Havana" is not a political book, though writing about the Cuban capital
without mentioning the country's volatile politics is impossible. As you
might expect, the revolution looms large. But Kurlansky also focuses on
other aspects of the city: its history, culture, food, music and sports
(surprisingly, he writes that interest is shifting away from baseball
and moving toward soccer).

"Havana children have put away their small balls and sticks and taken to
foot-dribbling large balls down the street," writes Kurlansky, who also
wrote a book about Dominican baseball. "This might even be intentional
on the government's part. Just as baseball was originally popularized as
a way of embracing America and rejecting Spain, Cubans may now be
turning back to soccer as a way of rejecting the United States and
embracing Europe."

"Havana" comes at a time when American interest in travel to the island
has peaked, with a record 4 million visitors last year, a 13 percent
increase over the previous year. New cruise and airline service could
make 2017 another record-breaker, with Cuba expecting an extra 100,000
visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

Despite these shifts, Kurlansky thinks the biggest changes have already

"The really big changes happened after the fall of the Soviet Union," he
says. "Cuba was a different country when the Soviets were there. ...
They would have these goals. Most had to do with replacing things cut
off by the embargo. So they made their own Coca-Cola and ice cream. They
didn't care about tourism. The downside was there were very few hotels
and restaurants. You felt like a pioneer there. But there was tremendous
energy and enthusiasm. They were trying to create a new society. But
when the Soviets left, they didn't have any more money."

Talking about the revolution in such mild tones used to get you censured
in Miami, and Kurlansky is sure he got the occasional side-eye from
Miami airport workers when he returned from Cuba during his reporting
days. But during a recent interview with WLRN that included an hourlong
call-in segment, he didn't get a single hostile phone call, which makes
him think Miami attitudes toward visiting Cuba are shifting a bit.

Now if only Americans could understand the best thing about Havana.

"People in America think of it as a sad and downtrodden place, and I
guess it could be, but it's not because that's not who Cubans are," he
says. "In Cuba, you get a good story every day you go out walking.
People are so funny. The most popular form of joke is a Fidel joke. You
get lots of jokes about the revolution. That's their nature."

Source: Havana, Cuba is the most romantic city in the world, says author
Mark Kurlansky | Miami Herald - Continue reading
CCDHRN: 482 arbitrary arrests on the Island in February and a political
activist, dead in prison
DDC | La Habana | 8 de Marzo de 2017 - 20:48 CET.

In its monthly report the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced the "482 arbitrary arrests" of
peaceful opponents and dissidents that took place in Cuba in the month
of February.

The figure was slightly higher than those from the three preceding
months: 359 arrests (November), 458 (December) and 478 (January).

"Our Commission also documented 16 cases of physical assaults and 18
cases of harassment perpetrated by undercover political police and
paramilitary agents, with peaceful dissidents also their victims," added
the report, to which DIARIO DE CUBA had access.

The document indicated that "the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union
of Cuba (UNPACU) were the most repressed organizations: the former has
been repeatedly subjected to harassment and other abuses, for 90
consecutive weekends, while 54 members of the UNPACU are political
prisoners, most of them remaining imprisoned without formal charges, or
awaiting trials."

The report also denounced the death in prison on February 24, at the
Combinado del Este (Havana) of the "political prisoner Hamel Santiago
Maz Hernández, a member of UNPACU, who had languished there since June
3, 2016; that is, more than 8 months without even receiving even the
kind of kangaroo court that the Castro regime calls a "trial."

"There have been many cases of Cubans who have died in government
custody, and all the moral and legal responsibility rests with the
ruling elite," concludes the CCDHRN.

Source: CCDHRN: 482 arbitrary arrests on the Island in February and a
political activist, dead in prison | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces The Death Of A Political Prisoner
Pending Trial / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) has denounced the death of
political prisoner Hamel Santiago Maz Hernández, an activist from
UNPACU, who died* on February 24 at Combinado del Este prison in
Havana. The opponent had been imprisoned for eight months without trial
for the alleged offense of contempt.

The CCDHRN has released its report for the month of February in which it
says that "there have been thousands of cases of Cubans killed in
government custody," a situation for which the authorities bear all the
"moral and legal responsibility."

The report includes the 482 arbitrary arrests of dissidents last month,
a "slightly higher figure than in January."

The CCDHRN also documented 16 cases of physical aggression and 18 of
harassment, "by the secret political police and para-police agents,"
with the victims being peaceful opponents, adds the report.

The text clarifies that, given "the closed nature of the regime that has
ruled Cuba for almost 60 years," it is "impossible to record the
thousands of violations of fundamental rights" that occur throughout the
island each month.

Nevertheless, it reports that the Ladies in White and the Patriotic
Union of Cuba (UNPACU) are once again the organizations most
repressed. In the case of the women's organization, they have been
"subjected to humiliations and other abuses" over and over. For its
part, 54 members of the UNPACU "are political prisoners, most of whom
remain imprisoned without formal charges or pending trial."

During 2016, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented 9,940 arbitrary detentions. This
figure "places the Government of Cuba in the first place in all of Latin
America," according to the independent organization.

*Translator's note: Cuban State Security informed his wife that he died
of a heart attack.

Source: Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces The Death Of A Political
Prisoner Pending Trial / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Havana Taxi Drivers Up In Arms / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 27 February 2017 — After working twelve hours driving a
vintage 1957 Chevrolet for a collective taxi company on the
Cotorro-Central Park route, twenty-nine year old Osdiel sits down to
have a beer at a dark bar in the south end of Havana, where he unleashes
his frustration over new measures Cuban authorities have adopted.

Without a leader or a labor union looking out for their interests, a
large faction of Havana taxi drivers is organizing to overturn what they
consider to be arbitrary regulations imposed by the regime of Raúl Castro.

This report will be concise. Havana is a densely populated metropolitan
area of more than two and a half million residents with a road network
routinely in disrepair and a mass transit system in chaos. In the summer
of 2016 the city began regulating prices for private taxi services.

In the Cuban capital there are about thirty designated taxi corridors.
These are fixed routes costing between 10 and 20 pesos per ride based on
travel distance. The current fleet of taxis, which is operated by
licensed drivers as well as individuals who work clandestinely on the
sidelines, is estimated at between 10,000 and 12,000 automobiles.

"Sometimes there are more because drivers from nearby provinces such as
Artemisa, Mayabeque, Pinar del River and Matanzas come to Havana. That's
in addition to the hundreds of drivers working for state-owned companies
who pick up passengers during and after normal working hours to earn
extra money," says Francisco, an official with ONAT (National Office of
Tax Administration), an institution that regulates private sector work
in Cuba.

Beginning in 2016, along with a rollback of the autocratic regime's
timid economic reforms, the government began meddling in prices that had
been determined by supply and demand.

In January of last year the government began a policy of regulating
prices for produce. In the last twelve months it has closed 60% of
independent farmers' markets.

The state does not sell fuel or spare parts at wholesale prices to
private-sector taxi drivers in spite of the public benefit they provide.

Eliecer, who drives a Soviet-era Lada along the Vibora-Vedado route,
explains, "In no paragraph of our contract does it say that the
government can regulate prices. We set them based upon supply and demand."

Before 1959 public transportation in Cuba was efficient but that all
ended once Fidel Castro and his bearded men came to power. For almost
six decades since then, it has been a pressing issue for the regime.
Bus, taxi, rail, shipping and air transportation have been plagued with
shortages that have impacted the time and ways it takes to transport
millions of people from one place to another within a city or across the

Though Havana should ideally have have a fleet of 3,000 buses, there are
only about 900 operating. Along the busiest routes such as the P6, P7,
P11 and P14, buses should arrive every three minutes during peak hours
but only come along once every ten or fifteen minutes. And there is no
subway or suburban rail network serving the city.

Three decades ago, the state operated 4,000 taxis and charged modest
prices. The fleet of state-run taxis now numbers less than 200 and often
are used to provide services to hospitals and funeral homes. These taxis
are also rented out, at market rates, to drivers who have finished their

There is a fleet of some 800 modern, air-conditioned cars which charge
in convertible pesos and are used primarily by tourists, foreign
visitors and affluent Cubans.

The regime has discreetly launched a small enterprise called Cubataxis,
a network of taxis with fares priced in hard currency. Three years ago
it began leasing them to drivers. "You get 500 CUCs (convertible pesos)
as a loan and every day you have to hand over 55 CUCs to the government.
The authorities give us twenty liters of fuel; we have to buy the rest.
To meet the guidelines, we have to clock up to thirteen hours a day. We
get to keep the car at home and we set the fares," explains Dagoberto,
who drives of a Chinese-made Geely.

For private-sector taxi drivers like Erasmo, this difference matters.
"Why don't they regulate Cubataxis' prices? Oh, because the government
makes money off this business. We fulfill a need in society. We
transport hundreds of thousands of people a day. We are doing the work
the government should be doing," he complains.

For a long time drivers who work for state-run businesses have sold fuel
at prices lower than those at gas stations. "On the black market a liter
of gasoline costs between twelve and fifteen pesos. The government sells
it for 28 pesos," says a private sector taxi driver.

According to reports, the reduction of petroleum imports from Venezuela
— deliveries fell from 100,000 barrels a day to 55,000 — is what led to
the Cuban government to begin charging its business operations for fuel.

This led to a shortage on the black market, forcing most private-sector
taxi drivers to raise prices. A trip that normally would have cost ten
pesos was soon up to twenty.

When authorities in Havana ordered a cap on cab fares in July 2016, the
response from a large number of taxi drivers was to break up the rides
into smaller segments. For example, if a trip from La Palma to
Brotherhood Park cost ten pesos, they would split it into two and
increase their profit.

Such subterfuge along with the price hikes have irritated large numbers
of customers who rely on shared taxis on a daily basis to get around.

"The government took advantage of a bad situation to adopt populist
measures that favor passengers. But they didn't take into account the
fact that taxi drivers are the owners of their vehicles and can
determine prices. Now that there is a lid on prices, God help you if you
are trying to catch a taxi," says Lisván.

For Osdiel, the owner of a 1957 Chevrolet, the problem is one of
negotiation. "The government wants us to do what it wants us to do. But
this is not the era of slavery. Most taxi drivers want to sit down and
talk, then come to an agreement. My proposal would be for the
authorities to sell us a certain amount of fuel at a subsidized price in
exchange for them being able to set prices."

Manuel, a slow talking kind of guy, believes, "The targets of this
offensive are the owners of small fleets of cars, jeeps and trucks. They
want to screw us over because we make a lot of money. And that's a crime
in this system. Sixty percent of private-sector taxi drivers in Havana
don't own their vehicles. They are salaried workers. I estimate that a
hundred or two hundred people own at least four or five cars each and
have ten to twelve employees working for them. I own six cars, five
jeeps and three trucks. The purpose of these measures is to wipe us off
the map."

For the time being, more than four thousand drivers have decided not to
go to work next Monday, February 27. "We will say that our cars are
busted or we are sick. We will go on strike. Let's see what they'll do
then," says Osdiel defiantly.

The battle between private-sector taxi drivers and the government of
Raúl Castro has become like a serialized novel. We will see what the
next installment brings.

Source: Havana Taxi Drivers Up In Arms / Iván García – Translating Cuba
- Continue reading
Disappeared / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The two personalities
who represent the polar opposites of the so-called process of updating
the Cuban model have disappeared. We have seen neither hide nor hair of
the "captain" of economic reforms, Marino Murillo, since October of last
year, and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, considered the braking mechanism
for any measure that looks like a change, has not appeared in the
official media since 27 February.

Murillo did not appear in the images that filled the media during the
nine days of the funeral and mourning period of former President Fidel
Castro. He was not seen in the last session of the parliament fulfilling
his usual role of asking for accountability on the implementation of the
Party's Guidelines. He was not on the viewing platform saluting the
troops who marched in the military parade of 2 January, nor at any other
significant event of the ruling party during the current year.

On the other hand, rare is the day when the second secretary of the
Communist Party, Machado Ventura, does not appear visiting a chicken
farm, sausage factory or a sugar mill, moments that he uses to hammer
home his slogans of discipline andcontrol, demands that put him in the
headlines almost daily in the official press. He is the visible face
that exhorts the peasants to produce food and the workers to comply with
savings measures.

However, the most significant sign that unveils the wide range of
suspicions about the whereabouts of this hardliner has been that when
Raul Castro returned from his brief trip to Venezuela, the so-often
repeated scene of Machado Ventura receiving him at the bottom the
airplane stairs was missing. Perhaps this is the first time that images
of the general president's return to the country were not released and
that the press didn't mention who welcomed him.

The last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on 28 February, was
the first of Raul Castro's presidential term that was not broadcast live
on television, nor were photos published in the Party newspaper Granma.
Both Murillo and Machado Ventura should have been visible as members of
the group of highest ranking decision makers in the country.

Instead, in the official information about the meeting there was a
reference to Leonardo Andolla Valdea, deputy chief of the Permanent
Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Party
Guidelines. He was in charge of saying, on this occasion, what would
have normally been said by Murillo, also known as the "czar of the
economic reforms."

It is not serious to spread rumors, much less to invent them. In
journalism only the facts must be counted, showing evidence and citing
sources. However, under the opaque veil of secrecy in which the most
important political and economic events unfold in Cuba, absences attract
attention as much as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as
what is stated.

Source: Disappeared / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
No sign of release for the last Cuban spy in a US jail
Despite thaw in relations, Ana Belén Montes looks set to serve last nine
years of quarter-century sentence
Corresponsal en Miami
Miami 8 MAR 2017 - 16:05 CET

On February 28, in her cell at a maximum security prison in Fort Worth,
Texas, Ana Belén Montes turned 60 years of age. Once regarded as one of
the Pentagon's top analysts and an expert on Cuba's military, the
so-called "Queen of Cuba" was arrested in 2001 when her 17-year career
as Cuban spy was discovered and she was sentenced to 25 years in jail.

Despite the thaw in relations between Havana and Washington under Barack
Obama, which saw three of the last Cuban spies returned home in 2014,
Montes remains behind bars in a facility reserved for some of the most
dangerous and mentally ill prisoners in the United States.

In 2016, a family member revealed that Montes had undergone surgery for
breast cancer, although there has been no official confirmation of this.

Her release is currently scheduled for 2026, by which point she will be
69 years old.

Unlike the three prisoners released in 2014, the Cuban government has
never officially campaigned for Montes' freedom. In June 2016, Miami
Spanish-language daily El Nuevo Herald reported that Cuban officials had
asked after her during a meeting in the United States. A few months
earlier, Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez had called for her
release at a concert in Spain. The request was repeated a few days ago
at one of his concerts in Puerto Rico. Mariela Castro, daughter of
Cuba's President Raúl Castro, posted a report from Venezuela's official
news agency mentioning that a campaign for Montes' freedom had been
organized in Cuba.

Montes penetrated US intelligence deeper than any other Cuban agent

Writing in his blog on Montes' birthday about her treatment by the
regime, Cuban journalist Harold Cárdenas said: "The Cuban Foreign
Ministry's discretion is understandable. In contrast, the silence in the
national media is shameful."

There has been speculation that the United States and Cuba are
negotiating Montes' exchange for Assata Shakur, the Black Panther leader
accused of shooting a police officer who managed to escape to Cuba in
1984, claiming political asylum. But a 2016 US State Department internal
document rejects the option.

Montes is considered to be the Cuban agent who most deeply penetrated US
intelligence. An analyst at the Pentagon, she was recruited by Havana in
1984, and after undergoing training, would report each night to her
handlers via shortwave radio without ever having to make copies of
documents, thanks to her remarkable memory.

She rose through the ranks from her initial position as a typist,
garnering commendations along the way, one of which was presented by the
then-head of the CIA. Born to Puerto Rican parents on a US army base in
Germany and whose two siblings worked for the FBI, while her former
boyfriend was a Pentagon official, Montes passed on top-secret
information, such as the identity of four US spies in Cuba or US
activities in Central America. She refused payment for her spying,
telling the judge at her 2002 trial she acted out of "love" for Cuba,
which she felt was being treated "cruelly" by the United States.

The Cuban government has never officially campaigned for Montes' freedom

Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, who worked with Montes, remembers her
as "bitter" and "prepared to risk her life for her love of Fidel Castro
and his revolution."

Piero Gleijeses, an expert in US foreign policy, was her teacher in the
1980s when Montes undertook a Master's in International Studies at Johns
Hopkins University. He remembers her as a "brilliant" student regarded
as "conservative" in the classroom. Montes visited him in a decade
later, ostensibly to discuss a paper he had written, but in reality to
scope him for information about Cuba. "I told her that if I had any
confidential information I wouldn't tell her, because I knew where she
worked and I didn't agree with US foreign policy."

A year ago, in a letter to her family, Montes wrote from her cell:
"There are certain things in life that are worth going to jail for. Or
that are worth committing suicide for after doing them."

English version by Nick Lyne.

Source: US-Cuban thaw: No sign of release for the last Cuban spy in a US
jail | In English | EL PAÍS - Continue reading
Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms
March 7, 2017
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES — Every Sunday, there is the "Los Chinos" agro-market fair
in the city of Holguin in eastern Cuba. Trucks loaded with produce come
from all over the country, mainly from its central provinces. As there
is competition and since the sellers can bulk buy on the farms, there
are lower prices than normal, which doesn't exactly mean that it's cheap.

Of course, the trucks have been rented out, the real owners of this
produce are the merchants known as "intermediaries". These trade
operators play an essential role in the development of agriculture
because they stimulate production by creating confidence in
commercialization. They logically make nice profits, maybe more than
what would be fair; but the problem here doesn't lie in their existence
as such, but in the many knots in the Cuban system which make balanced
regulation almost impossible.

In the 1980s, the government experimented with the so-called Farmers'
Free Markets (MLC) and then it was shut down by Fidel himself, who
couldn't stand the idea that some Cubans were "getting rich". In order
to cure his headache, he destroyed the emerging semi-free market.

In the '90s, a Party leader from Pinar del Rio spoke about reviving the
MLC in a televised Congress session (perhaps the IV Plenary session of
the Cuban Communist Party in 1991), where the idea alone unleashed
Fidel's rage on the spot and on live TV (I watched this) and then rumors
went round from Pinar that the person who dared share his opinion had
been dismissed of his responsibilities.

When hunger took its hold of Cuba, he sent brother Raul Castro to
announce "the same dog but with a different collar": the Agro-Market. I
remember that this was announced in an interview granted to Luis Baez
and was published in Granma and then repeated across the media. The
government journalist began his article by saying that he had been
looking for that interview with Raul for some time and that Raul had
finally taken some time out for him: it was pure theater! Both of them
knew what the objective was. Fidel never spoke about the subject.

Today, criminalizing the private sector because of its high prices
continues to be a subject of debate in Parliament, especially against
the famous Intermediaries; who are restricted or prohibited at times and
have their merchandise seized resulting in great losses. However, the
truth is that they don't dare to ban them because without them
completely because there wouldn't be commerce or stable farming production.

However, these are the larger merchants, who, even though they pay for
the same license as smaller ones, have completely different functions.
Small traders who sell at a higher price are the ones who mainly
purchase their products from the larger Intermediaries. Here in the
Holguin province, hundreds of small traders (push cart or bike sellers)
travel on Sundays to the capital city and they buy their produce from
the trucks at the Los Chinos market.

Every one of them with two or three sacks also provide work for horse
drawn cart drivers and bici-taxis operators who transport them to bus
and train stations paying for every sack. A lot of people benefit from
this trade, especially the government which charges them for the
license, taking 10% of gross sales, social security payments and fines
for any silly mistakes. All of this translates into the product's final
price, which reaches customers in urban neighborhoods where it often
costs double or triple the initial price.

However, the private sector in Cuba isn't only sentenced to having these
restrictions on growth which our laws impose on them; they are also
treated like a necessary evil, harassed by whimsical regulations. They
don't have a transparent and secure supply chain, nor do they have the
legal freedom to seek it out. They do this but they take risks.

On Sunday February 5th, at the Los Chinos market, dozens of
self-employed resellers had their sacks filled with produce bought from
equally legal intermediaries. A group of inspectors approached them and
they wanted to confiscate their purchases for having violated the
"anti-hoarding law". It seems outrageous but it's true. A great
discussion broke out and the police in charge of keeping order at the
market, intervened. In the face of the resistance that had been created
by those accused and others who were doubtful in helping the inspectors,
the police called for the Head of the Unit, a Major, who turned up on
the scene.

There were several people from my town of Mayari among the traders who
had their purchases taken away. One of them, Jose Ramon, usually sells
on my street and he told me the whole story. Then I confirmed what he
told me with another seller, not without first asking several others,
among the many who pass by here every day offering their garlic,
peppers, onions or bijol under the scorching sun.

The story goes that the Major arrived arrogantly and ordered those who
wouldn't stop protesting to shut up. He was met with: "You like getting
your hands on ham a lot. Ham is what the inspectors get, who make a
living by fining us for no reason; we work really hard to earn our
pesos," one of the boldest protestors said.

After a lot of wasted time (held for over three hours under the risk of
having their things confiscated and bad times), the police finally
guided the inspectors in their conversation with them to release the
purchases. Common sense won out, but this was just one more example of
government resistance to how the private sector runs in Cuba, even at
these incipient times.

Tradesmen didn't have so few rights even in medieval hamlets!" They had
unions and brotherhoods which united and protected them, Cuban
self-employed merchants don't.

There are many forms of repression, not just political repression. This
budding private sector, which has appeared with the self-employed, is
the seed to opening up our economy more, which is fundamental so that we
can reach economic and social progress. Repressing them and prohibiting
their development with laws and individual actions is just another way
to delay this essential path: it's another form of repression in Cuba.

Source: Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms - Havana - Continue reading
Raúl Castro slams Trump – and I'm forced to agree with the dictator. How
sick is that?

Cuban dictator Raúl Castro has no moral authority to condemn any
democratically elected world leader.

Not when the most distinguishing trait of his and his late brother's
legacy is death, prison and exile for millions of his critics and
opponents. Not when, as if the Castros didn't already have enough blood
on their hands, there's another dissident who has died amid questionable

Hamell Santiago Mas Hernández, 45, walked into one of Cuba's most brutal
prisons as a healthy man after being arrested in June for a catch-all
offense dubbed desacato — disrespect — widely used as an excuse to pick
up dissidents. Eight months later, he died awaiting trial, supposedly of
a heart attack. He had developed a kidney infection and had lost 35
pounds in three weeks. His wife has denounced conditions at the
Combinado del Este prison, where not even the water is fit to drink. The
Castros have for decades refused to let independent monitors inspect
prisons where political prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions.

So I repeat: Cuban dictator Raúl Castro has no moral authority to
condemn any U.S. president.

But President Donald Trump is an easy target — and Castro is no fool.

He smells the weakness — and opportunity — handed to him on a silver
platter by Trump acting like the hemisphere's new bully on the block.

In a regional summit with leftist leaders in Caracas on Sunday, Castro
lashed out at Trump's immigration and trade policies, calling his plan
to build a wall along the Mexican border "irrational."

"The new agenda of the U.S. government threatens to unleash an extreme
and egotistical trade policy that will impact the competitiveness of our
foreign trade, violate environmental agreements to favor the profits of
transnational [companies], hunt down and deport migrants," Castro said.

And here I am, critic and exile, being forced to agree with the dictator
— a first.

How sick is that?

It's repulsive, but Trump rose to power on an agenda that puts this
country at odds with the rest of the Americas, including our allies. His
first 1 ½ months in office have been like nothing Americans have ever
seen, with Draconian executive orders being signed amid a growing
scandal about Russia's tampering with the U.S. election to benefit him,
and the lingering questions: How much did Trump know? Did he participate?

It's especially notable that Castro has chosen to break his silence on
Trump at a time when the Trump administration is in the middle of "a
full review" of President Obama's U.S.-Cuba policy — and before any
changes are announced. Castro's only comment after Trump took office was
cordial (and, as always, pompous) indicating Cuba's willingness to
"continue negotiating bilateral issues with the United States on a basis
of equality and respect of our country's sovereignty and independence."
Cuba's ambassador attended Trump's inauguration and tweeted from it. At
least two of Trump's White House advisors have been to Cuba and were
ecstatic about doing business there during the Obama years.

But Cuban Americans in Congress have been pressuring Trump to get tough
on Castro and return to the isolation polices of the late 1990s and
early 2000s. That didn't yield much change, and certainly no end to the
58-year-old dictatorship. But during Obama's tenure — and under
unrelenting internal pressure from dissidents, independent journalists,
and a population that simply can't stand the oppression anymore — Raúl
Castro began some reforms, even if the quashing of opponents seldom

It would be a regrettable turn of events if, at this critical juncture,
Trump's protective nationalist policies gave new combative fodder to
Castro — who has promised to finally leave his post in 2018 — or to
those waiting in the wings to take over Cuba.

I'll say it again: Raúl Castro — head of one of the longest-lasting
dictatorships in the world — is no one to talk.

Yet, here I am, to quote Blue Oyster Cult, giving the devil his due.

Fabiola Santiago:, @fabiolasantiago

Source: Cuban dictator Raul Castro slams Trump's immigration and trade
policy | Miami Herald - Continue reading