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Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba?
Apr 20, 2017

President Trump's government has yet to reveal its hand on the issue of
reconciliation with Cuba. There had been a lot of progress towards
greater ties following President's Obama's overtures in December 2014:
Some cooperation agreements were signed – particularly in aviation and
communications — and Google and Airbnb now have a presence on the island
nation. But only about two dozen U.S. companies have taken early steps,
and there has been limited progress on other fronts, such as the
reconciliation of Cuban-Americans with the Cuban people.

And while President Trump had supported more economic ties with Cuba in
the past, just before the presidential election he reversed course. That
makes it unclear what business should expect going forward.

The overarching issue is the ongoing U.S. economic embargo, noted
Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat at the recent 2017 Wharton Latin
American Conference. Arnavat, now a senior adviser at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, had a front-row seat on U.S.-Cuba
policy as an advisor to President Obama's team on the issue. He also
represented the U.S. in 2009 at the Inter-American Development Bank
(IDB), the largest provider of development finance in Latin America.

"It would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba,
even in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done
previously," he said. Adding further to the uncertainty, Cuban President
Raul Castro is scheduled to leave office in February 2018, with no clear
successor in the wings.

Arnavat took stock of the emerging state of U.S.-Cuban ties in a
discussion with Knowledge@Wharton at the recent Wharton Latin American
conference. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton: It was a historic time in the Winter of 2014 when the
U.S. government decided that a policy that had been in place for 50
years was no longer working, and that it was time to rethink how the
U.S. and Cuba were engaging with one another, and try to normalize
relationships at whatever level was possible. Could you describe why and
how you got involved in U.S.-Cuba relations before President Obama's
policy shift on December 12, 2014?

Gustavo Arnavat: The greatest variable contributing to my interest in
Cuba has to do with the fact that I was born in Cuba. I grew up in a
very conservative, Republican household in Hialeah, Florida, and there
wasn't a day that went by that a family member, or friend or visitor
didn't criticize some element of the Cuban revolution or talked about
Cuba. So, it was impossible for me not to be interested in Cuba and
U.S.-Cuba relations as I grew up. Later, I came to understand that the
world was not black and white, and that realization and complexity made
me even more interested in the topic.

After law school, I was a lawyer focusing on sovereign finance and
corporate finance, and eventually went over to investment banking on
Wall Street. I worked on many deals, but Cuba was never part of that,
for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, there was always a part of me that
wanted to be involved, somehow. Eventually, I became involved in several
projects examining U.S policy toward Cuba, but all of that came to an
end when I joined the Obama Administration because I was at the IDB, and
Cuba wasn't a member of the IDB, and I otherwise wasn't involved in
setting Cuba policy while I worked in the Obama Administration.

Knowledge@Wharton: The major policy shift occurred in December 2014.
What do you think motivated President Obama to make such a major change?

Arnavat: The primary reason is that this was something that I think
President Obama wanted to do for a long time. When he was a senator in
Illinois, he spoke about the futility of the embargo. At the annual
luncheon of the Cuban-American National Foundation in Florida in May
2008, he said that if Cuba began to open up, starting with releasing all
political prisoners, he would begin a dialogue that could lead to
normalized relations. This was startling and unprecedented for a
presidential candidate of either political party. Anyone from Miami
knows that advocating "normalized" relations and a "dialogue" with the
Cuban government just 15 or 20 years ago was a very dangerous thing to do.

He also faced pressure from other Latin American countries, particularly
in the context of the Summit of the Americas. A number of the countries'
presidents told President Obama during the Summit in Cartagena, Colombia
in 2012, that for the next summit (in Panama City in 2015, if Cuba is
not invited, they were not going to participate. That also weighed on
the White House

Related to this, there was a growing consensus in the region – and U.S.
foreign policy –that the primary issues affecting Latin America were not
the same ones from 20, 30 or 40 years ago, which chiefly included
unstable and undemocratic governments, drug trafficking, corruption,
etc. Instead, the focus has been on trade and economic development
through integration. If you are the U.S., it's difficult to make a case
for global economic integration and certainly regional economic
integration, when Cuba is prevented from being fully integrated from an
economic perspective. Finally, President Obama felt that since the
elections of 2014 were over, he had nothing to lose from a political
perspective, and the timing was right to do what he wanted to do all along.

But very little could be done while Alan Gross remained in Cuban
custody, and the Cubans knew this to be the case. [Editor's note: Alan
Gross, a U.S. government contractor employed by the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID), was arrested in Cuba in 2009.]

Knowledge@Wharton: What was your reaction to the policy shift and what
steps did you take?

Arnavat: I was shocked. After I left the IDB, I became aware of a
growing number of Cuban Americans, particularly in Miami, who were
successful lawyers, businesspeople and bankers, who wanted to promote
engagement between the U.S. and Cuba in order to help the Cuban people
more directly. We thought, what can we do? How can we try to convince
the White House to go in a different direction? But we were extremely
pessimistic because we had witnessed very little interest on the part of
the White House, especially because of the situation with Gross.

With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon, we thought U.S.-Cuba
policy would once again be the victim of domestic political
considerations. That was despite the fact that Hillary Clinton in her
book (titled Hard Choices, published in 2014), criticized the embargo in
a very open way, and in a way that was unexpected. Some of us in
retrospect thought that was her signal to the White House to encourage
it to pursue engagement.

When the announcement was made, the thinking was, we were finally going
to be able to sit down with the Cubans, and talk to them about all the
issues that two normal countries should want to engage in, on areas of
mutual interest. Little did I know that in fact, they had been
negotiating for about 18 months, but this was an opportunity to test the
waters and see to what extent it made sense to engage diplomatically and
commercially in ways that would benefit both countries.

So a number of us provided the White House with our insights, though few
of us had very high expectations over the short-term effects of an
opening toward Cuba, especially with respect to political matters.

Knowledge@Wharton: How would you assess the progress since the winter of
2014? Has there been real progress, or as somebody once said, is it a
triumph of hope over experience?

Arnavat: I break it down into three buckets. Let's call the first bucket
official U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations. The second bucket is commercial
relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The third is Cuban-American
reconciliation issues.

On the official bilateral bucket, a lot has been accomplished. After
more than 50 years of acrimony between the two countries, diplomatic
relations were reestablished. Embassies were reopened. As part of that
process, Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,
based on an analysis conducted by the State Department with input from
our intelligence community. Regular mail service was established between
the two countries.

Migration talks were regularized, and they've become much more
substantive and more meaningful. Agreements were entered into with
respect to cooperation in law enforcement, environmental disasters and
other areas. I believe close to two dozen such agreements were reached.
A lot was accomplished given the relationship the two countries had.
However, I know that Obama Administration officials were frustrated that
more wasn't accomplished on the human rights front, although the belief
is that civil society in general has benefited because of the new policy
approach.

On the other hand, the biggest issue is the embargo, which is still in
place. Another issue relates to property claims that U.S. citizens have
against Cuba for property that was expropriated in the first few years
of the revolution. Those have still not been resolved, and they're far
from being resolved. Keep in mind, this was the primary reason why the
U.S. broke off diplomatic relations in the first place. So in that
sense, very little progress has been made.

As far as the commercial relationship is concerned, the assessment
depends on whom you talk to; the Cubans believe that a lot of progress
was made given that the embargo remains in place. On the bilateral
front, commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba were reestablished.
U.S. Airlines, as part of a process led by the Department of
Transportation, competed for those routes, and six or seven airlines won
those routes.

A number of mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon have entered into
roaming agreements with the Cuban government. You may not think that's a
big deal, except that before, there were no such roaming agreements and
it made mobile phone communications very difficult. Airbnb is there,
which is very helpful for travelers who don't want to pay for relatively
expensive hotels in Havana. Google has a presence now, and U.S. cruise
ships are sailing into Havana and bringing Americans.

However, a lot more could have been done. One of the missed
opportunities is in fact that not as many deals were done. That's bad
for a number of different reasons. One, U.S. companies have missed out.
The Cuban people and the Cuban government have missed out on great U.S.
products and services. While the Trump administration is reviewing the
policy, instead of having a hundred companies advocating, you only have
25 or 30 or so going to their congressional representatives and saying,
look, we have this business now in Cuba.

When you ask the Cuban government, they will grant that a lot of
proposals were presented to the Cuban government. The pushback came for
a variety of reasons. In some cases, the companies were too small or
were startups. They want to be able to deal with the major players. The
problem with deals that were proposed by major global corporations was
that those proposals didn't necessarily fall into one of the priority
areas in Cuba's plan for economic development.

Then, even with the right kind of company, in a priority area, they
would site the embargo. They would say that even if we wanted to do
this, we couldn't, because there's no way that U.S. companies could pay
for a service or the other way around. They are right to an extent,
because of the continuing restrictions on financial transactions, but
more important, the way those restrictions and regulations have been
interpreted by legal counsel and compliance officers at major financial
institutions around the world, especially in the U.S. They're very well
aware that if you run afoul of those regulations, you get hit with a
multi-billion-dollar fine, as has happened, even recently.

At the same time, investment conditions in Cuba are very challenging for
U.S. companies that are not accustomed to working with foreign
governments in transactions normally involving private sector companies
as counterparts. But the reality is that doing business in Cuba
necessarily means doing business with the government, and not all U.S.
companies are prepared to do that at this point.

So those are in the first two buckets. In the third bucket, on
reconciliation, Cuban-Americans are going to play some role, just as
they have played an important role in shaping U.S.-Cuba policy in the
past. I know that many Cuban government officials are not comfortable
with that involvement, but the sooner we can start to engage from that
perspective and have reconciliation, the better it is both for Cubans in
the U.S. as well as Cubans on the island. Very little has been done, or
has occurred, on that front because of the lack of mutual trust.

Knowledge@Wharton: You've just returned from Cuba. Looking at things
right now, what are the biggest opportunities in Cuba, and what are the
biggest challenges or the biggest risks?

Arnavat: Imagine you discovered a country that you didn't know existed.
You realize that less than 100 miles away from the U.S. is a country
that, if it were a U.S. state, would be the eighth-largest in
population, right after Ohio, for example. It has 11 million people who
are very well educated, despite all of the challenges in Cuba, and lack
of resources. It has software engineers, for example, who graduate from
some of the best technology universities in Cuba, but they're
underemployed. A lot of people code quite a bit in Cuba. So from a human
capital perspective, it's a country that is enormously resourceful, and
this presents a huge opportunity for U.S. companies that will invest
when they are able to do so.

From a natural resource perspective, it's a very large Caribbean
island, so it will be an important destination for tourism, or for
second homes for Americans, whenever that becomes a possibility. It's
got a health care system that is, again, very poorly resourced, but
there is a high level of training on the part of medical staff there,
and access to knowledge and technology. Some presidents in Latin America
from the ALBA countries (the 11-member Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of Our America), when they get seriously sick, they go to
Havana. Medical tourism would be of great interest as an area to invest
in if that were possible.

It is also a country that has tremendous needs from an infrastructure
perspective. The roads are quite better than a lot of places I've been
in the Caribbean, and certainly Central America. But it's a country that
needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The question, of course, is
going to be how do you pay for it? That brings us to the challenges.
There is no access to capital. It has a legal system that was set up to
support a socialist economic model, which is anachronistic and foreign
to U.S. investors. They're beginning to figure that out, and are
struggling with how to emerge and how to evolve from that. But even
those who recognize the need for change don't want that change to be
forced on them from abroad. This is an essential point to keep in mind.

Cubans are increasingly getting comfortable referring to non-state
employees or entrepreneurs as the private sector, although officially
it's called the non-state sector. I am certain that when things do open
up, and the right incentives are in place, the human capital there is
going to be such that Cuba is going to be well-placed as a market for
Americans to investment.

I'm not sure how independent the judiciary is to resolve disputes
between, let's say a foreign company, a foreign investor and an entity
where the Cuban government may have an interest. So that's obviously a
risk for any U.S. company to consider. It's a risk in any country, but
especially in a country where the government plays such an important
role in the running of the society. There is also the political risk
associated with the fact that [President Raul] Castro is supposed to
leave office on February 24 of next year, and it's always unclear as to
who's going to take over and in what direction the country will go.

If you have to put a bet, Cuba is likely to continue on a socialist
trajectory for an indefinite period of time. You also have the immediate
risk of the Trump administration in trying to decide what to do. So it
would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba, even
in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done previously.

Knowledge@Wharton: How do you think U.S. policy towards Cuba will evolve
under President Trump? You were very complimentary about President
Obama, very optimistic about reading Hillary Clinton's book and what she
said about Cuba. What's your assessment of what President Trump will do,
and what that will mean for Cuban-American relations?

Arnavat: I honestly have no idea. And I don't think anyone has any idea.
People in Cuba have no idea. It could go in lots of directions. It seems
that President Trump is not going to come out any time soon and say
we're going to continue to engage without the Cubans making any
quote-unquote "concessions."

Trump has said very little about Cuba in his career. He appeared to
entertain launching a potential campaign in the 1990s, I believe it was
in Miami he talked about how he was such a strong supporter of the
embargo and he would never do business in Cuba while the Castro brothers
were in place, etc.

Two years later, as it turns out, he sent a consultant to Cuba — a paid
consultant, to figure out how to do business in Cuba. Beginning about
six years ago up until sometime last year, people in the Trump
organization had visited Cuba, exploring opportunities in golf and
hotels, hospitality, that sort of thing. So we know that from a
commercial perspective, he definitely has been interested in doing so.
And, it makes sense, given his investments in China and other countries
that don't adhere to U.S. standards of human rights and democracy.

When President [Obama] announced the policy shift, on a few occasions,
[Trump] said that he supported the engagement. One time, I think he was
in a debate in Miami, a primary, and he said something along the lines
of, "Come on, folks, it's been over 50 years. We've got to move on.
We've got to try something else." But then about six weeks before the
election, he began to tailor his message much more to the conservatives
and the hardliners in the community. He said, "Unless the Cubans take
steps to," and I think he said, "to provide for more political freedoms
and religious freedoms, then I'm going to reverse everything." Mike
Pence said that as well shortly before and maybe after the election.

But having said that, [Trump's policies regarding Cuba are] just not
clear. There are a number of individuals who worked on [Trump's]
transition team, who are involved in the administration, who have been
very focused the last 15-20 years on enforcing the embargo, on
tightening the embargo, on making life as hard and difficult for the
Cuban government. Those people are certainly weighing in very heavily on
the policy. A policy review is ongoing, but it is unclear when they'll
be done with that and what the outcome will be. I imagine an important
consideration will be the change in government that I mentioned previously.

Knowledge@Wharton: When you met people in Havana, what did you hear from
them about how they expect relations with the U.S. to shape up?

Arnavat: Shortly after the announcement of the policy shift, something
like 97% of the Cuban people expressed they were in favor of the
engagement, and of reestablishing diplomatic relations, etc. This makes
sense, because the more Americans that travel to Cuba and invest in
Cuba, the greater the economic benefits to the Cuban people in general.

Everyone is concerned that in fact, the policy will reverse, that there
will be fewer people visiting, fewer people making investments, as a
result of a decrease in remittances that are used as seed capital to
start new businesses on the island. Even if you stay at a state-owned
hotel, you hire private taxis, and you eat in private restaurants that
are allowed under Cuban law. So a lot of people who are private
individuals are in fact benefitting because of the increase in travel
between the U.S. and Cuba. And they're very concerned about that not
occurring

Source: Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba? -
Knowledge@Wharton -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-business-should-hit-pause-on-new-u-s-cuba-ties/ Continue reading
Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret
in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation's president, army
general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018.

I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the
tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the Council
of State.

A well-informed source claims, "The man is desperate to retire. He wants
to spend more time with his children and grandchildren and travel around
the world. He's really going to retire. And it seems to me that he will
probably pass his job on to the first party secretary. He has always
preferred to be in the background."

A technocrat with connections to powerful elites states, "The succession
is not happening at the best time but Raul is serious when he says he is
leaving. I have it on good authority that Miguel Diaz-Canel and his wife
Lis Cuesta, around whom the media has been creating a presidential image
in recent months, are studying English in depth and preparing to lead
the country."

A former personal security officials says, "Resources have been put at
Diaz-Canel's disposal, the kind of communication technology and
logistical support that a president would have."

Meanwhile, as the official media has been inundating us with reports of
economic successes and the alleged loyalty of the population to Raul
Castro and his deceased brother, the countdown to the succession continues.

There is only a little more than ten months until D-Day. At midnight on
February 24 the republic will presumably be governed by a civilian
president without the last name Castro.

One of the sources consulted for this article believes that "after his
own retirement, Raul will force the retirement of several longtime
revolutionary officials such as Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Ramiro
Valdes.* His son Alejandro, who is a colonel in the Ministry of the
Interior, will retain a certain degree of power while his daughter
Mariela will continue promoting an image of tolerance towards
homosexuality but will no longer hold any really significant positions.

"The power behind the throne will be the military. Everything has been
arranged. There will be major economic changes. If the purchasing power
of the population does not increase, consumer spending will be
encouraged while the monetary and intellectual capital of the exile
community will be tapped.

"If not, Cuba will never get out of the swamp. Political exhaustion and
systemic failures have created conditions conducive to the emergence of
an acute social crisis whose outcome no one can predict. That is why
there will be changes."

In Cuba, where the state press's greatest strengths are saying nothing
and masking daily reality, rumors within the halls of power carry more
credibility than the official news.

Raul Castro is a perpetual schemer. Let the analyst or journalist who
foresaw the secret negotiations with the United States and the
reestablishment of diplomatic relations on December 17, 2014 raise his hand.

Prognosticating in such a secretive country can be disastrous but there
have been some signals. During the the monotone National Assembly's 2015
legislative session a gradual rollback of Raul's reforms began. And
Marino Murillo, the czar of these reforms, disappeared from official photos.

In response to the Venezuelan crisis, which led to cuts of 40% in fuel
imports, the economic initiatives promoted by Raul Castro came to an
abrupt halt.

Barack Obama's visit to Cuba in March 2016 was the final straw. The
regime's most conservative factions began changing the rules of the game.

While lacking the charisma or stature of his brother, Castro II has
proved to be more effective at putting together negotiating teams and
has had greater successes in foreign policy. They include reestablishing
diplomatic relations with the United States without having to make many
concessions in return, acting as mediator in the meeting in Havana
between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, facilitating the peace
agreement in Colombia and securing the cancellation of a considerable
portion of the nation's financial debt.

His agricultural reforms have failed. People are still waiting for that
glass of milk he promised them in a speech given in Camaguey on July 26,
2007. On that day Raul Castro said, "We have to erase from our minds
this limit of seven years (the age at which Cuban children are no longer
entitled to receive a certain ration of milk). We are taking it from
seven to fifty. We have to produce enough so that everyone who wants it
can have a glass of milk."

The Foreign Investment Law has not been able to attract the roughly 2.5
billion dollars expected annually. The sugar harvest and food production
have not gotten off the ground, requiring the regime to import more than
two billion dollars worth of food every year.

Except for tourism, the profitable foreign medical assistance program
and other international missions, and remittances from overseas, all
other exports and economic initiatives have decreased or not shown
sufficient growth.

Vital industrial sectors are not profitable and its equipment is
obsolete. Problems in housing, transportation and public service
shortages are overwhelming. The price of home internet service is
outrageous. Official silence has surrounded recent restrictions on the
sale of gasoline** while public speculation about a return to the
"Special Period" has not been discussed by the executive branch.

Raul Castro barely appears in the public anymore. Aside from attending
Fidel's funeral in November 2016, presiding over parliament last
December and sporadic appearances at the Summits of the Caribbean and
the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, his presence is
almost imperceptible.

He is governing in hibernation mode, on automatic pilot. There is no
word on currency reform. The vaunted Economic Guidelines, only 21% of
which have been carried out, seem to be dead in the water.

According to a former journalist who now lives in Miami and who dealt
closely with Raul in the late 1980s, his seemingly erratic behavior
could be interpreted in several ways.

"Raul is not doctrinaire like his brother. Nor does he leave tasks half
done like Fidel used to do. I supposed he has his hands full preparing
Diaz-Canal so he can finish the job and implement good, effective
reforms. I think Diaz-Canal will play an important role in Cub's future.
Reporters should start lining up their canons now," says the former
journalist.

The sense on the street is that the island is going to hell. The outlook
does not look good. The future is a question mark. The pathways to
emigration are closing. And the average person's salary remains a bad joke.

The optimists, who are in the minority, are praying the general has an
emergency plan in his desk drawer. The pessimists, who are in the
majority, believe that life in Cuba will go on as it has, whether under
Raul, Diaz-Canal or any other members of the Communist praetorian guard.

*Translator's note: Vice-president of the Council of State and
governmental vice-president respectively.

** Though no public announcement has been made, as of April 1 sales of
so-called "special gasoline" have been restricted to tourists with
rental cars.

Source: Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/is-raul-castro-in-hibernation-mode-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, April 21, 2017 /EINPresswire.com/ -- In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the Fifty-ninth meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Africa and High-level Meeting on Chinese Outbound Tourism to Africa was opened today. Chairperson of the … Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation’s president, army general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018. I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the … Continue reading "Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García" Continue reading
Holguin, Cuba, Apr 18 (acn) Cuba's Tourism Minister Manuel … is aimed at promoting traditional Cuban food. Work is also underway … a new tourism destination in Cuba due to its authentic heritage … Continue reading
Brasilia, April 15 (RHC),-- Brazilian President Michel Temer has signed a decree allowing foreign companies to own 100 percent of local airlines.  The Brazilian president signed the decree at a ceremony with the country's Tourism Minister Marx Beltrão … Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 April 2017 – A shout disturbed the morning’s tranquility. “Avocaaaaaaado!” shouted the roving salesman as he toured the streets of Central Havana. Considered the “green gold” of foods, this fruit could become an important source of income for the island, due to the high level of consumption around the world. … Continue reading "Green Gold From Cuba’s Fields" Continue reading
In the twilight of the Castros
By Stephen Kinzer APRIL 14, 2017
SANTA CLARA, Cuba

THIS PROVINCIAL CAPITAL in central Cuba throbbed with life on a recent
Saturday night. In one plaza, a Beatles cover band sang "Ticket to Ride"
for an enthusiastic crowd. Exuberant groups of gay men made their way
toward a club that stages drag shows and welcomes patrons of all sexual
orientations. In an evangelical church, dozens of young people were
being driven to near-ecstasy by a young preacher shouting, "We need the
voice of God now!" Many kids wore T-shirts featuring the American flag.

None of this would have been possible or even imaginable at the height
of Fidel Castro's power. Beatles music was banned in Cuba. Gays were
arrested. Public displays of religiosity were forbidden. Police would
have viewed wearing the American flag as nearly equivalent to wearing
the swastika. Cubans now enjoy more cultural freedom than at any time
since the Castro movement seized power 58 years ago.

Economic progress has been more fitful, but still significant. Small
businesses have sprouted across the island. By some estimates, as many
as half a million Cubans are now self-employed. That is a remarkable
change in a country where private enterprise was demonized for
generations. It has whetted the appetite of many shopkeepers,
beauticians, and restaurant owners to expand beyond tight legal limits.

As for political change, it remains beyond a distant horizon. President
Raul Castro is expected to retire next year. No one I met imagines that
this transition will lead to serious changes in the ruling system. This
is today's Cuba: remarkable cultural opening, growing economic opening,
no political opening.

Cuban leaders fear that allowing unrestricted business growth would
strengthen the wealthier class that is already emerging, give enemies in
the United States new ways to subvert the revolutionary project, and
ultimately lead to the collapse of their government. They are right.
Capitalist economics might make Cuba rich, but it would also create a
new version of the class society that revolutionaries have devoted their
lives to wiping away. This is their dilemma. In recent years they have
allowed Cubans to become more prosperous, but that has led to widening
social divisions. How far should they allow the process to go?

Booming tourism is among the forces that have created both new
possibilities and new frictions. Tourists — and Cubans with relatives
abroad — use a different currency from the one most Cubans use. It
allows them to buy many products that are beyond the reach of those who
earn local pesos. Worst of all, tourist demand sucks large amounts of
food out of the market. That leaves even less for Cubans. Many spend
hours every day trying to find food they can afford on government
salaries that often hover below $25 per month.

Cuba has large amounts of fertile and uncultivated land. Selling it to
agro-business conglomerates would produce more than enough food for
every citizen. It would also, however, mark a return to the era when
rich outsiders controlled Cuba's economy. Determined to avoid this, the
government is taking half-steps instead. Private farmers may now sell
their produce more freely. Some state-run cooperatives have become
independent. Good food, though, remains beyond the reach of many Cubans
who must shop in ill-supplied government markets.

Havana, the capital, used to be famous for its fleet of sputtering,
broken-down American cars, all imported before the 1959 revolution. Many
of them have been refitted, polished, and turned into taxis that take
tourists on pricey city tours. Not all Cubans appreciate this. "Those
cars look different to us than they look to you," one man told me as he
pointed to a glistening 1939 Ford Deluxe convertible, complete with
rumble seat. "To you, they're a cute way to have fun. To us, they
symbolize our backwardness. We're stuck in time, back in the days when
those cars were made. We're not getting anywhere."

One sign of the frustration many Cubans feel is the remarkable aging of
the population. Young people have flooded out, leaving parks and plazas
in many towns full of old people. This adds another burden to the
already inadequate welfare system, and poses serious challenges for
future growth. "Before, there were lots of grandchildren to take care of
grandparents," said Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, an official at the
national statistics bureau. "Now, we sometimes have more grandparents
than grandchildren."

Cuba's long century of repression and upheaval famously began with the
US intervention of 1898. A commanding monument on the Malecon, the long
seaside boulevard that anchors Havana, commemorates the explosion of an
American warship, the USS Maine, that became the pretext for
intervention after newspapers and politicians falsely claimed that it
was the result of an enemy attack. In 1899, the US government decided to
renege on its pledge to grant Cuba full independence, and installed a
puppet regime instead. That led to dictatorships, deepening anger, the
Castro revolution, and decades of Communist rule.

President Obama's visit last year, and his modest loosening of the US
trade embargo, momentarily raised hopes for a deep change in US-Cuba
relations — and possibly deep changes in Cuba itself. That has not
happened. Cuban leaders are working quietly to assure that President
Trump does not revert to the bitterly anti-Cuba policies of the
pre-Obama era. Many ordinary Cubans, however, worry more about getting
through each day.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for
International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on
Twitter @stephenkinzer.

Source: In the twilight of the Castros - The Boston Globe -
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/04/14/twilight-castros/95OdHKELKcSeu8NfrnyFxJ/story.html Continue reading
Spirit Airlines to end Havana service June 1; last flights on May 31
Arlene SatchellContact Reporter
Sun Sentinel

Another U.S. air carrier is saying 'Adios' to Cuba.

Low-cost Spirit Airlines plans to operate its last flights between Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Havana on May 31, an
airline official said early Friday.

The news comes a little more than four months after the Miramar-based
airline began serving Havana with regularly scheduled twice-daily
service from Fort Lauderdale as part of a slew of new U.S.-Cuba routes
approved in 2016.

"We really wanted [Fort Lauderdale-to-Havana] to work, especially being
South Florida's hometown airline... and the ultra-low cost leader to the
Caribbean, but the costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the
demand for service," said Bob Fornaro, Spirit's president and CEO, in a
statement. "Due to overcapacity and the additional costs associated with
flying to Cuba, we don't find it sustainable to continue this service
while maintaining our commitment to pass along ultra-low fares to our
customers."

Although Spirit's Cuba flights between Fort Lauderdale and Havana's Jose
Marti International Airport will officially end June 1, the carrier
plans to operate an adjusted schedule starting in May.

Effective May 3-24, the Havana service will operate once-daily only, but
will revert to its twice-daily schedule from May 25-31, spokesman Paul
Berry told the Sun-Sentinel.

"We're in the process of contacting our customers who'll need
re-accommodations," Berry said.

For example, during the period when only one flight will operate,
passengers already booked on its afternoon flight would be re-booked for
the morning one, Berry noted.

For customers with flights booked beyond May 31, full ticket refunds
will be given, he said.

In March, Fort Lauderdale-based regional carrier Silver Airways also
decided to suspend service on its eight routes to Cuba effective April
22, citing lack of demand and competition from "too many flights and
oversized aircraft" in the market.

A month earlier, JetBlue Airways, said it would begin operating smaller
planes on routes from Fort Lauderdale and other U.S. cities to four
Cuban destinations starting May 3. Those Cuba routes are Havana, Santa
Clara, Holguin and Camaguey.

The announced pullouts from Cuba and schedule adjustments by American
carriers are a continuing sign that airlines may have been too ambitious
about the demand for regular flights to the Communist island following
the restoration of U.S-Cuban diplomatic relations.

In December, American was the first to announce it would reduce service
between Miami and Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily flight
starting Feb. 16, "to remain competitive in the market."

American also serves Havana from Miami.

Today, travel to Cuba from the United States is restricted to 12
approved categories, such as educational and religious activities,
family visits and humanitarian projects. A ban on leisure tourism to
Cuba remains in force as part of the long-standing U.S.-imposed trade
embargo against the Communist island.

As for returning to Havana in the future, Fornaro said: "Spirit will
continue to monitor the Cuban market and if circumstances improve in the
future, we would consider resuming service there."

asatchell@sun-sentinel.com, 954-356-4209 or Twitter@TheSatchreport

Source: Spirit Airlines to end Havana service June 1; last flights on
May 31 - Sun Sentinel -
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-spirit-nixes-lauderdale-havana-route-20170414-story,amp.html Continue reading
Jacksonville Business Delegation Heads to Cuba Despite Possible Policy
Change
By MELISSA ROSS

Former Jacksonville City Councilman Eric Smith is heading up a local
delegation to Cuba next week, comprised of local business leaders
seeking more trade with the island nation.

"Ninety percent of all shipping to and from Cuba passed through the Port
of Jacksonville prior to the 1959 revolution," Smith told First Coast
Connect.

"Our city has historic ties ranging from Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, a
confidante of Jose Marti, to the Cuban Consulate that used to be located
at a home in the 1600 block of Pearl Street in Springfield."

Smith said the delegation will meet with senior governmental leaders to
discuss the Jacksonville business community's interest in reconnecting
with Cuba.

"We will share with them that our city is Florida's largest in both land
and population, with a major port, a vibrant business climate and a
place that welcomes business and trade with open arms," he said. "And,
we will ask what they think the future is and could be.

"We will share that this is one of the key places to be in the years
ahead. The genie's out of the bottle, whether or not President Trump
changes course on Cuba policy."

Smith said the delegation had some difficulty obtaining business visas
for the trip, but finally saw success when they began working with the
Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy. Jacksonville
has lagged behind other Florida cities in aggressively pursuing business
opportunities in Cuba, and Gov. Rick Scott has threatened funding cuts
for Florida port operators that do business with the communist country.

Meanwhile, former State Department official John Caulfield, who headed
up the U.S. mission in Havana, notes that the Trump administration has
been silent on Cuba.

"They've said only that their policy is under review," he said. "So far,
the Obama policies on Cuba have not been reversed. It's interesting that
we've had high-profile trips from several governors to promote business.
The Cubans are comfortable with this, and trade delegations are one way
to get their attention.

"Still, it's one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Cuba
doesn't have a lot of resources, and they are limited in what they can
buy. But there's still a market to all kinds of agricultural products,
and as the tourism business grows there, that's opening up more
opportunities."

Melissa Ross is the host of "First Coast Connect." She can be reached at
mross@wjct.org or on Twitter @melissainjax

Source: Jacksonville Business Delegation Heads to Cuba Despite Possible
Policy Change | WJCT NEWS -
http://news.wjct.org/post/jacksonville-business-delegation-heads-cuba-despite-possible-policy-change Continue reading
Cuban-American Relations in 2017
BY SAMANTHA MENDIGUREN AND JORGE DUANY • APRIL 12, 2017

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Jorge Duany,
director of the Cuban Research Institute.

Upon Fidel Castro's arrival to power in 1959, the United States and Cuba
built up an oppositional animosity toward one another. The US responded
to Cuba's communist ideology with an embargo in hopes of overthrowing
the regime.

Strict regulations were enforced until President Barack Obama began to
make progress toward normalizing this protracted animosity. On July 20,
2015, Washington and Havana marked the restoration of diplomatic
relations. This has led to an ease on remittances and travel, but
financial, economic and commercial restrictions still remain.

Although Obama made efforts toward removing hostility between the two
countries, shortly before leaving office he ended the
"wet-foot/dry-foot" policy implemented in 1995 allowing for Cubans to
remain in the US once they reached its shores. While the cancellation of
this policy coincides with the new Trump administration's views on
tightening immigrant documentation, many US policies toward Cuba are up
for debate.

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Jorge Duany,
director of the Cuban Research Institute and professor of anthropology
at Florida International University (FIU). Born in Havana, Cuba, Duany
shares his insight on Cuban-American relations and predicts what will
come of this year.

Samantha Mendiguren: The US and Cuba reopened diplomatic relations after
more than 50 years. What effect has this had on Cuba?

Jorge Duany: On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced he
would take several steps to normalize relations between the US and Cuba
— some of those steps have been quite significant, especially the
removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. And that
had a number of consequences — among them, from our little corner in the
world, that public universities in Florida were now able to cover travel
expenses to and from Cuba.

I mention that because that has been the most important consequence of
the change, not only for us but for Florida in general and particularly
for academic and cultural exchanges with Cuba. We don't know what's
going to happen with that particular move because the new secretary of
state under the Trump administration mentioned that he was going to
review this policy change, so that means that the Trump administration
might revert it.

The main impact of the changes in US policy toward Cuba has been to
increase the official contact between the US and Cuban governments at
all levels, from the president's visit to Cuba last year in March to a
number of lower-level but still significant contacts between
representatives of both governments. Several agreements have been signed
to conduct and collaborate with scientific research, for instance, and
even more policy-oriented issues like drug trafficking, undocumented
migration and so forth. So I think that has been the major change in the
past two years and a few months, especially once the US and Cuban
embassies were opened in the two capitals.

In addition, there has been some impact on trade, communication and
travel. There are a number of other areas that still haven't produced
significant results. For instance, there was a proposal to build
tractors in Cuba by a Cuban-American Jewish businessman, but
unfortunately it did not go through. That would have been the first time
there was direct investment by the US on Cuban soil for decades. So
there are some significant achievements and some failures in the
relationship between the two countries over the last two years.

Mendiguren: While the US and Cuba have amended diplomatic relations, the
commercial, economic and financial embargo still remains. Do you foresee
these positions changing with the new Trump administration?

Duany: As of now we're waiting to see. And we've been waiting ever since
the new administration took office on January 20th. It's been a little
more than a month and there has been no official change, specifically on
US' Cuba policy, except for a couple of tweets by the president and some
very strong language regarding human rights in Cuba, but so far we don't
know what concrete measures will be taken by the new administration.

We're still figuring out what the new administration will do about it
because we were expecting Trump to change it rather than Obama. So the
fact that Obama did it about one week before the new administration took
office was not only surprising but quite controversial.

I imagine that putting Cuba back on that black list of sponsors of
terrorism and even closing the embassy, which Trump mentioned at some
point during the campaign as a candidate, are very unlikely. All the
other changes are under revision, for instance the relaxation of
requirements for travel to Cuba, short of allowing tourism — which is
not allowed under the embargo law — and some other minor changes. I
don't know whether people will be able to bring cigars and rum or not
from Cuba, which was one of the latest changes in US' Cuba policy.

Mendiguren: What needs to happen within Cuba for the US to seriously
consider removing the economic embargo?

Duany: The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 sets several conditions to be met:
free elections, competitive party politics, respect for human rights and
so on, which are very difficult to be met by any government, let alone a
communist government such as the one in power in Cuba. Short of those
major changes what could happen is that Congress decides to look at the
embargo again and, given the changes that have taken place between the
two countries, if a majority of Congress decides it's time to lift the
embargo, that may take place.

However, I think it's very unlikely that it's going to happen given that
the majority of Congress is in Republican hands. And again, there are
few signs on the Cuban government's side that it will move in the
direction stipulated by the Helms-Burton Act.

Mendiguren: Why do you believe that Cuban Americans supported Trump in a
much higher degree than other Latin American groups in the United States?

Duany: I think Trump made one of the last stops of his campaign in late
October of last year when he came to Miami, and of course he was here
several times, has strong connections to south Florida and made a very
strong promise to revert all of President Obama's executive orders
regarding Cuba. He got the support of the veterans of the Bay of Pigs
invasion, which had not endorsed any presidential candidate in the past
five decades. The veterans reflect a broader sector of the community,
particularly the early wave of Cuban refugees from the 1960s, who tend
to be more conservative. Probably that sector of the community did give
him a majority support.

However, there is a lot of argument here in Miami as to exactly what
percentage of the Cuban-American vote went to Trump. I've seen some
estimates that suggest something like 60%, which I think is a little
exaggerated; others are closer to 50-52%, a slight majority. I don't
think there's any doubt that Trump got a much larger percentage of the
Cuban-American vote than any other Latino community, but we don't know
yet what specific percentage actually did. Once Trump sided with the
more conservative sector of the Cuban-American electorate, which means
older, first generation, better-off exiles and their children, he did
get the majority of the vote.

However, there's also a growing number of Cuban Americans, both those
who were born in the US and those who have come in the last three
decades, who are increasingly leaning toward the Democratic Party and
there's also quite a lot of evidence that that particular sector of the
community tended to favor Hillary Clinton. But in the final analysis I'd
say that because many of these more recent immigrants aren't US citizens
or aren't registered to vote, they're still a minority in terms of the
electorate of Cuban origin.

Mendiguren: Obama ended the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. How do you think
this affects the Cuban-American community? Do you think Trump will
change this policy?

Duany: We're still figuring out what the new administration will do
about it because we were expecting Trump to change it rather than Obama.
So the fact that Obama did it about one week before the new
administration took office was not only surprising but quite
controversial. Some of the polls that have been conducted, especially
here at FIU in the past couple of years, have found that the majority of
the Cuban-American community does support the wet-foot/dry-foot policy
and the Cuban Adjustment Act. However, when you break it down by age and
time of arrival, the earlier Cuban refugees probably wouldn't support as
strongly that particular policy measure.

The main reason is because of the concern in south Florida about the
abuse of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy by some Cuban immigrants, who are
not necessarily political refugees and who go back to Cuba once they get
their permanent residence. That issue got a lot of media coverage here
in south Florida, and even in Washington. Marco Rubio, for instance, and
Carlos Curbelo were two of the main critics of the policy and even the
Cuban Adjustment Act.

However, because of political party affiliation, when Obama decided to
cancel the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, that put the new government in a
difficult situation because the incoming president had said that he
would revert all of Obama's executive orders. But this one is likely to
stay, because it seems to fit within the discourse of the new
administration of reducing undocumented migration to the US, which was
facilitated by the wet-foot/dry-foot policy toward Cubans.

Mendiguren: How has Fidel Castro's death affected Cuba and its relation
to the US? What implementations have been set by Raúl Castro and what do
you expect from him in the future? What will happen when he leaves his
position?

Duany: Fidel was out of the picture for about 10 years since his
retirement and mysterious medical emergency. He was coming out of his
house every so often and made public appearances, and wrote that column
that probably wasn't written by him in Cuba's official press, Granma.
But as far as I can tell, looking back at those years, there had been a
transition or a succession of power from Fidel to Raúl, and Raúl was
pretty much the one who was leading the Cuban government and actually
made some changes.

But Fidel still had a strong symbolic influence, for instance when he
criticized Obama's visit in calling him "Brother Obama" and saying some
very nasty things about his visit; whereas Raúl was very friendly with
Obama, sat next to him at the Tampa-Cuba baseball game and so on.

So, with Fidel out of the picture, one theory is that Raúl will finally,
in whatever time he remains in power, be freer to continue his reforms
than when he was under the shadow of Fidel. Another theory is that there
was never that kind of big brother/younger brother distinction in terms
of their actual thoughts and actions.

With Fidel out of the picture, in the next year or so when Raúl has said
he would retire, he might, for instance, accelerate some of the reforms
he started but that Fidel and his entourage didn't support. I'm thinking
especially of the US-Cuba normalization process. Fidel didn't
particularly like this, he didn't stand in the way of the process but he
did make a couple of critical comments about the process of
reestablishing diplomatic relations with the US.

In about a year from now, [Raúl] has declared that he wants to retire
from the presidency and that has led to all kinds of speculations as to
who's next in line. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the vice president, seems to be
the heir to the throne, so to speak, although some people speculate that
it might be somebody from the Castro family itself and the inner circle
— we don't know that yet either.

But if he does retire there's still the question as to whether he will
remain as the first secretary of the Communist Party, which is really
the power behind the throne, or as the commander-in-chief of the armed
forces, and it doesn't look like he's going to let go of those very
powerful positions. So, there might be a new president who doesn't
really have control over the main institutions in Cuba (the army, the
Communist Party), and become the figurehead of the Cuban government.

Then when you go, you find yourself being treated sometimes as a
foreigner, sometimes as a Cuban. You have to pay more, you have to use
the more expensive currency — there's all kinds of experiences that make
you feel like you're not at home.

What I think is now at a crossroads is the question of what kind of
relationship Castro will establish with the new US administration. Raúl
has restated that he's willing to negotiate, that he's willing to talk
to the new government like he had said before with the Obama
administration, but there hasn't been much in the way of a response from
Washington either, so it's kind of a standstill at this point. And it's
unclear where the Trump administration wants to move with this, or just
keep it the same or return to December 16, 2014.

Mendiguren: You've written extensively about Cuban identity and the
diaspora. Can you explain the cultural and political divide between
Cubans and Cuban Americans — do you think that this chasm can be
reconciled into one national identity?

Duany: It's a long history of love and hate between Cuba and the US. In
fact we just held a conference where we used what I think is a good icon
of that relationship. It's an image of a cigar box from Key West,
Florida, in 1898, that shows the symbols of Cuba and the US as these
very strong women giving each other the gift of tobacco — a cigar —
which was then processed in Key West and sold to the US market.

And that of course alludes to migration to the US from Cuba, which is
really a long and protracted process. It began more than a century and a
half ago with the Cuban War of Independence against Spain and continued
throughout the first half of the 20th century. It became massive after
1959, so these very strong historical and cultural links between the US
and Cuba, particularly with Florida, are now stronger than before.

And despite the lack of diplomatic relations and the lack of economic
ties between the two countries over the last 60 years or so, you do find
links between the two places. For instance, travel between Miami and
Havana is very strong now; depending on your sources it could be as many
as 400,000 people of Cuban origin based in the US traveling to Cuba for
a visit. The telephone calls, the remittances, the money that people
send their relatives to the island is in the millions of dollars —and
then more recently, I think as part of this opening about, the
increasing number of artists, musicians, writers and even academics who
have expanded and strengthened these personal and family links between
Cubans on and off the island.

Now, the division is still very much there and all kinds of restrictions
are still difficult to overcome, including visas and passports. Since I
was born in Cuba, I have a very difficult time traveling there because I
either have to get a Cuban passport, which I don't have right now (I'm
still waiting for one since I applied in July, but no response yet), or
I can apply for a one-time only Cuban visa, which is very expensive.

Then when you go, you find yourself being treated sometimes as a
foreigner, sometimes as a Cuban. You have to pay more, you have to use
the more expensive currency — there's all kinds of experiences that make
you feel like you're not at home.

Yet at the same time, you were born there, you have family, and you're
familiar with the culture, the language, the food and the music. In any
case, it's an issue for many Cuban Americans of various generations,
both my own generation and my children's generation, to decide for
themselves in terms of their identity and how they want to define
themselves. If you're a US citizen but your parents were born in Cuba,
even the issue of traveling to Cuba is a major dilemma. I know that a
lot of young Cuban Americans won't go to look for their roots on the
island because their parents or grandparents went through such a
difficult, traumatic experience that they don't want to offend them.

In fact, some FIU students will wait until their parents and
grandparents have passed so that they respect that experience. This
issue of identity of the second generation and the links between the
island and the US are very intractable. They're still difficult to
overcome especially in this, what seems to be, a Cold-War division
between Cuba and the US.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Fair Observer's editorial policy.

Source: Cuban-American Relations in 2017 -
https://www.fairobserver.com/region/latin_america/cuba-america-relations-trump-castro-news-20170/ Continue reading
Cuba after Fidel Castro: Full of life, but it is life on the brink of death
By ANNIKA HERNROTH-ROTHSTEIN • 4/10/17 8:00 PM

HAVANA — The young woman sees me watch in amazement as she gets up from
her seat and attempts to carry the four bags with her through the aisle
of the plane, and she gestures at them and shrugs.

"There is nothing in Cuba, so whatever we can, we bring."

It took me a few days to fully grasp what she had told me, being a
first-time visitor in a country entering its 58th year of communist
dictatorship, and its very first without Fidel Castro. I came here to
find out what had changed since his passing, and what was next for the
island regime, but to my great surprise it was business as usual, in
more ways than one.

On my way from the airport I ask my cab driver if things feel different
since Castro's death. He shakes his head and tells me that even on the
night of his passing there was little movement in the streets or
commotion through Havana.

"I was impressed, actually. Fidel has been everything, you know? He is
the father of the revolution and when he dies – nothing – not a word.
They were able to control everything, even then."

By "they" he means the regime, now taking orders from Fidel's brother
Raoul Castro, and the security apparatus attached to it, with its
infamous security service, Direccion General de Intelligencia (DGI)
making sure the wheels turn smoothly. It is a simple yet brilliant
scheme, where every neighborhood has an informant, reporting to the
Comites de Defensa de la Revolution (CDR), a secret police in charge of
keeping tabs on counter-revolutionary activity, and every infraction or
sign of disloyalty is met with stern and immediate consequences. Given
the dire straits of the people in Cuba, the regime is not willing to
take any chances, having experienced revolutions in the past it knows
not to allow the flame of change to be ignited.

With a monthly salary of $30 USD per person, supplemented with a fixed
portion of rice, eggs and beans, the people of Cuba have been forced to
use every opportunity to make some money on the side in order to avoid
starvation. This has resulted in a shadow-society to take shape within
communist Cuba, a society that is highly capitalist in every single way.
I get evidence of this en route to old Havana one day, when my driver
stops for gas and is told there is none left, only to leave the car with
a fistful of cash and return later, car filled-up and ready.

"This is what we call the Cuban way. You see, the gas station belongs to
the government, so the only way for these men to earn something extra is
to sell gas to the highest bidder and deny those who can't pay. I call
it communist capitalism."

The same is true everywhere you go: people cooking the books to fill
their plates and fight their way out of desperation, and as a tourist
you accept it and move on, constantly struggling with the guilt of
living here in a bubble that everyday Cubans will never be privy to. To
outsiders, the combination of poverty and oppression and the recent loss
of the symbol of the revolution would inevitably result in a turn toward
democracy and capitalism. But as the regime does its best to convey,
very little has been buried with Fidel.

The Cubans I have spoken to are proud of their country. Even though they
criticize the regime, under promise of anonymity, they are quick to add
that they don't necessarily want Cuba to become the United States or
just any other country in the West. When I ask them if they believe that
democracy and capitalism will come to Cuba now that Fidel has left and
Raoul is on his way out, they respond in the negative, saying that
whatever will come next will be a Cuban version of those things, an
adaptation from what it is now.

And the way things are looking, they may be right. Rumor has it Raoul
Castro has already reshuffled the government, replacing generals and
ministers with his personal confidants so that he will remain the
unofficial leader even after his assumed successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel,
is sworn in as president in 2018. This ensures that even though Fidel is
dead, the spirit of the revolution lives on, and the Cubans I've spoken
to fear that the regime will take steps to emphasize the status quo by
tightening its grip on the population.

It is not an improbable scenario, but rather a common tactic for
totalitarian regimes when dealing with dramatic shifts, as most recently
seen in Iran after the nuclear deal, where executions and imprisonments
have risen dramatically during and after the rapprochement with the
West. There is an important difference, however, and that is that Cuba
is unlike many other countries of its kind, and that difference may
actually be a hindrance in its journey toward democracy.

One thing that sets Cuba apart from other totalitarian regimes is the
romance that surrounds it, still, despite the thousands of extrajudicial
executions and arbitrary imprisonments, a ruined national economy, and
denial of basic freedoms of association, religion, movement, and speech
having taken place in the past 58 years. Even those who do not hold an
ideological torch for the communist revolution are still enchanted with
the country's beauty, charm, and lust for life, making it easier to
disregard the daily crimes committed against its people and quell the
international community's instinct to intervene.

Cuba is truly magical, and yes, it is full of life, but once you step
outside of the lush hotel garden you see that it is life on the brink of
death, magic existing in a state of suspended animation.

There are several shadow-societies existing side by side in Cuba, and
through these the population has come to function and survive, with very
limited resources and freedoms.

This is made possible by the geographical and cultural proximity to the
U.S., loosening of sanctions and the idea of Cuba being kept alive
through and by the booming Cuban tourism industry. This process is
quietly supported by the regime itself because, ironically, the only way
for the communist revolution to survive is by covert capitalism, keeping
the population from starvation, and turning a blind eye to this keeps
the oppressive communist regime from having to admit defeat.

There were no rallies through Havana on the eve of Fidel's death and
now, almost 4 months later, he has already moved from leader to martyr,
cementing a well-directed legacy. Life goes on for the Cubans, with or
without the father of the revolution, as they watch tourists flood their
Island paradise, hoping to benefit from some of the overflow.

Cuba is lively and loud – full of life for days of play. But when it
really matters, it is quiet – its people's fate decided in silence,
without so much as a word.

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein (@truthandfiction) is a journalist and author,
based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Source: Cuba after Fidel Castro: Full of life, but it is life on the
brink of death | Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cuba-after-fidel-castro-full-of-life-but-it-is-life-on-the-brink-of-death/article/2619841 Continue reading
What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations
Apr 11, 2017 Latin America North America

When the Obama administration reestablished U.S. diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December 2014, many experts predicted that it would bring a
flood of new money to the island, transforming its economy and political
culture for the better. Almost two-and-a-half years later, U.S. trade
with Cuba continues to languish, and a handful of executive orders on
the part of President Donald Trump could soon set back the clock to the
days when hardline opposition to ties with Cuba's communist regime was
the norm in Washington. What is the future of U.S.-Cuba ties now that
the honeymoon that began under Obama is over? Which aspects, if any, of
the Obama administration campaign to open up Cuba are most likely to
survive?

On the one hand, during his presidential campaign, "Trump certainly
talked about repudiating what Obama has done with Cuba," says Stephen
Kobrin, Wharton emeritus management professor. "Clearly, with the stroke
of a pen, he could eliminate a lot of the liberalization that occurred
under Obama," which was enacted as executive orders, not congressionally
sanctioned legislation. On the other hand, "the streets have not exactly
been paved with gold in Cuba," Kobrin notes. "There hasn't been a great
rush to do business in Cuba. Right now, there is not a huge amount of
interest." Of the dramatic rapprochement with Cuba undertaken by
President Obama, Kobrin adds: "It was an historical event that seems to
have come and gone."

Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat, senior adviser at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, notes, "One of the missed
opportunities is that not as many deals were done" as anticipated.
"That's bad for a number of different reasons. One, I think U.S.
companies have missed out. I think the Cuban people and the Cuban
government have missed out on great U.S. products and services." He adds
that now — just as the Trump administration is reviewing its Cuba policy
— instead of having 100 U.S. companies advocating for liberalization by
going to their congressional representatives and saying, 'Look, we have
this business now in Cuba,' "you only have 25 or 30 or so." (Editor's
note: Arnavat, who recently returned from Cuba, addressed this topic at
the 2017 Wharton Latin American Conference, where Knowledge@Wharton
interviewed him. The interview will be published soon.)

Uncertainty and Disappointment

"The impact of Donald Trump's victory can be defined by one word:
'uncertainty,'" notes John Kavulich, president of the New York-based
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "That uncertainty has negatively
impacted interest by U.S. companies [in Cuba]."

In both countries, disappointment has been fueled by misunderstanding of
the potential impact of their mutual ties. Charles Shapiro, president of
the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, says that "U.S. business people
thought that they were going to go to Cuba and see hundred dollar bills
floating down the streets. Just as Americans thought that Cuba was going
to change pretty quickly after December 2014, individual Cubans also
thought that their standard of living was going to change [right away] …
[that] their lives were going to get better. Both of those expectations
were wrong; real life is more complicated."

Many Americans imagined that the Cuban government would soon liberate
political prisoners and make political reforms. When that didn't happen,
critics argued that the U.S. was making all the concessions, but the
Cubans were doing nothing to open their economy. Notes Kavulich,
"Basically, an overall negative narrative has been created."

And while uncertainty is growing over which measures Trump might take to
unwind the Obama administration's efforts, "the Cuban government is not
doing its part to mitigate any of the uncertainty," Kavulich notes.
"What it could do would be to allow more U.S. companies to have a
presence in Cuba, more U.S. companies to directly engage with the
licensed independent sector in Cuba. They are not allowing that." Adds
Arnavat, "If you look at Cuba's plan for economic development, [foreign
direct investment] just doesn't quite fit into their priorities. And
then even if it's the right kind of company, and the right opportunity,
they still blame the embargo, right?"

It's not just the Americans who aren't investing in Cuba now, notes
Shapiro. "The Chinese are not investing in Cuba," nor are the
Brazilians or the Europeans. "It's because you can make more money
investing in Singapore or Atlanta, Georgia" or many other places under
the current system in Cuba. He adds, "One gets the sense that the
government of Cuba doesn't understand that foreign direct investment is
a competition — that the investor gets to decide where he is going to
get the best return on his money. There are not people out there wanting
to throw their money at Cuba in a way that doesn't allow them to make a
competitive return on their investment. That's the issue."

In the travel sector, explains Kavulich, "The airlines, in their
exuberance and enthusiasm to get as many routes as possible, far
exceeded what the reality was going to be. All the airlines asked for
far more seats than they were going to be able to fill. They asked for
approximately three million seats, when the agreement with the Cubans
was for about one to 1.2 million. From the beginning, it was out of
whack, but the airlines were all trying to grab as many of the routes as
they could."

As international hotel companies signed building contracts, U.S.
arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34% between 2015 and 2016. Hotel rates soared
by between 100% and 400%, 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 other carriers started
operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn't
welcomed U.S. airlines in decades. But the novelty has worn off, and
hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overestimated demand for Cuba
are cutting back on their routes and using smaller planes.

Two major factors have changed since the high-profile restoration of
diplomatic ties during the Obama administration, says Wharton management
professor Mauro Guillen. "The first is the change in the U.S.
administration. The second is that Raul Castro has said that he will
step down in a couple of years. There is a power struggle going on in
Cuba between those who are traditional and others who believe, like
Raul, that there should be a change towards more freedoms in Cuba. Both
factors are making it difficult to get things moving in that direction."

Guillen adds: "Trump has not been president for even 100 days yet; we're
going to have to wait and see. It's not so much that [everyone has] lost
interest, but that there are so many other things going on that require
the attention" of lobbyists and policy makers in the U.S.

Travel: 'A Bad Telenovela'

Trump's first statement about changes in U.S. policy is expected soon,
but no one knows for sure what to expect. The Trump administration is
"not going to sit around with a majority in the [U.S.] House, Senate and
… the Supreme Court — and not do anything. They're taking their time
until they think the President and people around him have time to act,"
says David Lewis, president of Manchester Trade, a Washington
consultancy. "My view is that they are not going to leave this
[situation] as it is." That doesn't necessarily mean that Trump will
undo every policy change made by Obama, he adds.

According to Kavulich, "If they decide to go with increased enforcement
[of the travel rules] — which it seems they will do — that could lead to
the demise of the 'self-defined trips' that have become a popular way
for Americans to visit Cuba," despite the official ban on tourism. "One
change the Obama administration made was to allow people to go to Cuba
on their own. They didn't have to go with a group, and they could
self-certify. It was the honor system on steroids."

Lewis argues that the changes made in the travel sector "are going to
remain as is — not because [the Trump administration] thinks it's good,
but because to try and reverse travel is going to be a major quagmire, a
whirlpool, like a bad telenovela that will never end. You're going to
have to start fighting with the nuns who go to Cuba, with the college
kids who go to Cuba, with the NGOs. It will be a never-ending mad house,
which could engulf [the administration's] limited bench."

However, in order to pressure the Cuban government to liberalize its
economy, the Trump administration could tighten the screws on U.S.
visitors in various ways. Kavulich notes that it may try to make travel
harder for U.S. visitors to Cuba who don't comply with the official
rules, which make it impossible for Americans to visit as a tourist, by
requiring them to go through several inspections at customs. Overall,
the Trump administration "can do a lot without seeming as though they
are being punitive, simply by enforcing the regulations."

The Trump administration could also "make it clear that no further
licenses will be given to any [U.S.] company that wants to engage with
the Cuban military, which controls the Cuban hospitality sector," adds
Kavulich. "If they act retroactively, that means the Sheraton [in
Havana, the first hotel to operate under a U.S. brand since the 1959
revolution] gets closed; U.S. cruise ships can't dock at the ports; and
U.S. [air] carriers can't land at the airports because the Cuban
military controls all of it."

"With Trump, you're reading tea leaves," says Kobrin. "You never know
what's real and isn't. But he is not viscerally anti-communist. He isn't
part of the old Republican Cold War establishment. He doesn't seem to
have trouble dealing with Hungary, for example, and his problems with
China have more to do with what he perceives as 'American first' and
U.S. interests, rather than their political system." Moreover, "the
opposition to establishing relations with Cuba comes especially from
Congress and Cuban-American members of Congress, who are concerned about
the political system."

Reasons for Optimism

Originally, the expectation was that an announcement by the
administration regarding Cuba would be made in early February and then
March. "It seems as though the announcement is being held hostage to
whatever events are happening each day," Kobrin says. "It could end up
that the decision could be a tweet that is a response to something the
Cuban government does that we don't know about yet."

Overall, Kobrin says, "I've always felt that once liberalization occurs,
Cuba is just another island in the sun. It has some advantages in terms
of its medical system, the education of the populace, and so forth, but
then it has to compete with every other Caribbean island, once the
novelty has worn off. Cuba is not a logical place to put much in the way
of manufacturing or other sorts of industry, [except] maybe some health
care initiatives."

Shapiro is more optimistic. "The private sector in Cuba is growing.
Cubans call [self-employed workers] cuentapropistas — which means they
are 'working on their own account.' And they are [becoming] a larger
percentage of the work force. Lots of people in Cuba have their
government job, but they are doing other things as well. They can't
exist on a government salary.… Everybody in Cuba is working a deal."
Internet access has actually skyrocketed, he adds, with Wi-Fi hot spots
available in parks around the country. "Lots of people use them, and
they are owned by the government. Unlike the case in China, you can
access The New York Times in Cuba, and more importantly, El Pais from
Spain."

"I'm still a little bit hopeful and optimistic," Guillen says. "At
least, a framework has been established for the basic relationships….
Now we have cruise ships going through Havana, we have regularly
scheduled flights, and we have some broadening of the kinds of trade
that can be done. Let's give this first round of reforms some time to
sink in. Then, the [Trump] administration will have a better idea of
what it wants to do."

Source: What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations -
Knowledge@Wharton -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/future-holds-u-s-cuba-relations/ Continue reading
Cuba Searches for its "Lost" Money
April 11, 2017
By Eileen Sosin Martinez* (Progreso Semanal)

HAVANA TIMES — In my neighborhood, the story about Juan the butcher, who
took a detour with a truck full of minced meat, sold it and then left
the country, is famous. "It's a good thing he left," a neighbor warns,
"because if he was still here, people would have got their hands on him…
and they would have killed him." But, Juan's story belongs to a greater
narrative.

Days later, several markets in the city closed, among them the
Almendares Shopping Center (on 41 and 42 Streets) and the one on 51 and
26 Streets. Salespeople responded "Inventory check" or "Public Health
inspection" in a bad mood, and it's hard to believe them. For example,
at the Carlos III shopping mall, the rumor mill has it that the
inspection found adulterated and repackaged products, expired food items
on sale, price distortion… the real reason why these places have been
closed. The shit hit the fan, people usually say.

In late January, some results from the latest National Check of Internal
Controls were published, namely, losses of over 51 million CUC and over
90 million CUP (Adding up to over 55 million USD), just at
government-run busniesses in Havana alone.

The numbers come with exclamation marks: 51 million CUC and 90 million
CUP, lost or undeclared, in a country which came face to face with a
recession (-0.9% of GDP) last year, something which hasn't happened in
23 years.

It's barely reassuring that the capital's Head Comptroller, Miriam
Marban, explained that not everything is a result of crime, and adds
other reasons for the missing revenue, such as "production and sale
targets not being met" and "accounts for charging and paying."
Regardless, the statistics are scandalous.

The anti-corruption fight in Cuba took center stage with the opening of
Cuba's Comptroller General Office several years ago, one of the first
steps in updating the economic model. According to lawyer Michel
Fernandez Perez, its creation is the most important structural change in
the Cuban political system after the 1992 reforms.

Controls, controls…
"This institution will play an essential role in upholding order,
economic discipline, internal controls and tackling any cases of
corruption head-on, as well as the causes and conditions that might
encourage any leader or public servant's negligible and criminal
behavior," President Raul Castro stressed at the Cuban Parliament in
August 2009, when Cuba's Comptroller General's Office was approved.

This institution responds directly to the National Assembly of the
People's Power and the State Council, and its purpose is to help them in
carrying out "the highest supervision of State and Government bodies."

Taking this concept into account, Fernandez notes that the authority of
the Cuban Comptroller General's Office is above the government and every
executive-administrative apparatus; it is only subordinate to the most
important institutions of power.

In spite of this hierarchy, the Comptroller Office doesn't form part of
the country's constitutional framework. "Maybe from a legal-formal
viewpoint, it would have been better to have reformed the Constitution
(so as to introduce it)," the lawyer highlighted. This plus the
existence of the self-employed, non-agricultural cooperatives, dual
citizenship and other economic and political realities, remind us that
the Constitution does indeed need to be changed.

Cuba's armed forces may be audited, complying with a special disposition
in the law governing the Comptroller's Office, if the country's
president requests it and when he deems it to be timely.

Meanwhile, they are governed by their own internal control regulations,
and need to inform the Comptroller General about their activities at
least once a year.

[Editors Note: Much of Cuba's tourism industry is run by the Armed
Forces or contracted out to foreign companies. The same goes for
construction.]

Something similar happens in the case of the Communist Party
organizations and its related social and mass organizations; as well as
the National Assembly, State Council and Council of Ministers; the
Supreme Court and the Attorney General's Office. Their economic and
administrative dependencies are auditable, provided that the highest
authorities from these same institutions, or the State Council, request it.

When an audit ends, a document is drawn up which is then made public to
employees. That is to say, they only receive information about what has
happened. The Comptroller's Office complies with the functions that it
has been assigned, according to the law. However, dialogue and worker
participation don't really work in practice.

Cuba is a signatory of the United Nations Convention against Corruption,
a document it signed in 2005 (two years after it was created) and
ratified in 2007. Cuban Audit Regulations are in sync with International
Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI).

However, the critical factor which distinguishes the National
Comptroller's Office from its equivalents across the world is its lack
of public information. While in other countries it's normal for these
institutions to put up the findings of their investigations on their
website, here ordinary citizens don't find out anything, only skeleton
reports in the media, which lack statistics and are all too general.

This results in the inspection process being incomplete. By law, the
Comptroller is obliged to inform those who were subject of the
inspection, labor unions and high-ranking figures of its results and
recommendations. That's been made explicitly clear. So who is
responsible for informing the general public?

We're talking about monitoring the State's resources – read here, our
resources. As such, the logical thing is that we know, in excruciating
detail, the inspections findings and what measures were taken. Without
detailed and timely information there isn't any popular control or real
citizen participation.

Real public participation
One of the alleged causes of irregular accounts lies in the impoverished
economic situation Cuba is experiencing. "When workers are paid a
dignified salary which they can live off, I'm sure many of these cases
of corruption will disappear," claimed somebody in the comments of
Escambray newspaper.

Nevertheless, "although you can understand that we have problems which
affect Cuban people's everyday lives, as a matter of principle, we
cannot accept that this leads to people committing illegal activities,"
stressed Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel, during the closing ceremony
of the first International Audit and Control Workshop (2014) in Havana.

On the other hand, there are also those who have just wanted to get
rich. The Comptroller General, Gladys Bejerano, has stated that the key
motive continues to be "deviating resources" to sell them illegally for
illicit gain."

In both cases, the moral crack of those who say they are "fighting"
(luchando), "inventing" "resolving" as if that was positive… when they
should be saying that they are stealing, is commonplace.

Not by chance, the last two Internal Control inspections focused on the
extremely important sectors and processes for current change:
decentralizing State business operation, measures to "tackle" the aging
population, granting subsidies to the population, non-agricultural
cooperatives and the application of performance based salaries at State
businesses. Going beyond companies, the Comptroller Office is
responsible for verifying the ethical conduct of State managers and leaders.

We don't know much else about the millions lost at the beginning of this
article: "severe measures" were applied to nine managers; and 114
officials and employees were sanctioned with "lesser disciplinary
measures", because of their collateral responsibility. That's it.

The fact that the law has a chapter called "About popular participation"
gives us some hope. "It's society who has to control the public budget,
because we are the ones controlling what we spend," commented the
director of Budget Implementation at the Ministry of Finance and Prices,
Jesus Matos.

He's right; I completely agree. However, for that to happen we need
information, transparency and the real capacity to involve ourselves and
participate. There can't be socialism (much less a prosperous and
sustainable socialism) if workers don't participate.

Source: Cuba Searches for its "Lost" Money - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124670 Continue reading
Congressman reflects on recent Cuba trip
Apr 10, 2017

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with several of my
colleagues on a 3-day congressional delegation. On this trip, we saw the
country and were warmly welcomed by citizens and government officials
alike. While everyone knows that the cars and architecture look like the
year is still 1959, so much has changed, and in a very positive way.
Cuba is becoming a modern country, and very much wants to engage with
and trade with America.

While much about our past relations with Cuba can be debated, one thing
this trip cemented for me is how dramatically our current policy of
isolation has failed. Cuba has moved on, as has the rest of the world.
The 50-year-old embargo now only serves to generate animosity toward
America and to arbitrarily limit our citizens' chances to engage with
Cubans. The moves over the last two years toward greater engagement are
already paying dividends in peoples' hearts and minds. Folks there are
getting a taste of capitalism, and are craving more.

Greater engagement in Cuba can lead to positive changes. Americans and
Cubans have a great deal in common; the importance of family, a strong
sense of patriotism and entrepreneurship. These commonalities will only
become greater as we continue to engage, and Cuba continues to
modernize. The spread of the internet in Cuba is opening dialogues that
previously couldn't occur. More than a third of the island's workers are
now in the private sector. Tourism continues to boom, even with travel
restrictions placed on the nation by its neighbor.

Opening relations with Cuba should be a win-win for Cuban and American
citizens. A healthy relationship with the country would foster greater
mutual security, additional trade opportunities and greater human
rights. For our Kansas farmers and ranchers, Cuba is a natural export
market. They represent a potential top-10 wheat market, and as their
tourism continues to grow, demand for higher quality protein sources
will match well for our livestock producers. In a time of record low
commodity prices, we cannot be arbitrarily choosing markets in which not
to sell. We are only holding ourselves back.

Though lifting the embargo is the ultimate issue, a good first step
would be to allow American banks and financial institutions to provide
financing. To this end, I have co-sponsored H.R. 525, the Cuba
Agricultural Exports Act, to achieve just that.

This trip was a remarkable opportunity to learn more about the
opportunities ahead of us with Cuba. I am proud to be a member of the
Cuba Working Group, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to
continue to build relations between our two countries.

—Congressman Roger Marshall serves on the House Ag Committee, the
Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and the House Small Business
Committee.

Source: Congressman reflects on recent Cuba trip | Opinion | hpj.com -
http://www.hpj.com/opinion/congressman-reflects-on-recent-cuba-trip/article_ad47ad5a-1a41-11e7-9ebf-2b3d00857b97.html Continue reading
New Story HAVANA, Cuba, Apr. 8, CMC – A protocol … between the two nations. Her Cuban counterpart noted that Portugal has … contribute to the training of Cuban personnel. Marrero said that this … opening up. According to the Cuban minister, tourism can be an … Continue reading
… , and corruption is prevalent. 3) Cuba’s potential entrepreneurs have long … operations in Cuba and encourage tourism as well. Nevertheless, Cuba's … , and corruption is prevalent. 3) Cuba’s potential entrepreneurs have long … operations in Cuba and encourage tourism as well. Nevertheless, Cuba's … Continue reading
Discover The Incredible Cars Of Cuba And The People Who Keep Them Running
Justin T. Westbrook

Recent political changes in Cuba, including expanded accessibility to
personal transportation and loosening restrictions of trade and tourism
with the U.S., have put a fresh light on the country's car scene.
Popular YouTube channel Mighty Car Mods just released a beautiful
documentary on the culture, the people and the cars of the communist state.

Cuba was cut off from the capitalist world when Fidel Castro took power
in 1959, leaving the country's roads as a snapshot of 1950's Americana
and forcing people to innovate and eventually mix with the utilitarian
boxes of the former Soviet Union. Cuba and its car culture now finds
itself front and center in the big Western blockbuster franchise that is
Fast & Furious.

I suspect that the eighth installment of the franchise, which includes
The Rock kicking a ice-skating torpedo into a truck at one point, isn't
going to do the people of Cuba justice, but here's a documentary that does.

Cuba is perhaps the one place in the world where automotive intelligence
hasn't faded—it's not allowed to. Instead it has flourished into a
beautiful quagmire of car parts and culture; a stream of a crazy
alternate reality just a few miles south of the rest of the world.

Check out the documentary from Mighty Car Mods below:
https://youtu.be/ZJPqe1baowA
The production quality is incredibly high compared to the YouTube I grew
up with, but Marty and Moog and their automotive misadventures have
always been maaaaad. This documentary takes it to a new level though,
and I'm excited to see the guys move into more amazing spotlights like this.

Source: Discover The Incredible Cars Of Cuba And The People Who Keep
Them Running -
http://jalopnik.com/mighty-car-mods-documented-the-incredible-cars-of-cuba-1794056570 Continue reading
How to plan a Cuba trip without an organized tour
By KAREN SCHWARTZ | karenlschwartz@yahoo.com |
April 6, 2017 at 12:01 am

I've always been one to abide by the important rules. I carry car
insurance. I don't cheat on my taxes, and when I decided to visit Cuba,
I wanted to comply with the U.S. government regulations for travel to
the communist island.

That would have been easy to do had I taken an organized tour, but at
$5,000 to $10,000 a person for a week, it was beyond my budget. Instead,
I planned the trip myself and saved about $2,500 for each of us.

It took some patience and ingenuity. Much of the tourist information
online was geared toward those who aren't subject to the U.S
regulations. Also, internet service in Cuba is limited, so email
exchanges sometimes took several days.

Still, the trip was worth the effort. I didn't relax at one of the
all-inclusive beach resorts (an activity barred for U.S. travelers), but
because the trip focused on the Cuban culture and people, it was
fascinating.

If that sounds appealing, considering these tips:

Know the law

So far, President Trump has left in place the looser Cuba travel
regulations implemented in 2015.

Tourism remains banned, but visits that fall under 12 special categories
don't require filing for a license from the Treasury Department. Some of
the categories involve various professional exchanges; others include
family visits, educational, humanitarian or religious activities.

I traveled under the educational/people-to-people option, which required
that I "maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange
activities" and "meaningful interaction" that would "enhance" contact
with Cubans, promote their independence, or support "civil society."

The wording was vague enough that I looked for some clarification. I
reviewed the itineraries from the tours that cater to Americans, and I
also found some specific recommendations on a Cornell University Law
School website.

For instance, it said that a bike trip exploring Havana, with casual
conversations with shopkeepers, waiters and hotel staff wouldn't meet
the government's standards.


The visa required by the Cuban government was simple to obtain through
my American Airlines reservation. Upon booking my flight, its partner,
www.CubaTravelServices.com, sent me the forms. It cost $50 for the visa
and $35 for processing,

Have a plan

My husband, daughter and I were traveling during the peak New Year's
week and found that many of the bed and breakfasts known as casas
particulares were full by early December. Airbnb is relatively new in
Cuba, so there are few reviews. We took our chances and found
comfortable rooms for as little as $25.

I wanted to set up activities before we left to ensure we met the
people-to-people requirements. I started with the tours and guides
listed on TripAdvisor, but again, most were booked. Working off the
list, I was finally able to set up three half-day tours in Havana to
look at the Art Deco architecture, the history of the mob and a rundown
on the religions and culture. These cost $35 per person.

We also decided to take some lessons at Havana Music. My daughter, who
plays trombone, studied Cuban jazz, and my husband and I learned some
percussion rhythms on wooden claves and the guiro gourd. Others we met
were studying piano and voice.

The staff also helped me set up a last-minute tour of Old Havana, which
cost about half the price of the other excursions. This outing relied on
public transportation rather than a vintage car, but there were lots of
other opportunities to ride in the 1950s-era Chevys.

You can't ask too many questions

Before the trip, I asked everyone I knew whether they had contacts in
Cuba. That led a friend of a friend to put us in touch with some people
who run a music cooperative in the city of Matanzas, about 55 miles east
of Havana and best known as the birthplace of danzón and rumba.

Our new Cuba friends were generous with their time and knowledge,
inviting us to their home, sharing their stories and taking us on a tour
of the city and its art galleries. They spoke English, but that's
unusual in Cuba.

Mission accomplished

It wasn't until we arrived in Cienfuegos, a city of neoclassical
architecture that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, that we
encountered tour buses.

As I watched the huge groups following dutifully behind their guide, I
realized they may have stayed in more comfortable hotels or had better
meals, though perhaps not.

More important, I doubted that a large group would have had the intimate
discussions about life and politics we had been able to enjoy. To me,
those made my trip a true "people-to-people" experience.

Source: How to plan a trip to Cuba without joining a tour -
http://www.denverpost.com/2017/04/06/cuba-trip-without-an-organized-tour/ Continue reading
Marco Rubio: 'Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is'
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

Two months after the Trump administration announced a total review of
U.S. policy toward Cuba, several controversial proposals are being
circulated at the White House with no clear front-runner on the issue.

But Sen. Marco Rubio says he has spoken with Trump three times about Cuba.

"We've been walking through all these issues with the president and his
team, figuring out the right steps to take and when," Rubio told el
Nuevo Herald.

"I am confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the
dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the
fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us
to be doing business with the Cuban military," he added.

The Miami Republican of Cuban descent declined to say whether the
president had made any commitments to him on Cuba policies. But a Rubio
spokesman told el Nuevo Herald that the senator and his staff "have been
working behind the scenes" on Cuba policy.

The Cuban government has taken notice of Rubio's rising voice in U.S.
policy toward Latin America, and the state-run Granma newspaper recently
criticized his efforts to have the Organization of American States
condemn Venezuela's human rights record.

But the Granma article carefully avoided insulting Trump. And the Raúl
Castro government, in a rare show of restraint, has said little about
the Trump administration as it waits for the ongoing review of overall
U.S. policies toward the island.

Spokespersons for the White House and the State Department have said
that the National Security Council (NSC) has the lead in the
multi-agency review. Several knowledgeable sources have said that Jill
St. John, a low-level NSC staffer, is coordinating the work. The White
House did not immediately reply to el Nuevo Herald questions about St. John.

The review requires an initial examination of current policy and
regulations. But whoever is gathering that information "has no
directions on what to do about that," said one source who favors
improved relations with Havana.

Several key jobs in the State Department and other agencies also remain
unfilled by officials "who usually would be the ones you could approach
to talk about Cuba," said one pro-embargo source frustrated by the
so-called "vacuum."

But "treating Cuba as a dictatorship" does not necessarily entail
reversing all of President Barack Obama's measure to improve bilateral
relations. Rubio said he favored tougher policies toward Cuba, a
strategy favored by some dissidents on the island. But he did not reply
directly to a question on whether he favors a total rollback of the new
regulations, as proposed in a memorandum making the rounds on Capitol
Hill and the White House that is believed to have been crafted by staff
members for Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

The memo proposes imposing new sanctions within 90 days unless Cuba
meets a string of requirements contained in the Helms-Burton law and
takes action toward the return of U.S. fugitives and compensation for
confiscated U.S. properties.

Several proposals circulating
However, the memo is just one of many proposing different policies,
according to several sources.

A White House official said in a statement of the Diaz-Balart memo:
"This appears to be an unofficial DRAFT memo which is not consistent
with current formatting and may be a Transition document.

"Some of the language is consistent with what the President said during
the campaign, which is guiding the review of U.S. policy toward Cuba,"
the official said. "The review is not complete and therefore there is no
further comment at this time."

Trump promised during the presidential campaign to "reverse" all the
pro-engagement measures approved by Obama unless the Cuban government
bows to his demands. These days, the phrase making the rounds within
political circles in Washington and Miami is "treat Cuba like a
dictatorship."

"Cuba must be treated for what it is and not, as the Obama
administration did, what it wished Cuba were. Cuba remains a Communist,
totalitarian police state that allies itself with American adversaries
and enemies, including state sponsors of terror and terrorist
organizations," said attorney Jason Poblete of the Washington-based
PobleteTamargo LLP. His wife Yleem Poblete was appointed to the Trump
transition team.

Other proposals floating around Washington would reverse only parts of
the Obama changes, because doing more would disrupt the market and risk
lawsuits from U.S. companies that have already signed deals with Cuba.
The recommendations in the presumed Diaz-Balart memo would cost U.S.
tourism and service companies about $2 billion during the remaining
years of the Trump administration, said John Kavulich, president of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Turning back the clock even further, to the tight restrictions on travel
and remittances imposed by former President George W. Bush — a
possibility that had frightened many people — seems even less likely now.

Several sources who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly on the
issue said that among the proposals submitted to the Trump
administration is one that would eliminate the self-guided trips to Cuba
under the so-called "people to people" travel category, described as
"tourism on steroids" or a thinly-veiled way to sidestep the U.S. ban on
Cuba tourism.

Another would impose targeted sanctions on Cuban military or Interior
Ministry officials. And a third would deny further licenses to U.S.
companies that do business with enterprises run by the Cuban military,
which controls at least an estimated 60 percent of the island's economy.

"They are 100 percent looking into this," said one source close to the
business sector with ties to Cuba. One pro-engagement source said that
the proposal to deny licenses — perhaps the most detrimental for Cuba —
would be difficult to implement.

"How's OFAC going to determine which companies are connected to the
Cuban military?," said the source.

He also cautioned that such harsh measures could strengthen the most
conservative sectors within Cuba, at a time when the Venezuelan crisis
is growing worse and Castro's deadline for retiring from power in 2018
is approaching.

Rubio's statements, nevertheless, hint that Trump policies may target
the Cuban military. House Speaker Paul Ryan last year also proposed
banning U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba military enterprises.

Lobbyists scrambling
At the same time, groups that support improving relations with Cuba have
not stopped their lobbying efforts, and continue "strategizing about how
to influence the Trump administration, although the window of
opportunity is closing," said Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at Brookings
Institution who specializes in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Piccone said that maintaining the current policy toward Cuba would be in
the best interest of the United States, not just because of the economic
benefits but also because of national security concerns. He said Trump
administration officials such as Jason Greenblatt at the NSC, Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are
"open to this argument."

U.S. companies doing business with Cuba also have been sending messages
to the Trump administration in support of a pro-business agenda.

"With the new administration's desire to grow our economy, we are
hopeful that both governments will continue the momentum to work to open
the door for commerce to flourish between our two countries," said
Vanessa Picariello, Norwegian Cruise senior director of public relations.

"Business and civic leaders from the American Farm Bureau, the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce and Republican members of Congress also have been
encouraging President Trump to shake up our failed embargo policy with
Cuba," said James Williams, director of Engage Cuba, a coalition of
businesses and organizations lobbying to eliminate economic sanctions to
Cuba. "President Trump can create billions of dollars in trade and tens
of thousands of American jobs by expanding trade with Cuba."

Letters in support of the current pro-engagement policy have been sent
to the Trump administration by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Catholic
Church leaders, the American Farm Bureau, Cuban-American organizations
like the Cuba Study Group and members of Congress like Minnesota
Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who has submitted a bill to lift the U.S.
trade embargo on Cuba.

Piccone said that on balance the pro-engagement camp feels "positive,
although realistic that certain promises were made to senators like Rubio.

"It is up for grabs, what is happening at the end."

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Marco Rubio: 'Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is'
| Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article142898404.html Continue reading
… capital Havana. The United States prohibits tourism travel by Americans to Cuba … the Cuban economy illegally. Knowing the history of America and Cuba and … Jay-Z and Beyoncé saunter around Havana so casually? Jay-Z is a … policy that causes millions of Cubans to suffer economically from the … Continue reading
Uncertainty surrounds charter flights from Pittsburgh to Cuba
THERESA CLIFT | Monday, April 3, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Plans to launch charter service between Pittsburgh International Airport
and Cuba are on hold indefinitely, a spokesman said Monday.

Miami-based Choice Aire planned to start offering twice-weekly charter
flights to Cuba by the end of last year, but those flights never got off
the ground. Pittsburgh airport spokesman Bob Kerlik said he doesn't
expect them to do so this year, if at all.

"Charter flights to Cuba are still a focus, and we will continue to work
on that, whether it's with Choice Aire or another carrier," Kerlik told
the Tribune-Review.

After airports nationwide began offering regularly scheduled flights to
Cuba last year, demand for charter flights waned, Kerlik said. A
scaling-back of regularly scheduled service, however, could increase
demand for charter flights, he said.

The airport received federal approval in 2011 to offer nonstop flights
to Cuba.

A one-time-only charter went from Pittsburgh to Cuba last month, Kerlik
said. It was the first to travel to the communist country from the
Findlay facility. That flight, through Eastern Air Lines, contained
local business people, Kerlik said.

News that the Cuba charter flights were on hold came as a disappointment
to the University of Pittsburgh's Study Abroad Office, which sends about
25 students to Cuba each year.

"It shouldn't affect our study-abroad plans. It would've just been more
convenient," Jeff Whitehead, the office's director, said.

Students fly to Miami, Fort Lauderdale or New York to catch connecting
flights to Cuba for one-week trips during spring break or six-week
visits during the summer, Whitehead said.

The airport will begin receiving charter flights from China this year
through a Chinese tourism company, it announced last week. It will
launch regularly scheduled service to Iceland and Germany in June.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at
412-380-5669 or tclift@tribweb.com.

Source: Uncertainty surrounds charter flights from Pittsburgh to Cuba |
TribLIVE -
http://triblive.com/local/allegheny/12151050-74/uncertainty-surrrounds-charter-flights-from-pittsburgh-to-cuba Continue reading
Former FARC Guerrillas to Train as Doctors and Journalists in Cuba /
Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 17 March 2017 — From the very moment it gained power,
the Cuban regime has devoted precious resources to exporting its
ideology and cultivating followers. Overseas military conflicts as
distant as those in Africa in the late 1970s and the guerrilla wars in
Central America in the 1970s and 1980s relied on Cuban logistics and
personnel. And just as it expressed solidarity by sending professionals
from multiple disciplines to so-called Third World countries, so too has
it brought professionals to the island for training throughout the
years, generating a wellspring of sympathizers who feel a huge debt of
gratitude.

As part of this successful experiment, there is now a new Cuban
"solidarity" contribution to the peace process in Colombia. It was no
coincidence that the island's capital was the setting for the signing of
the peace accord.

The Castro regime has instructed its ambassador in Bogota to announce
that it is awarding up to one thousand scholarships to the demobilized
members of the FARC guerrilla group and the victims of its armed
conflict to study medicine in Cuba.

The communiqué notes that the 200 scholarships to be awarded annually
over a five-year period — 100 for FARC soldiers and 100 for its
executive council — will be Cuba's contribution to the implementation of
the peace accords reached in Havana and to a lasting peace in Columbia.
Students may access their scholarships beginning in the 2017-2018 school
year. The Cuban embassy will submit a document to the Columbian
government and the FARC outlining the details which, even at the last
minute, was still being finalized by Cuban authorities.

This "goodwill gesture" on Cuba's part — a followup to the final
resolution of the conflict — seems more about publicity than
plausibility. The war went on for so many years that any attempt to
avoid death and violence is noteworthy. Cuba wants not only to promote
itself as a champion of peace in the region but also to profit from the
naivety of some democratic voices who applaud any action that might help
end the long conflict. But above all — and this is very important — it
wants to influence the underdogs, the FARC, with aid and support in
order to achieve a fundamental objective: to mask their image as crude
terrorists by treating them as a legitimate political organization.

Let's not forget that a significant portion of the two billion dollars
that the FARC made from kidnapping and drug trafficking in its own
country is now safely stashed away. Having been well laundered, it is
used to buy sophisticated, modern equipment for humanitarian purposes at
CIMEQ and the Cira Garcia Clinic.* Or it has been invested as Cuba's
contribution to joint venture projects that the government has with
business consortiums and large hotel chains operating both inside and
outside the country.

Cuban ambassador José Luis Ponce publicly announced the program
alongside members of the CSIVI, the commission which oversees the
implementation and verification of the peace accord. He addressed his
remarks to FARC secretariat member Iván Márquez, who used his Twitter
account to stress that "this contribution by Cuba to the implementation
of the Havana Agreement and to the postwar period in Colombia is a pure
humanitarian gesture."

Curiously, Piedad Córdoba — a Columbian attorney, politician and leader
of the Citizen Power XXI Century movement — used her own Twitter account
minutes later to state, "In spite of being under embargo, Cuba not only
has the best medicine in the world, it is also among the most supportive."

Such Twitter coincidences are not exactly a fitting prelude to support
for the end of the conflict. Why don't any of the parties involved
mention that, in addition to the one-thousand scholarships to study
medicine, the Cuban government is offering as many as five-hundred
scholarships to study journalism on the island?

Cuba is well-known for the high-quality training it provides to its
health care professionals as well as for the benefits it receives from
its program of exporting doctors.

This lab coat diplomacy, which includes training foreigners on the
island to be physicians, currently generates more income than tourism,
family remittances, nickel or sugar.

Besides operating a well-oiled financial machine, the Cuban government's
main goal is to create an army of grateful people, spread across the
globe, who are influential in the social circles. They remain committed
and invisible, ever ready to take immediate action in support of
medicine and the Cuban revolution.

Let us take this to the exercise of journalism, taking into account the
fluidity, or freedom of information that exists today in the world,
where even some democratic governments are becoming more and more
controlling. A host of indoctrinated journalists is a weapon of
significant influence and an effective tool for spreading ideas and
ideologies.

*Translator's note: The hospital and clinic mentioned here were
established to treat foreigners and foreign dignitaries as well as
members of the Cuban government, the military and their families. Their
facilities, equipment and provisions are known for being of a much
higher quality than those for ordinary Cubans.

Source: Former FARC Guerrillas to Train as Doctors and Journalists in
Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/former-farc-guerrillas-to-train-as-doctors-and-journalists-in-cuba-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
Lima, April 1 (RHC-teleSUR), -- Extreme floods wreaking havoc in Peru are also threatening the South American country's rich archaeological heritage and the tourism that thrives on it, a Peruvian archaeologist said earlier this week. At least 50 … Continue reading
The Thousand Faces of "Journalism" / Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece
published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing
feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of
articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as
adequate a number of superficial and highly subjective assessments to
validate conclusions that in no way reflect the reality it alleges to
illustrate.

With other hues and nuances, it has the same effect in me as the
experience of participating as a guest at a meeting of journalists,
politicians and academics – primarily Americans – held October, 2014 at
Columbia University, just two months before the announcement of the
restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United
States, where the wish to support rapprochement and to substantiate the
need to eliminate the embargo was essentially based on colossal lies.

For example, I heard how the "Raúl changes" that were taking place in
Cuba favored the Cuban people and a process of openness, and I learned
of the incredible hardships that Cubans had to endure as a result of the
direct (and exclusive) responsibility of the embargo, of the fabulous
access to education and health services (which were, in addition to
being easily accessible, wonderful) enjoyed by Cubans, and even the zeal
of the authorities to protect the environment.

To illustrate this last point, an American academic presented the
extraordinary conservation state of the Jardines de la Reina
archipelago and its adjacent waters, including the coralline formations,
as an achievement of the Revolutionary Government. She just forgot to
point out that this natural paradise has never been within reach of the
common Cuban, but is a private preserve of the ruling caste and wealthy
tourists, a fact that explains its favorable degree of conservation.

The Cuba that many American speakers described on that occasion was so
foreign to a Cuban resident on the Island, as I was, that I wondered at
times if we were all really speaking about the same country.

In my view, the question was as contradictory as it was dangerous.
Contradictory, because there is certainly sufficient foundation, based
on realities, to consider the (conditional) suspension of the embargo or
to show partiality for dialogue between governments after half a century
of sterile confrontations, without the need to resort to such gross
falsehoods, especially – and I say this without xenophobic animosity or
without a smack of nationalism – when they are brandished by foreigners
who don't even have a ludicrous idea of the reality the Cuban common
population lives under or what its aspirations are. Dangerous, because
the enormous power of the press to move public opinion for or against a
proposal is well known, and to misrepresent or distort a reality unknown
to that public, can have dire consequences.

But it seems that such an irresponsible attitude threatens to become a
common practice, at least in the case of Cuba. This is what happens when
overly enthusiastic professionals confuse two concepts as different as
"information" and "opinion" in the same theoretical body.

It is also the case of the article referred to above, that its essence
is the answer to a question that is asked and answered by the author,
using the faint topic of the first anniversary of Barack Obama's
historic visit to Cuba and some conjectures about the continuity of the
relations between both governments with the new occupant of the White House.

"What repercussions have the normalization of relations between the
United States and Cuba had on the Cuban people?" the writer of the
article asks, and she immediately answers herself by assuming several
suppositions, not totally exempt from logic, but regrettably inaccurate.

"Greater openness to Cuba has undoubtedly meant greater interaction with
the Cuban people through the exchange of information from the thousands
of Americans who now visit the island", she says. And this is partially
true, but this "exchange of information" about a society as complex and
mimetic, and as long closed off as Cuba's, is full of mirages and
subjectivities, so it ends up being a biased and exotic vision of a
reality that no casual foreign visitor can manage to grasp.

A diffuse assertion of the article is one that reassures: "Tourism
represents the main economic source for the country, and at the same
time it leverages other sectors related to textiles, construction and
transportation." Let's see: It may be that tourism has gained an
economic preponderance for Cuba, but that it has boosted the textile,
construction and transportation sectors is, at the most, a mere
objective, fundamentally dependent on foreign capital investment, which
has just not materialized.

In fact, the notable increase in tourist accommodations and restaurants,
bars and cafes in the private sector is the result not of the tourist
boom itself but of the inadequacy of the hotel and gastronomic
infrastructure of the State. If the author of the article has had
privileged access to sources and information that support such
statements, she does not make it clear.

But if the colleague at El Nuevo Herald came away with a relevant
discovery during her trip to Havana –job related? for pleasure? – it is
that many young people "believe in the socialist model." Which leads us
directly to the question, where did these young people learn what a
"socialist model" is? Because, in fact, the only thing that Cubans born
during the last decade of the last century have experienced in Cuba is
the consolidation of a State capitalism, led by the same regime with
kleptomaniacal tendencies that hijacked the power and the Nation almost
60 years ago.

About the young people she says that "many are self-employed and
generate enough resources to live well." There are currently more than
500 thousand people In Cuba with their own businesses, about 5% of the
population, according to ECLAC" [U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin
America and the Caribbean]. This is another slip, almost childish. The
source that originally reports the figure of half a million
self-employed workers belongs to the very official National Office of
Statistics and Information (ONEI), a Cuban Government institution, and
not to ECLAC. This number has remained unchanged for at least the last
two years, as if the enormous migration abroad and the numerous returns
of licenses on the part of the entrepreneurs who fail in their efforts
or who are stifled by the system's own circumstances, among other
factors, did not make a dent.

But even assuming as true the immutable number of "self-employed" that
the authorities refer to, on what does the writer base her assumptions
that the self-employed generate sufficient recourses to live well? Could
it be that she ignores that that half a million Cubans includes
individuals who fill cigarette lighters, sharpen scissors, recycle trash
("the garbage divers"), are owners of shit-hole kiosks, repair household
appliances, are roving shaved-ice, peanut, trinket and other knickknack
vendors, and work at dozens of low-income occupations that barely
produce enough to support themselves and their families? Doesn't the
journalist know about the additional losses most of them suffer from
harassment by inspectors and the police, the arbitrary tax burdens and
the legal defenselessness? What, in the end, are the standards of
prosperity and well-being that allow her to assert that these Cubans
"live well"?

I would not doubt the good intentions of the author of this unfortunate
article, except that empathy should not be confused with journalism. The
veracity of the sampling and the seriousness of the data used is an
essential feature of journalistic ethics, even for an opinion column, as
in this case. We were never told what data or samples were used as a
basis for the article, the number of interviewees, their occupations,
ages, social backgrounds and other details that would have lent at least
some value to her work.

And to top it off, the trite issue of Cuba's supposedly high educational
levels could not be left out. She says: "While it is true that education
in Cuba is one of the best in the continent, the level of education is
not proportional to income, much less a good quality of life."
Obviously, she couldn't be bothered going into the subject of education
in Cuba in depth, and she is not aware of our strong pedagogical
tradition of the past, destroyed by decades of demagoguery and
indoctrination. She also does not seem to know the poor quality of
teaching, the corruption that prevails in the teaching centers and the
deterioration of pedagogy. We are not aware of what comparative patterns
allow her to repeat the mantra of the official discourse with its myth
about the superior education of Cubans, but her references might
presumably have been Haiti, the Amazonian forest communities or villages
in the Patagonian solitudes. If so, I'll accept that Cubans have some
advantage, at least in terms of education levels.

There are still other controversial points in the text, but the most
relevant ones are sufficient to calculate the confusion the narration of
a reality that is clearly unknown can cause to an unaware reader. It is
obvious that the writer was not up to the task, or is simply not aware
of the responsibility that comes from a simplistic observation. And she
still pretends to have discovered not one, but two different Cubas.
Perhaps there are even many more Cubas, but, my dear colleague: you were
definitely never in any of them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: The Thousand Faces of "Journalism" / Miriam Celaya – Translating
Cuba -
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Juan Juan Almeida, 17 March 2017 — From the very moment it gained power, the Cuban regime has devoted precious resources to exporting its ideology and cultivating followers. Overseas military conflicts as distant as those in Africa in the late 1970s and the guerrilla wars in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s relied on Cuban … Continue reading "Former FARC Guerrillas to Train as Doctors and Journalists in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as adequate a number of superficial … Continue reading "The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya" Continue reading
Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook
By Sarah Marsh | CIRO REDONDO, CUBA

Cuba, battling a chronic energy deficit, has all the sunshine, wind and
sugar to fuel what should be a booming renewables sector - if only it
could find the money.

The country's first utility-scale renewable energy project, a biomass
plant in Ciro Redondo, is finally under construction thanks to an
injection of funds from China, a socialist ally and in recent years, the
communist-led island's merchant bank of last resort.

Turning Cuba's renewables potential into reality has become a state
priority over the past year since crisis-stricken ally Venezuela slashed
subsidized oil shipments to Cuba that were supposed to help power its
traditional plants.

Some foreign players in green energy, such as Spain's Gamesa and
Germany's Siemens, have shown early interest in the country. But the
overall paucity of foreign financing means that this project, being
carried out by Cuban-British joint venture Biopower, is still the
exception rather than the rule.

The financing puzzle is a crucial one to solve if cash-strapped Cuba is
to hit its target of renewables filling 24 percent of its energy needs
by 2030, up from 4 percent today, a strategy that would require billions
of dollars in investment.

The government announced last July it was rationing energy, raising
fears of a return to the crippling blackouts of the "Special Period"
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The energy shortage comes at a
time when growing tourism and private business creation are generating
greater demand.

"The most challenging thing we have had to deal with in the last six
years of developing this project has been the financing," said Biopower
President Andrew Macdonald, while touring the site of the Ciro Redondo
plant.

The Scotsman, who has been doing business with Cuba for more than a
decade, said the U.S. blockade had "strangled" funding from Europe "and
other obvious sources", with banks afraid of sanctions.

His start-up Havana Energy joined forces with a subsidiary of domestic
sugar monopoly Azcuba to create Biopower in 2012, with a contract to
build five plants attached to sugar mills.

The plants are projected to use sugar cane byproduct bagasse and
fast-growing woody weed marabu as biofuels, costing around $800 million
to add some 300 MW to the grid.

Biopower was finally able this year to start building the first one,
thanks to a decision by China's Shanghai Electric Group Ltd to buy an
equity stake in Havana Energy. The JV is now looking for external
financing for the next four plants.

"We have to check whether the funders are open for the Cuban market or
not," said Zhengyue Chen, former investment manager at Shanghai Electric
and current Biopower chief financial officer.

RISKY INVESTMENT

Some international companies have shown an interest in gaining a
foothold in the slowly opening Cuban market, encouraged by a three-year
old investment law that allows full foreign ownership of renewables
projects.

Cuba last year signed a deal with Spain's Gamesa for the construction of
seven wind-powered plants and with Siemens for the upgrade of the
creaking power grid.

These are just preliminary agreements, however, which may not become
concrete contracts, Western diplomats based in Havana say, given
difficulty agreeing on a financing framework and actually securing the
funds.

On top of the U.S. trade embargo, which frightens banks from offering
Cuba loans, Cuba's payment capacity is questionable. While it has
improved its debt servicing record under President Raul Castro, it is
falling behind on paying foreign providers.

And it has little to offer as payment guarantees in hard currency. Its
state electricity utility generates revenue in Cuban pesos, which are
not traded internationally, only into convertible Cuban pesos at a
state-fixed rate. The government has promised to unify those two
currencies, but it is unclear how.

"If no currency indexation is provided from the government, significant
devaluation poses a great threat to investors' revenue," said World Bank
renewable energy expert Yao Zhao.

Moreover Cuba does not belong to multilateral institutions like the
Inter-American Development Bank that could provide external guarantees.

CHINESE FUNDING

That is likely to force further reliance on China, already Cuba's top
creditor in recent years, having offered loans as a way to hike trade
with the island. Shanghai Electric is importing and building the Ciro
Redondo plant, as well as helping finance it.

Project Manager Li Hui, already directing excavators shifting earth on
site, said he will stay on after the factory is built as the head of the
company's first branch in Cuba.

"We will hand them over a fully-functioning power plant," he said,
adding that Shanghai Electric had to bring over new building equipment
because the Cuban ones were antiquated and lacked spare parts.

But even Chinese largesse may have its limits. Chen said Biopower was
now in discussions with overseas funders, mainly from Europe, and hoped
to secure commercial funds for the second plant by the end of this year.

Macdonald said he hoped his project would be part of the launch of many
foreign participations in the energy sector.

"But today, we are still pioneers," he said.

(Editing by Christian Plumb and Edward Tobin)

Source: Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook | Reuters -
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-energy-idUSKBN1720EB Continue reading
Never belonging: Random reflections on my last visit to Cuba
OPINIONMIGUEL DE LA TORRE | MARCH 28, 2017

Returning to the land which witnessed my birth is always a gut-wrenching
experience. Separation from my island has now been five times longer
than Odysseus' was from his. But unlike Odysseus, who was returning to a
place he was familiar with, I am attempting to piece together some type
of rootedness upon the shifting sands of my parents' false memories (sí,
porque los bichos no picaban, y los mangos eran más dulce; yes, because
the bugs were not biting, and mangoes were sweeter).

Every Cuban over a certain age lives with a particular trauma caused by
the hardships of being a refugee. Homesickness for a place that was
never home, mixed with nostalgia, romanticization and an
unnaturally-taught hatred towards various actors blamed for our
Babylonian captivity contributes to the trauma of not having a place, of
not ever being able to visit one's grandmother's garden to eat mangos
from its trees, nor enjoy the gentle sea breezes.

By the rivers of Miami we sat and wept at the memory of La Habana. There
on the palm trees we hung our conga drums. For there, those who stole
our independence with gunboat diplomacy, asked us for songs. Those who
forced on us the Platt Amendment demanded songs of joy. "Sing us one of
the mambo songs from Cuba." But how can we sing our rumba in a pagan
land? If I forget you, mi Habana, may my right hand wither. May my
tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do
not consider la Habana mi mayor alegría. Remember, Yahweh, what the
oppressors did. A blessing on him who seizes their infants and dashes
them against the rock!

As I stroll down el malecón, as I amble along calle Obispo, as I have a
daiquiri en el Floridita, I observe. I randomly gaze at my surroundings,
reflecting upon what I see, attempting to understand what occurs beneath
the surface. In no specific order, here are some of my musings:
- I notice many yuma lechers — old white men with young beautiful
mulatas on their arms, planning to do to them what the embargo has done
to the island.
- I notice yumas rushing to see Cuba before it changes, before it is
spoiled, fetishizing the misery and poverty of others, ignoring how much
the people want change because they hunger.
- I notice la buena presente, where the faces of tourism's
representatives have a light complexion, thus denying their darker
compatriots lucrative tourists' tips.
- I notice how liberals, from the safety of first-world middle-class
privilege, paint Cuba as some socialist paradise, ignoring how sexism
and racism continues to thrive, along with a very sophisticated and
not-so-well hidden classism connected to political power.
- I notice how conservatives, with an air of superiority, paint Cuba
with brushes which impose hues of oppression to color a portrait of
repression ignorant of the survival mentality of a people fluent in
doublespeak and sharp tongues of criticism.
- I notice tourists who can't salsa dancing in well-preserved streets
while a block away from the merriment are inhabited buildings on the
verge of collapsing.
- I notice Trumpites insisting on removing the human rights violation
splinter out of Cuba's eye while ignoring the log of Border Patrol
abuses against the undocumented, the log of black lives not mattering,
the log of grabbing women by their ——-, paying them lower wages than men
for the same job, the log of unthreading a safety net which keeps people
alive, and all the other human rights violation logs firmly lodged in
the USA's eye.
- I notice liberal yumas apotheosis of el Ché and Fidel, dismissing as
gusanos the critiques of those and the surviving families who have suffered.
- I notice the swagger of conservative yumas quick to dictate the
conditions under which they will recognize someone else's sovereignty,
holding on to the self-conceived hegemonic birthright of empire.
- I notice the false dichotomy created by bar stool pundits between
ending the genocidal U.S. embargo and the need for greater political
participation from the people. This is not an either/or issue; it's a
both/and.

The most painful thing I notice is how I am not fully accepted aquí o
allá — here or there. I am held in contempt and suspicion on both sides
of the Florida Straits. Here, I'm too Cuban to ever be American, and
there, I'm too American to ever be a Cuban. The trauma of which I speak
is never belonging.

As you contemplate these reflections, note I have again returned to la
isla de dolor. Like Odysseus I am struggling against the gods who decree
separation from the fantasy island I claim to love, an irrational love
toward a place where I am neither welcomed nor truly belong. I close
these reflections with that of another refugee, who also spent his life
wandering the earth where there was no place he could call home or where
he could rest his head. According to José Martí, "Let those who do not
[secure a homeland] live under the whip and in exile, watched over like
wild animals, cast from one country to another, concealing the death of
their souls with a beggar's smile from the scorn of free persons."

Source: Never belonging: Random reflections on my last visit to Cuba –
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14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 25 March 2017 – Maria, 59, has a daughter in Miami she hasn’t seen for six years. Her visa applications have been denied three times and she promised herself that she would never “step foot in” the US consulate in Havana again. Cuba is the country with the most denials … Continue reading "Cuba Holds World Record For Visa Applications Rejected By The United States" Continue reading
Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom?
By Neal Simpson
The Patriot Ledger

HAVANA - At a small beach town on the Bay of Pigs, 27-year-old Kenny
Bring Mendoza approached to see if we needed a taxi.

We didn't, but Kenny was happy to show off his proficiency in English
and even willing to answer a few of my questions about recent economic
policy changes in Cuba, things as basic as buying cars or renting out
rooms. But Kenny wanted me to know that one of the biggest changes was
that we were talking at all.


"A couple of years ago, I couldn't be sitting here, speaking with you,"
he told me.

The fact that citizens and tourists now mingle more or less freely in
Cuba, an ostensibly socialist country 90 miles off the U.S. coast, is
just one sign that this island nation is increasingly opening itself up
to the world and, in particular, to the U.S., its longtime archenemy.

U.S. airlines now fly direct from New York to Hanava, cruise ships tower
over the city's aging piers and Americans are increasingly easy to find
among the Canadian and European tourists who have been visiting the
island for decades. Travel agents on the South Shore say they're
fielding a growing number of calls from people who want to know how they
can get to Cuba before the rest of the tourists arrive.

"It's still the unknown for people," said Susan Peavey, whose agency has
offices in Marshfield and Harwich Port. "Everybody is really interested."

I was one of those tourists last month, exploring the island nation in
the tradition of a Ledger photojournalist and editor who had visited
every decade or so to try to understand life in a place that was largely
off-limits to Americans.

What I found was a Cuba that looked much the same as it would have in
decades past despite profound economic changes that are lifting the
fortunes of some Cubans while leaving many behind. Cuba's socialist
government, under pressure to spur growth in a stagnant economy still
recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 25 years ago,
has begun to tear down many of the barriers that have separated Cubans
from the outside world. Residents can now rent out rooms to tourists,
open a limited number of privately owned restaurants, access the
internet and stay at resorts that were previously reserved for
foreigners. From Havana to Playa Girón, there's ample evidence of
President Raul Castro's effort to grow the economy's private sector,
which largely takes the form of self employment, not companies.

But some Cubans I talked with told me that thawing U.S.-Cuba relations,
and the growing number of American tourists visiting the island in the
last two years, has meant more for their personal livelihood than the
loosening of laws on personal property. They told me they'd welcome more
Americans and seemed to harbor no resentment over the Cold War-era
embargo that the U.S. continues to enforce against its Caribbean
neighbor after more than half a century.


"For me," Junior Fuentes Garcia, a 42-year-old Cuban selling books and
watches in Habana Vieja's Plaza De Armas, told me in Spanish, "the
economy is more important."

Cuba opens its doors

Arriving in old Havana at night, the city can look to American eyes like
the set of a post-apocalyptic movie set on a Caribbean island some 50
years after catastrophe cut it off from the rest of civilization. The
streets of Habana Vieja are dimly lit, narrow and filled with people who
are quick to get out of the way whenever a big 1950s Chevy or Ford comes
around a corner. The architecture, hauntingly beautiful but often gutted
and abandoned, recalls a time when Havana was the playground of wealthy
American gangsters and known as the Paris of the Caribbean despite the
extreme poverty and illiteracy most Cubans lived with before the revolution.

Havana by day is a different place, and much more difficult to
understand. Tower cranes rise over government-funded construction
projects along the Paseo de MartÍ while in the adjacent borough of
Habana Centro men labor with 5-gallon buckets and rope to keep up
dilapidated buildings that pre-date the revolution. A fellow traveler
and I walked around a gleaming white hotel that had risen on the site of
a former school building, then toured the nearby Museum of the
Revolution, where the paint was peeling off the terra cotta tiles of
what was once a presidential palace.

And of course, there were the big, beautiful mid-century American cars
that have become inextricably associated with modern-day Cuba even
though they share the country's roads with at least as many newer
Volkswagens, Kias and a variety of makes I had never seen. They are
truly everywhere, though many have been pressed into service as taxis
for tourists.

It's easy to understand why Cubans fortunate enough to have a car would
be tempted to spend their days driving tourists around. Under the Cuban
government's confounding dual-currency system, tourists use one kind of
peso pegged to the American dollar while Cuban citizens mostly use
another kind of peso that's worth closer to 4 cents each. The system,
which is meant to give the government control over American dollars
coming into the country, means that taxi drivers can charge foreigners
rates not far below what they'd pay in the U.S. and make far more than
the average Cuban wage of less than $200 a month, according to a survey
conducted last year by Moscow-based firm Rose Marketing Limited.

I talked with one taxi driver who spoke gleefully about the flood of
Americans he had seen over the last two years and the many more he hoped
were on their way. His mother and sister had moved to the U.S. in recent
years, but he said life in Cuba was too good for him to follow.


Tourism 'brain drain'

Grant Burrier, an assistant professor at Curry College in Milton who has
been visiting Cuba regularly since 2005, told me that the money-making
potential in tourism is actually becoming a problem for the Cuban
government, which has announced but not followed through with plans to
consolidate its two currencies. Burrier said the lure of the tourist
economy has created an internal "brain drain" in Cuba, tempting
engineers and other high-skill workers to leave their government jobs to
seek work in the tourism sector.

In that sense, he said the tourist trade has fueled "severe inequality"
between Cubans who have access to the tourist currency and those who do not.

"Those kinds of issues will be really problematic for the long-term
future of the Cuban economy," he said.

The socialistic ideal of economic equality is clearly far from achieved
in Cuba, but there were no signs of extreme poverty during my brief time
there. Despite its stagnant economy, the Cuban government continues to
provide its citizens with free health care and education as well as
subsidies for food. The country's infant mortality rate is lower than
that of the U.S., and its literacy rate is 99.8 percent, according to
the CIA World Factbook.

But even with all that, it's not clear whether the Cuban government can
maintain the ideals of the revolution as a younger generation comes into
power and gains a better understanding – thanks in part to the internet
– of the lifestyles and consumer goods available outside the confines of
socialism. The median age in Cuba is now 41, according to the CIA World
Factbook, meaning most Cubans were born more than a decade after the
Cuban Revolution and the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion two years
later. The median-aged Cuban was a teenager when the Soviet Union
collapsed and Cuba was left in the lurch.

"That's going to be the key struggle for the revolution going on," said
Burrier, who visited Cuba with 17 Curry students earlier this year.
"Most people you talk to in Cuba, they just want opportunity. They want
economic opportunity, they want economic stability."


American business

Many people in the United States are betting on economic opportunity in
Cuba as well. Last month, a delegation that included U.S. Reps. Jim
McGovern and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts visited Cuba and met with
representatives from Northeastern University and the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council to discuss opportunities in the agriculture and
health sectors. Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat and
longtime advocate for a more open Cuba, is adamant that the island will
soon open its doors wide to American business.

"They obviously have tremendous needs and those need are going to be met
by American capitalism," said Delahunt, whose next trip to Cuba in May
will be aboard a cruise ship. "That's just what's going to happen."

But Delahunt and most Cuba watchers don't expect change to come quickly
to one of the world's last remaining Marxist-Leninist countries. The
country's leaders only need to look to their former ally, Russia, to see
what happens when a country pulls out of a communist economy too quickly.

"I wouldn't be surprised if every year we hear about one or two little
changes," said Javier Corrales, a son of Cuban exiles who teaches
political science at Amherst College, "but they're not interested in
going fast."

Neal Simpson may be reached at nesimpson@ledger.com or follow him on
Twitter @NSimpson_Ledger.

Source: Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom? -
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14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 March 2017 — A year ago the headlines left no doubt: Cuba was Americans’ new destination and that country’s airlines fought for their piece of pie of flights to the island. After the initial enthusiasm, several of these companies have cut back on the frequency of their trips and others … Continue reading "Bubble Bursts for Flights Between Cuba and the United States" Continue reading
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, March 24, 2017 /EINPresswire.com/ -- The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. For the duration of 2017, the global UN community, across all … Continue reading
HAVANA – The fad of visiting Cuba has been going through a “ … in Havana – and some also visit Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba – and … in Havana – told EFE. About their brief stay in the Cuban capital … euphoria among many about visiting Cuba contrasts with the recent decision … Continue reading
Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor
Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News 3:17 p.m. ET March 21, 2017

Detroit — Michigan and Cuba could be great business partners, Cuba's
ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday.

"I think (like Cuba,) your main asset here is the people," José Ramón
Cabañas Rodríguez said after his keynote address to the Detroit Economic
Club. "We probably should think about how we can compliment each other.
No doubt agriculture is one field, but there are many others."

Cabañas, who is based in Washington, D.C., and has been Cuba's
ambassador to the U.S. since 2015, spoke to a crowd of about 200 people
at the club's luncheon.

"I invite all of you to come to Cuba and see what we have done over the
last few years," he said.

He was visiting Michigan and Detroit to discuss America's embargo on the
communist Caribbean island nation and future investment opportunities
there. The U.S. has maintained a 59-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and
formal ban on Americans engaging in tourism on the island. But the ban
on trade with Cuba softened in 2014, when then-President Barack Obama
announced the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with the
small nation.

Cabañas said the blockade on Cuba continues to have profound
repercussions on the country's economy and called members of the
audience at the economic club luncheon to urge elected officials to lift it.

"The U.S. has been wasting money, many, many millions of dollars in the
last 20 years in order to reach and influence the Cuban people," he
said. "Our suggestion is: Let's stop all of that. Let's use that money
in a productive way, and let's do business with Cuba the same way we do
with everyone else."

Kimberly Hairston, 52, of Southfield said she was excited to hear the
ambassador's speech Tuesday.

"I think it's very encouraging and very promising," said Hairston, who
attended the luncheon with a group of students from the Wayne County
Community College District, where she works in student services. "I hope
relations between Cuba and the U.S can become stronger."

Cabañas speech at the Detroit Economic Club comes a day after he spoke
to the board of directors of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Kevin Robson, horticulture specialist with the bureau, said Cabañas
spent about 90 minutes talking to board members about normalizing trade
relations between Cuba and the U.S through bilateral agreements and
potential opportunities for Michigan's farmers to export dairy and fruit
to the island Latin American country.

Michigan and Metro Detroit have small populations of people with Cuban
ancestry.

Am estimated 10,000 people of Cuban descent, or about a tenth of one
percent of the state's total population, call Michigan home, according
to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Metro Detroit, those of Cuban ancestry
account for about 3,000 — or .06 percent — of the area's 4.2 million
people, the agency reports.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

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Rare poll finds Cuban citizens favor better U.S. relations
UPDATED: TUESDAY, MARCH 21, 2017, 9:28 P.M.
By Emily Swanson and Michael Weissenstein
Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A rare poll of Cuban public opinion has found that most of
the island's citizens approve of normal relations with the United States
and large majorities want more tourists to visit and the expansion of
private business ownership.

In a poll of 840 people taken in Cuba late last year by the independent
research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, 55 percent said
normal relations with the U.S. would be mostly good for the country.

"I'd love for the two peoples to be even closer," Rebecca Tamayo, an
80-year-old retired museum worker, said Monday in Havana. "If there were
better relations, more products would be entering the country. There'd
be more opportunity to buy things."

Among Cubans ages 18-29, approval of closer relations with the U.S. rose
to 70 percent. An overwhelming 8 of 10 respondents said they believed
tourism to Cuba should be expanded.

President Donald Trump has pledged to reverse former President Barack
Obama's 2 1/2-year-old opening with Cuba, which restored full diplomatic
relations and allowed a dramatic expansion of U.S. travel to the island.
Trump has said little about the matter since taking office, but his
administration says it is conducting a full review of Cuba policy with
an eye toward possible changes.

Critics of Obama's policy hope Trump will reinstate regulations limiting
the ability of Americans to travel to the island. U.S. travel to Cuba
has roughly doubled every year since the declaration of detente in
December 2014. Critics of closer relations argue the added revenue has
funded a repressive single-party system without helping ordinary Cubans.

The reality is more complex. New tourism revenue is being captured by
government-run tourism businesses, often controlled by the military. At
the same time, thousands of new private enterprises, primarily
bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants, are allowing many Cubans to forge
livelihoods independent of the state. Meanwhile, a drop in aid from
Cuba's main patron, Venezuela, helped push the country last year into
its first recession since 1993, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The poll reflects this complex reality, with Cubans expressing pessimism
about the government's management of the economy while supporting better
ties with the U.S. and hoping for increased privatization.

"Tourism is improving the country's economy, but it's still not enough,
because people aren't seeing a better quality of life," Jorge Beltran, a
66-year-old retired accountant said Monday in Havana.

Forty-six percent of Cubans say the island's economic performance is
poor or very poor, and most said the country's economic fortunes haven't
changed significantly over the past three years. Still, Cubans are
nearly unanimous in saying more tourism would be good for the economy,
and nearly 9 in 10 say it would result in more jobs for local workers.

Sixty-five percent of Cubans said there should be more private business
ownership and 56 percent said they wanted to start their own business
over the next five years.

"It's been demonstrated that the market economy is more efficient than a
centralized economy," Beltran said. "People who've started private
businesses, you can see that they're happier, they have more access to a
lot of things. It's a tremendous benefit for them."

The NORC survery was conducted via in-person interviews of adults across
Cuba in October and November of last year. The survey has a margin of
sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Seventy-six percent said they had to be careful about expressing
themselves freely. Over half of Cubans said they would move away from
the country if given the chance. Of those, 70 percent said they would
head to the United States, where many respondents said they had relatives.

Nearly half of respondents said they received remittances from family or
friends overseas.

Seventy-seven percent had a positive view of the U.S.

UPDATED: MARCH 21, 2017, 9:28 P.M.

Source: Rare poll finds Cuban citizens favor better U.S. relations | |
The Spokesman-Review -
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How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in Business
The challenge of running a restaurant "a la izquierda"
by Suzanne Cope Mar 21, 2017, 2:02pm EDT

On a recent January evening, tourists and a few Habaneros sat under a
palm frond canopy sipping rum cocktails, listening to a live band
playing Cuban folk songs — and eating notoriously difficult-to-procure
lobster, a special of the day.

California Cafe, a paladar, or newly legal, privately owned restaurant
in a country where the state has controlled almost all businesses for
the past half century, is owned by a couple who met in San Francisco.
Paver Core Broche is Cuban, Shona Baum is American, and they decided to
return to Havana to open a restaurant in February 2015, not long after
the regulations for private businesses started loosening.

"In some ways it was really easy," Baum says about the process of
opening a paladar in Havana. "You can't even open a coffee cart in San
Francisco without a million permits and tons of money, and here… we
bought the space, and applied for a license, and it didn't take that long."

But in Cuba, most businesses can't simply call up a bulk vendor or
wholesaler purveyor to place a produce order, since most means of
production are controlled by the government. The country uses two
currencies, Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) and Cuban pesos (CUPs), the
former tied to the U.S. dollar and known as the "tourist currency," the
latter, valued at 1/25th of the CUC, used by the government to pay its
oversized labor force. (Paladares and private businesses might charge in
either.) Running a restaurant can be complicated in the best of
situations, but it's especially challenging in a country where most
aspects of daily life are tightly regulated — and where much of the
economy operates a la izquierda, or "on the left."

As California Cafe grew, both Baum (who works the front of the house)
and Broche (who cooks) had to learn to navigate the labyrinth of
sourcing food and supplies in a place where the state-run corner bodega
might have 100 imported fruit cakes on the shelf but no toilet paper.
Baum says the reality in Cuba is that product availability is sporadic.
"When they have mayonnaise, they have three million [jars of]
mayonnaise, and then it's gone and they have three million of something
else," she says.

To find many necessary items — from condiments to serving plates — one
has to travel around the city visiting various markets. That process can
quickly become time-consuming, and Broche and Baum hired a full-time
person to help with sourcing. They also rent a storeroom to stockpile
enough nonperishables to last a few weeks of service, and they plan
their menu around ingredients that are usually available. The result is
a style they call "Californian-Cuban fusion," with vegetable-heavy
dishes like pork and vegetable "California" skewers.

But the inconsistent availability of products is only one aspect of
sourcing that makes operating a paladar a complicated endeavor in
Havana. The other is the persistence of a la izquierda — the Cuban black
market. There are many ingredients and products needed by restaurants
that are either illegal to buy or else often expensive or scarce, such
as lobster or non-processed cheese. And staples like toilet paper,
vinegar, and beer can also suddenly become hard to find, or "esta
perdido," (literally "it's lost"), Baum says. Numerous restaurant owners
note that if they want to stay in business, they have to buy certain
things a la izquierda.

Alexi, a paladar owner near Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago de
Cuba, worked for many years in the state-owned hotel industry before
opening his own open-air restaurant with tented tables right on the
Caribbean. "You must be enterprising to get all of the things you need
for your restaurant," he says. "Today we have something, but tomorrow it
will be quite difficult to get that same thing … and it is illegal to
buy some things. For example, the government has made all kinds of
seafood illegal to buy. So sometimes I have to buy products other ways."

The Cuban black market works in many ways to circumvent the government's
control of goods. One is the common — and complicated — practice of
state-owned-store employees holding back certain goods to sell a la
izquierda, while accepting pay-offs for other goods — procured illegally
by individuals — to be sold in their shop instead. The government has
strict regulations on the sale of almost every food sourced, from
seafood to coffee to tomatoes, setting the harvest goals and prices for
each farmer or fisherman and prohibiting the sale of excess through
private channels. To make extra money, almost any person within the
supply chain might reserve products to be sold at a price he or she
dictates.

Buying products a la izquierda is so integrated into daily Cuban life
that it often does not look much different than most other transactions
to the average non-Cuban — these sales aren't all happening in dark
alleys with secret handshakes. Rather, there is a complex system of
bribery and separate record-keeping that many employees of both state-
and private-run businesses take part in.

Both Alexi and a former military cook, Marcus, who lives in Santiago de
Cuba, attribute this in part to the government prioritizing state-run
restaurants and hotels when they distribute the best-quality food. "If I
have a good paladar, then that means people are going to eat at my
paladar and they are not going to be a good customer for the
government," Marcus says. "That's [the government's] loss, and they
don't want that." Marcus is currently attending a military cooking
school, but hopes to soon work in a tourist hotel and eventually own his
own restaurant, a dream that wouldn't have been possible just a few
years ago.

Paladares were technically legalized in the 1990s, partially in reaction
to a mass poisoning in an illegal restaurant, when a cook accidentally
added rat poison to the food. However, they were highly regulated, and
it was difficult to obtain their required permits until the 2011
economic reforms under Raúl Castro's leadership. These reforms made
opening paladares much easier — and in 2016, the government announced
plans to ease other private ownership laws as well, paving the way for
individuals to open a variety of private businesses.

These changes, along with the revised laws allowing United States
citizens to more easily travel and send money to the island, have helped
the number of paladares swell. After President Barack Obama restored
diplomatic relations with Cuba in mid-2015, U.S. tourism to the country
hit an all-time high, with 615,000 travelers visiting Cuba from the U.S.
in 2016.

However, the support for this quickly growing class of business has not
been enough to sustain them, particularly as competition increases.
There have been reports of food shortages for locals in part due to the
demand of private restaurants (although some Cubans are equally quick to
blame farmer strikes and government disorganization over the emerging
private sector). Leo, one of the owners of the popular Havana paladar
Havana Blue, has noted the number of paladares that have already come
and gone in his quickly changing city. "There are some that open and
then close," he says. "Not because of lack of demand. It's also bad
management. Many people don't have the foggiest idea because they have
never run a restaurant before."

The government, for its part, has made some effort to support paladares,
at least in gesture. It opened a version of a wholesale market, but
multiple paladar owners question its usefulness. The prices aren't any
cheaper than a retail market, and availability is still often
unpredictable. "People pull up and the beer is gone in two minutes,"
Baum says.

Baum also says that the national bank reached out to small business
owners in the last two years to offer loans. While commonplace in the
United States, this kind of credit is mostly unheard of in Cuba. Yet
when Baum asked about interest rates, the bank associate was vague.
"'Don't worry, we'll give you a good rate!'" was the answer.

Ministry of Agriculture journalist Jose Ignacio Fleitas Adan says the
government is working to do better. "There's an intention, and also
projects and plans, to increase food production and availability," he
says, echoing the official government response. "Es complicado," he adds
with a laugh.

And that seems to be the one truism about food sourcing in Cuba,
particularly when one is running a business. Baum mentions two
restaurants nearby that were shut down recently. "They just
disappeared," she says. "Basically, they were doing illegal things. So
there's a lot of fear around what's going to happen next." She questions
whether more crackdowns are coming for those who buy goods a la izquierda.

What were those shuttered restaurant doing that was more illegal than
what anyone else is doing? Baum pursed her lips. This answer, too, was
complicado. "I spoke with someone who ate there, and they had dried
cranberries on their salad. Which is great, but clearly dried
cranberries aren't available here." She pauses. "What you realize over
time is that there are people who are really well connected, so it's
hard for the regular people like us, and all the other people in our boat."

Still, the opportunities for business owners are lucrative. A Cuban
working in the growing service industry — as a taxi driver or a
restaurant host — can earn exponentially more than the average state
wage of around 20 to 40 CUCs per month. Many educated young Cubans are
thus leaving professions like teaching or medicine to work in the
emerging private sector. When I walked into a new Mediterranean-themed
paladar with Habanero food writer Sisi Colomina, the first question she
asked the host was, "What did you do before?" The answer: psychology.

This wage disparity also makes it easy to understand why so many people
risk buying and selling a la izquierda, or starting their own businesses
in an uncertain market, to supplement their meager income. What
successful paladares demonstrate is that capitalism can work in a
country where almost all aspects of (legal) businesses have being
tightly controlled by the state for more than 50 years.

Yet while many come to the restaurant business for monetary reasons, for
others, opening a paladar is a chance to follow their passion. "It was
always my dream — illegal or legal," Alexi says. "Cooking is an art." He
also called paladars the most popular private businesses in the country
by almost any metric: They're "the most important window for showing the
possibilities to other Cubans."

And while the challenges of food sourcing can make running a private
business in a communist state complicated, Baum does appear to love her
work. We finished our cocktail as she sang along to the band and then
did a sweep of the patio to help her servers deliver food and greet
customers she had met earlier in the week. When she sat back down, she
admitted that the business had a rocky start. But now, she says, she is
"slowly falling in love with Cuba."

Suzanne Cope is the author of Small Batch and an upcoming book on food
and revolution.
Editor: Erin DeJesus

Source: How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in
Business - Eater -
http://www.eater.com/2017/3/21/14946146/cuba-paladar-private-restaurant-black-market Continue reading
… . Thawing relations between Washington and Havana were all set to usher … they were cutting capacity to Cuba, following similar announcements from JetBlue … US airlines cutting services to Cuba have “skewed the story somewhat … on the ground in Cuba since relations between Havana and Washington started … Continue reading
As further US airlines exit Cuba, what does the future hold for US-Cuba
relations?
Karen Gilchrist | @_karengilchrist
Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 | 9:02 AM ET
CNBC.com

U.S. airlines Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines have become the
latest to bow out of Cuba due to weakened demand, posing new questions
about the U.S's future relationship with its former Cold War foe.

For a brief period under President Barack Obama, longstanding tensions
appeared to be easing. But now, as the White House conducts a "full
review" of U.S.-Cuba policies, diplomatic relations between the two
neighbors look as uncertain as ever.

Indications so far suggest that President Donald Trump would be loath to
continue the détente initiated by his predecessor, which sought to
loosen travel restrictions and barriers to trade implemented more than
50 years earlier. During campaigning, the now President tweeted his
condemnation of human rights abuses conducted by Cuba's totalitarian
government. Then, last week, Cuba's President Raúl Castro made his first
public retort, describing President Trump's policies as "egotistical"
and "irrational".

However, President Trump also has a pro-business agenda to ally. A
number of U.S. companies took advantage of Obama's executive order and
efforts to restrict business freedoms will not come easily. Indeed, it
would not go unnoticed that Trump built his fortune on the tourism
industry and his organization reportedly once sought to pursue possible
business interests on the island.

So where does President Trump go from here - and how should business
respond?

What are companies currently doing?

Airline carriers Delta, jetBlue and American Airlines were some of the
first to capitalise on Obama's policies. In the first year after
restrictions were lifted, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens grew 77
percent. However, a recent surplus of carriers and weakening demand have
caused some national airlines to reduce services, while regional
carriers Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways are to suspend their Cuba
services entirely.

"Lack of demand coupled with overcapacity by the larger airlines has
made the Cuban routes unprofitable for all carriers. As a result, Silver
has made the difficult but necessary decision to suspend its Cuba
service effective April 22, 2017. It is not in the best interest of
Silver and its team members to behave in the same irrational manner as
other airlines," Silver Airways said in a press note.

Trade association Airlines for America told CNBC it is currently
"working with government" to secure an adequate framework between the
two destinations.

Meanwhile, delivery services company FedEx announced this month that it
is delaying the implementation of its regularly scheduled cargo service
to Cuba by six months to address "operational challenges in the Cuban
market."

These challenges are also acutely felt by entrepreneurial start-ups on
the island. Chad Olin, president of U.S. Tour operator Cuba Candela, set
up his business to facilitate U.S. tourists under President Obama's
normalisation programme. He now faces an uncertain wait under the White
House's policy review.

"Although the new U.S. administration has introduced some uncertainty to
the continued improvement of U.S.-Cuba relations, we are cautiously
optimistic that relaxed travel rules will not be repealed," Olin told CNBC.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
regularly deals with businesses and policy makers with interests in the
U.S. and Cuba and indicated that more still are in a state of limbo.

"U.S. companies are hesitant to re-engage or engage due to the
uncertainty about what the Trump administration will or will not do with
respect to Cuba," he explained, adding indications that the White House
may intend to rescind certain freedoms.

Potential hurdles

If it is the case, however, that the new administration wishes to repeal
President Obama's executive order, it won't be without litigation issues
from current business license holders, noted Kavulich. A more likely
scenario, at least in the short term, would be a partial freeze on
issuance while the U.S. confirms its position, he said, noting
conversations heard within government and the business community.

"There is not a desire to issue further (business) licenses, but also an
acknowledgement that some license applications are and will be
legitimate," he said.

Christopher Sabatini, lecturer of international relations and policy at
Columbia University, agreed that full reinstatement of the trade embargo
would be unpopular, particularly in Florida, a crucial swing state which
helped secure President Trump's election.

"Some of the entrepreneurial concession will be hard to roll back
because people's lives rely on them," Sabatini told CNBC, referring to
Florida businesses which export to Cuba. Such moves would make the
President very unpopular, he said: "You would see protests on the
streets if they were removed."

"Big ticket" items, such as large corporates, would be easier to remove,
Sabatini suggested.

Political contention

As well as on the streets, Florida is likely to have an influential role
in policy at a Congressional level, too.

Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator for Florida, is one of six hard-line Cuban
American members of Congress who believe President Castro's government
is deeply untrustworthy and are likely to push for a retightening of policy.

"This (Cuban sanctions) is a concession President Trump can make to a
very powerful constituency in Congress," said Sabatini, who remarked
that the President may be keen to maintain his perceived favourability
among Floridians. Last month, President Trump met with Senator Rubio and
told a press conference of their "very similar views on Cuba."

Such a concession may also be necessary given the complexity of the
issue, notes Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research
Institute at Florida International University.

"President Trump will delegate his Cuba policy to others he trusts and
he assumes understand the issue better."

"That means people like Senator Rubio or Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart
will be quite influential in defining the new policy.

"We don't know yet what such policy will look like, but based on the few
signals from the Trump administration, it will be less congenial than Mr
Obama's," Arcos noted.

A new era for Cuba?

Such hard-line members of Congress clearly criticize the reform agenda
for further embedding repression, which has dogged the island for
decades. They claim that new businesses and tourist dollars only serve
to further fund the Castro regime and aggravate segregation on the island.

Trump's adviser Helen Aguirre Ferre said last week that the
administration has not seen Cuba make any "concessions" despite "all the
things it has been given."

However, Cuba has clearly been changing. Citizens are now more globally
connected than ever before, benefiting from improved telecommunication
services and internet connectivity, and certain legacies of Obama's
reform agenda will not be undone

With citizens now more exposed to the freedoms enjoyed by democratic
societies, including more private industry and gradually increasing -
albeit still limited - access to a free press, President Trump now
stands at a crucial juncture for U.S.-Cuba relations: continue pursuing
reforms or return to isolation tactics.

President Castro has stated his intentions to step down in 2018 which
could provide President Trump with greater leverage in his aims to
create a "better deal for the Cuban people." Tactical diplomatic
negotiations could secure greater democratic freedoms for Cuban citizens
if the President is willing to engage with his political opponent – an
enviably legacy for any President.

However, it remains a big if.

When contacted by CNBC, the White House and the Trump Organization were
not available for comment.

Source: As further US airlines exit Cuba, what does the future hold for
US-Cuba relations? -
http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/16/as-further-us-airlines-exit-cuba-what-does-the-future-hold-for-us-cuba-relations.html Continue reading
Tourists, private enterprise give Cuba much needed boost
Posted: Monday, March 20, 2017 11:30 am
By David Bordewyk

Running an Italian restaurant plus a small bed and breakfast keeps owner
Yucimy on her feet from sunrise to well past sunset. It's 7 a.m., and
she is already preparing omelets for her five B&B guests. Her cheerful
greeting helps everyone shake off a night's sleep.
Meanwhile, Yucimy's employees are busy moving tables and chairs to the
sidewalk outside the restaurant, which fronts the town's main avenue,
and are inviting passerbys to stop in for breakfast.
Late afternoon will have Yucimy and staff, some of whom are family, busy
pouring drinks and planning dinner menus for the B&B guests. At night's
end, Yucimy can be found with her feet up in the small living room just
off the restaurant's kitchen, catching a few minutes of TV.
All in a day's work for this privately owned business. Welcome to
Vinales, Cuba.
In Havana, Rosana Vargas welcomes visitors to her jewelry store, where
she shares her small business story. She started making fine silver
jewelry five years ago in her small apartment. Today she has more than
40 people employed in her stylish, privately owned shop along a busy
capital city street.
How much does she pay in taxes to the government for her small business
success, she is asked.
Too much," Rosana says, sounding ever like a well-seasoned capitalist.
Except this isn't Wall Street or Main Street. This is Cuba.
Along with 28 other Americans from the Midwest, I traveled to Cuba for
seven days last week on a people to people tour, a kind of
educational/tourism tour of the island nation that has the approval of
both countries. An employee of a tourism company run by the Cuban
government was our guide.
The trip gave a view of a country with compelling contrasts and
day-to-day economic struggles for many Cubans that dropped our jaws. It
also introduced us to some wonderful, inspiring Cuban people.
To be sure, Cuba remains very much a country ruled by leaders who belong
to the Communist Party. Repression of speech, assembly, and the press
remain very much in play in Cuba today. The government pulls and pushes
the levers that control much of Cuba's way of life. It's been that way
since soon after Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime in 1959.
Yet, doors are opening. Capitalism, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance
are no longer negatives in Cuba. They are happening today in Havana and
other parts of the country.
It will be difficult for the government to put the brakes on this
growing capitalistic wave. President Raul Castro or the next leader may
decide to encourage even more of this kind of growth. Who knows?
This is a country where the average official salary of a state
government worker is the equivalent of about $25 per month. By the way,
most Cubans work for the government or government-owned enterprises.
Teachers, lawyers, and other professionals can make more money tending
bar or waiting tables in a restaurant than they can in the jobs they
were trained and educated to do.
There is a saying in Cuba that "if you pretend to pay me, I will pretend
to work."
Pretending to work for pretend pay is nothing new in Cuba. That's been
going on for many years.
What's new is the rapidly burgeoning capitalism.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Cuban economy went into a
free fall. Within a few years, the Cubans realized that growing tourism
was necessary to help stave off collapse.
Tourism in Cuba has indeed accelerated the past 20 years. Canadians,
Germans, British, Chinese, among others, travel to Cuba. They come for
the rum, cigars, salsa music, and the sun. The number of foreign
tourists coming to Cuba has risen from about 750,000 in 1995 to 3.5
million two years ago.
And now the Americans are coming. The warming of relations between the
two countries put in motion by the Obama administration means more and
more American tourists are wanting to go to Cuba. We bumped into fellow
Americans most everywhere we went during our week-long trip.
Cubans on the street we met cheer what Obama did. They express anxiety
about President Trump.
Which takes us back to the small town of Vinales, in the heart of Cuba's
tobacco-growing region. The town has been a tourist destination for many
years with bed-and-breakfasts throughout. Today, you see construction in
much of the town. Residents are adding a room or two where they can to
their small homes to accommodate the growing tourist tide.
Will growth in tourism pull Cuba out of its many economic problems?
Probably not. Economic stability likely will take much more, given the
scope of challenges.
A personal observation that overrides the nuts and bolts of Cuba's
wobbly GDP is this: My travel experience was that Cubans are genuine,
friendly, and welcoming. They smile wide and extend a hand when you tell
them where you are from. They are willing to chat, even if language is a
barrier. (Although almost no one seemed to know where South Dakota was
located in America. The closest point of reference that rang a bell with
Cubans was the Minnesota Twins. Cubans love baseball.)
More than once I heard Cubans on the street tell me they are eager for
the day when the embargo imposed on their country by the United States
will end. They believe such a move would make lives better for average
Cubans.
In the meantime, they keep building B&Bs (casa particulares), opening
privately-owned restaurants (paladares), and welcoming more American
tourists.
David Bordewyk is executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper
Association, Brookings. He participated in a people to people tour of
Cuba along with journalists and others from the Midwest March 5-12.

Source: Tourists, private enterprise give Cuba much needed boost - Black
Hills Pioneer: Opinion -
http://www.bhpioneer.com/opinion/tourists-private-enterprise-give-cuba-much-needed-boost/article_ffbe4ce2-0d76-11e7-8f17-73c0b08841d7.html Continue reading
Airlines rushed to fly to Cuba. Here's why they've now pulled back.
Mar 20, 2017, 2:02pm EDT
INDUSTRIES & TAGS Travel & Tourism

Multiple commercial airlines in recent days have announced they will
drop their flights to Cuba, a stark reversal from the enthusiasm the
industry displayed when bidding for permission to fly those routes just
last year.

Even airlines that aren't dropping their routes entirely are adjusting
to what they're finding passengers want. Both American Airlines (NASDAQ:
AAL) and JetBlue (NASDAQ: JBLU) have scaled back service from what they
initially offered.

The reductions come as airline executives cite an excess of capacity and
lower sustained demand than expected. So, was the industry wrong to be
so eager to get flights to the island in the first place?

There are multiple theories about how the airline industry ended up in
this spot. One Cuba tour executive suggested to NBC News that it was a
simple matter of lack of data. Tom Popper of Insight Cuba said in that
report, "Not having any historical data for 50-plus years on what
commercial flight capacity and volume would be, everybody wanted to
apply for one of the available routes. Once all the flight routes were
granted they went to market to see what would happen."

Another theory proffered in that report is that even though the number
of Americans visiting Cuba has spiked — a state-run Cuban news source
placed it at 43,200 visitors in January, more than double the count from
a year earlier — that may be in part due to the novelty. There may have
been a good number of people interested in going to Cuba for a first
visit, the theory holds, but not nearly as interested in returning again
and again, NBC News said.

In the end, American tourism to Cuba is in a state of flux, and it's not
just airlines that have to adjust. NBC News pointed out that a relative
lack of hotel rooms on the island for the increased number of visitors
has led to inflated lodging prices. Increased taxi and restaurant prices
have come as well.

There is, however, one segment of the tourism industry that appears well
positioned for continued business with Cuba: cruises. The Miami Herald
reported that about 172,000 people are expected to visit Cuba from the
United States via ship this year.

Unlike airlines and hotels, the Herald reported, cruises are less
exposed to shortcomings with Cuba's infrastructure since their business
is already built around full-service accommodations. To be sure, cruise
lines aren't completely insulated from those concerns, the Herald said,
but for now, they're looking to grow their business to the island.

There is one additional possible complication that could be outside the
airlines' and cruise companies' control. All this tourism to Cuba is
made possible by executive policy changes put in motion by the Obama
administration, and there's no guarantee the Trump administration will
maintain those policies.

As the Herald noted in a separate story, from January, the new
administration has already said it would review the United States' Cuba
policy, and Trump himself has suggested he might end the normalization
process unless the Cuban government gives in to certain demands. That
kind of change would put a major crimp on tourism to Cuba, drastically
affecting business for multiple industries, including airlines and cruises.

David A. Arnott is the National News Desk Editor with The Business Journals.

Source: Airlines rushed to fly to Cuba. Here's why they've now pulled
back. - The Business Journals -
http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/news/2017/03/20/airlines-rushed-to-fly-to-cuba-heres-why-theyve.html Continue reading
Cuba: Hopes too high, too soon?
PUBLISHED: 03/16/17 05:21 PM EDT. UPDATED: 03/19/17 07:27 AM EDT.

It's been almost a year since President Obama's historic trip to Cuba,
the first American President to visit the Communist island in almost 90
years.

As I look back on the trip I took that week in 2016 to Havana, my hopes
for Cuba turned out to be higher than the reality that followed. After
the splash of publicity that came with the President's visit, a local
Cuba expert told me investment and sales between the United States and
Cuba haven't improved much since the November election. Granted,
President Trump has only been in office three months.

Luis Alcalde, a local attorney who does global business affairs for
Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter said, "A few deals were closed right before
January 20th. Roswell Medical Center in New York signed a deal to bring
a Cuban lung vaccine to U.S. for testing and to do a joint venture in
Cuba for biopharma; Google signed a small deal, but otherwise not much
progress. I believe that there is too much uncertainty as to what the
Trump administration is going to do on Cuba. This uncertainty chills
companies and investors and puts them in a wait and see mode."

The Motley Fool, an on-line Wall Street investment publication says that
six months ago, a group of U.S. airlines were eager to start flights to
Cuba, but that venture is starting to lose its luster. Because of Cuba's
still restricted tourism policies, supply has been bigger than the
demand. So much so that a couple of smaller players, Frontier Airlines
and Silver Airways have decided to pull out of Cuba altogether.

Washington is not much help either. Hard-liners on Capitol Hill and
those who want to end the trade embargo remain in a tug of war over the
future of U.S. relations with the largest island in the Caribbean.
"There are a number of bills that have been introduced in Congress to
end all or parts of the embargo but are not likely to get much traction.
Until that happens, the U.S. airlines continue to take Americans down in
fairly good numbers, but not in the numbers that some had hoped," says
Luis Alcalde.

A trade mission to Cuba is being planned by a group called Engage Cuba.
It's a national coalition of private companies, organizations and local
leaders with a goal of getting the 55-year-old embargo lifted.
The trade mission will focus on agriculture and according to organizers,
there should be a good representation from Ohio agri-business for the
trip planned for July 5-9. Ohio grows in abundance a couple crops that
Cuba can't: Corn and soybeans. Ohio farmers would love nothing more than
to get a foothold in a new market for their products. I'll keep you
posted on its progress.

Source: Cuba: Hopes too high, too soon? | WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio |
Columbus News, Weather & Sports -
http://www.10tv.com/article/cuba-hopes-too-high-too-soon Continue reading
Comer visits Cuba, examines agriculture
Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2017 12:15 AM
By Jackson French Bowling Green Daily News

BOWLING GREEN -- U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, recently
visited Cuba and hopes to restore agricultural trade with the island
nation and provide the United States with a valuable new market for
agricultural exports.

Comer said Cuba is a "logical" market for U.S. trade.

"To me, that's a market we should have and as a member of Congress, I'm
going to do everything I can to lift the embargo," he said.

Cuba is about 90 miles from Florida's southern tip, and its proximity to
the U.S. makes it an ideal potential market, Comer said.

Most of Cuba's food imports come from China, Canada and Europe, which
makes for longer journeys and more costly shipping, he said.

In addition, Cuba's climate renders it unable to grow certain crops that
the U.S. produces in abundance like wheat, corn and soybeans, Comer said.

Cuba, meanwhile, produces crops that there's little to no production of
in the continental United States, like coffee. "The products that they
could grow and send our way are crops we can't grow here, so it's a
win-win," he said.

Cuba depends on foreign trade for much of its food, and that dependence
is likely to increase as its restaurants become busier as a result of
the tourism industry's growth, Comer said.

"Cuba is no threat to American agriculture, and they need American
agriculture," he said.

Comer said his position of wanting to establish trade with Cuba is rare
in the Republican Party.

"Unfortunately, the Republican Party's been on the wrong side of this
issue, and I feel it's time to move on," he said.

Earlier this month, Comer and four other Republican representatives, Tom
Emmer and Jason Lewis, both of Minnesota, Jack Bergman of Michigan, and
Roger Marshall of Kansas, took a five-day trip to Cuba.

Dalton Henry, Marshall's legislative director, said the Center for
Democracy in the Americas funded the trip.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas "promotes a U.S. policy toward
Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba's sovereignty,"
according to its website.

Henry said the congressmen spent a great deal of their stay in Cuba
touring the country and examining its agriculture and infrastructure.

"It was kind of a learning journey to see what their challenges are and
see what the opportunities for American agriculture are," he said.

Comer said the trip also involved speaking with small business owners to
understand the local need for food imports and the Cuban Ministry of
Agriculture to discuss the possibility of mutually beneficial trade.

He said that, based on his experiences in Cuba, he is confident that
there is a desire in Cuba to trade with the U.S.

"They want it," he said. "The Cubans want it."

Source: Comer visits Cuba, examines agriculture - Business - Paducah Sun
- http://www.paducahsun.com/business/031917_PS_BIZ_Comer-Cuba-2390416 Continue reading
Cubans a bridge to escape. Talk of tourism was revived as CubaCuban-American executive in human resources who shuttles frequently from Miami to Havana, told me. Selling the rest of the Americas on Cuba … now is can Cuba normalize and still prosper?" Cuba has plenty … Continue reading
Cuba capitalism blinds tourists from Communist reality
George Diaz
Orlando Sentinel
"So when are you going to Cuba?"

I get that a lot, maybe once a week. It's understandable, since I am a
home-grown Cubano, at least until I was almost 5 years old. That's when
my parents, in an act of ultimate sacrifice, left everything behind
except their dignity and a sense of purpose to escape Fidel Castro's thumb.

It's the Cuban-American narrative. We'll fast-forward through all the
tears and pain and hardships to get to 2017, when we are dancing on
Fidel's grave and Cuba is now an alluring tropical paradise. Grab some
sunscreen, book a flight or cruise, and order a mojito with a side of
platanitos.

Everybody is Havana Daydreamin'!

Not I. I don't begrudge anyone who wants to go. It is a beautiful place,
with a time-machine vibe. Hop on a '57 Chevy and feel the ocean breeze
as you cruise down el Malecón.

Cuba still stands still in so many ways. The "normalization" of Cuba
under the Obama administration has unlocked the keys to free commerce,
but not the chains that bind dissidents and others under Cuba's
dictatorial rule.

People still rot and die in prisons. Members of the dissident group
Ladies in White still get pummeled by cops and arrested.

Just last month, Cuban dissident Hamell Santiago Mas Hernandez died in
prison. Cuban officials called it a "heart attack," a euphemism for when
a prisoner develops kidney failure, loses 35 pounds and rots away in a cell.

The U.S. does business with a number of unsavory nations, including
China, but the difference with Cuba is that there are a lot of
Cuban-Americans taking notes. They are passionate hall monitors who
don't understand why the Obama administration didn't squeeze Cuba on the
human-rights issue in return for the perks of tourism and groovy
American pesos.

Will things change under the Trump administration? Check your Twitter
feed for updates from 45. I suspect there will be more pushback, given
this snippet from the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson:

"Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied
by any significant concessions on human rights," he said. "We have not
held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much
while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of
Cubans or Americans."

He has a point. The purpose of negotiating is to get something in
return, not just give away stuff.

But there's another dynamic in play here, too, that does not bode well
for Cuban tourism. The novelty is wearing off.

Silver Airways recently announced that it will scrap its service to Cuba
next month, citing low demand and competition from other airlines.
Frontier Airlines will cease its daily flight to Havana from Miami in
June. American Airlines and JetBlue have also scaled back their number
of flights.

Raúl Castro and his compadres are finding out that capitalism is driven
by market factors, and Cuba is still running the con trying to lure all
those Americanos.

The infrastructure is a little shaky, given the impact of the embargo
and other economic factors. Hotel reviews on TripAdvisor include handy
tips like "Don't forget to bring and 'USE' bug repellent!!" and "I guess
you get what you pay for."

Restrictions abound: There are 12 "authorized types" of travel to Cuba,
including educational, religious and journalistic purposes. And here's
another fun fact from the U.S. embassy in Havana:

"The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S.
citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents."

That would be somebody like me. Cuba keeps meticulous notes on
journalists writing about the regime, and I probably would fill all the
checkmarks as an "enemy of the state." Without any rights as a
naturalized American citizen.

I'm afraid there will be no Havana Daydreamin' for me.

I prefer to visit my homeland one day free of restrictions. I want to
take in the ocean breeze from el Malecón without a cop asking for my
Cuban passport. I want to walk freely along the streets, without fear of
somebody monitoring my footsteps.

You don't have to be in prison to wear shackles. You just can't see them
when you disembark the cruise ship or an airplane.


gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com Read George Diaz's blog at
OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego

Source: Cuba capitalism blinds tourists from Communist reality -
Baltimore Sun -
http://www.baltimoresun.com/os-ed-cuba-human-rights-not-improving-george-diaz-20170317-story.html Continue reading