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Tourism

Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy
Paul Guzzo, Times Staff Writer
Sunday, February 19, 2017 9:12pm

TAMPA — Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to
Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers
spread out over 22 voyages who could add more than $5 million to the
Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between
the two nations.

John Kavulich, president of the council, said he based his figures on if
the ships are at full passenger capacity.

For 2017, Royal Caribbean Cruises has 10 cruises from Tampa scheduled
onboard its 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas with a stop of one day
and night in Havana. The first departs on April 30.

Last week, Carnival Corp. announced it will have 12 cruises from Tampa
for 2017 and 2018 that offer one day and night in Havana. The first
departs on June 29 and all will sail on the 2,052-passenger Carnival
Paradise.

Cruise passengers typically spend $75 per day on things like meals and
souvenirs, Kavulich said.

In Cuba, these expenditures can be done with private or state-run
businesses.

More than 40,000 passengers can be brought to Cuba on these cruises out
of Tampa.

"Added to this is the berthing fee for the vessel, which varies
depending upon size, and then payments for tours," Kavulich said.

The porting costs are paid to the Cuban government. Educational
sightseeing tours are conducted in partnerships with state-run agencies.

It is against U.S. law to visit Cuba purely for tourism. Instead, the
trip must fall under one of 12 legal reasons such as research, sports
competition or education. Cruise passengers will fit under education.

So, while passengers on these 22 cruises from Tampa can partake in
touristy activities such as snorkeling or lying on the beach during
other stops on their journey, including Cozumel and Key West, their
experience in Havana must include a learning component.

Carnival's website, for instance, says passengers will visit Havana's
Central Park and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary built in the 1700s and
then see a cabaret show.

Whether one day is enough time to learn about the nation is up to the
passenger, said Tom Popper, president of New York-based InsightCuba,
which has been leading American tour groups there since 2000.

"How many questions will they ask? How closely will they listen and
watch?" Popper said.

"Havana is not a typical Caribbean destination, where larger ships often
visit for a day. It has a rich cultural heritage."

Passengers will also have free time to explore Cuba, or they can return
to the ship for cruise activities.

In 2015, President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba for
the first time in five decades. Air travel has resumed between the
nations, and now cruise lines give travelers another way to visit.

Whether Americans' ability to travel to Cuba is temporary or permanent
remains unknown. President Donald Trump has stated he will roll back
Obama's Cuba initiatives if he doesn't get a better deal out of Cuban
President Raúl Castro. Trump has yet to provide specifics.

In late January, Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut funds from any
Florida port that enters into a business agreement with the Cuban
government.

In response, ports that planned on signing memorandums of understandings
with Cuba to seek out future business possibilities decided against
doing so.

However, this threat has no effect on cruise lines, which are private
businesses that lease space from ports.

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018
are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers
and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island,
according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Source: Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy | Tampa Bay
Times -
http://www.tampabay.com/news/tampa-cruises-will-add-millions-to-cuban-economy/2313808 Continue reading
Mérida, February 18 (RHC)-- Cuban Parliament President Esteban Lazo is … cooperation relations. According to the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, the … health tourism, and exchanges between Cuba's Special Development Zone … Continue reading
Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 14 February 2017 — In a memorable address on December
18, 2008 in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, Raúl Castro referred to what we
now know as Operation Carlota, saying, "We told the Angolan people we
will only take with us the remains of our dead." But he lied.

The Cuban military mission there did some farming and planted a seed
that is only now bearing fruit. Initially, the mission provided support,
earning the regime international prestige and increasing its political
capital. Witness for example, the vote against the US embargo in the
United Nations' General Assembly. Now, General Castro, who is also
president of Cuba, is counting on a good harvest: Angolan oil.

Below are the names of thirty people who were flew on KLM or TAAG
Angolan Airlines on January 26 of this year from Havana to Luanda with
the express purpose of trading medical services for Angolan crude oil.

Mariluz Simales Cruz, nursing

Larisa Peña Roja, biology

Ángel Alexis Calas Ortiz, nursing

Isabel Chala Castaneda, MD, hygiene and epidemiology

Margarita Saltaren Cobas, nursing

Alfredo Saltaren Cobas, biological sciences

Erenis Serrat Morales, clinical laboratory

Jorge Luis Vargas Mendoza, hygiene and epidemiology

José Alexander Campos Castillo, pharmacy

Mario Oscar León Sánchez, comprehensive general medicine, intensive therapy

Eladia Cuenca Arce, clinical laboratory

Paula Pompa Márquez, microbiology

Isabel María Oliva Licea, transfusion medicine

Andrés Aguilar Charon, chemistry education

Dioenis de la Caridad Campoamor Hernández, health care technology

Martha Alfreda Zamora González, immunology

Agustín Rodríguez Soto, professor of stomatology

Geisy Pérez Pérez, nursing

Marlenis Sánchez Tuzón, MD, clinical laboratory

Lazara Josefina Linares Jiménez, clinical laboratory

Yunia Delgado Peña, nursing

María Libia Paneque Gamboa, professor, Uniología Institutos Médicos

Dimey Arguelles Toledo, nursing

Katiuska Garboza Savón, professor, clinical laboratory

Victoria Priscila Moreno Zambrano, clinical laboratory

Maria Cristina Varela Alejo, pharmacy

Gliceria Alicia Díaz Santa Cruz, health care technology

Dania Victoria Rodríguez Hidalgo, nursing

René Camacho Díaz, professor, maxillofacial surgery

Yaimy Royero Martínez, surgical nursing

"In politics, money talks. It has the first and the last word. The
medical missions in Venezuela won't be cancelled. Speculation is that
the price of oil will rise and, if that happens, the income we receive
from that program should also rise," explains an official from the Cuban
Ministry of Public Health who, as is always the case, fears government
reprisal and prefers to remain anonymous and out of sight.

"The Angola mission," he points out, "is a different sort of thing. They
are not sending doctors to be doctors but rather to be instructors. They
are going there to teach classes, not to see patients.

"This is predicted to be Cuba's most profitable economic endeavor, more
than tourism or remittances from overseas. We are talking about a
massive shipment of doctors and other medical personnel as part of an
exchange agreement that will guarantee favorable crude oil prices.

"Also, on January 12 a US government program, the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program, was cancelled, easing fears that our
physicians will abandon their overseas missions."

Source: Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-doctors-and-nurses-in-exchange-for-angolan-oil-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom / 14ymedio, Luz
Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 – In the photo the
couple smiles with one glass of beer in hand, all they were able to
obtain after waiting in a long line at a Varadero resort. Nine years
after the government allowed Cubans to enter hotels in Cuba (a right
previously denied them in what was commonly called 'tourist apartheid'),
local customers continue to be discriminated against relative to foreign
tourists in the midst of the current boom in tourism.

Eugenia and Guillermo, retirees from the transport sector, are trying to
make up for lost time after decades of being unable to enjoy the tourist
facilities of their own country. With the remittances sent by their son
who emigrated and the profits on a house that they sold a few months
ago, they decided to enjoy the natural beauties of the Island and its
multiple hotels.

Nevertheless, the so-called smokestack-free industry is experiencing
tense times caused by the increase in the number of foreign visitors. At
the end of last year, the country reported a record of more than 4
million tourists, good news for the national coffers but which does not,
however, represent a better situation for local customers.

Cuba has more than 65,000 hotel rooms and some 17,000 private houses
that provide lodging. The tourist boom of recent years tests that
infrastructure and the complaints accumulate, especially with regards to
the facilities managed by the state or by joint ventures.

Eugenia and Guillermo were among the first customers to purchase
an all-inclusive package back in 2008 to spend a weekend in a four-star
hotel near the city of Holguin. They recall the experience as
excellent. "It was like living a dream and enjoying what, before, only
foreigners could have," recalls Guillermo.

However, with the passage of time that initial joy was transformed into
discomfort. "The prices have gone up and the quality of the facilities
has decreased a lot," comments the retiree. At the end of last year they
booked four nights in Pasacaballo, a hotel in Cienfuegos from which they
say they left "horrified."

"The all-inclusive was actually rationed," says the wife. "The initial
times when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted are now just a
memory." Despite having paid for an "open bar," the Cuban guests found
themselves with their food and drink rationed.

For the retirees, that regulation of consumption reminded them of "the
ration market bodegas," they say. "We wanted to escape reality, to
disconnect a few days but it turns out that we found ourselves in the
same situation we wanted to escape," Guillermo points out.

In the Pasacaballo restaurant "the main courses are limited," he
clarifies. You can only choose one meat, fish or chicken course. On
arrival, each guest received a card that allowed them to consume a
maximum of 64 beverages, including two liters of rum for the four nights
of their stay.

The situation is repeated in other accommodations around the Island. Not
even the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, with five stars, is immune from
these types of restrictions. "We had to supervise the domestic guests
better because they were cleaning out the hotel," a maid told 14ymedio,
on condition of anonymity.

Managed by the Gaviota Tourism Group, a business arm of the Cuban
military, special controls are placed on the accommodations of guests
from Cuba. "We have lost huge amounts of towels, cups, glasses and
cutlery," complains the employee. She blames "the Cubans who come and do
not understand how things work in a hotel, they think this is a boarding
school in the countryside."

"They want to eat at breakfast what they don't consume in two months at
home, so there are many excesses," she says. "While a Canadian will
breakfast on an omelet, a Cuban wants to put a hunk of cheese in their
pocket, take twenty servings of bread for their room and carry off all
the jam they can find."

Maria del Pilar Macías, Director General of Quality and Operations of
the Ministry of Tourism, told the official press at the end of last year
that the fundamental challenge was to achieve a competitive service
"without disregarding international standards" based on "quality and
innovation."

In 2014, the influx of domestic tourists to hotels reached 1.2 million
guests, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year. On that
occasion, the locals spent 147.3 million CUCs in those facilities,
according to a report published by the National Office of Statistics and
Information of Cuba (ONEI).

The Communist Party has urged in its guidelines "to expand and push the
development of national tourism by creating offers that make it possible
to take advantage of the infrastructure created in hotels and other
recreational and historical tourist attractions."

Eugenia and Guillermo prefer hotels with managers from another
country. "They are much more attentive and do not seem to differentiate
in the treatment of national tourists." In those run by the state and
under the control Gaviota the situation is different. "If you're a
national, they leave you with the word in their mouths or with
half-service while they run off to look after a foreigner."

The reason for that difference in the treatment lies in
tipping. Although most are all-inclusive accommodations, foreign guests
"always leave something," comments the maid at the Royalton Cayo Santa
Maria. Also, according to the employee, "there have been many incidents
with Cuban clients who mistreat workers."

Varadero is the main beach resort on the island and Cubans have become
the second largest group of guests in the resort, behind the
Canadians. "Cuba's customer today not only goes to standard hotels but
also goes to the chain's highest quality hotels," said Narciso
Sotolongo, deputy sales director of Meliá Hotels International in Cuba.

The Hotel Group Islazul gets the worst comments among islanders. "I
dropped something on the floor and when I looked under the bed I was
surprised at the amount of dirt," Guillermo says. The curtains were old,
there was no minibar in the room and for several days there was no water
in the sink or shower. The manager never showed up for explanations,
despite repeated customer complaints.

For the retired couple, the most difficult thing is to accept the price
increases. "So before we paid between 70 and 85 Cuban convertible pesos
(about the same value in $US) per night with all inclusive; now we can't
find it for less than 120 or 140 CUC," the woman complains. An employee
of Cubanacán who manages a tourism bureau at the Hotel Vedado denied
that there has been an increase in rates.

"We are in the high season and prices are rising every year," she
explains to 14ymedio. "Now what is happening is that there is much more
demand and the cheaper offers are sold abroad, through the internet and
with a credit card." But Eugenia and Guillermo have never connected to
the great world-wide-web and only know about cash.

Source: Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-customers-collateral-damage-in-the-tourism-boom-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by teething problems
Claire Boobbyer
The Telegraph 17 February 2017

Cuba remains a hot-ticket destination for British travellers as airlines
launch new routes and cruise tourism surges. But as the boom continues,
confusion has taken hold over whether Britons are able to board the new
direct US-Cuba flights.

Passengers flying to the Caribbean island from the UK with Virgin
Atlantic (VA) have also experienced difficulties as the airline gets to
grips with the ticketing system alongside its new partner, Delta.

Customers have been unable to book flights online by card, or use Air
Miles plus money, and they must, instead, call a Cuba phoneline at
Virgin Holidays. Miles then need to be converted into vouchers to be
discounted against a normal fare.

VA said the issue was temporary, but Rob Miller, director of the
UK-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign, accused the airline of discriminating
against the communist nation. "Virgin Atlantic must end this
discriminatory policy impacting on travellers wanting to use their Air
Miles to travel to Cuba," he said. "The US blockade is at the heart of
this latest travel dispute.

"We have written to the British Government, and Virgin Atlantic, calling
on them to take immediate action to ensure that all passengers are
treated fairly whether they are travelling to Cuba or elsewhere."

US and Cuba: a timeline

A VA spokesperson apologised for any inconvenience: "This is just a
different way to pay for this route, on a temporary basis. We certainly
aren't discriminating against Cuba. However, our technology is currently
restricted, meaning we can't take bookings."

The airline launches its second UK route direct to Cuba on April 2, to
Juan G Gomez airport. Thomson, too, is adding a route to Cayo Santa
Maria from May; Thomas Cook's inclusion of the small set of islands off
the coast from 2018, takes its total of Cuban destinations to four.

Last year, 10 US airlines made the first direct flights to the island in
more than 50 years, following a thaw in US-Cuba relations. Meanwhile,
cruise firms cannot organise itineraries fast enough and the demand for
hotel rooms has soared. In December Telegraph Travel reported how tour
operators were halting bookings to the island as its infrastructure
struggled to cope with demand.

14 sights to catch before Cuba changes forever

In the summer Swiss chain Kempinski will open Cuba's first truly
glamorous five-star hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana.
Further luxury hotels will follow.

Less positive has been the ambiguity facing British travellers flying to
Cuba from the US. Travel for tourism purposes remains illegal for US
citizens under a trade embargo. They may only fly direct to Cuba for one
of 12 reasons listed by the US Treasury's Cuba sanctions office
(OFAC). The same applies to Britons. Since self-certification (an honour
system) for travel was permitted last year by the Obama administration,
UK travellers, like US citizens, are ticking one of the
officially-approved categories (educational) for travel on airline sites.​

Comparison website cheapair.com advises: "Keep receipts for cultural
activities to demonstrate your visit was filled with 'authorised' travel
activities… keep records of museums visited, local tours you took,
cultural activities attended, etc… most of the time, no one will ask."

The Foreign Office advises that travel between the US and Cuba is
permitted as long as visitors comply with US law. The OFAC's press
office has not yet responded to our inquiries.

Source: Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by
teething problems -
https://uk.style.yahoo.com/flight-confusion-reigns-cubas-tourism-154436596.html Continue reading
Now That Cuba Is Open, Americans Aren't Going
Last year they couldn't wait to see Havana. This year airlines cut
service. What happened?
by Justin Bachman
February 17, 2017, 9:45 AM GMT+1

America, did you miss the travel industry's memo declaring Cuba the
hottest new destination?

Apparently. Service to the long-time U.S. foe began in September, but
after just five months the largest carrier to the island, American
Airlines Group Inc., cut daily flights by 25 percent and switched to
smaller jets on some routes. Meanwhile, Silver Airways Corp. reduced
weekly flights to six Cuban cities and JetBlue Airways Corp. downsized
its planes so as to match lower-than-expected demand.

"It's going to take a really, really long time for [Cuba] to become a
Caribbean destination that's as popular as some of the other ones,"
Andrew Levy, the chief financial officer for United Continental Holdings
Inc., told Bloomberg News in November.

While the rest of the Caribbean is hopping with the U.S. winter break
crowd, Cuba has some unique problems. The big one is that airlines, with
no real idea about demand, were overly ambitious when they jousted for
the limited routes allowed by U.S. regulators. With a mandate for only
110 daily U.S. flights—20 into Havana, the most popular destination—the
carriers tumbled over each other last year to get a piece of the pie,
leaving the island oversubscribed.

The air rush into Cuba "wasn't based on demand but speculation. They had
no history to look at," said Karen Esposito, general manager of Cuba
Travel Network, which specializes in tours to the island. Now they do.

Silver Airways described additional obstacles, pointing to the
complications accompanying U.S. travel arrangements to Cuba, along with
too much capacity from larger carriers. Still, spokeswoman Misty
Pinson said, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based airline "is optimistic
about the future growth potential in Cuba."

Obama's Glasnost

Former President Barack Obama announced an opening of relations with
Cuba in December 2014, calling previous U.S. policy, which sought to
isolate the communist government, a failure.

Despite Obama's efforts to spur U.S. engagement with the country,
including a state visit in March, the 54-year-old U.S. embargo remains
in place. The law prohibits tourism to the island by Americans and makes
financial transactions burdensome.

Today, most people traveling to Cuba individually classify themselves as
participants in "people-to-people" exchanges, one of the dozen
categories authorizing travel under U.S. Treasury regulations.

The policy thaw led to an immediate surge by "early adopters" who wanted
to see the tropical island, said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba,
a tour operator in New Rochelle, N.Y. "The number of passengers we were
sending tripled in very short order, and it lasted all of 2015 and most
of 2016," he said. "And much of that was just the extraordinary level of
awareness" of the Cuba policy changes.

But with liberalization has come a painful lesson in capitalism—for
tourists, anyway. The new interest in Cuba led to rapid price inflation
(as much as 400 percent) for state-run hotels, taxis, and other traveler
services—before any U.S. commercial flights had begun. Some rooms now
cost as much as $650 per night, serving as a major deterrent to
Americans hunting for novel warm-weather destinations.

Even the costs of classic car rides and dinners at popular paladares,
private restaurants run by families, have in some cases tripled, Insight
Cuba says. Prices have begun to moderate this year for the first time
since 2014, the company said this week. But beyond the high prices lie
additional difficulties for U.S. tourists.

Pounds of Dollars

"The airlines are also competing with limited hotel availability,"
Popper said. And "you cannot pay for a room with a U.S. credit card, so
you have to actually bring the cash. You're going to be carrying around
$2,500 to $3,000 in cash just to pay for the hotel room. And then you
need to carry more cash to pay for other things you want to do."

Cuba-curious Americans must also compete for winter lodging with
sun-seekers from Canada and the U.K., who face no bureaucratic hurdles
in booking their holiday.

The average round-trip airfare from the U.S. to Cuba did drop from $399
in September 2016 to $310 last month, according to data from Airlines
Reporting Corp. That compares with an average of $486 for Cancun, the
top Caribbean destination for U.S. travelers. But still, there are few
Yankees heading to Havana.

Some may be worried that a trip would fall under a murky area of the
U.S. law, unsure how much latitude is afforded by "people-to-people
exchanges," or cowed by the well-publicized aggressiveness of U.S.
customs employees of late. No one wants to worry about that sort of
thing while sipping an umbrella-adorned cocktail.

Barring a radical policy change by the new administration, such concerns
are probably unwarranted, Cuba travel experts said, adding that the
traveler counts this year are likely to top 2016. Said Popper: "There's
nobody from the federal government standing on the beach in Cuba."

That may not be reassuring enough for the airlines, though. They're not
pushing Cuba as a leisure destination because of the legal
uncertainties, said Michael Zuccato, general manager of Cuba Travel
Services, a Los Angeles-area company that offers visa assistance and
other traveler aid for customers of four carriers that serve Cuba. While
airlines bear no liability if customers fib about the real reason
they're visiting Cuba, in-house lawyers may not want to push their luck.
"Because of the U.S. restrictions," Zuccato said, "you really don't see
any advertising from the airlines promoting Cuba."

Source: Now That Cuba Is Open, Americans Aren't Going - Bloomberg -
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-17/now-that-cuba-is-open-americans-aren-t-going Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 14 February 2017 — In a memorable address on December 18, 2008 in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, Raúl Castro referred to what we now know as Operation Carlota, saying, “We told the Angolan people we will only take with us the remains of our dead.” But he lied. The Cuban military mission there … Continue reading "Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 – In the photo the couple smiles with one glass of beer in hand, all they were able to obtain after waiting in a long line at a Varadero resort. Nine years after the government allowed Cubans to enter hotels in Cuba (a right previously denied them in what … Continue reading "Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
Lack Of Packaging And Containers Reinforces Ingenuity Of Cuba's
Recyclers / EFE, 14ymedio

Plastic bags drying on a clothesline after being washed for reuse. (CC)
EFE (Via 14ymedio), Havana, 9 February 2017 — In Cuba, take-away pizza
is eaten on piece of paper, people go to the market with their own bags,
and rum bottles are reincarnated as sauce containers. It is not that the
country has an admirable environmental awareness, but that there is a
perpetual lack of packaging and containers that sharpens the island
ingenuity.

By necessity, recycling has become a daily habit for Cubans, who never
forget to grab a jaba (bag) when they leave home, and even wash and dry
them to reuse until they are nothing but shreds.

"A Cuban is composed of head, trunk, limbs and jabita," quipped a
comedian in a celebrated monologue that became popular in the Caribbean
country two decades ago.

This pressing demand explains the success of PACGRAF at the
International Fair celebrated this week in Havana "with the aim of
generating new business opportunities and working with the main buyers
and distributors for the production of packaging in Cuba," according to
its organizers.

Nearly 50 companies from eleven countries have attended the event to try
to promote a sector that the Vice Minister of Industries, José Álvarez,
considered during his inauguration as "strategic to guaranteeing
economic development and especially boosting the pharmaceutical,
agro-food and tourism industries."

The lack of packaging and containers is another face of Cuba's daily
shortages, attributable to several factors depending on who is asking:
the official response is the United States trade embargo on the island
is responsible, while ordinary citizens blame the state apparatus for
its lack of foresight.

The Cuban government has invested more than 40 million dollars in
packaging, paper and cardboard, in the last three years, said the
director of Packaging and Containers of the Ministry of Industry, Juana
Iris Herrera, who anticipated a new investment to produce more carbdoard
boxes.

Some packaging and containers are so complicated to get through normal
channels that they have become coveted objects of desire. Among them,
the large cardboard boxes used in international moves, which in Cuba
have the value of a war trophy.

Another example is the square pizza boxes. Some fortunate private
restaurants have found alternative "supply" routes and even have them
customized – and many charge for them at about 50 cents a box – but in
other places the calculations fail and they are suddenly without packaging.

"If there are no boxes, if they want pizza to take away, they have to
bring a plate," explains the waitress of a private pizzeria in the
Havana neighborhood of Miramar.

Cans that drinks come in are cut in half to serve as containers for
flans and other delicacies sold in street stalls, and in the farm
markets rum bottles have a second life as containers for honey or spicy
sauces.

"Cubans are sick of (addicted to) the bags," says Ruben Valladares, a
freelancer who has been working for the last five years at the PACGRAF fair.

The company, which like so many entrepreneurs started as a precarious
and "rustic" home-based business, today supplies several state-owned
companies, numerous private businesses and even has become a peculiar
exponent of the thaw with the US through an alliance with Commonwealth
Packaging Company, a firm from the neighboring country that wanted to
bet on Cuba.

"The first packaging, a new relationship" is the slogan of this joint
venture.

Another company present at the fair is the Spanish Siepla, which sells
machines with technology to make plastic containers such as bottles,
decanters and jars.

"The needs of the country are immense, there is a lot of demand," says
the sales manager of the firm, Josep Puig.

Bottles for soap, deodorant containers or containers for jam and honey
are some of the products that can be made with these machines, a
plethora of containers that will have a long life in Cuba, the country
where nothing is thrown out.

Source: Lack Of Packaging And Containers Reinforces Ingenuity Of Cuba's
Recyclers / EFE, 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/lack-of-packaging-and-containers-reinforces-ingenuity-of-cubas-recyclers-efe-14ymedio/ Continue reading
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. —  Shortly after working on their sliders, fastballs and changeups during a morning bullpen session here Tuesday, Rockies pitchers moved to the diamond for PFP — pitchers fielding practice. They handled bunts and made throws to first, … Continue reading
Travel Costs Falling in Cuba
TOUR OPERATOR DAVID COGSWELL FEBRUARY 15, 2017

Prices for travel in Cuba have gone down for the first time in a very
long time, as we've been used to constant—and sometimes steep—increases.
"Prices in Cuba have been going up, up, up, up, up and up and up and
up," said Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba. "But like everything,
there is a ceiling. We got used to hotels being sold out 12 months of
the year. Now things are starting to balance out a little."
As prices have lowered on the ground in Cuba, InsightCuba has been able
to re-price its Cuba tours to incorporate savings of $250 per person on
eight of its tour packages scheduled for travel in the coming spring,
summer and fall.
Popper told TravelPulse that prices in Cuba have risen at rates from 100
to 400 percent since former President Obama's announcement on Dec. 17,
2014, that his administration was reducing restrictions for Americans
traveling to Cuba.
Obama's announcement set off what Popper calls "a mad rush" for tours to
Cuba. Demand went through the roof, reaching its peak in summer 2016.
"In years past we were used to seeing hotels from May to December at
40-50 percent occupancy," said Popper. "For the last two years, they
have been pretty much full."
The Cuban Minister of Tourism told Popper and other tour operators in
February 2015 that hotel prices would be jumping 100 percent in response
to the overwhelming demand that followed the announcement of normalization.
Hotel prices continued to leap periodically since then, rising 15-20
percent each time throughout 2015 and 2016. Standard room rates for some
top Havana hotels rose from $150 to $650 per night. Taxi fares also rose
steeply.
"One of my directors was taking his daughter on a classic car ride and
discovered that the price, which had been $20 for an hour, had gone up
to $60," said Popper.
Now, all of the prices have shown downward motion for the first time in
years.
The industry can only guess at the causes. The hotel capacity issue was
relieved a little by the entrance of cruise ships, which provide
off-shore lodging, to the market, but that additional capacity only
helped to accommodate some of the additional demand.
The rise of private inns in Cuba could have also accommodated some of
the additional demand, but would not have been enough to greatly change
the supply/demand ratio in the face of vigorously rising post-détente
demand.
In February 2016 InsightCuba was booking 100 passengers a week. After
summer demand started to wane. Then three weeks ago, about the time of
President Trump's inauguration, bookings spiked again to the 100/week
rate. The next week they dropped again.
"There wasn't any particular reason that we could see," said Popper. "It
didn't correspond to any news cycle. It just seemed to happen."
President Trump's election introduced a new element of uncertainty into
the Cuba market because of his campaign pledges to renegotiate travel
and trade restrictions with Cuba, but that uncertainty might have been
expected to stimulate demand for people who saw that the opportunity
might be closing.
Trump's travel ban introduced a second element of uncertainty to the
travel market, but its possible effect on the Cuba travel market cannot
be ascertained.
"The travel ban has had an impact on buying behavior in many
industries," said Popper. "I think people are evaluating the situation.
There are trepidations about traveling internationally. We see it in
phone calls and emails as people are making their decisions."
Typically, the diverse market forces interact in such complex ways that
no one can fully explain the results on the ground except to attribute
them to the mysterious, invisible hand of the market.
Two things are certain, though: Prices are down for travel in spring,
summer and fall, and, as always in the Cuba travel market, nothing in
the future is certain. For Popper, it always comes back to this: now is
the time to travel to Cuba. The future is unknown. We never know if or
when the door may close again.
"Now is the best time," he said. "As far as choosing a destination, Cuba
is a great choice. There are no safety concerns. It is easy to get there."
Plus, prices are as low as they are likely to ever be again.

Source: Travel Costs Falling in Cuba | TravelPulse -
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They arrived at Denver’s Office of Clerk and Recorder in wedding finery and casual wear, some with children in tow, to take wedding vows on Valentine’s Day. Two retired judges — one of them Herb “Herbie the Love Judge” Galchinsky — performed the early … Continue reading
… February 2015 tourism meeting in Havana, the Minister of Tourism announced … hot day in Havana, I'd choose Havana." To take … Havana (5 Days / 4 Nights) Get deep into the groove of Cuba … occupancy. Varadero+Havana (4Days / 3 Nights) Spanish colonial Havana and 3,500 … Continue reading
EFE (Via 14ymedio), Havana, 9 February 2017 — In Cuba, take-away pizza is eaten on piece of paper, people go to the market with their own bags, and rum bottles are reincarnated as sauce containers. It is not that the country has an admirable environmental awareness, but that there is a perpetual lack of packaging … Continue reading "Lack Of Packaging And Containers Reinforces Ingenuity Of Cuba’s Recyclers / EFE, 14ymedio" Continue reading
Havana, February 11 (RHC-PL)– The company in charge of commercializing Cuban medical … , all scheduled in Havana. Sources with the Cuban medical services commercializing enterprise … in Cuba and abroad, promoting health tourism in Cuba, and presenting Cuban medical … Continue reading
How does Cuba manage to achieve first-world health statistics?
The island's medical system is envied throughout the region and is a
major foreign revenue earner
Havana 10 FEB 2017 - 16:08 CET

Cuba's healthcare system is a source of pride for its communist
government. The country has well-trained, capable doctors, the sector
has become an important export earner and gives Cuba valuable soft power
– yet the real picture is less rosy. A lot of health infrastructure is
deteriorating and there is a de facto two-tier system that favors those
with money.

Cuba's child mortality rate is on par with some of the world's richest
countries. With six deaths for every 1,000 births, according to World
Bank data from 2015, Cuba is level with New Zealand. In 2015, the global
average was 42.5 deaths for every 1,000 births. Despite more than half a
century of a US economic embargo, Cuba's average life expectancy matches
that in the US: 79.1 years, just a few months shorter than Americans
who, on average, live to 79.3 years, according to 2015 data from the
World Health Organization (WHO).

Much of Cuba's success in these areas is due to its primary healthcare
system, which is one of the most proactive in the world. Cuba's
population of 11.27 million has 452 out-patient clinics and the
government gives priority to disease prevention, universal coverage and
access to treatment.

Cuba has also produced innovations in medical research. In 1985 the
country pioneered the first and only vaccine against meningitis B. The
country's scientists developed new treatments for hepatitis B, diabetic
foot, vitiligo and psoriasis. They also developed a lung cancer vaccine
that is currently being tested in the United States. Cuba was also the
first country on earth to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis
from mother to child, a feat recognized by the WHO in 2015.

In 2015, Cuba spent 10.57% of its GDP on health, slightly higher than
the global average. According to the World Bank in 2014, the European
average spending GDP spending was 10%, compared to 17.1% in the United
States.

Two-tier system
A lesser-known characteristic of Cuba's healthcare system is the
existence of special clinics, reserved for tourists, politicians and
VIPs. The state reserves the best hospitals and doctors for the national
elite and foreigners, while ordinary Cubans sometimes must turn to the
black market or ask expatriate friends or family to send medicine.

"Cuba's health service is divided in two: one for Cubans and the other
for foreigners, who receive better quality care, while the national
population has to be satisfied with dilapidated facilities and a lack of
medicines and specialists, who are sent abroad to make money for Cuba,"
says Dr. Julio César Alfonzo, a Cuban exile in Miami and director of the
NGO Solidaridad Sin Fronteras.

In 1959, the country had only 6,000 doctors, half of whom emigrated
after the Cuban revolution. By 2014, Cuba had 67.2 doctors for every
10,000 inhabitants, with only Qatar and Monaco ahead of it.

However, despite these impressive statistics, the quality of primary
healthcare, which has been fundamental to Cuba's success, has been
declining in recent years. Between 2009 and 2014 there was a 62% fall in
the number of family doctors, from 34,261 to 12,842, according to Cuba's
National Statistics Office (ONEI).

An army of white coats
In the words of Fidel Castro, Cuba's "army of white coats" was formed in
1960, when a medical brigade was sent to Chile after an earthquake left
thousands dead. Since then, Cuba has sent more than 300,000 healthcare
workers to 158 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to
Cuba's state news agency. Today, around 50,000 Cuban medical workers are
present in 67 countries.

"Cuban doctors are rooted in solidarity and in the Hippocratic Oath. Our
job would be unthinkable without foreign missions," says Salvador Silva,
a doctor specializing in infectious diseases who has worked in Haiti and
Liberia.

"Yes, our salary is low and maybe that pushes us to go abroad, but it
also makes us proud when we see our work recognized throughout the
world, on top of just helping in our own country," he adds.

Doctors are arguably Cuba's most profitable resource and the country's
medical missions have proved to be a lucrative diplomatic tool. The
healthcare industry is also one of the country's main sources of income.
In 2014, Cuban authorities estimated overseas healthcare services would
bring in $8.2 billion, putting it ahead of tourism.

Cuba has a different deal with each country it works with. For example,
in exchange for sending 3,500 health care workers to work in and provide
training in Venezuela, a close Cuban ally, Venezuela sends oil.

With such a high demand for personnel, some suspect that the Cuban
government has been reducing educational requirements to hasten
students' entry into the work force.

"They are giving doctors licenses in record time to meet the need to
export them, and this has been detrimental to the quality of training
and medicine, which used to be the best. This has been happening since
they started the program in Venezuela, between 2003 and 2004," says Dr
Alfonzo.

Doctors are also eager to be sent abroad, not only to help the less
fortunate, but also for money. Salaries are higher – depending on the
location, with doctors abroad reportedly making up to $1,000 per month
(minus taxes), whereas those in Cuba make around $50. On the island, it
isn't rare to find taxi drivers, shopkeepers or construction workers
with medical degrees.

Juan drives a 1950s Chevrolet he bought with his brother and he uses it
as a taxi from 6pm to midnight. He's also a doctor in the clinic
Hermanos Ameijeiras.

"The wage is a pittance. We find ourselves obligated to make a living
doing other things. I have coworkers who sell prescriptions to
pharmacies, who work in unlicensed clinics or help their families in
shops. It's frustrating," he says. "It's like they're pushing us to
enlist in international missions, the business of Cuba."

The country's medical missions abroad have been an important escape
route for Cubans looking to defect. Before migratory reforms were passed
in January 2013 allowing Cubans with passports and visas to travel
abroad, the preferred way to abandon Cuba was via Venezuela. In 2013 and
2014, more than 3,000 doctors deserted the island to go to the United
States through a special visa program called Cuban Medical Professional
Parole, a program started by George W. Bush to help healthcare workers
who had escaped while working abroad.

Lucia Newman, a former CNN correspondent in Habana, said Cuban doctors
complain that travel restrictions prevent them from attending
conferences or keeping abreast of the latest medical advances. The US
trade embargo on Cuba includes some textbooks, but the major problem is
that Cuban doctors cannot buy medical equipment from the United States
or from any US subsidiaries.

For Odalys, a young patient waiting at the Hospital Salvador Allende,
"the situation is becoming unsustainable in this country and it's not
because of a lack of specialists, it's because we have to bring
everything ourselves. I just bought a light bulb for the hospital room.
I've called home so that they can bring me bedding, towels and even
toilet paper. There aren't even stretchers, I saw a family carrying
their sick son into a room. Free and universal health care, yes, but
it's a bit of a mess and very informal," she says.

English version: Alyssa McMurtry.

Source: Cuba's healthcare system: How does Cuba manage to achieve
first-world health statistics? | In English | EL PAÍS -
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Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or
family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered
by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers
who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their
rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform
opened its services in Cuba.

"There is nothing like Airbnb," said Jorge Ignacio Guillén, a student of
economics who rents out a house in the town of Soroa, Artemisa.
Surrounded by lush vegetation, orchids and birds native to the area, the
accommodation is described as "rustic" and in direct contact with nature.

The young man helps his family manage the home's profile on the
California website specializing in vacation rentals. Guillén signed up a
year ago and his family's house is now is one of the more than 4,000
rental options that Airbnb claims exist on the island.

Airbnb listings in Cuba range from exclusive mansions with pool that can
cost up to $1,000 a night depending on the number of rooms, to single
rooms with a bed or bunk for about 10 dollars

The San Francisco-based company, created nine years ago, expanded its
services to Cuba in April 2015, just months after the announcement of
the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.

The offerings on the island range from the most luxurious to the
simplest. From exclusive mansions with pools that can cost up to $1,000
a night depending on the number of rooms, to single rooms with a bed or
bunk for about 10 dollars*. Hot running water, coffee upon awakening or
a minibar are some of the options to choose from.

Of the more than 535,000 self-employed workers in the country at the end
of 2016, at least 34,000 dedicate themselves to renting homes, rooms and
spaces. An unknown number offer a house or a room "under the table,"
without a state license and without paying taxes.

On the island, entrepreneurs need to obtain a rental license, in
accordance with the regulations on self-employment implemented in the
mid-1990s. Owners of registered rentals must pay license fees and taxes
deducted from personal income. These vary depending on the location of
the property, the square footage allocated to the rental, and the
occupancy numbers.

Airbnb registration is simple. The first step is to fill out a detailed
form about the accommodation you are offering and the guests you wish to
host. Within a few minutes you will receive an email welcoming you to
the platform. The last step is to attract customers, who will rate the
accommodation through the company's website.

The Guillén family has wanted to do everything legally to be able to
take advantage of the growth in tourism. Last year, the number of
foreign visitors reached 4 million, 6% more than the 3.7 million
visitors initially forecast, according to the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).

Most of the rooms offered on Airbnb are located in Havana, but other
destinations such as Trinidad, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas
are gaining prominence. The Cuban market stands out as the fastest
growing in the history of the company.

Guillén learned about the service through a friend outside the island
and as soon as he had the opportunity to connect to the internet he
posted his advertisement. "From then to now business improved a great
deal and we are finding a lot more customers," he tells 14ymedio. Also,
the new customers "are much better, more serious and more respectful,"
and "they pay more," he summarizes.

The family is offering "a simple country house," and puts its guests in
touch with a guide service and horseback riding. After the reservation,
all the information is shared via email, the most fragile part of the
operation due to the low connectivity to the internet still experienced
in Cuba.

Rebeca Monzó, a craftswoman and blogger who has a room for rent on
Airbnb, complains of the difficulties involved in managing the service
without internet access. Although an email account on the government
Nauta service has alleviated the problem, responding immediately when
she receives a reservation message is complicated.

Monzó, who has made clear her preference for "stable, professional and
retired couples," will receive her first customer in February, "a
Mexican filmmaker who is coming with his wife." For this coming March
she already has another confirmed reservation.

The increase in the number of days of occupation per year is one of the
advantages for local entrepreneurs who have joined Airbnb. Guillen
confesses that although he still has "much to learn about the management
of the platform," he does manage, through it, to "maintain a good number
of reservations."

After the difficulties of eight years of construction to get their
property ready in Soroa, a beautiful natural area, the young man's
family is reaping the fruits of their labors. However, they recognize
that the most difficult thing continues to be "always having on hand the
necessary supplies to meet basic needs," because "there still is no
wholesale market in the country."

In Monzó's Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, "almost everyone who
rents to tourists has signed up for the service. The customer pays from
their own country directly to Airbnb," and then "they send an Airbnb
representative to the house who brings the money in cash," she says. It
is the same formula frequently used by Cubans abroad to send remittances
to family on the island.

But for Monzó, the business is far from a source of great profits. "When
I signed up, I wasn't thinking about being able to buy a yacht. I was
just thinking I'd like to have a well-stocked refrigerator."

*Translator's note: Looking at the listings on Airbnb's site as of
today, single room rental rates (two guests) appear to be concentrated
in the range of about $25-$35 (with many that are more and less than
that). A professional employed by the state in Cuba earns roughly $40 a
month; physicians earn roughly $60 a month.

Source: Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/airbnb-the-cuban-experience-14ymedio-luz-escobar/ Continue reading
Cuba experiencing an economic crisis
By Nora Gamez Torres
El Nuevo Herald Published Feb 7, 2017 at 12:02AM

MIAMI — The Cuban government reportedly paid $5.2 billion in 2016 to
meet its commitments after an extensive restructuring of its foreign
debt in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis not likely to improve
this year.

Despite growth in tourism — with a 15 percent increase in revenues for
the first half of 2016 that amounted to some $1.2 billion — the Cuban
economy will remain in the red this year, dragged down by foreign debt
obligations and the economic crisis in Venezuela, which provides
significant oil subsidies to the island nation.

While the Cuban government and the Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean, which uses the same official figures, predicted that
the gross domestic product will grow by 2 percent this year, economist
Pavel Vidal predicts a decrease of between 0.3 and 1.4 percent,
according to the latest report by the Cuba Standard Economic Trend Index.

The economic reforms undertaken by Cuban leader Raul Castro "had
promised a GDP growth of 5.1 percent, which was then adjusted to 4.4
percent. But the true average growth from 2008 to 2016 was barely 2.3
percent," the report states. "The ending couldn't have been any more
discouraging, with a recession in 2016 (-0.9 percent), and very
uncertain projections for 2017 in terms of a rapid reemergence from the
crisis and of what could happen with the Trump administration."

Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University in Colombia and a former
official at the Cuban Central Bank, is the creator of the CSETI, an
index to measure the Cuban economy — published quarterly by Cuba
Standard — that correctly predicted the economic contraction in 2016.

Vidal estimates the Cuban government missed a payment of nearly 800
million dollars to providers and short-term debt contracts last year.
However, the government did pay the annual amount agreed after the
restructuring of its external debt with several members of the Paris
Club, according to former Cuban Minister of Economy, Jose Luis Rodriguez.

"To attract important volumes of foreign investment and new credits in
more favorable conditions, it was planned to pay around 5,299 million of
dollars ($5.2 billion) last year, a figure that according to the
information provided in the ANPP (National Assembly of People's Power)
was fulfilled, although a share of the short-term trade credits could
not be paid," Rodriguez said in an article posted on the Cuban website
Cubadebate.

Castro assured the Assembly at the end of last year that there would be
a "strict fulfillment of the obligations incurred as a result of the
rearrangement of the Cuban external debt," without providing figures. He
added that it was not possible to "overcome the temporary situation that
we are going through in the delay of payments to providers."

The reported foreign debt payment would have far exceeded revenue from
tourism last year, which Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa Lago estimates at
nearly $3 billion, as the official numbers have not yet been released.
The government provides no official figures of remittances from Cubans
abroad to relatives on the island, another important source of revenue
that could amount to another $3 billion, according to the Havana
Consulting Group.

But oil supply from Venezuela significantly decreased to 55,000 barrels
per day in 2016, as reported by Rodriguez — from 120,000 during the best
of times. Cuba has also lost around $1.3 billion in revenue from exports
of medical and other services to Venezuela, according to projections
made by island-based economist Omar Everleny Perez.

Source: Cuba experiencing an economic crisis; -
http://www.bendbulletin.com/business/5048402-153/cuba-experiencing-an-economic-crisis Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform opened its services in Cuba. … Continue reading "Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
… exclusive hotel project in Old Havana.” “For us, it is important … versatile host of Cuban tourism. Pinar del Río, Havana, Varadero, Cayos de … prominent destinations of Gaviota in Cuba. In harmonious synergy, hotels, modalities … the management of facilities in Havana and the northern coast of … Continue reading
Eusebio Leal's Social Programs in Old Havana Disappear under GAESA /
Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 2 February 2017 — On July 30, 2016 the new military
management that officially took over the Cuban tourism company
Habaguanex and other business entities that had belonged to the Office
of the Historian of the City of Havana is planning to satisfy its own
own financial needs by doing away with social programs now operated by
the People's Council of Old Havana.

Their goal is to create 725 new hotel rooms. To do that, their plan
calls for identifying buildings and plots of land which can be used for
tourist lodgings by changing their current use and converting them into
hotels.

Number 13 on a list entitled "Hotel Development Strategy" is the area's
Bethlehem Convent, currently the Day Center. It appears to be one of the
buildings that will soon be converted into accommodations for tourists.

It amounts to an illogical and unpopular action, one that will
undoubtedly cause a dramatic drop in the resources available for social
welfare projects.

The Bethlehem Convent, located at 512 Compostela Street, is an 18th
century building that now serves as as a full-time residence for the
elderly and an activity center facility for other seniors who spend the
day there.

Its clients, who have gotten on in years, participate in physical
exercise activities as well as art, computer, leather-working, theater
and music classes. It is a nursing home that also houses a children's
day-care center as well as a physical therapy clinic, pharmacy and
ophthalmology and optometry service.

During natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods the Bethlehem
Convent also adapts its facilities to provide protection to vulnerable
sectors of the population and people living in areas at greater risk. It
is perhaps for this reason that this humanitarian project receives
international support and cooperation, especially from Italy and Spain.

The decision to replace the management of Habanguanex with a military
regiment intentionally and maliciously ignores the fact that housing
represents one of Cuba's biggest problems. It puts a "temporary" halt to
the construction of protected residences, a program which houses people
living in precarious conditions, while prioritizing resources and funds
to complete what will be the luxurious Hotel Packard.

"The most important social programs run the risk of falling into a death
spiral and ultimately disappearing. The military was waiting for the
perfect moment to gobble up Habaguanex and the failing health of [the
Historian of the City] Eusebio Leal gave them an opening," says an
outraged official at the Office of the Historian.

"How many social programs designed specifically for Cubans are there in
Varadero or any of the other tourist developments run by Gaviota?* None.
They only have hospitals for foreigners. The 'development strategy,'
which they have distributed to us in the form of a very well-illustrated
brochure, is aimed at turning Old Havana into an asphalt Varadero. I
understand that they develop hotels. But what will happen to the policy
of 'restoring buildings without forgetting the soul of its
inhabitants,' which we defended for years?" asks the woman, who might
almost be described as a "veteran" of Eusebio Leal's team.

*Translator's note: Varadero is a large-scale, high-end seaside resort
village catering to foreign tourists and occasionally to Cuban nationals
who can afford to pay in hard currency. Gaviota is a state-owned,
military-run tourism company that owns and runs a string of luxury
hotels throughout the country.

Source: Eusebio Leal's Social Programs in Old Havana Disappear under
GAESA / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/eusebio-leals-social-programs-in-old-havana-disappear-under-gaesa-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
One of Obama's parting acts: Suspending lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

In his last month in office, former President Barack Obama preempted
what could have been one of President Donald Trump's first actions on
Cuba: he suspended a section of the Helms-Burton Act that allows former
owners of commercial property expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign
companies "trafficking" in those confiscated holdings.

President Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which among other
things sets strict conditions that must be met by Cuba before the U.S.
embargo against the island is lifted, in 1996 soon after Cuba shot down
two Brothers to the Rescue planes, resulting in the deaths of four South
Florida pilots.

But no one has ever filed suit because every U.S. president since has
routinely suspended the lawsuit provision every six months. The fear has
been that letting the lawsuits go forward would alienate important
trading partners such as Canada and EU countries whose citizens have
invested in Cuba. Opponents contend that Section III of Helms-Burton
violates international treaties by attempting to punish foreign
companies for business they conduct outside U.S. borders.

On Jan. 4, former Secretary of State John Kerry notified Congress that
Obama had suspended the lawsuit provision for another six months,
effective Feb. 1. The Trump administration won't be able to take action
on the provision until this summer but it could make other changes in
U.S. policy toward Cuba.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing Friday that a
"full review of all U.S. policies towards Cuba" is under way. "The
president is committed to an agenda of ensuring human rights for all
citizens throughout the world. And as we review those policies in Cuba,
that will be forefront in their policy discussions," Spicer said.

Under Obama, there was a rapprochement with Cuba that included both
countries reopening respective embassies, the signing of 22 agreements
on topics of mutual interest, the resumption of regularly scheduled
commercial airline and cruise service to Cuba, and a limited commercial
and travel opening to the island.

Trump has said variously that he would get a better deal than Obama and
that he might consider shutting down the opening unless Cuba makes
certain concessions.

Section III of Helms-Burton was designed to have a chilling effect on
foreign investment in Cuba. If the president doesn't exercise a waiver,
it would allow the preparation of lawsuits in U.S. federal courts
against those using, for example, tourism properties, mining operations
or seaports where there are prior claims.

"There are individuals who maintain they have Title III-actionable
claims relating to Jose Martí International Airport and the port at
Santiago de Cuba," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade
and Economic Council. "United States-based air carriers and those from
other countries could find their assets attached if they do not avoid
the Republic of Cuba. Passenger cruise ships and cargo ships might avoid
docking and unloading [in Santiago] for fear of expensive and enduring
legal proceedings."

Cuba is actively courting foreign investors and says it needs foreign
investment of around $2.5 billion a year to reach a goal of 7 percent
annual economic growth. Since Cuba's new foreign investment law went
into effect in 2014, it has only attracted about $1.3 billion in
investments.

FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI

Source: Obama suspended lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton Act | Miami
Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article131092324.html Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 2 February 2017 — On July 30, 2016 the new military management that officially took over the Cuban tourism company Habaguanex and other business entities that had belonged to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana is planning to satisfy its own own financial needs by doing away with social … Continue reading "Eusebio Leal’s Social Programs in Old Havana Disappear under GAESA / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
Police in Holguin Pursue a Cuban and Three Foreigners / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 23 January 2017 — At nine at night on 19 January in
the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood in the eastern province of Holguin,
suddenly out of nothing there was a bustling scene of police chase going
after a Cuban citizen and three foreigners, carrying cocaine in a white
car with tourism plates.

"On Thursday afternoon there was an alert about an exchange of gunfire
between unknown subjects very close to the Damian River in Yareyal. The
police responded but the subjects had already absconded," says a person
who unwittingly was a witness, and very kindly sent us a sketch of the
route followed by the cars during the raid.

The pursuit began in Yareyal People's Council, a little village between
Las Tunas and Holguin, next to the Central Highway, shortly after a
patrol car located the suspect vehicle heading toward Holguin.

Apparently, members of the anti-drug group suspected that the site was
being used by criminal gangs as a repeat hideout for drug shipments and
so they had set up a technical-police detection device.

After the accident on the Central Highway, and after having put the
drivers, residents and passers-by on this route in danger daily, the
pursuers turned at the corner of K Street with Juan Morena and continued
fleeing on foot.

"That shows they were not from here, and didn't know the area. On K
Street, where they decided to get out of the car and take off running,
they were surrounded because it's a dead-end alley and so they caught
them. They practically surrendered," said a person from Holguin, a
neighbor who lives on Juan Moreno Street.

"They were hot on the heels of the three guys, they let the tourist car
crash and with several bullet holes in the bad. The gunfire was set,
they got out of the car, ran toward K Street and there some armed and
hooded guards caught them, like in the American films.

"They took the pistols, and then let the dogs loose and they immediately
found the drugs in the trunk and under the seats. They took out several
packets which I assume were narcotics. They didn't allow me to take
photos, I took out my cellphone but they set up a security cordon and
didn't let me get close."

The suspected traffickers were arrested, they still haven't identified
them, and they're being held at a detention center on the outskirts of
Holguin province. These sites, which are scattered through the country,
and fulfill common and police functions they call "All the World Sings."

Source: Police in Holguin Pursue a Cuban and Three Foreigners / Juan
Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/police-in-holguin-pursue-a-cuban-and-three-foreigners-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
Trump's warnings grow, but so are travelers and flights to Cuban soil
Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC

Last week, the newly inaugurated Trump administration warned it was in
the middle of a "full review" of U.S. policy toward Cuba—prompting new
questions about how committed President Donald Trump will be to the
political and cultural thaw began under his predecessor.

However, uncertainty over Trump's Cuba policy did not prevent American
Airlines from opening a ticket office in Havana this week, a mere two
months after the carrier flew the first scheduled commercial flight from
the U.S. to Havana since 1961.

American's new outpost in Cuba underscores how both U.S. fliers and air
carriers are rushing to make the most of the first real opening between
the two countries in decades—despite lingering questions about whether
that thaw will continue in the Trump era.

"We cannot speculate about what [Trump's] next step will be, but I can
assure you that we are moving our machine forward," said Galo Beltran,
Cuba manager for American Airlines told the Associated Press, "You are a
witness to the investment and how important Cuba is to American as a
U.S. entity doing business."

American began flying to Havana from Miami and Charlotte in late
November, and from Miami to five other Cuban cities in September. After
a mid-February 'schedule adjustment' that drops one of two daily flights
between Miami and three cities (Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero),
American will be operating 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities.

Other U.S. airlines competed for the go-ahead to offer service to Havana
and other Cuban cities. These include Delta (which in November was the
first U.S. airline to open a ticket office in Havana), Spirit, United,
Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest, all of which are sticking with their
original flight schedules.

"Myriad external forces govern the climate in which we operate – prices
of energy, labor," said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest Airlines,
which currently operates a dozen daily roundtrips between Cuba and the
U.S.. As of right now, "Our Cuba flights are performing in-line with our
expectations."

JetBlue reported the same.

"Cuba routes are performing as expected," said JetBlue spokesman Philip
Stewart, "As has been the case since we completed all of our route
launches last fall, we continue to operate nearly 50 roundtrips between
the U.S. and Cuba every week on six unique routes."

As one would expect from tourists prohibited from visiting a cultural
Mecca for decades, many U.S. visitors who now fly to Havana join walking
tours through the city's old quarters, take rides in restored vintage
cars and visit the Presidential Palace (home of the Revolutionary
Museum), Hemingway's House and the studios of local artists.

Members of a 50-person delegation of political, business and cultural
leaders who joined Seattle-based Alaska Airlines in January, as part of
the first regularly scheduled flight between Los Angeles and Havana,
indulged in the same.

At the same time, they engaged with their Cuban counterparts, exchanging
ideas and business links.

Stephanie Bowman and other commissioners from the Port of Seattle, which
operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and an assortment of
cruise and marine terminals, met with the Cuban Minister of Trade and
Foreign Investment and the Cuban Port Authority.

"We learned that with the lessening of trade restrictions and the
increase in tourism they have huge challenges in infrastructure
development, everything from roads and hotels to being able to provide
enough food for everyone," said Bowman. She suggested the Port of
Seattle host some Cuban executives in Seattle "so they can observe our
cruise and airport business and take some best practices back."

'I want to have a horse to ride'

Kevin Mather, president & COO of the Seattle Mariners, didn't meet with
Cuban baseball officials or players while in Havana. However, he did
bring a suitcase full of t-shirts, whiffle balls and other Mariners
promotional items to hand out to baseball fans in a downtown Havana plaza.

Mather recognized that scouting for potential players in Cuba is a
touchy subject right now, but he's confident that eventually Cuban
baseball leagues and the American Major League Baseball will have an
understanding.

"And when the gate opens and the race starts, I want to have a horse to
ride," said Mather. He instructed his office to retain scouts and people
well-versed in the Cuban economy "so that when the day comes we can react."

That "hurry up and wait" lesson is being learned by members of cultural,
business, tourism and trade missions heading to Cuba from a variety of
U.S cities, said Janet Moore, president of Distant Horizons, which
organizes the on-the-ground details for many delegations.

Once in Cuba, "They quickly realize that it's not quite so
straight-forward and that until the Trade Embargo is lifted, doing
business with Cuba comes with an enormous set of regulations," said Moore.

"So feelers are being put out there and relationships forged, but at
this point concrete steps are more difficult," she added.

—Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden
Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the
Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas . Follow Road Warrior at
@CNBCtravel.

Source: Trump's warnings grow, but so are travelers and flights to Cuban
soil -
http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/03/trumps-warnings-grow-but-so-are-travelers-and-flights-to-cuban-soil.html Continue reading
Cuba is a Country Firmly Set in the Past
February 5, 2017
By Laura Vazquez Lopez*

HAVANA TIMES — I still remember the smell of a storm that was constantly
lingering in the air, those beads of sweat that ran down my neck because
of the humidity, the most beautiful skies I have ever seen and the
warmth and friendliness of its people.

Cuba was a good place to travel to; maybe if somebody thinks about Cuba
as being Old Havana and Varadero, they won't understand everything the
island has to offer. Every alley, every business, every church and
monument was a work of art in itself, intertwined with the brightest
colors that you can imagine and the most ruined buildings I've ever
seen, but maybe that's where Cuba's magic lies.

It's a country firmly rooted in the past and you can see that just by
looking around and seeing its cars, traditions, almost nonexistent
technology, or in the lack of telecommunication infrastructure, or a lot
of other things which, thanks to the type of government they have, have
been banned over the years.

However, if I have to pick one thing that stood out the most it is the
Cuban people who, although the majority doesn't agree with living in the
situation they find themselves in, have an almost enviable patriotic
pride. They are people who even disagreeing with their current situation
and wanting to contribute something so that this changes, live happily
with the little that they are allowed to have, even when they are forced
to work long days for very little money.

It's been several months now since we came back from that Caribbean
paradise which we traveled across for 10 days and I can still remember
everything quite clearly. Cities like Trinidad or Remedios, the
beautiful colonial architecture, made for photography and tourism, where
every place looks like a holiday postcard.

The Cays in the North and West, with the finest, whitest sand I've ever
seen, where it seems that the sun is only hot but it burns you in
excess. Viñales, a treasure located in the interior of the country, with
its famous mogotes (hills), its vegetation, its animal-drawn carriages,
its immense plantations, I'm pretty sure it's on my list of favorite places.

And what can I say about Havana… I would be lying if I said that it was
how I imagined it would be. I really didn't imagine that it would be in
such a poor state, except for the tourist area. But even so, it's
beautiful; it has a special beauty unrivalled by any other place I know.

In conclusion, now writing from Spain, I can only remember those 10 days
as an amazing experience, discovering all of these places, the way the
Cuban people live, the smells, colors, life on the island…

* A visitor to Cuba in August 2016.

Source: Cuba is a Country Firmly Set in the Past - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=123509 Continue reading
Cuba interested in Azerbaijani investments
6 February 2017 17:31 (UTC+04:00)230
By Nigar Abbasova

Cuba is eager to see a flow of Azerbaijani investments in the Caribbean
country and ready to provide all necessary and advantageous conditions
to reach the goal.

Cuba's Ambassador to Baku Alfredo Nieves Portuondo said that his country
is interested in Azerbaijani investments, as well as in an integrated
cooperation with the country. The envoy announced about this while
addressing a meeting with a delegation led by President of Caspian
Energy International Media Group Natalya Aliyeva.

In 2014, the Cuban government implemented significant reforms directed
at promoting foreign investment and adopted a relevant law, opening up
more opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs. Here, investment is
allowed in all economic sectors, including utilities, administrative
concessions, real estate (purchase, sale and leasing of houses and
offices), hotel management and professional services. Also, the country
announced creation of a free economic zone.

Portuondo further said that the two countries could cooperate in the
sphere of agriculture, as Azerbaijan has always been famous for its
agricultural development.

"If we could create a joint Azerbaijani-Cuban company in the field of
agricultural production, it would notably promote the development of the
bilateral relations," he noted.

Cuba, which has succeeded in manufacture of the newest medicines and
biotechnologies, is also ready to offer its medical services and supply
products to Azerbaijan.

"We can also talk about cooperation in the field of medicine,
healthcare services and pharmaceutical industry. It is also possible to
conduct exchange in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, Cuba
already has such experience with other countries," he noted.

Today, Cuba renders medical services to the countries of Latin America,
Europe, Africa, Middle East, Russia and other CIS.

The ambassador further highlighted a great potential for the energy
cooperation, mentioning rich experience of Azerbaijan in this area.

Cuba possesses undiscovered oil fields in the Cuban part of a shelf in
the Gulf of Mexico, and Azerbaijani companies could participate in their
exploration and further development.

The ambassador said that the country produces about 4 million tons of
heavy oil per year, mainly in the north of Havana, while there is a
triangle which belongs to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico. "Currently, we are
conducting extensive exploration surveys jointly with the companies from
Norway, Russia, Vietnam, France and Brazil, which use the technology for
producing oil from deep horizons. The surveys show the presence of oil,"
he said.

The ambassador further noted that tourism sphere can surely become one
of the important directions of cooperation, adding that tourism industry
of Cuba is one of the developed in the world.

Some 4 million tourists visited Cuba in 2016. The sector is expected to
boom further in Cuba over coming years, as the government seeks to bring
the number of visitors to over 10 million in 2030.

"We have been invited to take part in the tourism exhibition in Baku. If
we can confirm our presence and participation in this exhibition, it
will be the first ever in the Cuban history participation in a tourism
exhibition in Azerbaijan," he said.

Portuondo also invited Azerbaijani companies to exhibitions dedicated to
foreign trade and tourism in Havana.

The envoy also noted that the Azerbaijan-Cuba political relations are at
the very high level, and diplomatic efforts will focus on boosting the
trade and economic cooperation.

The diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Cuba were established on
March 27, 1992. Eight documents covering various fields have been signed
since then.

--

Nigar Abbasova is AzerNews' staff journalist, follow her on
Twitter: @nigyar_abbasova

Source: Cuba interested in Azerbaijani investments -
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… the first ever in the Cuban history participation in a tourism … tourist exchange between Azerbaijan and Cuba. “Cuba is interested in Azerbaijani investments … , mainly in the north of Havana. In the Gulf of Mexico … Azerbaijani companies to exhibitions in Havana dedicated to foreign trade and … Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 23 January 2017 — At nine at night on 19 January in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood in the eastern province of Holguin, suddenly out of nothing there was a bustling scene of police chase going after a Cuban citizen and three foreigners, carrying cocaine in a white car with tourism plates. “On … Continue reading "Police in Holguin Pursue a Cuban and Three Foreigners / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
Cuba Does Not Need US Investment To Develop Its Economy / 14ymedio,
Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 2 February 2017 – A previous article
addressed the economic policy of the current Cuban government to hinder
the private economy – forbidding investment from Cubans on the island
and abroad – and favoring foreign investment, mainly from the United
States, which could lead Cuba to a situation of virtual annexation to
the United States. Meanwhile it appears that allowing free investment,
and allowing employers to hire workers directly, versus requiring them
to contract only through the state, is something that the
state-socialist system is not willing to accept.

But, does it have to be like this to develop the country? Does Cuba have
to depend on US and foreign investment in general?

My clear answer is no. Cuba does need investment and the international
market for its development, but it does not have to rely on US
investments or foreign capital to develop its economy.

An analysis of four basic elements suggests that Cuba could solve its
investment needs without having to turn to US or foreign capital in
general, as the government, official Cuban economists and others
suggest, who do not imagine the island anything but subject to the US.

1. Due to the lack of transparency in the government's economic data
it is unknown what is or could be invested, how much is squandered in
the bureaucratic treasury at all levels, how much is wasted in the bad
paternalistic-populist democracy, or where that money goes. There is
such a lack of transparency about the investments and payments of the
nation, no one explains what so much money from taxes of all kinds,
remittances, the sale of medical and professional services abroad, or
tourism, is spent on, and the national investment is so low.

A change from the current hyper-centralization to democratic control of
revenues and budgets should shed light on the existence of the enormous
amount of capital currently wasted that could increase the amount to be
invested from the nation's own resources. We are thinking about the
necessary reduction in the Armed Forces, the apparatus of State
Security, the enormous services abroad, the big bureaucracy lazing
around in all the ministries and their provincial and municipal
branches, the outreach and propaganda apparatus, and the costs of the
system of organizations of the "dictatorship of the proletariat." How
much money could be freed up for investments through these reductions?

2. There are enormous fortunes within Cuba that do not display their
possibilities due to the current limitations and their fears of being
audited. If the inviolability of private capital and property were
guaranteed by law and clear relations of free trade were established,
this internal capital could be developed, private banks could be
generated to facilitate loans to private entrepreneurs and associates,
to import the means and resources necessary for internal development and
economic movements and associations could strengthen their
opportunities. There are imprecise calculations of the thousands of
millions of dollars, Cuban convertible pesos, Cuban pesos, stored in
banks and mattresses awaiting changes in Cuba.

3. According to different sources, Cuba is receiving between three and
five billion dollars a year from remittances, sent back to the island by
Cubans abroad. Much of that revenue is being invested in private
businesses and another part in using the services they generate. So
there is a positive predisposition in the diaspora to support
micro-enterprises with micro-investments. If conditions were established
in Cuba for the development of free enterprise, this small capital could
grow enormously, multiply and expand in a few years.

4. There is a great deal of capital in the hands of Cuban Americans in
the United States, a part of which they would be willing to invest in
Cuba if a new system of laws, in a State of law, guaranteed private
property and free markets, independent of a future analysis of
nationalization and compensation*. Because of their Cuban origin, and
for some because of their historic ties with specific production sectors
on the island, they would be in better conditions than any foreign
capital to engage in the Cuban economy and push its development. They
bring capital, techniques, knowledge, markets and transportation systems.

Thus, by simply facilitating the internally accumulated Cuban capital,
reorganizing that of the government, and favoring that of emigrants –
large, medium and small – with full guarantees, Cuba could receive a
large injection of capital of national origin, capable of changing the
economic landscape in a few years.

It would not be necessary to have investment from the United States or
from other foreign countries. There would be no dependence on American
capital. It would not be necessary to be virtually annexed to the United
States. Cuba would trade with the United States like the rest of the
Caribbean, the American continent and the world.

The interaction of these four factors would enable a self-sufficient
economy, capable of generating, itself, the means and resources to
resolve the needs of the population with domestic products, exchanged or
acquired in the international market. This should not be confused with
the absurdity of an autarchic economy that tries to survive without an
external market.

How to do this will be the subject of another article.

*Translator's note: "Nationalization and compensation" refers to the
nationalization of private businesses and property in the early days of
the Revolution, and the demands on the part of some for compensation for
what was taken from them.

Source: Cuba Does Not Need US Investment To Develop Its Economy /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba -
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14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 2 February 2017 – A previous article addressed the economic policy of the current Cuban government to hinder the private economy – forbidding investment from Cubans on the island and abroad – and favoring foreign investment, mainly from the United States, which could lead Cuba to a situation of virtual annexation … Continue reading "Cuba Does Not Need US Investment To Develop Its Economy / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos" Continue reading
Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2017 — A fine that is stranger than
fiction. More than 400,000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in
dollars), is the astronomical figure set as a penalty for La
California restaurant, a palader (private restaurant) a few steps from
Cuba's Malecon.

Established in abeautifully restored 18th century building at 55 Crespo
Street between San Lazaro and Refugio in Central Havana, La California
restaurant-bar offers Italian and Cuban-international fusion food, as
well as exquisite service, attractive and entertaining, where the
customer can enter the kitchen and prepare their own delicacy. Part of
what is consumed in this agreeable place is grown on the private estate
of a Cuban farmer, and the rest — according to co-director Charles
Farigola — is imported.

"During the plenary session of the National Assembly Cuban vice
president Machado Ventura referenced the food in the paladares, making
particular note of the products offered that are not acquired in the
national retail network," began an explanation of a Cuban entrepreneur
passing through Miami to buy supplies for his restaurant in Havana.

"The reality," he continued," is that the paladares import very little,
most of the food and drink comes from the hotels*, especially those that
offer 'all-inclusive' plans. Vacuum-packed filets, serrano ham, fresh
vegetables, salmon, sausages, octopus, squid, etc. Almost everything
comes from Matanzas Province, where tourism is concentrated. There are
police checkpoints to search vehicles coming from the resort town of
Varadero to Havana; but almost everything is transported in tour
vehicles and they avoid the controls, because the national police don't
want to bother the tourists.

"The strategy, in response, was to inspect the paladares that boast
about having these kinds of imported products, and La California fell.
They also say that the inspection report specified that the sales report
didn't match observed reality. Parameters and factors that seem subjective."

Can a Cuban paladar pay such a huge fine?

"I don't think so. Look, the inspectors collect a percent of every fine
they impose, and the private businesses offer the inspectors a greater
percentage than they would receive. So that's how we all survive because
it's a game of give and take.

"It could be that La California didn't want to play this game, they
could have accepted an arrangement to pay in installments, they could
default and accept an ugly penalty, they may fight the fine in the
courts. Anything can happen.

"No, we self-employed are not criminals, we are a social group that
makes things and not communist dreams nor libertarian utopias; we are
the part of civil society most dedicated to work, to generating income,
jobs, and bringing money to the national economy, and even so the policy
of the government is to push us toward crime," concludes the
entrepreneur before boarding his plane to Cuba, the island that, with a
certain euphemism, he calls the "Barracks."

*Translator's note: That is, it is "diverted" (the term Cubans prefer
rather than "stolen") and sold to private businesses by a chain of state
workers that can range from the highest to the lowest levels.

Translated by Jim

Source: Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba -
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… tourism and government relations with Cuba. Together, the two travel companies … customized private travel experience to Cuba, from choosing the perfect private … alike, beyond just getting to Havana by private jet. Enjoy activities … of six travelers flying to Havana for a three-night itinerary begin … Continue reading
Meet the Entrepreneurs Breaking Into This Long-Forbidden Market
Less than 100 miles south of Key West sits a socialist country forbidden
from doing business with the U.S. for 57 years. Now it's on the brink of
being opened to American entrepreneurs. Meet the ones hoping to cash in
first.
By David Whitford

The Friday before Halloween, Josh Weinstein was set to take his first
trip to Cuba: bags packed, visa in hand, leased Beechcraft turbo-prop
booked for Sunday pickup at Sarasota Bradenton International. Then the
dispatcher called. We have verbal approval to fly to Havana, he told
Weinstein, but we're still waiting on one last stamp from the Cuban
government. Don't worry, he explained, this happens all the time.
Unfortunately, the government offices were now closed for the weekend.
"we'll keep pushing," he promised.

Weinstein is president of Witzco Challenger, a $12 million family
business that builds heavy-haul trailers in Sarasota, Florida, and ships
them all over the world. Witzco lost about half its sales in '08 and '09
during the Great Recession. That was not long after Weinstein, former
treasurer of his local stagehands union and grandson of Witzco's
founder, took over the company from his aunt and uncle, and he's been
scrambling to recover ever since. Exports are a big part of his
business, about 35 percent, but they've been slipping lately. The
stronger dollar hasn't helped.

His unlikely solution: Cuba. The forbidden market less than an hour's
direct flight from Witzco's central Florida factory is suddenly bursting
with pent-up demand. Tourism in Cuba is soaring, on pace to exceed
2015's record 3.5 million visitors, including a growing number of
Americans who find a way to qualify for one of 12 exceptions to the
Treasury Department's limits on travel. (U.S. tourism is technically
still banned.) Weinstein's betting on a construction boom, spurred by
the Cuban government's plan to double the number of hotel rooms in the
country by 2020, in pursuit of economic growth. "The first thing they're
going to have to do is infrastructure," Weinstein says excitedly.
"Water, septic, cable, electricity, communications. They're going to
need heavy equipment. My trailer moves the heavy equipment." Not exactly
a Cuba expert, Weinstein wants to see for himself. "I don't really know
the market, only what I've been able to Google," he says. So he booked a
booth at Cuba's international trade show, slated for the fall.

Sunday night, the stamp came through. Monday morning, he was on his way,
a day later than hoped. (The first lesson anyone learns when dealing
with Cuba: It'll happen when it happens.) Forty-five minutes across the
Everglades to Miami to top off the tank--gas is much cheaper in the
U.S.--and then another 45 minutes across the Straits of Florida to
Havana. Upon landing at José Martí International Airport, Weinstein and
his posse of two--all wearing khakis and Witzco golf shirts--were met in
an otherwise deserted terminal by unsmiling customs officials, who
opened one of Weinstein's bags. In it was a stash of trade-show
paraphernalia--candy, logoed pens, and sales pamphlets in Spanish,
English, and Russian (in case there were any Russians left in Cuba,
Weinstein figured). The pamphlets raised eyebrows. Propaganda, declared
one of the officials. Where is your approval? A discussion ensued.
Weinstein turned on his charm. Maybe a little bit of money changed
hands. "It's the cost of doing business," Weinstein says. "I'm OK with it."

And the Witzco delegation was in.

When President Obama flew to Havana last March, it marked the first
visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since Calvin Coolidge in
1928. His posse numbered more than 1,000. Among them: Brian Chesky,
founder of Airbnb, Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, and Fubu founder and
Shark Tank judge Daymond John. The president drove straight to the Meliá
Habana Hotel, where he addressed the staff of what used to be the United
States Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana (it's a
long story) but is now a full-fledged U.S. embassy. There he spoke of
his desire to "forge new agreements and commercial deals" with Cuba, in
line with the main thrust of U.S. policy as of December 2014, when the
current wave of reforms began.

A lot's happened since then, including the death of Fidel Castro; the
removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism; the
restoration of full diplomatic relations; the resumption of regularly
scheduled flights by U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, United,
and JetBlue; authorization for U.S. hoteliers Marriott and Starwood to
pursue Cuba deals; service agreements involving U.S. cell-phone
providers; and glory, hallelujah, the granting of permission for
American visitors to bring home Cuban rum and cigars.

But that doesn't mean Cuba is open for business. There's still the
nettlesome matter of the embargo--a dense web of constraints,
restrictions, and outright prohibitions, some in place since 1960, that,
despite the recent thaw, prevents anything approaching normal business
relations. Most commerce between the United States and Cuba is banned
outright. Everything else is a hassle. For instance, while U.S.
companies have been permitted to sell food and medicine to Cuba since
the Clinton administration, the U.S. government often requires Cuban
customers to pay the full amount up front. (That, in a nutshell, is why
Cuba buys nearly all its rice from Vietnam, rather than from nearby U.S.
growers.) And if you're an American trying to do anything in Cuba, you
had better bring plenty of cash, which is all anyone accepts. Unless you
happen to have a credit or debit card from Stonegate Bank--a Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, institution that has a temporary continental
American monopoly on Cuba-ready cards--plastic credit is worthless, and
ATMs barely exist.

The embargo is like an argument that's been going on for so long, nobody
remembers anymore how or why it started. Initially, under President
Eisenhower, it banned only sugar imports. After Cuba responded by
confiscating the assets of U.S. companies, it was broadened to cover
nearly all trade between the nations. Soon it morphed into a Cold War
weapon to punish Castro for aligning with the Soviet Union, and
supporting communist-led insurgencies in Nicaragua and Angola. Cuba's
dismal record on human rights didn't help.

But attitudes toward the embargo have changed. In a CBS News/New York
Times poll conducted on the eve of Obama's Cuba visit, more than half of
Americans (55 percent) said they supported doing away with it. A more
recent Florida Inter­national University poll of Cuban Americans living
in Miami-Dade County--traditionally ground zero for the no-compromise
camp--found an even bigger majority who would be happy at this point to
move on. But we're still stuck.

Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Muse has been advising U.S. companies
on Cuba for 25 years. He says that lifting the embargo is up to the
United States. He equates Cuba's position to that of an abused wife
whose husband says he'll stop beating her if she'll start putting dinner
on the table: "Her attitude, quite rightly, is, 'It's you attacking me!
You have to stop. Then we can have normal relations.' "

If and when the embargo is lifted, American companies need to remember
what kind of market they're dealing with. Cuba indeed dominates the
Caribbean, by landmass (it's roughly the size of Virginia) and by
population (11.3 million). But it's poor. The average state salary is
$25 a month. In 2010, according to the CIA's latest estimate, its gross
domestic product per capita was $10,200, one rung up on the world ladder
from Swaziland's. That's partly why John Kavulich, longtime head of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, sees "a lot of inspiration and
aspiration chasing very little reality" in Cuba. Americans assume, not
unreasonably, that Cubans "need everything, they want everything, and
they put a period there," Kavulich says. "But there's a next sentence:
Do they have the resources to purchase everything? Dubai isn't 93 miles
south of Florida. Cuba is."

Even so, Weinstein and other eager Americans are stubbornly optimistic.
Entrepreneurs like Saul Berenthal, for instance, a 72-year-old in
Raleigh, North Carolina, who wants to sell small tractors to Cuban
farmers. And Darius Anderson, a political consultant, lobbyist, and
investor who's been visiting Cuba since he was a college student, and
now has a scheme to sell California wines to Cuban restaurateurs.
Everybody wants to believe that we're at the beginning of the end of an
era; that no one--not unforgetting Cuban émigrés in Miami, not Fidel's
ghost, not a brash and unpredictable President Trump--can halt the
momentum now. That the embargo must be, will be, swept aside, and the
rivers of commerce will flow.

But Cuba is not for innocents or neophytes. "People get besotted with
Cuba," Muse warns. "If you're a little guy, you might think that because
the big guys aren't there, you can play in those waters. It's exotic.
You're a pioneer! All these things combine to make some people abandon
basic business principles."

The fairground for Cuba's international trade show is 12 miles south of
central Havana. It's a slow cab ride, on crowded roads filled with
mid­century Fords, Chevys, and Cadillacs, many of them refitted with
diesel motors, not one of which would pass a U.S. emissions inspection.
A mural of Che Guevara hovers omnisciently over the Plaza de la
Revolución, while billboards flaunt slogans like socialismo o muerte
("Socialism or Death") and normalizar no es sinónimo de bloquear
("Normalization and Blockades Don't Go Together"), a blunt reminder of
Cuba's all-or-nothing stance on the embargo, which Cubans call "the
blockade."

The American pavilion is a hike from the trade show's main entrance, in
the farthest corner of the grounds, beyond the scattered remnants of
past exhibitions--a petrified pump jack, a stilled windmill, a parked
Air Cubana airliner repurposed as a restaurant. JetBlue banners flank
the entrance. Inside, ordinary Cubans who have managed to snag coveted
trade show credentials graze the American booths, scooping up free hats,
pens, and pistachios. Perhaps because there is no conventional
advertising in Cuba (it's illegal), Cuban consumers are adept at
ferreting out whatever's available, wherever it can be found.

The National Auto Parts Association has a booth, looking toward the day
when it can begin populating Cuba with its stores. So do a smattering of
state-sponsored trade delegations representing poultry farmers, soybean
growers, and the Port of Virginia; and all manner of small and midsize
U.S. manufacturers, displaying motors, electronic controls, and other
industrial gear, none of which are yet on the list of permissible
products. The U.S. embassy's chargé d'affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis,
roams the aisles in a seersucker suit, chatting up exhibitors and
awkwardly ducking reporters. ("There is still an embargo," his aide
explains apologetically.)

Overall, attendance by American exhibitors is lower this year than last,
when Obama's first round of reforms created a kind of euphoria that has
since dissipated. Those who have returned see the potential but
understand the need for patience. Among them is investor Noel Thompson,
decked out in a blue blazer advertising his ties to the U.S. Olympic
Committee. Thompson is a former Goldman Sachs banker now running his own
hedge fund in New York City. He's been coming down to Cuba every few
months for the past couple of years, working his way into the culture,
gathering intel, developing contacts. He imagines doing a lot of
business in Cuba one day-trading currencies, advising on deals, helping
privatize government assets, and otherwise capitalizing on the explosion
he thinks will surely come when the embargo lifts and America fully
engages with Cuba's suppressed capitalist passions. It won't happen
tomorrow, he knows, or even next year, but one day. "Maybe it's my
Goldman training," Thompson says. "When you see a butterfly flap its
wings ... "

Manning a nearby booth with sunglasses propped on his forehead and an
unlit cigar clenched in his teeth, another American, Darius Anderson,
presides over a winetasting led by his pal Fernando Fernández, Cuba's
preeminent blender of rums and cigars. Anderson first visited Cuba in
1986 as a student at George Washington University, where he had a poster
of Che Guevara on his dorm room wall. When his pals went to Florida for
spring break, he went north to Toronto, from which he was able to get to
Havana. His total visits since then: "Somewhere in the mid-60s," he
guesses. Every time the border agents run his passport, they ask, "Why
so many times?"

Originally, he went because it was forbidden, Anderson says, and now
it's because he's long since fallen in love with "all things Cuban: the
music, the culture, the cigars, the baseball." After college, Anderson
worked for a Democratic congressman on Capitol Hill, was an advance man
for Bill Clinton in California, and apprenticed seven years at the right
hand of super­market billionaire Ron Burkle--a useful résumé for
navigating a market in which business and politics are inseparable.

With his company U.S. Cava Exports, Anderson, 47, is trying to bring
expensive wines from Napa Valley to Cuban consumers. He's been laying
the groundwork for years, hosting a seven-day tour of Napa and Sonoma
wineries for his Cuban friends, and leading a party of more than 100
California vintners on an educational mission to Cuba, where they met
with chefs and sommeliers. Like Weinstein, Anderson is hoping to make
money on tourism. Unlike Weinstein, he's peddling an embargo-exempt
agricultural product that's not contingent on new construction. This
should be easy.

And yet, 2,500 miles northwest of Havana, in a refrigerated warehouse
near Napa County Airport, sits a shipping container filled with
Anderson's stranded inventory: 1,200 cases of carefully curated
California sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, pinot noir, cabernet, and
chardonnay. Total value, just under $400,000. It's been there all fall,
costing him at least $500 per month, and not for want of a buyer. In
fact, Anderson has one all lined up, a Cuban state-owned distri­butor
willing to pay full price in advance, per U.S. law. But there's a
holdup. Anderson is waiting on final approval from the highest levels of
government--in this case, Cuba's foreign ministry.

U.S. Cava Exports is only one of Anderson's ventures at the moment, so
he has the luxury to wait this bureaucratic purgatory out. He still sees
a chance to have "a real, viable business and grow it over time." The
rest of the world is already here, he points out. Not just Cuba's
biggest trading partner, China, and Spain--it's oldest--but also Brazil,
Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands. The list goes on. "A whole litany of
countries are here doing business," Anderson says. "They trust the
system well enough to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. This idea
that it's not happening? It's happening, but it's happening without us."

Saul Berenthal went to high school before the revolution. He was born in
Havana, where his parents met after fleeing the Nazis in Eastern Europe.
His father worked his way from Holocaust refugee to sole GM parts
supplier for Cuba, which helped land Saul at the elite Havana Military
Academy. In 1960, his parents sent their 16-year-old son to study in the
United States. They visited him the following year, expecting to stay
for a few months. Then came the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Suddenly,
they were unwilling to return to Cuba, refugees once again, this time in
America.

Bespectacled and trim, still at home in a loose-fitting guayabera,
Berenthal has a complicated relationship with his birthplace. He belongs
solidly to the generation of exiles whose grim resolve and political
clout have defined U.S. aggression toward Cuba. But he's also become a
full-fledged American, having had spent 18 years at IBM, where he met
Horace Clemmons, his future business partner. They bonded over their
frustration with IBM's stubborn attachment to proprietary product lines
when the future was all about open-source computing. "We worked hard,
lived the American dream, created three companies and sold them, and set
ourselves up for a nice retirement," says Berenthal.

But, a couple of years into retirement, Cuba beckoned, and starting in
2007, Berenthal was finding excuses to visit his birthplace. "It was
curiosity more than anything," he says. The surprise was that he felt
instantly at home. The language, the mannerisms, the customs, the
operating in a culture where it's hard to make appointments ("You'll be
here next week? Look me up") and a meeting might not happen because
somebody's car won't start or he can't find gas. Where checking email on
the fly means locating a Wi-Fi hotspot and making sure you've got enough
minutes left on your government-issued access card. "Not very well
organized, but I understand why," says Berenthal, revealing a trace of
his native Spanish. "People take care of things as they come up. They
don't know where they'll be at any time until it's that time."

Berenthal still knew people who knew people in Havana. He was introduced
to professors in the economics department at the University of Havana,
organized academic exchanges, and got involved in studies that led to
Cuba's accelerated reengagement with the global economy in 2011. But it
was Obama's dramatic announcement on December 17, 2014--"Today, the
United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of
Cuba"--and the policy changes that followed that convinced Berenthal it
was time to reunite with his old partner, Clemmons, and come up with a
business idea for Cuba.

Berenthal knew that an American company could succeed in Cuba only if it
was sensitive to the socialist country's motivations for doing business
with outsiders. Cuba is not interested in inviting foreign companies in
to make a few players wealthy. If Cuba is to embrace capitalism, it will
be on socialist terms: to generate revenue and become less dependent on
imports, and so protect what Cubans consider the lasting achievements of
the revolution--free education, free medicine, subsidized housing, and
subsidized food.

Clemmons, a farm boy from Alabama, thought of tractors. Inexpensive
tractors designed to meet the needs of small farmers in a poor country
that's rich in arable land but where many still work the land barefoot,
behind a mule or an ox, without basic equipment. An alternative to a
company like John Deere, which could come into Cuba with an expensive,
proprietary product. Instead, Cleber, as their company is called, would
assemble tractors according to open-source manufacturing principles,
using standard components, making them easy to maintain and infinitely
customizable. By creating an opportunity for Cubans to build an
ecosystem of products around Cleber's tractor, they would help
kick-start the creation of a homegrown agricultural manufacturing industry.

Berenthal and Clemmons proposed building their tractor factory in
Mariel, a planned economic development zone about an hour west of
Havana. When Cuban officials expressed support, the pair began working
to persuade their own government to create an opening in the embargo
that would allow them to proceed. "We spent a lot of time in the Office
of Foreign Assets Control and the Department of Commerce, trying to get
it through," says Berenthal. In February 2016, after months of meetings,
they succeeded. Cleber won U.S. approval to build the first
American-owned factory on Cuban soil since the revolution. It was a
happy story, shot through with hopeful symbolism, coinciding perfectly
with the Obama administration's initiatives. They even got a shout-out
in a White House press briefing.

But they still needed final approval from Cuba, and by last summer,
Berenthal didn't like the signals being sent from officials at Mariel:
pushback on environmental standards and workplace safety, and worrisome
doubts about whether Cleber fit with the development site's larger goal
of promoting high-tech manufacturing. Berenthal was baffled. None of the
other projects in the Mariel pipeline--cigarettes, cosmetics,
meatpacking, none of them U.S. backed--were obvious ways to achieve that
goal. Here he was, trying to persuade higher-ups who opposed a simple,
practical idea that somehow threatened them. He had flashbacks to his
time at IBM. "Everybody is acting in their own best interests," says
Berenthal. "IBM wanted to protect the proprietary lab where they were
building the proprietary technology and not accept change, because that
would mean loss of power or prestige or even their jobs."

In late October, Berenthal drove to Mariel for a meeting with
development zone officials. "They were very cordial," Berenthal says.
Then they proceeded to tell him that after much consideration, they had
decided not to approve Cleber's proposal after all.

Weinstein had a good trade show. He didn't arrive until late on the
first day--after the delay at customs, and an errant cab ride to the
wrong fairground--but he hit the ground running. Within an hour, every
bottled-water peddler in the building had a Witzco bumper sticker on his
cooler, and most were wearing Witzco baseball caps. He made no actual
sales to actual Cubans, of course. The embargo forbade him, which he
knew going in. But he met a lot of people there, and went home happy at
the end of the week with a long list of proposals to prepare for buyers
from Canada, Panama, Mexico, Belgium, and Spain.

Then history happened. Days after the trade show ended, Donald Trump was
unexpectedly elected president. Then Fidel Castro died. Suddenly
American entrepreneurs with dreams of doing business in Cuba were forced
to reevaluate everything.

When it comes to Cuba, Trump the politician appears to have a different
mind than Trump the entrepreneur. At least twice since the late '90s,
emissaries associated with Trump companies have visited Cuba to scope
out investment opportunities for hotels and golf courses--acts that may
well have violated the embargo. Since the election, however, Trump's
been all bluster and ill will. When the news broke of the former
dictator's passing, he tweeted gleefully: "Fidel Castro is dead!" He
soon followed up with, "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for
the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I
will terminate deal."

In reality, Trump's tough talk is off base. As attorney Muse points out,
there is no Obama-era "deal" between the nations. Only a "series of
rolling measures" issued from various realms of the federal government
that would be next to impossible to untangle one by one, and which few
Americans object to anyway. But what Trump could do, says Muse, is "go
big and go unilateral," in a way that plays to his strength. That is, he
could leapfrog Obama's measured steps toward normalization by announcing
his willingness to negotiate America's $1.9 billion in outstanding
property claims against the Cuban government as a "necessary predicate"
to ending the embargo once and for all. "Where the embargo began is
where the embargo should end: With a resolution of the certified
claims," Muse says.

After the Cuban government derailed Berenthal's factory plans, he was
discouraged but not devastated. He understands why his company, in which
he and Clemmons have invested $5 million, was used as a political pawn:
Cuba wants the embargo gone; as long as it remains in effect, Cuba has
little incentive to grant piecemeal exceptions that reduce the pressure
on Congress to demolish it once and for all. At least, that's the best
explanation he or anyone else can come up with to justify what happened.

So Berenthal and Clemmons have shifted plans. Now they're building
tractors for export at a factory in Paint Rock, Alabama. Clemmons, the
more frustrated of the two, is focusing his energy on selling them to
other markets--small farmers in Australia, Ethiopia, and Peru.
Meanwhile, Berenthal's contacts at Mariel have told him, "Commercialize
your tractor and your products, and bring them to Cuba," and he's taking
them at their word. Cleber's new business model may in the end be more
lucrative, albeit less transformational for Cuba than Berenthal had
hoped for.

Still, there's one more wild card. Cuba's current president, Fidel's
brother Raúl Castro, is scheduled to end his term in 2018. "In my
opinion," says Berenthal, "this will trigger the final removal of the
embargo." Castro's likely successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, was born nine
months before the revolution. If there's going to be real
change--generational change--in U.S.-Cuba relations, that'll be the
turning point. "I hope others will take the long view and continue the
efforts to bring the two countries together through commerce," Berenthal
says. He understands, as best as anyone can, how it works in Cuba. That
things happen when they happen. But, eventually, they do happen.

Source: Meet the Entrepreneurs Breaking Into This Long-Forbidden Market
| Inc.com -
http://www.inc.com/magazine/201702/david-whitford/crashing-into-cuba.html Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2017 — A fine that is stranger than fiction. More than 400,000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in dollars), is the astronomical figure set as a penalty for La California restaurant, a palader (private restaurant) a few steps from Cuba’s Malecon. Established in abeautifully restored 18th century building at 55 Crespo Street between … Continue reading "Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
Airlines gearing up to protect flights to Cuba
BY MELANIE ZANONA - 01/31/17 06:00 AM EST 4

U.S. airlines began lobbying Washington on Cuba last year as they fought
to win commercial flight routes to the island nation for the first time
in 50 years.

But travel advocates expect to see an even bigger lobbying push around
the issue this year, with questions hanging over the new
administration's policies, including whether President Trump will
reverse the historic opening of relations with Cuba.

Those concerns have the powerful airline industry, which invested a
significant amount of time and resources into competing for and setting
up the new flight routes, ramping up their efforts in Washington to
preserve those changes.
"The airlines will not cease their advocacy with respect to Cuba, but
they're going to change their strategy from focusing on seeking more
[concessions] to focusing on preserving what they have," said John
Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

More than a year after former President Barack Obama announced he was
restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. struck a deal with
the Cuban government in February 2016 to allow scheduled air service to
resume between the two countries.

The announcement sent the airline industry scrambling to secure slots —
activity that was reflected in their year-end lobbying disclosure forms,
filed last week.

JetBlue Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines
and Alaska Airlines all lobbied on Cuba at some point last year, as did
the trade group Airlines for America (A4A).

"Our members serve new and emerging markets all over the world, and our
focus is on ensuring an adequate framework is in place to help
facilitate the movement of people and goods between our two nations,"
said a spokesman for A4A, which represents most of the nation's major
air carriers, with the exception of Delta Air Lines.

None of the companies had previously mentioned lobbying on the issue in
the last five years, with the exception of Alaska Airlines, which
started working on the "topic of renewal of U.S. commercial air carrier
service between U.S. and Cuba" in 2015.

"There was a time when U.S. companies, not just airlines, would do
whatever it took legally to avoid the 'C' word in the lobbying
disclosure forms," Kavulich said. "It does show quite a bit of evolution
to see ... the types of industries that haven't been afraid to show that
they have an interest in Cuba."

Delta didn't specifically mention Cuba in its disclosure forms, but said
it lobbied on "International Air Service Rights Issues (U.S. Government
Bilateral Negotiations)." A spokeswoman for the airline said that
includes, but is not limited to, efforts around Cuba.

The competition for a limited number of slots turned fierce as airlines
submitted their proposals and took aim at their rivals. Delta, for
example, called American's "request for ten (10!) of the 20 flights ...
out of proportion," while American called Southwest's application
"seriously flawed."

The biggest Cuba lobbying push from airlines came in the third quarter
of last year, which is when the Transportation Department finished
divvying up the 110 daily flights to the island.

Ultimately, 10 airlines were awarded flight routes, which included 20
daily round-trip flights to Havana and 10 flights to nine smaller
airports around the communist country. The carriers are: Alaska,
American, Delta, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit Airlines,
United, Sun Country Airlines and Silver Airways.

But being granted a flight route wasn't the only hurdle for those
seeking air service to Cuba. Traveling to Cuba is still subject to
numerous restrictions, despite the new U.S. policy toward the island.

While the Obama administration loosened travel restrictions for
Cuban-Americans who are visiting family, as well as government
officials, journalists, students and volunteers on humanitarian
projects, tourism is still prohibited.

The airlines also found themselves playing defense against legislation
in Congress that would have halted commercial flights to Cuba until an
airport security review was conducted. U.S. airlines and A4A all
reported lobbying on that bill last year. The measure was advanced by
committee but never considered on the House floor.

"U.S. airlines have been critical in helping to lift 55 years of failed
policy," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. "Now, with newly
re-established direct commercial service to 10 Cuban cities, we expect
the airline industry will continue to push for changes that will get rid
of arbitrary restrictions on traveling to Cuba."

The industry could face even tougher battles this year, however.

Trump has threatened to reverse the opening of relations with Cuba if
the communist government doesn't adopt changes, though he has not yet
revealed specific plans to change the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

"I have to follow up with you. We've got nothing that we're ready to
announce at this point," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer
when he was recently pressed on the issue.

Any regulatory rollbacks could mean fewer aircraft passengers, hotel
guests and travel customers, which could all result in less revenue for
the airlines.

As a result, Kavulich expects air carriers to ramp up their lobbying
efforts — especially with lawmakers who represent their headquarters or
have Trump's ear — in an effort to convince the new president to keep
the current policies in place.

"Last year, they were excited about the potential of getting more,"
Kavulich said. "This year, they're hysterical over losing what they have."

Source: Airlines gearing up to protect flights to Cuba | TheHill -
http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/316996-airlines-gearing-up-to-protect-flights-to-cuba Continue reading
… ;. Cubans are expecting a tourism influx. There is some concern that Cuba … . Havana Continued below. Southern hotspots to add to the bucketlist In Cuba … to Cuba, really - things stay the same. In 2019, Havana will … the Cuban people. CHECKLIST Getting there Peregrine offers a 16-day Cuba Highlights … Continue reading
… .S. to Cuba to spend a week in Havana and Cienfuegos, taking … José Portela returned home to Havana in December to research a … about documenting Cuban life. This is the Catch-22 of visiting Cuba, said … nostalgic image America has of Havana,” he said. Many guide books … Continue reading
With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 5 January 2017 — In the face of the new scenario
created by the death of the "historic leader," many representatives from
the fragmented Cuban dissidence see a chance that the authorities,
looking at a very complicated situation, will invite them to dialog, in
search of a exit concept.

I am not optimistic about this, because for it to happen the dissidence
must, first, create a unity it does not possess, achieve recognition and
credibility among the citizenry, and present a comprehensible, concrete
and viable project, that attracts majorities, all of which needs time.

Right now, the Cuban dissidence is better known outside the country than
within it, because some of its members have dedicated themselves to
"political tourism," rather than work among the people, trying to
attract adherents to their cause. This reality, in addition to the
fragmentation already mentioned, makes it such that the authorities
don't need them to realize economic, political and social changes.

Rather than seek a currently impossible dialog, the first task should be
to achieve unity in everything shared, and set aside what separates
them, dedicating themselves to working with the citizens to make
themselves known and gain credibility, and for be part of a project of
national solutions, that involves everyone without distinctions,
including the authorities.

The problems of Cuba are so immense and complex that they need everyone
working together, without exceptions, to resolve them.

Starting with the ability of Cubans to set aside fifty-seven years of
dogma and confrontations, and putting their feet on the ground,
abandoning the absurd idea that someone from outside will come to
resolve things, and that success or failure will depend on him.

Translated by TFW

Source: With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/with-feet-on-the-ground-fernando-dmaso/ Continue reading
Fernando Damaso, 5 January 2017 — In the face of the new scenario created by the death of the “historic leader,” many representatives from the fragmented Cuban dissidence see a chance that the authorities, looking at a very complicated situation, will invite them to dialog, in search of a exit concept. I am not optimistic … Continue reading "With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso" Continue reading
Is Cuba Heading Towards Virtual Annexation to the US? / 14ymedio, Pedro
Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 28 January 2017 — Guided by the current
political-military leadership, the Cuban economy could be heading
"without pause, but without haste*" towards virtual annexation to the
United States.

There would be no Platt Amendment, nor Marines landing on any Cuban
beach, no any formal agreement or formal treaty that would make Cuba an
associated state or one more star on the US flag, but everything
suggests that, sooner rather than later, capital from the United States
will disembark big time on the island and consume our trade.

The United States will be turned into our number one trading partner,
the biggest source of tourism to Cuba, as well as the number one foreign
investor, hotel towers will flourish on the beaches and keys of the
Cuban paradise along with golf courses and low-wage factories making
consumer goods, cars, buses and equipment for construction, agriculture
and light industry.

No, it's not a play on words. It's a real possibility. The explanation
is quite simple: the Cuban state economy is in crisis, the state owns
the land and the beaches and has no interest in disposing of them for
Cubans to exploit, be it private, cooperatives or emigrants, but they
have all the delight of sharing them with foreign capital, especially
American, consistent with a simple reading of the "menu of opportunities."

Add to that the geographic and cultural proximity and the expressed
desires of many American businesses: the president of the United States
Chamber of Commerce just left the island.

Realizing an annexation would demand some arrangements between both
governments: the Cuban government should improve its image with respect
to human rights and allow free contracting with labor, although under
the table it would be allowed "to guarantee its interests."

The United States should move clearly to lift the embargo in a way that
there are no obstacles for investment and businesses.

Foreign business interests would not fight the government for political
power, they would only share economic power and Cuba would be widely
penetrated by the great American capital. Possibly the dollar would
circulate as the medium of exchange, remaining economically tied to the
United States like never before, which would imply a kind of virtual
annexation.

The road has been forged long ago, because the Cuban economy now depends
in great measure on remittances from the United States, on the tourists
from that country and on the trade in food.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world with the
capital to undertake the investments Cuba needs in infrastructure,
construction and services to bring the country up to the standards of
modern economies and to create conditions for housing, mobility,
Internet access and markets to ensure the prosperity of its business.

Until now, the full penetration of US capital has been impossible
because the Cuban government has always conditioned it on the lifting of
the embargo, which could not be fully lifted during the Obama
administration because Republicans opposed giving the Democratic
president the chance to crown his policy towards Cuba with that measure,
with the real justification that Havana violates human rights.

Now there are the conditions for the rapprochement initiated by Obama to
advance in the direction of the lifting of the embargo, because there is
a Republican president characterized as a businessman who was already
exploring the possibility of investing into hotels and golf courses in Cuba.

Trump is a friend and admirer of Putin, the one time friend of Raul
Castro, and there is a congress dominated by Republicans and the Cuban
government is "making noises" because of its recession and already
destroyed economy and the effects caused by the situation in Venezuela
and the reversal of the populist wave in Latin America.

Trump has just named Jason Greenblatt as special representative for
international negotiations, and he is a supporter of the rapprochement
with Cuba, ex-president of the Trump Consortium and its current legal
director. According to specific information, he is the same person who
visited Cuba to explore the possibilities of investing in hotels and
golf courses.

The Mariel Special Development Zone is fully included in the interests
of making the United States Cuba's main trading partner, and it is no
coincidence that with Trump as president a government delegation headed
by Ana Teresa Igarza, the Zone's director general, is visiting the US to
explore the possibilities of entering into contracts with six US ports.

Raul Castro congratulated Trump on his electoral triumph. A Cuban
delegation attended the inauguration. So far, the Cuban government has
not made any negative statements to the new president (and there have
been no lack of reasons to!) in the newspaper Granma or as gossip.

It's a secret to no one that the Trump team was consulted by Obama on
the rescinding of the wet foot/dry foot policy, demanded by the Cuban
government, which could contribute to the effort to "normalize" relations.

If they continue along this path, virtual annexation could be realized
soon. All this contrasts with the broad-based political and economic
projects of the opposition, the socialist dissidence and the different
thinking all of which prioritized the participation of Cubans in the
control of the economy, but instead have been accused by government
extremists of serving the imperialist enemy.

*Translator's note: A phrase commonly used by Raul Castro and others in
relation to the government's implementation of planned changes.

Source: Is Cuba Heading Towards Virtual Annexation to the US? /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba -
https://translatingcuba.com/is-cuba-heading-towards-virtual-annexation-to-the-us-14ymedio-pedro-campos/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 28 January 2017 — Guided by the current political-military leadership, the Cuban economy could be heading “without pause, but without haste*” towards virtual annexation to the United States. There would be no Platt Amendment, nor Marines landing on any Cuban beach, no any formal agreement or formal treaty that would make Cuba an … Continue reading "Is Cuba Heading Towards Virtual Annexation to the US? / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos" Continue reading
… new avenues of cooperation with Cuba especially in the agricultural, tourism … to benchmark against Cuba's successes. He said Cuba was among … the opportunity to observe how Cuba reserved bio-diversity and biosphere to … volleyball, veterinary and physical education. Cuba is also supporting Botswana… Continue reading
From Venice's cruise ships to taking food off the locals' plates in
Cuba: 6 places that are being destroyed by tourism
The Independent
Julia Buckley

It's called the Butler Model (named for Professor Richard W Butler): a
tourist destination is "discovered", grows exponentially, and reaches
peak success. For most places, though, it's all downhill from there –
beaches are overcrowded, lines are long, and badly behaved tourists ruin
the atmosphere that their predecessors came for. As Barcelona blames
ever-increasing tourist numbers for an uptick in complaints to police
and Thailand has closed an island due to overcrowding, Responsible
Travel's CEO Justin Francis tells us which destinations are crumbling
under tourism – and how to visit them with minimal impact.

6. Cuba

The last few years have seen vast increases in tourist numbers, says
Francis, but they're going up faster than the infrastructure. That
doesn't just mean issues finding places to stay; it's affecting locals
too, with restaurants buying up food, meaning that locals are priced out
and "tourists are literally raiding food off the plates of the Cubans,"
according to Francis.

How to do it better: Francis tells us a high proportion of tourists only
visit Havana; go further afield to spread the tourist load more evenly.
He also recommends staying in casas particulares (homestays) rather than
hotels.

Or try: Belize and Costa Rica have developed excellent models of
sustainable tourism, says Francis – in fact all of Central America is a
better bet than the Caribbean, according to him.


Source: From Venice's cruise ships to taking food off the locals' plates
in Cuba: 6 places that are being destroyed by tourism -
http://www.msn.com/en-ie/travel/other/from-venices-cruise-ships-to-taking-food-off-the-locals-plates-in-cuba-6-places-that-are-being-destroyed-by-tourism/ar-AAm5yuk?li=BBr5MKc#page=6 Continue reading
Cuba: Skepticism Beats Hope / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2017 — Like a metaphorical invisible hand, moving
to place a ouija or bet on Russian roulette, David, a young writer,
considers that the coming year will be unpredictable for the island.

In the hope that the Ifá priests (Yoruba mystics) will spread around
their Letters of the Year, the necromancers predict the future, and a
woman dressed as a gipsy, furiously blowing out cheap tobacco smoke,
turns up various clues after tossing a pack of cards on the table. David
suspects that 2017 will throw up more bad news than good.

"Forecasting is a maddening activity. All sorts of things can happen,
but few of them will help the Cuban in the street. The economy is
getting worse, Venezuela, which gave us free oil, is holding out the
begging bowl, and now we have a weirdo like Donald Trump at the White
House. In this situation, I don't think anything good is going to happen
for our country," is David's sceptical comment.

People in Havana said the same kind of thing when polled by the Diario
Las Américas.

Sergio, an economist "sees the future as grey with black stitches. The
countries which gave us credit for nothing, like Brazil and Venezuela,
are swamped by their own internal crises. Cuba's finances are in the red
and have far less purchasing power.

"Insufficient exports and imports which are almost doubling the balance
of payments. In most areas of production, whether agricultural or
industrial, we are either stuck, or going backwards. Forced cutbacks on
fuel are affecting and paralysing a variety of development plans, as
well as infrastructure, highways, railway lines, and ports which are in
urgent need of investment.

"All we have left is tourism and the export of medical services, which,
because of domestic conditions in Venezuela and Brazil, may fall by 40
per cent. And, of course, family remittances, which, although the
government will not publicise it, are now the second national industry
and the country's biggest contributor of new money."

Rubén, a social researcher, sees three possible scenarios, but makes it
clear that there could be other variants. "First scenario: Donald Trump
tears up all the agreements reached with Cuba. If you then factored in
the difficult economic situations in Brazil and Venezuela, the best
allies the government had, and Putin looking for a rapprochement with
the White House, the economic reversal would be serious. I don't think
as bad as the Special Period, but nearly.

Second scenario: If Trump does not move the counters about, there would
still be effects for Cuba, which is crying out for investments and
credits from anywhere in the world, but, because of geography and
history, the United States is the most appropriate. Third scenario:
Trump negotiates a major agreement with the government. But, in order to
achieve this, Raúl Castro has to give ground in political and human
rights terms. It is a complicated context". To that he adds that Raúl
and the historic generation has only one more year to govern.

For most people, the future is a dirty word. It's senseless and not
worth giving yourself a headache thinking about it. "Put simply, we have
to live from day to day here. Try to make four pesos, look up girls'
skirts, and think how you can get away from Cuba", says an internet user
in Mónaco Park, in the south of Cuba.

People usually shrug their shoulders, smile nervously, and churn out
rehashed remarks they have learned through many years of media and
ideological indoctrination.

"I hope our leaders have some answers, because things look grim", says a
woman queueing to buy oranges in the Mónaco farmers' market.

"If they"ve planned what's going to happen in 2017, up to now they've
said nothing. I think they're just like the rest of us — no way out and
shit scared. Like they've always said, "No one can bury it, but no one
can fix it either," says a man in the same line at the market.

And, on the question of what would be the best options for riding out
the probable economic storm, Yandy, a high school graduate, is
unequivocal. "Get the hell out of Cuba. Or, have a business, making lots
of money, so that you can dodge the economic crisis which will be with
us for decades".

Lisandra, a prostitute, is more optimistic "As long as the American
tourists come, you can make money. And if there aren't many of those,
the only thing to do is to make out with Cuban wheeler-dealers. But the
best choice is get out of Cuba."

But most Cubans, drinking their breakfast coffee black instead of with
milk as they would prefer it, don't bother themselves too much about the
future.

José, a street sweeper, takes the view that "in Cuba things don't
change. Hardly ever up and and nearly always down. The people who need
to worry are the bosses in government. If things go badly, they are the
ones with most to lose."

Translated by GH

Source: Cuba: Skepticism Beats Hope / Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-skepticism-beats-hope-ivn-garca/ Continue reading