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Never belonging: Random reflections on my last visit to Cuba
OPINIONMIGUEL DE LA TORRE | MARCH 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Never belonging: Random reflections on my last visit to Cuba –
Baptist News Global -
https://baptistnews.com/article/random-reflections-on-my-last-visit-to-cuba/#.WNppUfmGP6Q Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 25 March 2017 – Maria, 59, has a daughter in Miami she hasn’t seen for six years. Her visa applications have been denied three times and she promised herself that she would never “step foot in” the US consulate in Havana again. Cuba is the country with the most denials … Continue reading "Cuba Holds World Record For Visa Applications Rejected By The United States" Continue reading
Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom?
By Neal Simpson
The Patriot Ledger

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cuba opens its doors

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

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

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

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

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


Tourism 'brain drain'

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

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

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

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

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

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


American business

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom? -
http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20170324/change-is-coming-to-cuba-but-how-quickly-and-for-whom Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 March 2017 — A year ago the headlines left no doubt: Cuba was Americans’ new destination and that country’s airlines fought for their piece of pie of flights to the island. After the initial enthusiasm, several of these companies have cut back on the frequency of their trips and others … Continue reading "Bubble Bursts for Flights Between Cuba and the United States" Continue reading
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, March 24, 2017 /EINPresswire.com/ -- The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. For the duration of 2017, the global UN community, across all … Continue reading
HAVANA – The fad of visiting Cuba has been going through a “ … in Havana – and some also visit Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba – and … in Havana – told EFE. About their brief stay in the Cuban capital … euphoria among many about visiting Cuba contrasts with the recent decision … Continue reading
Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor
Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News 3:17 p.m. ET March 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Source: Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor -
http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2017/03/21/cuba-detroit/99459650/ Continue reading
Rare poll finds Cuban citizens favor better U.S. relations
UPDATED: TUESDAY, MARCH 21, 2017, 9:28 P.M.
By Emily Swanson and Michael Weissenstein
Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Rare poll finds Cuban citizens favor better U.S. relations | |
The Spokesman-Review -
http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/mar/21/rare-poll-finds-cuban-citizens-favor-better-us-rel/ Continue reading
How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in Business
The challenge of running a restaurant "a la izquierda"
by Suzanne Cope Mar 21, 2017, 2:02pm EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are companies currently doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential hurdles

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

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

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

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

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

Political contention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new era for Cuba?

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

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

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

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

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

However, it remains a big if.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody is Havana Daydreamin'!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Source: Cuba capitalism blinds tourists from Communist reality -
Baltimore Sun -
http://www.baltimoresun.com/os-ed-cuba-human-rights-not-improving-george-diaz-20170317-story.html Continue reading
Two U.S. Airlines Are Already Done With Cuba
Too many flights and too little demand send Silver and Frontier packing.
by Justin Bachman
March 14, 2017, 9:45 AM GMT+1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Two U.S. Airlines Are Already Done With Cuba - Bloomberg -
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-14/two-u-s-airlines-are-already-done-with-cuba Continue reading
Airlines Drop Cuba Flights, Citing Lower Demand Than Anticipated
By FRANCES ROBLES MARCH 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was still not enough to fill the flights.

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

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

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

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

Source: Airline Drops Cuba Flights, Citing Lower Demand Than Anticipated
- The New York Times -
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/13/travel/airlines-reduce-flights-to-cuba-and-switch-to-smaller-planes.html?_r=0 Continue reading
The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave: cruises
BY CHABELI HERRERA
cherrera@miamiherald.com

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

The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And unanimous, it was friend."

THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC INSIGHT NETWORK, AN
ONLINE COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE AGREED TO SHARE THEIR INSIGHTS WITH
THE MIAMI HERALD AND WLRN. BECOME A SOURCE AT
WLRN.ORG/TOPIC/PUBLIC-INSIGHT-NETWORK

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

THE EIGHT U.S. CRUISE LINES GOING TO CUBA
Norwegian Cruise Line on the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky

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

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

Azamara Club Cruises on the 690-passenger Azamara Quest

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

Regent Seven Seas on the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner

Pearl Seas Cruises on the 210-passenger Pearl Mist

Fathom on the 704-passenger Adonia

Source: The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave:
cruises | Miami Herald -
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Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via … Click to Continue » Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 March 2017 — An aging prostitute is like a book with tattered pages depicting the life of a nation. A survival manual to approach the vagaries of reality, to learn about its most carnal and, at times, most sordid parts. Many of the courtesans of Utopia in Cuba are already octogenarians. … Continue reading "Utopia’s Courtesans / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez" Continue reading
Cubans a bridge to escape. Talk of tourism was revived as CubaCuban-American executive in human resources who shuttles frequently from Miami to Havana, told me. Selling the rest of the Americas on Cuba … now is, can Cuba normalize and still prosper?” Cuba has plenty of … Continue reading
Havana, March 10 (RHC-Xinhua) -- Oceania … make a port call in Havana, after more than half a … Sierra Maestra cruise terminal in Havana, Cuba, carrying 1,250 guests,… Cruise Line Holdings. Accompanied by Cuban tourism officials, the visitors enjoyed … Continue reading
An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro Name / Juan
Juan Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro
Name / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
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Juan Juan Almeida, 9 February 2017  — In Cuba being a member of the Castro family is like having a modern-day license to commit  piracy. This inalienable right comes in handy for the dynasty’s descendants, especially those born with the compound surnames Castro Soto del Valle and Castro Espín.* The most recent example of the … Continue reading "An Illegal Business Operating Under Protection of the Castro Name / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
American cruise travelers bump into Cuba's rules
BY DAVID G. MOLYNEAUX
TheTravelMavens.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of
TheTravelMavens.com

Source: Adjusting to Cuba's rules on a Lindblad cruise of the island |
Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/tourism-cruises/article137421348.html Continue reading
Want to visit Cuba before it's commercialized? You can't, says 'Havana'
author
BY CONNIE OGLE
cogle@miamiherald.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite these shifts, Kurlansky thinks the biggest changes have already
occurred.

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

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

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

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

Source: Havana, Cuba is the most romantic city in the world, says author
Mark Kurlansky | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/books/article136876033.html Continue reading
Friendly Planet is the latest to drop its Cuba prices
By Gay Nagle Myers / March 06, 2017

Friendly Planet has announced price cuts on its six packaged
people-to-people tours to Cuba, wrangling significant reductions of up
to $1,000 per person, depending on the length of the tour.
This move comes on the heels of InsightCuba's rate cuts on its
people-to-people programs, which were announced last month.
Insight's president, Tom Popper, attributed his company's price drop to
a decrease in prices issued from state-run agencies and hotels in Cuba.
Those rates had risen sharply following the U.S.'s easing of travel
sanctions in December 2014.
Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet, concurred,
saying that the earlier price increases by Cuba "were simply
unsustainable. Major hotels in Cuba, which had increased rates last
summer for the current winter season, experienced cancellations this
winter."
Goldman, along with other major tour companies engaged in operating
large programs to Cuba, traveled to the island last year to speak to
suppliers about the increases.
"The suppliers did not believe us [when told the rates were too high].
The result was a lot of empty rooms this winter during a period that is
normally sold out. The hotels began dropping their rates," she said.
"The price reductions are intended to be incentives to lure reluctant
travelers back to the demand seen in recent years," Goldman said.
Friendly Planet's price reductions are in effect through October,
"although we expect them to continue through the end of the year."
Goldman cautioned that since there is involvement by the Cuban
government in determining tariffs, "we actually can't tell how long the
discounts will continue. If the Ministry of Tourism decides to increase
rates again, it may mean another round of price hikes."
Her advice to travelers interested in visiting Cuba: do it now while the
prices are reduced.
In addition to its packaged tours, Friendly Planet operates a number of
escorted FITs for individuals and small groups of up to seven or eight
people.
"We don't operate independent tours, but we hope to offer this service
by the end of the year," Goldman said.
Friendly Planet also may launch a program later this year that will span
the entire island from Havana eastward to Santiago de Cuba.

Source: Friendly Planet is the latest to drop its Cuba prices: Travel
Weekly -
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Atkins: Cuba fears prez could wipe out island's gains
Kimberly Atkins Tuesday, March 07, 2017

NO LONGER JUST HANGING ON: Cuba's begun to see a revival since former
President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties with the island nation.

HAVANA — Raul Castro is not the only Cuban who is blasting President
Trump's foreign policy.

Many residents of the Caribbean nation, which is in the midst of a rapid
transformation as a direct result of former President Barack Obama
restoring diplomatic ties and easing travel restrictions between the
countries, criticized Trump and praised his predecessor for bringing
Americans to their shores.

Castro, the Cuban president, called Trump's foreign policy, including
his plans to build a Mexican border wall, "irrational" and "egotistical"
in a speech in Venezuela that was broadcast on Cuban state-run
television on Sunday night.

Those words could draw a sharp rebuke from Trump, an admitted
counterpuncher who's currently reviewing U.S.-Cuban policy, but who was
strongly critical of Obama's Cuban moves. Trump has aligned himself with
Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who wants to reverse Obama's
actions.

That's not a popular stance with Cubans, who are pleased with the
country's fast-moving progress. Though American tourism is still
technically prohibited, most travelers can fit into one of 12 categories
to qualify for a general purpose visa. New hotels dot the main
thoroughfares in Havana, and Airbnb rentals get a steady stream of
business in outlying beach communities like Boca Ciega.

Still, the country displays its hardships visibly. New restaurants are
often bookended by crumbling structures. And while the internet is newly
available, it's expensive and still relatively scarce. People can be
seen into the late hours huddled around Wi-Fi hot spots, their faces
illuminated by the their cellphones as they vie for relatively weak
bandwidth.

"One way to change (Cuba) is to get more Americans to visit," and to
lift the trade embargo, said U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat
who traveled to the country last month.

Carlos Arias, a taxi driver in Havana, agrees.

"In the last 18 months, I've seen business go up, maybe 80 percent," he
said. "What Obama did changed everything. Everybody loves it."

Asked if he feared that Trump would reverse U.S.-Cuban policies, Arias
said: "No. He wouldn't dare. He's a businessman."

While Rubio and other foes of Obama's Cuban policies say they won't
support a Castro communist regime that harms its citizens, other
lawmakers said isolating the nation only hurts them more. Plus, they
say, Cubans have had a taste of what normal relations with the U.S.
feels like, and it would be almost impossible to reverse that now.

"There's lots of opportunity, and I think engagement is always better
than isolationism," said U.S. Rep. James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat
who has co-sponsored a number of bills to ease Cuban relations,
including one to lift the remaining travel restrictions. "And so I don't
know what Trump is going to do. He has said some things that would have
you believe he will turn back the clock. But even if he does, I don't
think they can put the genie back into the bottle."

Source: Atkins: Cuba fears prez could wipe out island's gains | Boston
Herald -
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Luxury and Excess in Socialist Cuba / 14ymedio, Marta Requeiro

14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 26 February 2017 – I don't know how my
mother managed always to know a little more about my friends and their
customs, and even those of the neighbors, because her limited time did
not allow her to gossip; but she continually warned me that things are
not always as they appear.

That is how I ended up having a lover who was to her liking. I confess
that he was attractive, but we had frequent differences when we talked
about topics of daily life that ended up opening a breach in the
relationship.

Contrary to what the Island's Government always suggested, without being
apparent except to the most rebellious or those with the "clinical eye,"
the beginning of the abysmal separation that today exists between the
two known population groups, the governing elite with all of its
coterie, and the people, was immediately conceived.

I realized soon after beginning the relationship with him that there
were people who projected an image of humility but, behind closed doors,
had covered all the basic necessities that for common mortals – like me
– were impossible. And more so, they came to be luxuries.

I later learned, thanks to that relationship, that there was a segment
of the population that accessed a life unknown to the majority of
Cubans. Ordinary Cubans who served once a month on the guard duty for
the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), more than
anything in order not to be robbed in the night by their own neighbors
and despoiled of what they had achieved with their own effort. Ordinary
Cubans who marched to the Plaza Jose Marti on dates commemorating some
important revolutionary event in order to sing hymns and feed their
faith in the process of change (a change that still has not arrived),
and who subsisted on what they would acquire through the ration booklet
and who always carried the empty bag that was indispensable when leaving
the house so as not to be surprised and unprepared for the arrival at
the warehouse of some product among those that were distributed only
sporadically and that, hopefully, would be something good.

Many families had only the ration book to count on to provide them with
petty rations, which, even if they were well managed and "cultivated,"
did not even allow them, at least once a day, to bring to the table a
serving of decent food.

Even so, the markets and warehouses of that time were not as poorly
supplied as now, and that little ration booklet meant something.

Already by the '80's the economic impoverishment, forecast only to get
worse, was obvious, today inhuman for the ordinary Cuban, who is always
the most affected.

As young as one was, one could tell. In most cases what was missing was
enough courage to publicly say it and in a form of protest, as happens
today with the internal dissidence that, in spite of the vexations that
those who dare to raise a voice are subjected to, there are more who
join them in order to protest their discontent.

It happened one day that a friend invited my lover to a house in Vedado
that belonged to one of his cousins who would turn fifteen. My mother,
knowing that I would go with him – after already having investigated his
background and knowing that he was from a good family – and making him
promise that we would be back early – granted me permission.

I had time to prepare my best clothes to go in accord with the occasion
since he advised me several days ahead that I had to go elegant.

The day and time came and we climbed into the car of his friend who,
accompanied by his girlfriend, would carry us to the party that would
take place in Vedado.

We went up 23rd Street and, now well into the trip, the driver took a
turn I could not say where; but there was a time when I did not exactly
know our location. I was not at all familiar with that place where the
car travelled.

The neighborhood that emerged before my eyes was at a glance far from my
neighborhood and what was familiar to me until then. It was composed of
beautiful houses with immense gardens that extended from the sidewalk to
the entrances, some with tall bars of black balusters. The car kept
going until it came to an immense wooden gate in a fortified wall that
extended for almost the whole block.

We got out, and the uninhibited driver went forward to press the
doorbell, which turned out to be an intercom. It was strange for me to
look around and see majestic houses, well-cared for, painted, to hear
silence and await a response from that artifact attached to the
concrete; in my neighborhood it sufficed to yell from the sidewalk the
name of the person sought for him to come out, and in the air you could
always hear the mixed sound of different rhythms and someone or other
calling vociferously highlighted by dogs barking in the distance.

Finally we heard a voice come from the apparatus asking "who is it" and
with a simple "I," said by the driver, the handle of the solid wooden
door was magically activated so we would enter invading the immense
barricade that impeded access and visibility from the streets to the
dwelling.

Passing the threshold, I marveled at the beauty of the immediate area.
If they spoke to me then I swear I do not remember it. I felt like and
must have had the same expression as Alice in Wonderland.

Some hundred guests had already arrived, all dressed elegantly. My
boyfriend, while we were there, asked me several times if I was alright.
Surely my unusual quietness was making my surprise evident.

I saw for the first time live – and in full color – a domestic service
team. Until then I had only seen it in foreign films. It was composed of
about half a dozen women dressed in green guayabera dresses and white
lace-up tennis shoes.

I saw there for the first time Pringles Potato Chips, and beer acquired
without the well-known scavenging for the five boxes on the ration book
only allocated if you were getting married or turning fifteen, and in
cans. I tasted – with a grimace – the Spanish brandy Terry Malla Dorada.
I felt strange before this conglomeration displaying the bourgeois
behavior criticized by the Government.

The two smorgasbord tables in the middle of the immense room with a
marble floor never emptied. Trays with all kinds of snacks and
sandwiches were brought by the waitresses.

Outside, next to the entryway, was the bar attended by two young men
with white guayaberas who asked what we wanted to drink or what we
desired, including glasses for the beer.

Later the rueda de cubana dance was unleashed to the furor of the music
of the Van Van hits and it reminded me how beaten up Cuba was.

I felt like leaving, I had nothing in common with the others there,
nothing was familiar and known to me except my companion and the music;
then I suggested that he invent an excuse and that we leave. That
opulence and excess were inconceivable for what was proclaimed from the
other side of the wall, although the reason was a fifteen-year-old's party.

I asked the friend to get us out of there and take us to the nearest bus
stop. He agreed after trying to persuade us, without success, and
wanting to know the reason for our sudden departure.

Outside I felt relief, and I breathed comfortably. I commented on it
with my fiancé, and he told me what little he knew of the mysterious
family of his friend, whom he believed was from State Security or a
bodyguard for someone important.

How was that way of life kept in silence, how was it not criticized on
television, and where did it come from and how was that luxury and
excess that was not just a festive event paid for? How was there a
capitalist form of existence inside Cuban territory, supposedly
socialist and egalitarian?

Back then it was undercover; today we know how it is and that the
behavior of the ruling leadership far from surprising us proves the
existence of two social classes or poles that they themselves do not
want to recognize as so disparate: The experts in training and
subjugating so that the Cuban people do what they say and not what they
do, and the people themselves.

We have learned about the excess expenses for recreation and tourism of
one of Fidel's sons and the carryings-on of Raul's grandson/bodyguard.

The international press and Cuban dissidence have unveiled those two
faces of those who for almost six decades have had control and power on
the largest of the Antilles.

It is true, looks deceive!

I met some people who lived in secret opulence supporting Castro-ism,
which stayed in power with a public image as protector of the underdogs.
It's not that I don't like the good life but that condition is given in
Cuba only to those who speak of equality without practicing it.

Opulence and abundance should belong to those who earn it, inherit it or
work for it, not to those who steal it. Submission is not dignified,
even less for so long a time. Let's hope that once and for all the Cuban
people open their eyes and reclaim the rights that have been denied them.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Luxury and Excess in Socialist Cuba / 14ymedio, Marta Requeiro –
Translating Cuba -
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14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 26 February 2017 – I don’t know how my mother managed always to know a little more about my friends and their customs, and even those of the neighbors, because her limited time did not allow her to gossip; but she continually warned me that things are not always as they … Continue reading "Luxury and Excess in Socialist Cuba / 14ymedio, Marta Requeiro" Continue reading
Travelling to Cuba this year? Swap your hotel for a homestay
Nicola Trup
Evening Standard March 3, 2017

There's a cowboy waiting outside my room. Kitted out in a checked shirt,
jeans and a Stetson, he introduces himself as Miguel, and soon we're
clip-clopping away in a horse-drawn cart.

Trinidad, in southern Cuba, is more than just a photogenic,
Unesco-listed town (though it is that, too). It's surrounded by natural
attractions; within just a few kilometres are some of the country's best
beaches, with sweeping hills and valleys ripe for exploring.

We're dropped off near the edge of town, and Miguel gets our group of
wannabe cowboys saddled up. "Only one hand," he says, as I reach for the
reins; the other holds on to a metal handle on the saddle — something
I'm thankful for once I realise I have no control over my horse's speed.

We ride along a dusty trail, through scrubby meadows and palm-dotted
woodland, stopping en route at a grass-roofed open-air bar serving
refreshing cups of sugar-cane juice. We ride a little further before
dismounting again, and making the short walk to El Pilón. It's dry
season, so this normally impressive waterfall isn't much more than a
trickle, but it flows into a pair of beautiful natural rock pools,
framed by caves and forest. I clamber into the cool, dark water, with
cigar smoke and the sound of acoustic guitar drifting over from the
makeshift bar nearby.

Arriving back in Trinidad in the late afternoon, the sun is starting to
slip down behind the colourful Spanish colonial houses, and I walk
slowly back to my homestay, slightly bruised from a day in the saddle.

It's two decades since Cuba's casas particulares ("private homes")
scheme was introduced, allowing locals to rent out their spare rooms to
tourists. They offer a sharp contrast to the state-run hotels, which,
while often grand, tend to come with rather indifferent service ("They
know they will always have a job, so they have no reason to try," one
Cuban tells me). Until last year, when rules were relaxed, it was
illegal to own a private business, but as running a casa particular is
considered self-employment, the scheme has been a great way for Cubans
to boost their incomes, which, according to official figures, average
about £20 a month.

Casas, meanwhile, are a cross between a B&B and a family home: you get
your own key but you might also hang out with your hosts. On practically
every street in Trinidad or Old Havana you'll spot at least one of the
scheme's blue signs, and with so much competition, owners often come up
with a USP. At "Casa El Ceramista" (The Potter's House), where I'm
staying, host Alexey will show you how to throw a pot on his wheel — the
walls are decorated with his clay creations.

The next day I take a tour of the town's historic centre with Roxy,
whose parents run another casa. Having grown up in Trinidad, she's full
of local insight, like where to find the best views (the top of the
tower at Museo Lucha Contra Bandidos) and the most unusual night out
(Disco Ayala, a club in a spectacular natural cave).

Tourism is booming in Cuba, thanks in part to the US easing its rules
for visiting — a move that may be reversed by President Trump. For now,
though, new businesses are springing up to cater to the growing number
of travellers, and among them is Bar Café El Mago. With its white-washed
walls and quirky reclaimed furniture, it wouldn't look out of place in
Hackney or Brooklyn, though like the casas particulares, it's also
someone's home; the delicious coffee is made in the family kitchen.

Soon it's time for me to move on to Havana, and a five-hour cab ride in
a gorgeous, if somewhat rickety, Fifties Buick leads me to my next casa.
Marisela's apartment, part of a grand old townhouse in the capital's
Vedado neighbourhood, is decorated in every colour of the rainbow, and
Marisela chooses her clothes to match.

I can't leave Cuba without a stroll around Habana Vieja (Old Havana),
whose pristine streets are the city's most photographed, so the next day
I head over in another old taxi. Winding between a series of pretty
squares, I take in the imposing baroque cathedral and moated fort before
finding myself outside Hotel Ambos Mundos.

Most Havana establishments trumpet even the most tenuous connection to
Ernest Hemingway, who lived here in the 1930s, but Ambos Mundos is bona
fide — the writer rented a room in the hotel for seven years. So I
decide to stop for a drink in the Art Deco lobby bar. Unsure of what
"Papa" would have ordered, I opt for a coffee spiked with rum. It's a
potent, not entirely pleasant, concoction, but as I sit back in my
chair, the sound of jazz piano drifting over me, it feels like little
has changed since Hemingway drank here — even if he preferred a mojito.

Details: Cuba

Nicola Trup travelled with Homestay.com, which offers doubles at
Alexey's in Trinidad (bit.ly/ThePotter) from £24, B&B, and doubles at
Marisela's in Havana (bit.ly/MariselaColores) from £31, B&B. Virgin
Atlantic (virgin-atlantic.com) flies from Gatwick to Havana.

travel2cuba.co.uk

Source: Travelling to Cuba this year? Swap your hotel for a homestay -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/travelling-cuba-swap-hotel-homestay-172020558.html Continue reading
CUBA'S QUIET BATTLE FOR AMERICAN AIRSPACE
By Barbara Sturken Peterson
THE DAILY DOSEMAR 03 2017

Flight CU188, a twin-jet Airbus A320 on its way from the Caribbean to
Canada, looks no different than the 5,000 other commercial planes flying
through U.S. airspace —except maybe for that red, white and blue livery
that looks straight out of the swingin' '60s. In fact, this flight is
anything but typical: Even in an emergency, the crew can't land in the
U.S. If it did, there's a good chance that local marshals would seize
the plane.

That's because the Airbus flies for Cubana de Aviación, the official
airline of Cuba. The deal that the U.S. and Cuba brokered two years ago
to normalize relations should have sent the Caribbean carrier soaring
into the lucrative blue yonder of the American market. Instead, the
airline is being dragged down by lingering issues from the 60-year-old
trade embargo, including potential seizure of Cuban assets — like the
Airbus — to settle U.S. claims to recover assets confiscated by the
Castro regime. Meanwhile, in the past six months, Cubana has had to
watch from the sidelines as 10 U.S. carriers zip back and forth between
the two countries on about 40 daily round trips.

Additional turbulence may ground whatever plans Cubana has to tap into
its northern neighbor's massive travel market and earn desperately
needed revenue and hard currency. In November then-president-elect Trump
tweeted: "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 [the] deal."

The president may have been out of step with the American public. A Pew
Research survey released a few weeks after Trump's tweet revealed that
75 percent of respondents approve of steps taken to restore relations
with Cuba. "The momentum among American travelers for unfettered access
to Cuba continues," says Ninan Chacko, the CEO of Travel Leaders Group,
a consortium of high-end travel agencies.

When the U.S. and Cuba agreed to resume diplomatic relations in late
2014, air service was an integral part of the discussions. A longtime
State Department hand, who helped negotiate aviation treaties with
former foes like China, says "it's almost unprecedented" that a country
wouldn't want its state-owned airline to benefit from any increase in
air traffic. As a former official, the Foggy Bottom veteran spoke on
background, but confirmed that Cubana does in fact now have the right to
fly to the U.S.; however, the airline first wants the legal situation
clarified. (The Cuban embassy did not respond to requests for comment.)

Most U.S. business leaders believe that full trade and tourism
ultimately will resume, and that Cubana will become a customer for U.S.
companies, such as aerospace suppliers — avionics from Honeywell, jet
engines from General Electric and Pratt & Whitney and jets from Boeing.

Once dubbed the world's most dangerous airline for a string of fatal
crashes decades ago, Cubana could use a serious upgrade. Although the
roughly 20-plane fleet includes a few leased Airbus jets, it consists
mainly of Russian-built Antonov, Ilyushin and Tupolev aircraft, a sort
of "Aeroflot of the Caribbean." In safety matters, at least, its
performance has improved.

Certainly, other airlines have successfully shed their communist-era
reps. Vietnam Airlines is gunning to be the second-biggest full-service
airline in Southeast Asia with a fleet of Boeing Dreamliners and Airbus
A350s. For Cubana to pull off a similar Cinderella feat, it will need to
clean up its customer service act to go along with a new, improved
fleet. (It typically ranks near the bottom in customer surveys on
TripAdvisor and the U.K. review site Skytrax.) A cautionary tale:
China's state-owned airlines had to give flight attendants "smiling
lessons" when the carriers began flying to the U.S. and other Western
destinations.

Source: Cuba's Quiet Battle for American Airspace | Fast Forward | OZY -
http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/cubas-quiet-battle-for-american-airspace/75517 Continue reading
Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the
American Airlines' departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of
corridors and passages. That's why Noahn, an American living in
Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight's scheduled departure
time to Varadero.

He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son carried in an
arm-sling, and a dog with long floppy ears. In his luggage, professional
diving equipment and an electric skateboard. The couple speak in
carefully enunciated Spanish, with a hint of a Colombian accent. "It's
because I worked for an American company in Bogotá," explains Noahn.

To everyone who wants to listen to him, he describes his experiences as
a tourist in Cuba. He knows the Coco and Santa Maria Keys, located to
the north of Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara and Maria La Gorda, in the
western province of Pinar del Rio.

"But I was enchanted by Varadero. It's the third time in two years I've
been there since the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the
United States. Neither Miami Beach nor Malibu can compare with Varadero,
with its fine white sandy beach. The water is warm and there are hardly
any waves. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Copacabana in Rio de
Janeiro and The Bahamas may have just as good or better natural
conditions," he adds, while his wife gives the child some milk in a bottle.

Despite the prohibitions on tourism in Cuba, Americans such as Noahn
travelled to the island by way of a third country. "Before December 17,
2014, I travelled to Cuba via Mexico. After that date it's been easier.
There are twelve quite flexible categories, which they call the twelve
lies. You declare whichever pretext, and travel in a group or
individually. "In theory you can't go as a tourist, but I bet that's
what half of the American travellers are doing."

Out of more than 200 passengers on the flight heading to Varadero, only
six were Cubans going back to their country permanently or to visit
relatives on the island.

Judith, a biologist living in Georgia, is going to Cuba for the second
time this year. Why? "Half for professional experience, half tourism."
I'm interested in gathering information on the varieties of Cuban
vegetation. Once I finish my research, I'm going to stay a week in a
hotel full-board in Camaguey or in Holguin."

Asked if she felt any harassment or if any federal institution has
opened a file on her for violating the country's regulations, she
replies: "Not at all. Seems to me the wisest thing to do would be to
openly permit tourism in Cuba, because that's what in reality people are
doing."

After the re-establishment of relations between two countries that were
living in a cold war climate, many more Americans are travelling to the
Greater Antilles. In January 11, 2016, Josefina Vidal, an official
working in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and responsible for relations
with the United States, reported on Twitter that, in 2016, the island
received a total of 614,433 visitors from United States (Americans and
Cuban Americans), 34% more than in 2015.

Although on paper the Americans arriving are recorded as being part of a
religious or journalistic or a people-to-people exchange, it isn't
difficult to spot well-built blonds or redheads downing quantities of
mojitos in a bar in Old Havana or enjoying the warm autumn sun on a
Cuban beach.

When at 8:30 in the evening, the American Airlines plane landed at the
Juan Gualberto Gómez international airport in Varadero, after a quick
check, half a dozen air-conditioned buses were waiting for the
"undercover" tourists to take them to four and five star hotels along
the Hicacos Peninsula coast.

"Yes, the Americans are tourists." Many of them go to Havana, others
pass the time in Varadero. They prefer to stay in hotels. About 400 or
500 come every week. And many more are expected at New Year's," said an
official of the Gaviota chain, balancing on the stairway of a bus.

Private taxi drivers and those who lease vehicles from the state hang
around the terminal. "There are gringos who come as individual tourists.
I charge them the equivalent of $40 for the trip to Varadero, about 20
kilometers from the airport. Almost all give good tips. Unlike the
Spaniards and Mexicans, who are complete tightwads," says Joan, a
private taxi driver.

The majority of Cubans are convinced that Americans are rich. And have
more money than they know what to do with. They try to milk them as if
they were cows.

At the currency exchange outside the airport, they exchange dollars for
86 centavos, less than the official rate of 87. "The rate goes down at
weekends," he says.

An employee in the terminal, says "Here everyone is doing business. "The
lavatory cleaner charges, the café sells stuff on the side, and the
customs people get things off the passengers."

Tourism in Cuba is like a harvest. Everyone wants to squeeze the sugar
cane. And you can extract plenty of juice from the sneaky tourists

Translated by GH

Source: Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/undercover-american-tourists-in-cuba-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Americans skipping out on Cuba
By The Washington Post By Justin Bachman

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."

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.

"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: Americans skipping out on Cuba -
http://www.swtimes.com/news/20170226/americans-skipping-out-on-cuba Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the American Airlines’ departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of corridors and passages. That’s why Noahn, an American living in Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight’s scheduled departure time to Varadero. He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son … Continue reading "Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García" Continue reading
Are Bikes Coming Back to Cuba With the Economic Crisis? / 14ymedio,
Marcelo Hernandez

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 February 2017 — When you look at
the photos of the most difficult years of Cuba's "Special Period," there
are several details that can be observed: how skinny Cubans were, the
deterioration of their clothing, and the number of bicycles that filled
the streets. Just like the dial phone evokes the first half of the
twentieth century, these pedal-powered vehicles remind many Cubans of
the most difficult times of their lives.

Despite the benefits to health and the environment, most of those born
in the last half century on this island see bicycles as a means of
transportation for times of crisis. It is no coincidence that the
decline in the use of these vehicles began with the opening to tourism
in the 1990s, and with the distribution of licenses for the operation of
a private sector.

Thousands of bike-focused parking lots, tire-patchers and bike-repairers
saw their clientele gradually diminish until they had to close. In
Havana very few of these places are left, though they once sprinkled the
landscape of the city. Also disappearing, along with them, is the
massive imports of parts from China to be assembled into bikes in Cuba.

However, with the economic difficulties of recent months, led by the
drop in oil shipments from Venezuela, some are making haste to reassume
the custom of pedaling. Late, missing and overcrowded buses, along with
the fallout from state-imposed price controls on private taxis – which
has even resulted in drivers going on strike – has led a resurgence of
problems in getting from place to place.

Resigned, some are dusting off their bikes and launching themselves into
the streets under their own power, on two wheels.

Source: Are Bikes Coming Back to Cuba With the Economic Crisis? /
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/are-bikes-coming-back-to-cuba-with-the-economic-crisis-14ymedio-marcelo-hernandez/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 February 2017 — When you look at the photos of the most difficult years of Cuba’s “Special Period,” there are several details that can be observed: how skinny Cubans were, the deterioration of their clothing, and the number of bicycles that filled the streets. Just like the dial phone evokes the … Continue reading "Are Bikes Coming Back to Cuba With the Economic Crisis? / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez" Continue reading
Cuba Needs Responsible Water Usage
February 23, 2017
By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES – The drought in Cuba could stop being a crisis and become
a chronic disease, as is already the case in many other countries. The
only way out seems to be to devise a global strategy that allows us and
requires a responsible use of that natural resource.

However, the Cuban parliament postponed the debate on a water use law,
despite the fact that the main economic areas of the economy involve
greater use of water without specific policies to confront the huge
losses in the distribution pipes and at homes that equals half of what
is pumped.

The government is committed to increasing food production to reduce
imports but agriculture is precisely the activity that consumes the most
water. Logically, as the land under cultivation grows, water consumption
increases.

According to some specialists, it is not a matter of reducing food
production but of establishing irrigation protocols for each crop,
preventing waste. This, in addition to creating storage mechanisms for
as much rainwater as possible on the farms.

Much of Cuba's land is extremely compacted, which means poor drainage
into the subsoil. This, added to the high temperatures, causes that a
part of the scarce rains that fall in the national territory evaporate
almost immediately.

The other major consumer of water is tourism. A foreign visitor staying
at a hotel uses about 350 liters of water daily. This means that the 4
million tourists who arrive on the island consume a minimum of 1.4
billion liters each day.

The economy cannot do without tourism, but hotels can be required to
install water recycling equipment and irrigate green areas at the first
or last hours of the day and not at noon, which is when the greatest
evaporation is caused.

One should also think about future development plans, especially the
desirability or not of creating numerous golf courses, bearing in mind
that, while they can produce a lot of money, they are very high
consumers of fresh water.

Another major obstacle to a responsible use of water is the leaks in the
distribution networks and in homes. According to the Institute of
Hydraulic Resources, about 45% of what is pumped is lost. This situation
causes ecological, economic and health problems.

In addition to losing the vital liquid to the leaks, twice the effort is
necessary for the pumping, consuming double the amount of fuel oil.
Likewise they water company must add large amounts of chlorine to the
water to attack what can enter the system through the leaky pipes. The
country spends a lot and provides the consumer with a product with more
chemicals than is recommended.

Although the government has already begun work, the cost of repairing
the distribution networks is enormous, a task that the national economy
may not be able to finance alone. Virtually everything needs to be
replaced because closing the leaks multiplies the pressure on the old
pipes, opening many new leaks.

There are also leaks inside the dwellings, which will not be fixed while
the cost of a faucet is equal to the monthly salary of a worker. A few
years ago in Havana repairs were made free of charge for 2,500
dwellings. Maybe that path is cheaper in the long run.

The scarcity of water is not a simple issue; I would not dare to bet on
solutions because I do not have the necessary knowledge, what's more I
think nobody has them. It is a matter to analyze in a diverse scientific
group that studies all the angles.

The Cuban media have already started talking about drought, which is a
very positive step because it allows the population to visualize and
become aware of the problem. However, given its seriousness, perhaps it
should have a greater media presence.

In contrast, the country continues to take superficial and contradictory
measures. While prohibiting the construction of swimming pools they
supply water to all public fountains, prioritizing urban aesthetics over
protection of an increasingly scarce natural resource.

There is a need for a national strategy that looks for resources to
change the distribution networks and incorporates the problem into all
economic projects. It must also include sealing the domestic leaks and
creates a culture of saving in the population, because no scarcity will
be as terrible as that of water.

Source: Cuba Needs Responsible Water Usage - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=123830 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