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… delegation on a trip to Cuba next week. The delegation will … country since 2015. Nixon said Cuba could become a significant export … is scheduled to meet with Cuban officials, speak at a business … and visit a deep-water port. Cuba will be the fifth country … Continue reading
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2016 — Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, recently made his second visit to Cuba. Unlike his first, in November 2014–when the general-president did not deign to meet with him—this time his “highest excellency” Spanish Foreign Minister was emphatically welcomed by the upper echelons of … Continue reading "The Step-Motherland’s Droit de Seigneur / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya" Continue reading
… lift the trade embargo with Cuba. Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion … because of economic conditions in Cuba. “Cuba is a poor country, and … able to supply credit (to Cuba).  Our exports down there will … as well.” Simonsen, who visited Cuba earlier this year, says lifting … Continue reading
Normalizing relations with Cuba: not so fast

By aronsbarron

May 22, 2016 7:22 a.m.

Polls make it clear that the American public is way ahead of Congress in
supporting normalization of relations and reopening trade with Cuba. But
positive numbers from several polls don't mean that the
normalization process will be easy or fast. That was unequivocally
confirmed by Gonzalo Gallegos, Deputy Assistant for Western Affairs, at
a State Department briefing Monday for 30 members of the Association of
Opinion Journalists (AOJ).
Sixty-two percent in one key poll favor ending the embargo, even though
just 40 percent think it will restore democracy to Cuba. A majority of
the public approves of the way the Obama Administration is handling
the issue.
The Administration's approach hasn't changed since Under Secretary
Roberta Jacobson spoke to AOJ last year: small steps to build trust,
enabling the two countries to deal gradually with some of the more
contentious issues dividing them. The immediate focus, therefore, is
strengthening people-to-people links, assisting entrepreneurs to tap
economic opportunities and working to open the internet and
telecommunications. That goal, Gallegos said, is so the "broadest swath
of Cubans" can better see what's happening in the world around them.
Focusing on the relatively easy activities (agriculture, maritime,
civil aviation, climate change, for example) helps deepen dialogue
around the more difficult challenges of human rights, press freedom,
claims, and fugitives.
"The President has said that the future of Cuba is for Cubans to
decide," Gallegos declared. Not all Cubans I spoke with there a year ago
are so sanguine. Many Cubans working on normalization are still uneasy
that Cuban culture will be diluted as American businesses enter the new
market. This month's Chanel runway show and the incursion of film crews
into Havana were seen by many Cubans as the cultural down side of
normalization. The people of Cuba are friendly, optimistic about the new
opening and proud of their heritage. They are quick to point out that
"big countries do what they want; small countries do what they must."
A current theme in Obama foreign policy is trying to help other nations
improve governance and fortify the underpinnings of their economies,
improving the conditions that drive immigration and crime. Of
particular concern is the situation in Haiti, where the "people deserve
to have their voices heard." The United States is pushing the interim
government to complete their electoral process and achieve a
democratically elected government.
Gallegos noted that 'our one true success in nation building has been
in Colombia,' where our embassy has grown from 500 individuals (in the
mid 1990's) to 3000. Conditions were ripe because the people of Colombia
wanted change and forced their government to respond, there were well
trained police and military to move against the criminal elements, and
the government was able to expend significant resources. For every
dollar the United States invested, said Gallegos, the Colombian
government put up $10.
The changing relationship with Cuba is unique. Gallegos, who served in
Cuba from 2002-2004 under President George W. Bush, declined to
speculate on any time table for regularizing relations. He certainly
wouldn't hazard a guess of how much progress would have to be made to
persuade Congress to lift the embargo ("There is no micrometer"), nor
would he predict what will happen when Raoul Castro leaves office as
expected in 2018.
The goal of a peaceful, prosperous and ultimately democratic Cuba is out
there. How far out is the great unanswered question.

Source: Normalizing relations with Cuba: not so fast - Blogs - The
Winchester Star - Continue reading
Port Authority, City Leaders Talk Cuba Trip

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and other local officials just returned from
a four-day trip to Cuba Thursday night, reinforcing the friendship
between Mobile and its sister city Havana.

One of the goals of the trip was to improve trade relations between
Mobile and Cuba.

Officials also went over tourism possibilities and educational
opportunities moving forward.

Stimpson along with seven other Mobile leaders made the journey. While
in Havana they met with Cuban ministries and discussed ways to enhance
the quality of life in Mobile and Havana.

"Really it's about establishing relationships. We've been a sister city
with Havana since 1993," said Stimpson.

Stimpson said there's a desire for more cultural and educational
exchange between the two cities.

"During the course of conversation I said maybe we can have an event
where for a 2 to 3 day period, you bring vocal, instrumental, visual
arts, bring them to Mobile. We'll have a festival and next year we go to
Cuba. And they thought that was a great idea," said Mayor Stimpson.

Local 15 also asked about the possibility of cruises traveling from
Mobile to Cuba in the future.

"I think that's a question mark that's out there. It's something we
raised the first time we met with Carnival and we'll continue to ask
that question," said Stimpson.

Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons was on the trip to discuss the
possibility of a regular container service between Mobile and Mariel,
Cuba, which is about a 50 minute drive from Havana.

Lyons said currently Mobile ships mostly chicken to Cuba, but only by
charter ships when the volume is great enough about once a month.

"I'd love to see a weekly fixed day service where every Monday a ship
leaves for Cuba, will be there Wednesday and then be back here for work
the next Monday. And that's possible with the distance," said Lyons.

And more activity at the port means more jobs.

"But it's going to going to take trade freeing up, more embargo being
lifted a little more, and that's a contentious issue," said Lyons.

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and folks with the Chamber of
Commerce were also on the trip.

Source: Port Authority, City Leaders Talk Cuba Trip | WPMI - Continue reading
Cuba bracing for rough waters as leftist tide goes out
20 May 2016 at 15:45 AFP

HAVANA - Cuba is bracing for rough waters ahead as it navigates a
political sea change in Latin America, where the left is fighting an
outgoing tide.

The government of Cuban President Raul Castro warned in April of a
"strong and articulated imperialist counteroffensive" coinciding with
the economic slowdown in Latin America
Venezuela is in a full-blown crisis, conservatives have taken the helm
in Brazil, and Havana's leftist allies are losing ground in elections
elsewhere in the region.

The government of President Raul Castro, which has enjoyed smooth
sailing until recently, warned in April of a "strong and articulated
imperialist counteroffensive" coinciding with the economic slowdown in
Latin America.

Indeed, Cuba's communist regime can no longer count on the rhetorical
support it has received in recent years from Latin governments, warns
Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank based
in Washington.

"For Cuba, the region's changing political landscape is less hospitable
than it was a few years ago," he said in an interview.

The changes mark the end of a favorable era for Cuba, one that began
with Hugo Chavez's arrival in power in Venezuela in 1999, and reached a
high point with the reconciliation with the United States at the end of

Taken in hand by the late Venezuelan leader, Havana emerged from
isolation and economic disarray in which it was left after the collapse
of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Friendly governments took office in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador,
Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador, Peru and Chile.

But after Chavez's death in 2013, political conditions in Latin America
began to shift, although the region's new conservative direction has
only recently come into focus.

This year, Venezuela's downward spiral entered a critical phase,
Brazil's Dilma Rousseff was suspended to face an impeachment trial,
Argentina turned its back on Nestor and Cristina Kirchner's 12 years in
power, Bolivia's Evo Morales lost a referendum on extending his mandate
and Ecuador is preparing to elect a successor to Rafael Correa.

And what's worse: the region has had to wave goodbye to the high
commodities prices that underwrote the left's most appealing social

"Even more than the political shifts, Cuba will be affected by the
economic crises in Brazil, and particularly, Venezuela," Shifter said in
an interview.

"At a moment when Cuba is hoping to bring in more investment and
generate growth, the economic deterioration in both countries is of
enormous concern," he said.

- US lifeline -

Besides being its principal trade partner, with nearly $7.3 billion in
trade in 2014, Venezuela supplies Cuba with 95,000 barrels of oil a day
on very favorable terms.

No other friend of Cuba "can supply oil under those terms," said Jorge
Pinon, head of the energy program at the University of Texas' Jackson
School of Geosciences.

The loss of cheap oil "would represent a negative impact for Cuba of
approximately $1.3 billion," he said.

Brazil, for its part, is one of Cuba's main suppliers of food, a source
of credit and a partner in tobacco and sugar companies.

Brazil and Venezuela together account for much of the $12 billion Cuba
gets each year for supplying medical services to other countries, its
top source of hard currency.

Even as it closed ranks behind Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas
Maduro, the Castro government joined critics of the legislative process
in Brazil that ended in Rousseff's suspension this month.

The interim government in Brasilia led by Michel Temer has responded to
the Cuban criticism with a blunt reminder.

"The relationship is historic. We have interests in those countries and
they have theirs here," a Brazilian foreign ministry official told AFP.

Jorge Duany, head of Florida International University's Cuban Research
Institute, said, "Cuba will have to reorient its diplomatic and
commercial relations in Latin America and the Caribbean beyond its main
regional allies of the last decade."

Cuba may already be moving in that direction, according to Duany.

"It's possible to interpret Raul Castro's government's rapprochement
with the United States, in part, as a preventive response to the
continuous economic and political deterioration in Venezuela," he said.

Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations with the United States in July
2015 after a half century of Cold War enmity.

Even though a US embargo is still in place, the United States could play
a growing role as a supplier of food and tourists to Cuba, two important

"It is reasonable to expect Cuban imports from the United States to
continue to grow, especially as restrictions are reduced and,
eventually, the embargo is lifted," said Shifter.

Meanwhile, Cuba has settled its pending affairs with creditors in the
Club of Paris, and signed a cooperation agreement with the European
Union, which should translate into access to more markets and financing.

Cuba will need such a multi-dimensional strategy to weather the storm.

Source: Cuba bracing for rough waters as leftist tide goes out | Bangkok
Post: news - Continue reading
Spain is Cuba's second-largest trading partner, Spanish official says
Published May 19, 2016 EFE

Spanish Secretary of State for Trade Jaime Garcia-Legaz on Thursday said
relations with Cuba are "very positive," adding that his country is
already the island's second-biggest trading partner.

"Spain has already become Cuba's second-largest trading partner,
displacing Venezuela, and therefore very close to China, which is the
island's major trading partner," Garcia-Legaz told EFE in Havana.

The Spaniard stressed that Madrid has managed to reactivate its
previously sluggish relationship with Cuba and now is seeing concrete
results, particularly in trade, which is growing 15 percent annually.

Garcia-Legaz made the remarks after, together with Cuban Foreign
Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, inaugurating the 21st
Spanish-Cuban Business Committee.

The meeting was organized by the two countries' Chambers of Commerce and
attended by representatives of about 100 Spanish companies.

Before the meeting, the Spanish official met with Malmierca and agreed
to launch a binational committee to define investment projects to be
carried out regarding the island's 400 million euro ($448 million)
bilateral debt conversion program.

In early May, Cuba and Spain signed an agreement to restructure the
island's medium- and long-term debt.

In October 2015, Cuba's debt to Spain amounted to 2.44 billion euros
($2.73 billion) and was entirely unpaid. EFE

Source: Spain is Cuba's second-largest trading partner, Spanish official
says | Fox News Latino - Continue reading
… to Boost Economic Ties in Havana HAVANA – Spanish Secretary of State for … the Spanish-Cuban Business Committee in Havana to boost bilateral economic ties … is expected to meet in Havana with Cuban Foreign Trade and Foreign … with Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, on Monday. Spain is CubaContinue reading
… Garcia-Legaz, the renegotiation of the Cuban debt with Paris Club creditors … year, Garcia-Legaz said. Garcia-Legaz and Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and … the 21st session of the Cuban-Spanish Business Cooperation Committee. According to … foreign firms. The sections of Cuba and Spain within the Cooperation … Continue reading
… .S. ag exports to Cuba, Rosson explained. “Cuba is very price-sensitive,” Rosson … provide more flexible payment options. Cuba can only trade with the … gaining 40% of the export Cuban market by 2009, the U … ranchers have been traveling to Cuba to establish relationships and to … Continue reading
Spanish industry giants to pitch to Cuba
Elene Kotetishvili World News 18 May 2016

IT has been reported that Spanish electricity providers, such as Gamesa,
Acciona and Gas Natural, sent emissaries to Cuba in order to establish
trade opportunities and connections for business development now that
the US has removed its long-standing sanctions and trading embargo with
the neighbouring country.

The Cuban government has apparently decided to concentrate on finding
new methods of obtaining and maintaining renewable energy sources in
order to minimise external influence generated from importing
electro-power, preferring to produce their own.

The emphasis on finding energy production sources that can be generated
from wind or sun is linked to the supposition that Cuban fuel is
considered to be of rather low quality, as well as in short supply.

A further 55 enterprises from Spain are visiting Cuba during this
official trip, organised by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. The Cuban
market, now open after the removal of the American trade and commerce
blockade, has attracted massive international interest and many
companies headed there in order to cement their position on this
emerging economical podium.

Amongst the first US companies travelling to conquer new territory were
Marriott, Google and AT&T, after US leader Barack Obama's historical
visit to Havana, closely followed by a state visit from French
president, Francois Hollande; the first European leader to make the step.

The exciting opportunities come with Cuban president Raul Castro's
policies for liberalisation and modernisation of the previously isolated

Modesto Pineiro, who is the Vice President of the Spanish Chamber of
Commerce as well as the chairman of the Bilateral Business Committee,
has stated that: "Spain has a very competitive position in Cuba - it is
the third largest presence on the island - and must move to maintain its
weight and amongst increased competition and interest from other countries."

He believes that Cuba is a fast growing market and that Spain and its
companies should take a leading role in Cuba's development process.
Considering that export to the island grew 38 per cent in 2015, reaching
a record €964 million, it is not surprising that many countries are
interested in sharing Cuba's expanding commercial platform.

Business opportunities for Spanish companies are not just limited to
renewable energy products, but also to the Island's plans to develop
their shipping industry and trade ports, warranting a visit from Urbas
and other real-estate firms, who develop ports such as Ineco and Port of

Furthermore, companies such as Productos La Constancia, Roser and
Germina, who specialise in the installation of equipment for the food
industry, are aiming to improve Cuba's food tourism sector.

Source: Spanish industry giants to pitch to Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba reports wider 2015 trade deficit in goods as commodity crash bites
By Reuters Media on May 18, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

HAVANA - Cuba's chronic goods trade deficit widened by $1.5 billion in
2015 as exports fell 24 percent and imports rose 3 percent, the
government said on Wednesday, in the first data showing a commodity
crash has hurt the economy.

The information, released on the National Statistics Office web page
( did not cover Cuba's large service exports.

Prices for key Cuban exports such as sugar, nickel and refined oil
products all tumbled last year.

The Communist-run country began cutting back on its 2016 import orders
last year and has been slow in making some payments to creditors and
suppliers. Cuba orders much of its imports a year in advance.

Cuban President Raul Castro told a year-end session of the National
Assembly in December that economic growth would slow from 4 percent in
2015 to 2 percent in 2016 due to falling export revenues.

Cuba's trade deficit in goods has traditionally been compensated by the
export of medical and other professionals, tourism and
telecommunications, amounting to $12.7 billion in 2014, the latest
figure available.

The report said goods exports were valued at $3.9 billion, compared with
$5.1 billion in 2014, and imports were $13.5 billion, compared with
$13.1 billion the previous year.

While no statistics are available, revenues from the sale of
professional services to oil producing nations such as Venezuela and
Angola, are also thought to have suffered.

Castro said in December that lower oil prices had reduced the cost of a
number of imports such as food but also hurt "mutually advantageous
cooperation relations with various (oil-producing) countries, in
particular the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."

The collapse of oil prices punishes Cuba under the terms of its oil deal
with Venezuela. Cuba receives 90,000 barrels of oil per day as part of
an exchange that sends Cuban professionals to Venezuela. Some 30,000
doctors and nurses, plus another 10,000 professionals, are posted in

Cuba also receives cash for the workers. Economists and oil market
experts believe the amount is tied to oil prices, meaning Venezuela
would pay less to Cuba when prices are down.

Cuba refines and resells some of the oil in a joint venture with its
socialist ally. Prices for refined products were down in tandem with
crude. The new trade date did not give a breakdown of the value of oil
products or other exports.

Source: Cuba reports wider 2015 trade deficit in goods as commodity
crash bites | Agweek - Continue reading
For Cuban Home Cooks, Ingenuity and Luck Are Key Ingredients

HAVANA — One recent afternoon, Kanye West and three Kardashians
Instagrammed their way through the streets of old Havana in a 1950s-era
Chevy Bel Air. In a working-class neighborhood a 20-minute drive away,
Yolanda Horruitiner, who hasn't left Cuba since she was born here 70
years ago, shopped for dinner.

Even with a visitor willing to buy the groceries and the rules of
commerce looser than they have been since Fidel Castro declared this
nation a socialist state in 1961, it was going to be no small feat.

Despite a shift in the political and cultural landscape that has brought
a Rolling Stones concert and private restaurants so jammed with tourists
that reservations are a must, stocking a Cuban home kitchen remains one
of the biggest challenges of daily life.

Although there are pockets of wealth among Cuba's 11 million people, the
average government salary is around $22 a month. Almost everyone finds a
way to make extra income on the side. Still, all the money in the world
can't help if the markets are out of onions and your cooking-oil
connection has run dry.

So the Cuban home cook has to be agile, thrifty and lucky, making good
use of both the state-issued monthly ration book and a reliable roster
of black-market traders. Crucial, too, is an intimate understanding of
the byzantine system of government-run grocery stores, bakeries and
farmers' markets.

Increasingly, fruits and vegetables can be found at cooperatives or from
a vendor who may show up in the neighborhood with a small cart.

Then there are more subterranean options. An enterprising Cuban can buy
fresh white cheese along a country highway and resell it in the city. On
the steps of what passes for a supermarket, a woman may offer a deal on
a substantial sausage that shoppers speculate was stolen by a son who
works at a state meat factory.

Spices are a point of pride for cooks who have either snagged them on a
trip to another country or secured them through what is called the
Samsonite trade — the steady stream of food smuggled into the country.

"Every Cuban can give you a history about how they got the food they are
eating that day," said Javier Ortiz, 27, a journalist with a taste for
powdered milk because that's what was available when he was growing up.

He makes $40 to $50 a month at the government television station and,
with his brother, runs an Airbnb in the family's home. The state gives
them more rationed rice than they can eat, so when the price is right,
Mr. Ortiz sells it on a Cuban version of Craigslist called

Ms. Horruitiner (oh-roo-EE-tee-nehr), who is fluent in Russian and
Spanish, spent most of her career as an announcer of news and
entertainment for state-run radio and television stations. Her pension
is about $8 a month. Her daughter Lisset Felipe Horruitiner, who lives
with her, has a government job that brings in about $20 a month. They
use all the rice rations they get.

We met one afternoon at a farmers' cooperative market nicknamed the
Boutique because the produce is expensive by island standards. Limes
cost 45 cents a pound. For expats and cooks with money, it's the only
reliable place to find cilantro and ginger.

We bought a mamey, a creamy, vanilla-scented tropical fruit that tastes
and looks something like a sweet potato. Ms. Horruitiner would blend it
with ice, water and sugar for a shake called a batido. She balked at the
price, about 84 cents, telling me in no uncertain terms that I had just
been taken for a ride.

She suggested, through an interpreter, that we head to a favorite
"agro," or agromercado, a market where the government caps the prices
for produce, which the farmers grow under government contract. We pulled
up only to find that it had just been closed for fumigation. Ms.
Horruitiner threw up her hands. "It's a novella!" she said.

Back in the sputtering Soviet-era Lada that served as our taxi, we
headed to another agromercado, where the tomatoes — more green than red
— were 15 cents a pound. Green peppers cost even less, and there was
only one small variety. They seemed puny compared with the watery giants
sold in American supermarkets, but they tasted much better.
NYT FoodCulinary TravelFollow On

Next up was a supermercado that sells its products in the currency
referred to as "kooks," after the CUC, the Cuban convertible peso.
Visitors mostly use the CUC, which was established in 2004. Cubans have
to toggle between CUCs and the traditional Cuban peso.

The store resembled a small, shabby Walmart stocked with random
leftovers from other countries, but no fresh meat or produce. There were
dented cups of soy yogurt, a few frozen chickens from Brazil, cans of
Spanish tomato paste and a barely cool refrigerator case piled with
chicken hot dogs from Canada. An entire aisle was filled with large
plastic bottles of Cuban-made soybean oil.

Ms. Horruitiner planned to make a homey Cuban supper: picadillo, the
reliable ground beef stew, and arroz congrí, a dish related to Moros y
Cristianos, the straightforward marriage of white rice and black beans
that sprang from the Spanish occupation of Cuba and refers to the
period, from the eighth through the 15th centuries, when Islamic Moors
occupied parts of the Christian Iberian Peninsula.

Finding beans and rice was easy. The beef took more work.

Before the revolution, Cuba had plenty of cattle. But their numbers fell
fast during what the Cubans refer to as "the special period," an
economic crisis that began in 1989 when the Soviet Union began to
collapse and soon cut off economic support for Cuba.

With the American embargo firmly in place, a drop in the price of sugar
and the loss of $5 billion a year in Soviet cash and goods, the country
plunged into extreme poverty. In an effort to rebuild the herd,
slaughtering a cow without a government contract was declared illegal in

A common piece of recent Cuban folklore has it that finding food during
the special period was so difficult that cats and zoo animals disappeared.

Over dinner, Ms. Horruitiner would recount how people sautéed grapefruit
peels in oil and pretended they were cutlets. Sugar water replaced coffee.

"Even if you had money, there was nothing to buy," Ms. Horruitiner said.

Now, steaks are imported for tourist hotels, and cuts of beef remain a
prize for home cooks with good black-market connections. Ropa vieja, a
classic Cuban shredded beef braise from the Sephardic cooks of Spain, is
more often made with pork or lamb.

Ground beef cut with soy protein is easier to come by. We left the store
with a plastic sleeve of frozen meat, which she complained was "B
grade." We also had a jar of pickled onions, gherkins and olives from
Spain. It cost nearly $5. The olives would go in the picadillo; the
pickles would garnish the sliced tomato salad.

Back home in her neighborhood, called La Ceiba, Ms. Horruitiner stepped
into a kitchen no bigger than a closet. It was well equipped with a
pressure cooker and a rice cooker.

"Welcome to my laboratory," she said.

She learned to cook from a grandmother and, like most Cubans of a
certain generation, from Nitza Villapol, the most famous cook in Cuba.
Ms. Villapol was cooking on television long before Julia Child. Her
career stretched from before the revolution through the special period.
She was a true daughter of the revolution, cheerfully teaching Cubans
how to cook well with not very much.

In the 1950s, she wrote two seminal cookbooks, "Cocina Criolla" and the
follow-up, "Cocina al Minuto." Ms. Horruitiner keeps her copy of "Cocina
al Minuto" carefully wrapped inside a large envelope, its pages stuffed
with handwritten family additions.

Her picadillo is a much less embellished version than Ms. Villapol's
prerevolutionary recipe. It starts with a small green pepper, seven or
eight little toes of garlic and a small chopped onion mixed into the
meat. She adds a slug of oil and applies heat, then stirs in two
spoonfuls of soy sauce — a Cuban pantry staple introduced by Chinese

Then comes a cup of tomato sauce. She wished she had some dry wine.
Instead she used juice from the jar of olives, and a shake of dried
dill. From pots outside the door, she grabbed a few leaves of fresh
basil and Cuban oregano.

It is the kind of make-do Cuban cooking that the chef José Andrés found
during a trip to Cuba in March with President Obama, when he went to a
friend's house to make dinner.

"In the home kitchen, you find what happens when people don't have a
lot," Mr. Andrés said in an interview. "The great thing is these people
appreciate any ingredient more than we do."

Ms. Horruitiner said it was a style of cooking unique to Cuba.
"Innovation," she said, "comes from the lap of desperation."

Source: For Cuban Home Cooks, Ingenuity and Luck Are Key Ingredients -
The New York Times - Continue reading
… in Spanish with representatives of Cuban government ministries for transportation, infrastructure … , to represent the company in Cuba. A number of decades-old Caterpillar … and normalizing trade relations with Cuba. The Cuban government, meanwhile, outlined during … Continue reading
… two hours with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana, bolstering bilateral relations. Garcia-Margallo and Pastor met with the Cuban … agreement, Garcia-Margallo said. Spain is Cuba’s third-largest trade partner, trailing … Continue reading
Top Cuba diplomat: Obama trip positive, created momentum

President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba advanced the normalization of
relations between the Cold War foes and created momentum for more
cooperation on agriculture, medicine and law enforcement, Cuba's top
diplomat on U.S. affairs said Monday.
Associated Press

President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba advanced the normalization of
relations between the Cold War foes and created momentum for more
cooperation on agriculture, medicine and law enforcement, Cuba's top
diplomat on U.S. affairs said Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with U.S. officials in Havana, Director General
of U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal said President Raul Castro had seen his
meeting with Obama as producing "positive results."

Her portrayal contrasted with more negative characterizations of the
visit, including those of former President Fidel Castro and Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who described Obama's trip as an "attack" on
Cuba's traditions and values.

Vidal said she and U.S. diplomats had agreed upon an agenda for Obama's
remaining months in office that would include visits by high-level U.S.
agriculture, health and security officials.

She said Obama's visit, which included a forum with private business
owners and a speech calling on the Cuban people to look toward a better
future, would help both sides accomplish that agenda.

"We believe the visit was an additional step forward in the process of
moving toward an improvement in relations, and that it can serve to add
momentum to advance in this process, which is in both nations'
interest," she said. "That's the opinion that President Raul Castro
shared during his address to the press during Obama's visit."

Commenting on Monday's meeting, The U.S. State Department said that
"both governments recognized significant steps made toward greater
cooperation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail,
maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and
cultural exchanges." It said the two sides also discussed future
meetings on human rights and claims for compensation by American
citizens and firms whose property was confiscated in Cuba's 1959 revolution.

Vidal praised a series of agreements struck directly with the U.S.
government on topics like environmental cooperation, direct postal
service and commercial flights, but said the continuing U.S. trade
embargo on Cuba had made progress on business ties more difficult.

Foreign investors agree the embargo is the main obstacle to doing
business in Cuba. But they increasingly point to the communist
government's slow-moving bureaucracy and opaque decision-making as
reasons investment on the island is lagging despite a huge surge of
interest since the December2014 declaration of detente with the U.S.

The two countries appear to be moving toward greater cooperation on law
enforcement in coming months. Cuban-born Deputy Homeland Security
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was meeting in Havana on Tuesday with his
counterparts in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior for talks on cooperation
against drug trafficking, illegal migration and transnational crime.

Source: Top Cuba diplomat: Obama trip positive, created momentum | In
Cuba Today - Continue reading
… a speech calling on the Cuban people to look toward a … continuing US trade embargo on Cuba had made progress on business … obstacle to doing business in Cuba. But they increasingly point to … enforcement in the coming months. Cuban-born deputy homeland security secretary Alejandro … Continue reading
Voices: Once again, Cubans waiting for change
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY 11:21 a.m. EDT May 15, 2016

HAVANA — Ask about any Cuban these days how the normalization of
relations with the United States has changed their lives, and they'll
give you roughly the same answer.

"Look around," said Ignacio Frade, 41, laughing as he looks up and down
the street in the Vedado neighborhood of this capital city. "Do you see
anything different?"

In the 17 months since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro
announced that the Cold War foes would re-establish diplomatic
relations, I've visited here repeatedly to witness a series of historic
events on an island unaccustomed to such spectacles.

I saw Cubans lining up for hours last summer to catch a glimpse of
Secretary of State John Kerry preside over a ceremony to raise the
American flag over the newly christened U.S. Embassy in Havana. I sat
with Cubans inside their homes in Old Havana in March as they watched
Obama deliver a speech from a theater a few blocks away.

People in Cuba have seen a steady stream of American politicians, CEOs
and curious visitors flood their country. Even a U.S. cruise ship that
docked this month in Havana's harbor drew throngs of Cubans eager to
witness the next step into their future relationship with the Yankees.

Throughout those 17 months, I've seen Cubans gripped with an optimism
they haven't felt in decades. But now, as the luster of Obama's spring
visit gives way to the broiling days of summer, comes the hard part.
Cubans once again find themselves waiting for a change that may never come.

Jorge González, a retired Spanish teacher in Havana, said Obama has done
everything he can to improve trade and travel between the two countries.
Like many other Cubans, he can recite the regulatory changes that the
Obama administration has implemented, which allow Americans to travel to
Cuba more easily and U.S. companies to sell their products and services
to Cuban entrepreneurs and the Cuban government.

But González said the "dinosaurs" in Cuba's government haven't
reciprocated. He said the government has not changed its own laws to
take advantage of the openings created by Obama. Last month's meeting
of Cuba's Communist Party Congress was expected to do that, but it ended
with little more than an announcement of reduced food prices across the

"Notice what happened when (Obama) left," González, 65, said. "While he
was here, everybody was nice to him, everybody smiling, arms open, all
of that. But the second he walked up the ladder and stepped onto his
plane, those smiles disappeared and the government started criticizing
him again."

González was referring, in part, to a column published by Cuba's retired
leader, Fidel Castro, a few days after Obama left. Castro said Cuba
didn't need any gifts from Obama and blasted several parts of Obama's
speech to the Cuban people, a sentiment González said was repeated in
the state media by government officials.

"How can you have any hope of change when you see that?" he said.

Others, like Frade, 41, remain optimistic. The shift supervisor at a
Havana factory said it's foolish to expect Cuba's massive bureaucracy to
change overnight. Frade pointed to changes in the country's economic
system that Raúl Castro has implemented since taking power in 2008 as
proof that he's willing to evolve.

"You have to stay optimistic, right?" Frade said.

As the country waits for that to happen, people like Eliud Sierra remain

Sierra has worked as a model from time to time, but spends most of his
days sitting behind a table on a front porch in Havana fixing anything
that people bring. He is one of the 500,000 private entrepreneurs that
Raúl Castro has allowed to work outside the state-run economy, and the
target for a lot of the economic openings created by the Obama

I met him Friday as people brought him broken pressure cookers,
malfunctioning fans and burned-out microwaves. He fixed what he could,
but most conversations involved figuring out how to find the needed
parts. He told one woman she would have to wait a few days while he
found a regulator for her pressure cooker. He told another woman that he
saw the part she needed in a store on the outskirts of the city.

Sierra laughed when I asked how the opportunity to buy tools and parts
directly from American companies would help him. "Look at this drill,"
he said, grabbing an ancient-looking drill that he turns by hand.
"Imagine the time I'd save if I could buy an electric drill."

For now, the Cuban government hasn't allowed Cuban entrepreneurs to
import products from the United States So Sierra, like the rest of the
country, must continue to wait.

Gomez is a Miami-based correspondent for USA TODAY who covers Cuba.

Source: Voices: Once again, Cubans waiting for change - Continue reading
Cuba Gets Connected
A yellow submarine breaks the information embargo
Matt Welch from the June 2016 issue

"For you, the Internet is like water," our tour guide told us as we
barreled through Havana's storied La Rampa neighborhood after a night
out. "For us, it is like caviar."

She motioned out the bus window where packs of happy-looking Cuban
youths were clustered together around the magic blue-green glow coming
from their iPhones, the light piercing through the man-made darkness of
yet another local power outage.

Like the open presence of Miami tourists and the American flag over the
nearby U.S. embassy, civilian Internet access in Cuba is an absurdly
recent phenomenon. Only last year did the omnipresent government open a
few dozen wireless shops where Cubans can buy access to the information
superhighway for the dear price of $2 an hour, roughly 8 percent of the
average monthly salary. And yet there were more people standing in line
outside one Internet store I saw in downtown Havana than there were
customers inside a large supermarket across the street. Of course,
there's little incentive to throng a market selling only one kind of cheese.

Raul Castro's communist dictatorship does its level worst to keep the
virtual experience as comparatively miserable as Havana's crumbling
bricks-and-mortar reality, but corralling the Internet is like tackling
water from a fire hose.

The government tries to herd most consumers into a state-controlled
intranet (complete with its own top-down knockoff of Wikipedia), but the
desire for access to Skype and other video links to relatives in the
States is just too strong in a country where few have phones that can
make international calls. Airbnb is already becoming a major force in
Havana tourism and real estate, as the government shruggingly
acknowledges it has no money or competence to build the infrastructure
necessary to accommodate the sharp increase in much-needed tourists. The
joint liberalizations of Cubans finally being allowed to buy and sell
property and Americans finally being allowed to send money back to
relatives left behind have combined to create some startlingly handsome
home and business renovation projects. Now those ubiquitous '50s
American cars don't have to be held together with rubber bands and scrap
metal; Uncle Roberto in Miami can send real parts.

Most intriguing of all are the mysterious paquetes semanal ("weekly
packets"), small storage drives containing American, Cuban, and
international movies, television, and sports that are spread around by
"data mules" and sold on the cheap. Nobody seems to know who came up
with or executes the idea, or what role the government plays (in a
country that still has a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on
every block, it's hard to believe that the packets are spread in
successful defiance of the police state), but the results provide a
welcome relief to the artificial cultural and informational starvation
that the Castro brothers have cruelly inflicted on this country since 1959.

To a degree not fully appreciated by Americans not of Cuban extraction,
Havana was the dominant commercial and cultural capital of not just the
Caribbean, upon which the landmass of Cuba sits like a cocked
revolutionary beret, but also the Gulf of Mexico, toward which the
city's fine natural deep-water harbor faces. From its founding in the
early 1500s all the way through the mid-20th century it was Havana, not
Miami (or even the culturally similar melting-pot port city of New
Orleans), that most influenced the broader region's music, literature,
sports, and trade.

Port towns don't just derive a fringe benefit from international
exchange, they subsist on it like oxygen. By choking off the Cuban
economy through the disaster of state ownership, centrally planning
trade relationships not with neighbors but with the faraway Soviet
Union, and imposing all sorts of censorial controls and physical
scarcity on everything from newspapers to popular music, the Castros
alienated Havana from its own deeply felt sense of self, effectively
smashing a pillow in the face of a people's entire cultural identity.

But culture has a funny way of outliving even the longest-lasting
dictatorships. When I first traveled to Cuba, in 1998, the single most
shocking thing in a country full of constant jaw-drops was the
informational black hole. Because the Castros censored even so much as a
mention of Cubans living in the United States—the Cuban-American musical
legend Celia Cruz was not permitted to be broadcast on the island's
radio stations until 2012, for example—my interactions with the locals
were dominated by requests for basic information about people like
Gloria Estefan, Andy Garcí­a, and Liván Hernández. The main government
newspaper, Granma, was six or eight pages long and widely used as toilet
paper (since there were constant shortages of the latter). Most
information of value was transmitted orally, like a game of telephone,
rather than through any official channels. "Say, where can I get my
hands on a baseball schedule?" I would ask Cubans. The question confused

I vividly remember attending a hush-hush gathering in a private home
with a handful of Cuban longhairs and a middle-aged American lefty who
had assembled for the semi-clandestine purpose of listening to, talking
about, and singing along with The Beatles. Yes, that's right: Such was
Fidel Castro's vice-like grip on the means of production and consumption
for that you could not listen to "Yellow Submarine," nor for that matter
wear your hair long as a man, for much of the 1960s and '70s without
running afoul of the cops. And God help anyone caught in the act of
being a homosexual, an aberration punishable by forcible relocation to a
quarantined camp.

Yet now not far from that house you can visit a nice little neighborhood
park that was rechristened in 2000 by Fidel Castro himself as "Parque
Lennon," complete with a life-sized statue of the sitting ex-Beatle.
"What makes him great in my eyes is his thinking, his ideas,'' the
caudillo said at the unveiling ceremony, obscenely. "I share his dreams
completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality.''

Well, not quite. The rehabilitation and attempted co-opting of the man
who wrote the immortal lines "But if you go carrying pictures of
Chairman Mao / you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow" was more a
grudging acknowledgment that even totalitarianism cannot forever tamp
down on the human insistence on cultural exchange. Local musicians had
been defiantly playing Beatles songs and trading memorabilia in that
park for a decade before Castro jumped on the bandwagon. The demise of
the Soviet Union cut off the island's figurative sugar daddy, forcing
the regime to reorient toward Western tourists, who are not exactly fond
of gratuitous musical censorship. The Ministry of Culture even opened up
a nearby music club and bar five years ago called the Yellow Submarine.

What will Cubans do with their newfound latitude? Critics of lifting the
embargo scoff that President Barack Obama's opening to the island has
not yet produced democratization, and claim that exposing Cubans to more
U.S. dollars will only enrich, instead of undermine, the regime.

But they are wrong about the latter. As Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), who
accompanied Reason Foundation on a recent trip there, and who has been
visiting and agitating for change on this communist island for 16 years,
pointed out in an interview with's Nick Gillespie: "You have
about 25 percent of Cubans who work fully in the private sector….The big
change is the number of Cubans being able to not have to rely on
government and therefore can hold their government more accountable. I
would say that we've passed the point of no return."

Totalitarians will always try, but you can't keep a great culture down.

Source: Cuba Gets Connected - - Continue reading
Cuba's push to attract tourists to beaches considered benefit not burden
for Florida
Posted: Yesterday 2:24 p.m.
By Maria Perez of the Naples Daily News

VARADERO, Cuba — With the waves of the turquoise Florida Straits behind
them, Brissia Bezada and Melissa Figueroa pose for photos they take with
smartphones and a selfie-stick.

Both from California, the women traveled far to this long, narrow
stretch of beach along Cuba's northern coast to vacation with a friend
in a place they have long wanted to see.

They are not alone. As the clouds pass and the sun beams down, more
tourists flock to the beach from nearby resorts, from Havana and from
other countries like Germany, Canada, Switzerland and Colombia. They lie
on deck chairs or towels spread out over the white Cuban sand on a lazy
afternoon. They sleep, chat, read and sip drinks from coconut shells
under a tiki umbrella with palm trees reaching high in the background.

It's vacation time in Cuba.

Cuban beaches and resorts have been a powerhouse in the country's
tourism for more than two decades, drawing crowds of Canadians,
Europeans and even some Americans searching for a Caribbean-flair
vacation. And although it's Havana where travelers struggle the most to
find a place to stay — the city's hotels and private rooms were booked
solid during the season's peak in March — the beaches also are drawing
their share of tourists.

March brought another record number of tourists, with the highest number
of travelers for any month in 30 years, according to data from the Cuban
National Office of Statistics and Information. Holy Week and spring
break typically draws big crowds, but the month also attracted tourists
to Cuba to see President Barack Obama, the Tampa Rays baseball game with
the Cuban National Team and a free concert from The Rolling Stones.

Many of those travelers spent at least some of their vacation on Cuba's
beaches, and the island hopes to draw even more visitors to its coast.
International hotel chains already operating in Cuba are talking
expansion on the beach, and that's a much needed addition to a limited
choice of hotels and resorts, many in desperate need of a face-lift that
cater to travelers seeking cheap vacations.

"Cuba continues to be a sun and beach destination, influenced by the
vacation travel packages sold by tour operators that have traditionally
commercialized Cuban tourism," said José Luis Perelló, tourism professor
at Havana University.

That's something Southwest Florida can understand, and the push in Cuba
after Obama's efforts to improve U.S. relations with the country is seen
less as a threat and more as an opportunity for Florida tourism.

Visit Florida Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps sees improving
relations with Cuba and the resumption of regular flights as a boost for
Florida's tourism business. Cubans will have an easier time traveling to
Florida, especially Miami, he said.

"I am not as concerned about them picking Cuba over Florida," he said.
"I think they may say, 'Let's go to Florida, and spend two days in Cuba.'"


Bezada, 31, and Figueroa, 33, two Mexican-Americans on vacation from
California, said they traveled to Cuba from Tijuana with an American
passport. Bezada works as a paralegal and studies law, so they decided
to visit during spring break.

"I have always wanted to come here," Bezada said.

They came for the Cuban culture, like Old Havana and its architecture.
They came for the nature of Viñales, the drinks, the traditional food.
They came to see how some Cubans create small art galleries in their
homes, and to learn how they keep old cars working. They wanted to see
the old Cuba before crowds of U.S. travelers change the country forever.

"It's like putting a film in pause mode," Bezada said of Cuba.

But Bezada and Figueroa also love the views from the beach in Varadero,
where their Cuban friend brought them. Varadero, a resort-town in a
narrow peninsula about a two-hour drive from Havana, is also the Cuban
destination for all-inclusive beach hotels. They were mostly built since
the 1990s to attract the international tourist and to generate revenue
for Cuba's struggling economy after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some tourists eat at Xanadu Mansion, a small hotel built as a lavish
beachfront vacation residence around 1930 by U.S. businessman Irénée du
Pont, and nationalized after Castro came to power. No one plays in its
18-hole golf course that overlooks the straits, a course that offers
deals to play starting at $120 and going up to $900. At the other end of
the beach stands an all-inclusive, 490-room hotel shaped like a flower
of six petals in the style of a pyramid.

With travelers rushing to visit the island before U.S. firms arrive,
cultural, nature and city tourism are on the rise. U.S. tourists still
need an education, cultural or some other allowed purpose to visit Cuban
beaches, due to remaining travel restrictions. But international hotel
chains already on the island are betting on the coasts, planning to
expand there.

The number of Americans — excluding Cuban Americans — who visited the
island in the first quarter of the year doubled over last year's first
quarter number, reaching 73,139, Perelló said.

The tourists who visit the beaches tend to purchase all-inclusive
packages, travel with mass-tour operator programs and have middle or
lower purchasing power. But that may not be what Americans, who are
increasingly visiting the country, are seeking.

"The American, even if he visits the beach of Varadero or the Keys in
the north of Cuba, which have great beaches and hotels — with
all-inclusive regime — will prefer city, nature or cultural tourism," he


The Varadero beach is clean and quiet, lined by bungalows and hotels
offering hundreds of rooms. There's no promenade or boardwalk along the
beach with restaurants, ice cream parlors or souvenir shops. Restaurants
can be found in the nearby hotels or a shopping center a short drive away.

This is not the future for Cuba's beach tourism envisioned by early
promoters, according to writer Rosalie Schwartz. She traces the first
Cuban tourism boom to the 1920s in an excerpt from "The Invasion of the
Tourists" included in "The Cuba Reader."

"Tourism promoters envisioned thousands of moneyed visitors who would
spend their dollars in Cuba's hotels, restaurants, shops and nightclubs,
or at the casino and racetrack," Schwartz wrote.

Investors imagined Cuba as an American Riviera, catering to wealthy and
thirsty U.S. travelers in the time of the Prohibition, Schwartz says.
The idea prompted du Pont to build mansions for himself and other
wealthy U.S. businessmen.

That boom, Schwartz writes, ended with the Great Depression, Cuba's 1933
Revolution and the end of Prohibition. But it reappeared in the 1950s,
opening the island to the masses, bringing the middle and working class
with paid vacation time and disposable income, Schwartz wrote. Varadero
lost its 20s elitism.

A new tourism surge today for Cuba could draw more visitors to the
region, including Florida. Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples,
Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, said increasing
tourism to Cuba is an opportunity for Collier County.

"Overall, we are certainly excited about the possibility of tourism
opening more between Cuba and the U.S.," he said.

If direct flights to Cuba open from Fort Myers or Naples, Canadians and
others visiting the island could consider stopping in Southwest Florida,
maybe on their way back home, Wert said.

"I don't think we will lose business in our area to Cuba," he said.

Silver Airways and Sun Country Airlines have asked the U.S. Department
of Transportation to allow their commercial flights to Cuba from
Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.

The decision on whether Fort Myer's airport will get commercial flights
to Cuba will influence Choice Aire's decision to resume a charter flight
to Havana that was ended in November, said Danny Looney, Choice Aire's
CEO. The charter flights won't resume if commercial flights are awarded,
he said.


Sitting on a towel at the Varadero beach, Figuera said she wanted to
travel from California to Cuba before McDonalds and Starbucks open for

She and Bezada were thrilled though when they got to see Obama in March
a few hours after he landed in Cuba.

"It's something I can write down in my diary," Bezada said.

But there have been disappointments on their trip to Cuba. Their hotel
in Havana has many floors under renovations. It's difficult to find
food, so much so that Figueroa and Bezada are thinking of setting up a
restaurant that mixes Cuban and Mexican cultures.

It's easy to find tourists who complain about Cuban hotels or what's
available in the country.

The increase of international tourists, including 27,000 U.S. visitors
in March, posed a challenge to Cuba's hotel capacity, especially in
Havana, Perelló said.

Cuba's tourism sector has faced growing pains in the face a continued
U.S. trade embargo, he said, including lack of financing, inability to
buy products from abroad, and commercial and credit restrictions,
Perelló said. The normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba
could resolve those problems, bring agreements with U.S. hotel chains,
and help improve and expand the island's tourism infrastructure, he said.

Some progress is underway.

The Brazilian Odebrecht is in charge of expanding the international
terminal at Havana's Jose Marti Airport to double its capacity, which
could be used for regular flights between the U.S. and Cuba and allow a
higher volume of visitors.

Starwood Hotels already has deals to operate three hotels in Havana.

Hotel chains already present in Cuba are expanding to respond to the
demand. Spanish multinational hotel chains Meliá and Iberostar, and
travel group Globalia, which owns a hotel chain and an airline, are
expanding in Varadero.

Globalia is opening a new airport route this summer from Madrid to
Varadero that will travel twice a week, and added a new hotel in
Varadero, reaching 781 hotel rooms.

Iberostar, another chain with a big presence in Cuba, expects to open a
new 5-star hotel in Varadero this year.

Hotel improvements would be welcome by some travelers.

Ann Rhodes, 70, and Marily Asofsky, 76, are among those Americans who
visited Cuba for cultural attractions and because they wanted to see the
island before it changes. Rhodes and Asofsky, from Boca Raton, had an
afternoon free in Varadero as they traveled with about two dozen others
on a Road Scholar People to People trip. They loved the country and the
people, but the hotels, not so much.

They were supposed to spend five days at the Hotel Nacional, a flagship
in Havana. But on the second day of their stay in March, they were moved
to another because of space needs to accommodate Obama's visit to Cuba.
That hotel, they said, left a lot to be desired.

"You had to close your eyes," Rhodes said.


As the sun goes down, two male Cuban dancers teach salsa dancing to four
women in their early 20s on vacation from Mexico. Wearing beach clothing
and in bare-feet, the women take turns dancing without music with their
instructors on a terrace of tiles by the sea.

"You start with the right foot behind, and then the left one," said one
of the dancers.

When Ildemar Rodríguez and Osvaldo Batallan play Los Van Van, a Cuban
timba group, the girls try to follow their steps. They laugh, have
missteps, and focus on the choreography and the hip movements.

One of the friends, Atziri Pimentel, asks her teacher if he has ever
traveled abroad to perform. He says he hasn't yet.

"Well, if you want, we get married and you come to Mexico," she said

The friends know what they like about Cuba: its architecture and
history, yes. But also dancing reggaeton, lying on the beach, and
partying with Cuban boys.

"We are having a great time," said Karen Lara, a 23-year old psychology

They have already toured Old Havana and went out to a private bar in the
city full of foreigners. They also went to a Buena Vista Social Club
salsa show where they drank mojitos, danced and sang Celia Cruz songs.

They have taken so many photos that they don't have much memory left on
their phones.

And before the sun sets, the friends leave their day on the beach behind
for Havana.

"The night is long," Pimentel tells the dancers. "We have to dress up
and go party."

Source: Cuba's push to attract tourists to beaches considered benefit
not burden for Florida - Continue reading
Fathom is a cruise to Cuba with a social purpose

Fathom is Carnival's new social-impact cruise line

It offers sailings to Cuba and the Dominican Republic

The Dominican itinerary emphasizes volunteer tourism; the Cuban one
focuses on people-to-people exchanges

After the Madrigalista Choir finished a performance for a group of
American travelers in this Cuban city, they answered questions about
their lives, then cajoled the Americans onto their feet to the
syncopated beat of a conga Santiaguera.

The American travelers, who were circumnavigating Cuba on the Adonia,
also chatted with the operators of El Fígaro, a private restaurant in
Havana. They then climbed 52 marble steps to visit a private barbershop
— an enterprise that has spurred neighbors all along the street to go
into business for themselves.

Two weeks prior and some 335 miles to the east near Puerto Plata,
Dominican Republic, Adonia passenger Joy Steinberg of North Carolina
planted seedlings in compost, learned to make paper from recycled
materials and worked on hands-on with volunteer projects.

Two different countries, two different approaches to social-impact
tourism. Both itineraries are being offered by Carnival Corp.'s Fathom
line as it tries to provide an experience that brings cruisers closer to
the people and places they are visiting. Fathom's single ship, the
704-passenger Adonia, alternates between week-long cruises from Port
Miami to Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

In Cuba, where the Adonia made its maiden voyage May 1, the emphasis is
on deep cultural immersion and people-to-people connections. The ship
calls in three cities: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago, allowing
passengers to see different regions of the country without unpacking
their bags.

Most passengers on the Cuba cruise were in the 40-65 age group. Fathom
officials said that those on the Dominican cruise were much younger,
about half the age of the Cuba cruisers, and the majority of them had
never cruised before.

The Dominican itinerary offers more hands-on activities, with cruisers
working alongside Dominicans on sustainable projects that focus on
education, the environment and economic development. Projects include
installing home water filters, replacing dirt floors with more sanitary
concrete, and helping a women's cooperative mold and package chocolate bars.

Once the Adonia reaches the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, it
remains anchored at Amber Cove. Passengers use it as their base as they
fan out into the neighboring region to participate in projects from
Tuesday to Friday when the ship is in port.

While the Dominicans welcome volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, the
Cuban government isn't interested in such hands-on involvement in its
social institutions, so the programs on the island have been structured
differently. "The Cuban government is not saying to the world 'come and
help us,' " said Arnold Donald, Carnival Corp.'s chief executive.

Tara Russell, president of Fathom, said she wants to make a difference
in the world. While the Dominican projects may be small-scale, the hope
is that month after month, working alongside Dominicans in the same
projects, slowly lives will begin to improve, she said. With continued
English lessons, for example, students may eventually be able to land
jobs in the tourism industry, she said.

"Travel is a really incredible form of connection and transformation,"
Russell said.

The tally of accomplishments for the first two weeks of Fathom sailings
to the Dominican Republic: 100 water filters installed in homes, more
than 4,700 seedlings planted, concrete floors installed in five homes,
10,300 chocolate bars wrapped and more than 1,530 sheets of recycled
paper produced, putting more money in the pockets of the women who form
an arts-and-crafts enterprise and ultimately allowing them to expand
their business.

"We're about a holistic experience; we're not just a ship," Russell said.

The experience extends to selling products aboard ship made by Cuban and
Dominican artisans. Cabins are stocked with fair-trade toiletries such
as Brazil nut oil body lotion and cane sugar shampoo and a special
Cuban-Dominican menu at the Ocean Grill, the ship's fine-dining restaurant.

It includes selections such as mofongo, fish in a coconut sauce, an
upscale sancocho, and very good beans and rice for an upcharge of $25
per meal.

"We really wanted to source products for the cabins, the food and wines,
and for the stores, from companies that had a sustainability story,"
said Ted Howes, Fathom's director of product/experience.

The ship, which was previously positioned for British cruises, has the
feel of an English country manor rather than a cruise ship plying
Caribbean waters. Think lots of dark wood, a paneled lending library, a
faux fireplace in one of the lounges and electric teapots in the cabins.

The Adonia has a swimming pool, spa and gym. An added perk are the
chimichurri burgers that are served poolside during afternoon barbecues.
But there are no elaborate stage shows, a casino, or frills like
ice-skating rinks or rock-climbing walls found on larger ships.

There's a New Age feeling to the shipboard experience with
social-innovation workshops, message boards outside each cabin that
encourage passengers to list their super heroes and spirit animals, dawn
meditation sessions, and early-morning yoga if you're interested.

Workshops where passengers are encouraged to tell their own stories and
learn the elements of great storytelling also are part of the experience.

On the Cuba cruise, salsa and Spanish lessons were offered. Two Cuban
bands entertained. Activities even included a domino throw-down.

Working on a vacation might not be everyone's cup of tea, but Steinberg,
a market researcher from Chapel Hill, N.C., is so enthusiastic about
voluntourism that the Fathom cruise was her eighth international
volunteer experience.

While cruisers are in port in the Dominican Republic, they can take part
in as many or as few volunteer activities as they want. Steinberg signed
on for a full schedule of four activities but also had time to snorkel
and go on a catamaran excursion.

Unlike her previous vacations, she said, where she had to pick service
or leisure, the Fathom cruise combined the two.

Her favorite activity was working at RePapel, a women's recycling co-op
where she not only learned the process of making recycled paper but also
worked with women making jewelry from coffee beans and candles from
recycled products. "The music was going, and we had an opportunity to
really talk with the women about their vision for growing the business
and helping their families," she said.

The highpoint for Lynette Standley and her husband, Patrick, was a few
hours in a classroom teaching a group of kids basic English phrases and
greetings and working with them on flash cards. "They were so excited to
see us. I could have stayed all day," said Lynette Standley. "My husband
is an engineer and kind of a black-and-white type of guy, so it was nice
to see him interact with the kids and get outside his comfort zone."

The couple, who are from Boise, Idaho, also volunteered at the chocolate
factory and planted seedlings.

In the past, Standley said she and her husband have been to beautiful
places but often felt the tourism experience was disconnected from the
lives of the people in the destinations. "This program acts as bridge.
You're going out with the locals and really experiencing the Dominican
Republic. There's a much deeper connection," she said.

Standley also liked being able to return to the comfort and amenities of
the ship after a day of volunteer work. "It really is the best of both
worlds," she said.

While the Dominican program has been developed over several months in
conjunction with two established Dominican development partners, Entrena
and the Dominican Institute for Integral Development, Fathom's Cuban
program is still very much a work in progress. Its maiden voyage to Cuba
on May 1 was the first cruise by a U.S.-home-ported ship directly to
Cuba in more than 50 years.

Some of the passengers said the onshore programs in Cuba still felt too
much like conventional tours and didn't provide enough opportunities for
exchanges with Cubans. "I felt like I could learn more about Cuba if I
went on my own," said Michael Rolfes, 25, of Newport Beach, Calif. "I
would have liked to free-range more."

To comply with U.S. regulations, Fathom must offer passengers a
full-time schedule of activities that promote people-to-people
engagements in Cuba.

Many of the Cuba passengers said they enjoyed the musical performances
they experienced everywhere from concert halls and restaurants to street
corners, but it left them hungering for more personal contacts.

Among the problems is trying to create intimate encounters for 700
people while juggling the logistics of ferrying them around ports of call.

"We've had a short amount of time since we got Cuban approval for the
cruise [March 21]," Russell said. "We have a lot of work to do on the
Cuba product." Over time, she said, Fathom hopes to develop more
customized tours with its Cuban partner, Havanatur, that might feature
conversations with artists, a classic car experience, and visits to the
shops and workshops of more private entrepreneurs.

Source: Fathom is a cruise to Cuba with a social purpose | Miami Herald
- Continue reading
Caterpillar "Is Ready" To Join The Cuban Market / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2016 — US machinery maker Caterpillar is ready
to enter the Cuban market once the embargo is lifted, confirmed
Caterpillar director Doug Oberhelman on Wednesday, after a meeting in
Havana with the island's authorities.

The management of the company, headquartered in Illinois, told Reuters
that it was "received warmly" by the representatives of the Cuban
government during their two-day stay in the country. The executive
traveled to Havana for the first time to participate in an event
organized on the occasion of a half million dollar donation from the
company for the conservation and preservation of documents and artifacts
from the former home of American writer Ernest Hemingway in Cuba.

"We have talked about different projects," he told reporters, "and I
think the most interesting in the short term is at the Port of Mariel."

To the question of when he expected the embargo to be lifted, Oberhelman
said, "For me, the answer is not soon enough."

This last February, Caterpillar named the Puerto Rican company Rimco as
distributor of its products in Cuba in anticipation of the lifting of
the trade embargo against the island.

In June, representatives of the group, along with employees of other
major US companies like Cargill and Procter & Gamble, supported lobbying
efforts in Congress by the organization Engage Cuba to lift restrictions
on travel and trade with Cuba, supporting by Democratic and Republican

Source: Caterpillar "Is Ready" To Join The Cuban Market / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Updated 5:14 am, Friday, May 13, 2016

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The first wave of what could become thousands of
Cuban refugees have begun arriving in El Paso and Juarez as relations
between the United States and Cuba continue to normalize and Cubans fear
losing their special status as immigrants, officials said.
A group of more than 200 Cuban migrants arrived Monday in Juarez on two
flights from Panama, Mexico's foreign ministry said, and all of them
will ultimately make their way to El Paso.
Officials with the El Paso's Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services said
Wednesday that two planes with at least 150 Cubans are expected to
arrive in Juarez daily, resulting in about 3,500 or more refugees who
need assistance to get to their final destinations.
Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee
Services, said many Cubans are leaving their country, fearing the Cuban
Adjustment Act of 1966 will end.
"Now that Cuban diplomatic relations in the United States have improved,
people are scared that they are going to repeal the Cuban Adjustment
Act. The Cuban Adjustment Act allows Cubans to apply for residency one
year after they have been paroled or admitted to the United States. They
are really scared that they will do away with the law and if they do,
they will get stuck living in a very oppressive country," Lopez said.

In early 2015, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that
the countries would restore diplomatic relations — relations that had
been severed in 1961. Obama visited Cuba in March, taking a step further
toward normalization.
However, the U.S. trade embargo requires congressional approval to be
lifted and experts say that is unlikely to happen soon.
After arriving in Juarez, Cuban migrants cross the border and are taken
to the Houchen Community Center for registration and processing. An
estimated 300 people were processed from Monday to Wednesday, including
men, woman and children, officials said.

On Wednesday afternoon, nearly all of the 50 Cubans outside the center
were talking on their cellphones, calling relatives in the United States
or Cuba.
After processing, the migrants are then taken to centers such as the San
Pablo Lutheran Church, officials said. Migrants eventually will be sent
to places like Denver, Michigan, Florida and other destinations of their
At the centers, they get a room that houses up to four people as they
await the next step in their journey.
Some 10 percent to 15 percent might not be able to continue without some
assistance and will stay in the El Paso area, officials said.
The Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services is the only agency in El Paso
that can aid the Cubans with the Refugee Cash Assistance Program, a
federally funded program that can help with cash, completion of the Work
Authorization application and employment services.
Lopez stressed that the organization might become overwhelmed quickly
because of the influx of Cubans and the limited amount of funds.
"We are funded based on the three-year average of Cubans served. Three
years ago we saw 60 Cubans. Last year we served 100 Cubans, and there
are other refugee families that are eligible aside from Cubans," she said.
Lopez could not say how many Cubans her office could assist, but she did
say she recommends they apply for the benefits in their destination
cities because the program is available throughout the country.
"Cities that have a larger number of refugees like Houston will have a
lot more resources and more ability to do more things," she said.
El Paso Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark J. Seitz said he is frustrated with
the lack of communication from government officials on the arrival of
the Cuban refugees. In an agreement between Panama and Mexico, Panama is
flying thousands of U.S.-bound Cubans to Mexico after being stranded in
Central American for weeks or months due to closed borders.
"There has been no official communication. Most of our word that we
received is from the refugees themselves," he said.
"What happens once they are left at the bridge, people who have never
been in this country, who have little to no resources, being dropped off
on our streets with no place to go and nothing to eat and no way to get
a change of clothes? We're concerned about them and we think it's the
government's responsibility, especially the federal government, to
communicate with us about these people and in some way to assist," Seitz
Similar to a couple of years ago when Central American immigrants were
being processed in El Paso, Annunciation House and other shelters are
relying on other organizations to help provide shelter to the Cubans.
Pastor Karl Heimer of San Pablo Lutheran Church was one of the pastors
who opened the church doors to about 80 Cuban immigrants Tuesday.
Heimer said many of the immigrants are educated Cubans, many in their
late 20s and older, who want to find employment in the United States.
"These are people who want to find jobs and can accomplish it," he said.
Information from: El Paso Times,

Source: Diocese prepares for wave of Cuban immigrants - San Antonio
Express-News - Continue reading
Cuba to US: help banks shed fear of dealing with us
May 12, 2016

Havana (AFP) - Washington must give assurances that banks dealing with
Cuba will not be punished under the US trade embargo, which remains in
force despite the restoration of diplomatic ties, an official said Thursday.

Cuba will make this argument Monday in Havana at a meeting of officials
from the two countries to review how the process is going, said Gustavo
Machin, deputy director of US affairs in the Foreign Ministry.

"It has still not been possible to normalize banking relations between
the two countries, and among American banks and multinational banks
there is a still much fear of dealing with Cuba," he said.

The United States and Cuba buried the hatchet in July 2015 and restored
diplomatic ties severed half a century ago.

President Barack Obama paid an historic visit to Cuba in March of this year.

Prior to that trip, Obama gave the go ahead for Cuba to use the dollar
in its dealings with US banks and carry out banking transactions in the
US. This was yet another easing of the embargo, although it remains in

"That measure needs to be accompanied by a strong statement, a political
statement, or even a legal tool, which ensures banks that they are not
going to be punished for dealing with Cuba," said Machin.

He said this and other issues related to the embargo will be on the
agenda at Monday's meeting, the third of its kind since ties were restored.

Source: Cuba to US: help banks shed fear of dealing with us - Continue reading
… industry is tackling trade with Cuba, climate change and environmental issues … Cuba talk on integrating Cuba into Caribbean trade features two speakers from Havana: Ricardo Torres, economist from University of Havana, and Charles … and trade office at the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C … Continue reading
Caterpillar ready to move into Cuban market once embargo lifted: CEO

Caterpillar Inc, the world's largest maker of heavy equipment, is ready
to move swiftly into the Cuban market once the U.S. trade embargo is
lifted, Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman said on Wednesday after meeting
with Cuban ministers in Havana.

The detente between the United States and Cuba has raised hopes that
full commercial ties will soon be restored between the former Cold War foes.

Caterpillar (CAT.N), based in Peoria, Illinois, is one of several U.S.
companies looking at ways to gain an early foothold in the
Communist-ruled island, which had been largely off bounds to U.S.
business for more than five decades.

Oberhelman said he had been "warmly received" over the past two days by
various ministers on his first trip to Cuba.

"We have talked about a number of projects," he told reporters on the
sidelines of an event celebrating a donation by Caterpillar to the
foundation that preserves the heritage of U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway
in Cuba.

"I think the most interesting one in the near term would be the Mariel
harbor ... making an efficient modern harbor that competes with others
around the world."

Cuba is staking much of its economic future on the Mariel port, west of
Havana, seen as a potential distribution center for the Caribbean and
Central and South America.

Caterpillar has already named an official dealer for Cuba, the privately
held Puerto Rico company Rimco.

Rimco representative Caroline McConnie said the dealer was in talks with
U.S. authorities about getting a license allowing it to sell certain
Caterpillar products in Cuba despite the U.S. trade embargo.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in
December 2014 to end Cold War-era animosity and restore diplomatic
relations, but the trade embargo remains in place because only the
Republican-controlled U.S. Congress can lift it.

Asked when he expected the embargo to be lifted, Oberhelman said: "For
me, the answer is not soon enough."

Once it was lifted, Caterpillar could move quickly to sell products in
Cuba as it is used to dealing in emerging markets, he said, speaking on
the veranda of the farm just outside Havana where Hemingway lived for 21

"The idea is for our dealer to set up a facility here in Cuba," he said.
"We would supply most of our products from Brazil."

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: Caterpillar ready to move into Cuban market once embargo lifted:
CEO | Reuters - Continue reading
Cuban officials detail path for MLB partnership

Cuban officials are starting to think about what an arrangement with MLB
would look like. But a free market for Cuban baseball players is not
going to happen.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

— Heriberto Suarez Pereda arrived in the suite atop Peoples Natural Gas
Field and immediately began making notes inside his official game program.

Wearing a Cuban baseball cap and windbreaker, he combed the rosters of
the Class AA Altoona Curve and Richmond Flying Squirrels and wrote "5"
on the Altoona page and "7" on Richmond's.

Suarez, commissioner of the Cuban baseball federation and a guest of the
Curve for Sunday's matinee, was understandably curious about the number
of players from Latin America. The top three batters in the Curve lineup
hailed from the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Venezuela, and it
wasn't lost on Suarez that —if his country's best ballplayers were ever
allowed to sign contracts with Major League Baseball teams through legal
channels— the majority of them would end up spending much of their time
bouncing around pastoral American burgs like Altoona.

Cuban baseball isn't what it once was —in facilities and talent— which
is one of the reasons that Suarez and other Cuban officials are starting
to think about what an arrangement with MLB would look like. Suarez
admitted that the best players on the island are now in the range of
this double-A level, and an infusion of American dollars, funneled
through player salaries negotiated by the Cuban baseball federation,
would help to repair the failing infrastructure of their national game.

But a free market for Cuban baseball players, like MLB has milked in the
Dominican and Venezuela? No. That is not going to happen.

"We respect the position of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic,"
Suarez said through an interpreter in an exclusive interview with the
Post-Gazette, "but our position, our model for the Cuban players, is
going to be ours. We will have our own principles for our players. We do
not have to do the same like the rest of the countries."

The Cuban government may be open to normalizing relations with the
United States, thanks to the strong push for diplomacy between the
countries by President Barack Obama, but the six-decade-old trade
embargo still looms large. In business – and, it seems, in baseball, too
– real developments are going to take time.

Sports have already symbolically shown the way forward. The Tampa Bay
Rays visited Havana for an exhibition game against the Cuban national
team in March, and dignitaries ranging from Obama to former New York
Yankees star Derek Jeter made the trip to watch. The Penn State baseball
team traveled to Cuba in November to play exhibition games against some
of Cuba's top professional teams. Last week, a goodwill gesture with no
fanfare occurred when Suarez and two other Cuban officials visited
Pittsburgh to help put the finishing touches on a July 30 event that
would pit Cuban amateur boxers against Pittsburgh's best amateurs on the
Roberto Clemente Bridge.

Suarez, on his second trip to the U.S., visited PNC Park and Altoona's
charming stadium and is hoping that a similar event in the summer of
2017 will bring along Cuban baseball teams of several age groups for a
tournament in Pittsburgh.

From the moment Obama announced the diplomatic move in December 2014,
debate swirled about the possibility of Cuban players being able to play
in the major leagues. For the past two decades, Cuban stars like Rey
Ordonez, brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez and more recently Yasiel
Puig have been risking their lives by defecting on rafts or boats so
that they can pursue their financial worth as ballplayers. Many of their
brethren have stayed in Cuba and lived on the small government wage,
because they either believed in the principle of the Communist regime –
that money should not serve as the motivation for excellence in one's
chosen craft – or simply didn't want to leave their families forever.

Suarez and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred met in Havana in March and made
their first attempt at a discussion of a future with mutual benefits – a
future in which Cuban players can make their way to the U.S. safely
while providing MLB franchises another Latin American infusion. While
Manfred told U.S.-based reporters in March, "I think we will have a new
system for the movement of Cuban players in the relatively near future,"
Suarez said Sunday that the process is only getting started.

"The first and most important thing is that we are treated as equals,"
Suarez said, "and then that the Cuban players who are being selected
come to the United States in a safe way, represented by the Cuban
baseball federation. We cannot forget 60 years of the Blockade. We
cannot forget the things we are losing all this time. … This ship is not
moving just yet. We are sitting at the table now."

Since 2014, Cuban players have been allowed to play in Japan. The
arrangement allows for the Cuban baseball federation to take a
significant percentage of their salary, and Suarez would want a similar
agreement with MLB. He said the money the federation receives from
player salaries goes back into player development at all levels.

"The main condition would be the protection of our players," Suarez
said. "And that they always can represent Cuba, without losing their

Suarez and Marta Lidia Ruiz, the director of international relations for
Cuba's National Sports Institute who accompanied him to Pittsburgh, want
MLB to understand that baseball is an expensive sport, and the Cuban
government has been paying for kids' instruction and coaching from the
time they first pick up a bat. They give a child's development as an
athlete the same importance as his or her learning as a student or an
artist or musician.

Because the government puts so many resources into that education, "For
us, the priority is to improve the level of Cuban sports, but you cannot
interrupt the formation of our athletes," Lidia Ruiz said.

The ideal for the Cuban baseball federation is that a player would rise
through the system as they always have – playing for his municipality,
then his province, then the national team – before ever joining a MLB
franchise. In that case, MLB would often be signing Cuban players in
their early 20s, as opposed to the age minimum of 16 years old used in
the rest of Latin America.

"Our player has to be a good player," Suarez said, "but they have to be
a good student also."

Suarez enjoyed his afternoon at the ballpark, which, with a white wooden
roller coaster outside the right field wall, can feel more like an
amusement park. He ate chocolate ice cream while listening to "Take Me
Out To The Ball Game" and wore a Curve hooded sweatshirt given to him by
the organization.

Suarez couldn't help but notice that the item cost $63.

"That's a lot of money," he said.

Source: Cuban officials detail path for MLB partnership | In Cuba Today
- Continue reading
Biden may go to Cuba to close issue of confiscated properties, source says
Tampa Bay Times

When Vice President Joe Biden speaks on U.S. policy in the Western
Hemisphere at the University of Tampa today, it will mark the latest
installment in an ongoing conversation involving the Obama White House
and Tampa's business community.

Last month, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce got a call from the
Obama administration asking if the chamber could host the speech –
preferably at a location with character and a backstory.

Chamber leaders chose the University of Tampa, originally built by
railroad baron Henry B. Plant as the Tampa Bay Hotel. In 1898, the hotel
served as a military headquarters of Cuba-centric planning during the
Spanish-American War. For more than a century since, its Moorish
minarets have laid claim to topping Tampa's most distinctive local landmark.

"You just walk in there, you feel the history," chamber president and
CEO Bob Rohrlack said.

Today's speech comes as the Obama administration works on a list of
unresolved issues that accompany its opening to Cuba, which has come to
dominate discussion of U.S. policy in Latin America.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
said he's hearing from those "actively close to the Cuba issue" that
Biden may go to Cuba by the end of the year.

The purpose of the trip, Kavulich said, would be for Biden to serve as a
"closer" on negotiating settlements of certified claims that U.S.
citizens and businesses have against Havana for private property in the

Nearly 6,000 claims total almost $2 billion.

On another front, experts tell the Tampa Bay Times that the United
States and Cuba are working on an agreement that would allow them to
work together if an oil spill threatened either.

Part of that agreement would be expected to include arrangements for
joint training exercises involving the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard along
with their Cuban counterparts.

Oil spill mitigation in the Caribbean is a familiar topic for Biden.
Last week, he chaired the U.S.-Caribbean-Central American Energy Summit,
a meeting of energy ministers and national leaders from around the
region. While the meeting did not include Cuba, its agenda did call for
promoting environmental safety.

In Tampa, discussions between the chamber and the administration go back
two years.

After the chamber's first mission to Cuba, a local delegation met with
Biden in the West Wing to emphasize "how supportive we were and still
are of broadening the relationship" with Cuba.

That group included Rohrlack, then chamber chairman Greg Celestan,
future chairman Ronald Christaldi, and board members Patrick Baskette
and Vince Cassidy.

The group had recently returned from its first mission to Cuba and
talked about the importance of transportation, both via Tampa
International Airport and Port Tampa Bay.

Afterward, Biden asked the Tampa representatives to elaborate on their
experience in and impressions of Cuba with members of his foreign policy
team, Rohrlack said.

And after that, Tampa business leaders kept in touch with Biden's
office. The Tampa chamber was one of 15 nationwide selected to receive
White House briefings on three topics chosen by the chamber.

Tampa's leaders chose international affairs, transportation and health
care, Rohrlack said. All have been points of focus for the chamber as it
has organized two subsequent trips to Cuba.

"It has been an ongoing conversation advocating for business and how to
keep the economy strong," Rohrlack said. He does not expect that Biden's
speech will touch on the location of a future Cuban consulate, which
both Tampa and St. Petersburg want. "There's still a lot more that has
to be done on that."

Source: Biden may go to Cuba to close issue of confiscated properties,
source says | In Cuba Today - Continue reading
The Road to Cuba: Three Scenarios for U.S. Business Relations
Apr 26, 2016

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his intention to
normalize relations with Cuba. Since that time there have been a number
of changes in U.S. policy and regulations affecting trade, investment
and travel. To provide business leaders with the latest developments,
Knowledge@Wharton has just released a fully updated and revised edition
of The Road to Cuba, an ebook that has earned a 2016 Independent
Publisher Book Award.

In the following excerpt from the book, three scenarios are presented
for how U.S.-Cuba relations could unfold.

U.S. President Barack Obama's December 17, 2014, move to normalize
relations with Cuba was a bold bet that introduced a historic
opportunity for communication, trade and investment between the two
close neighbors after more than half a century of Cold War–inspired
enmity. Underpinning the bet is the belief that direct engagement,
including a proposed lifting of the US economic embargo against Cuba,
will open up the Communist-ruled island to greater economic and
political freedom than continuing the old policy of isolation.

Experts, observers, and even the main protagonists have all sought to
calm the high expectations and warn that it could take years to achieve
full-fledged neighborly relations. "It's unrealistic to believe that a
relationship that was inimical for 54 years will be one of friendship
and warmth in just a year or two," said Pedro A. Freyre, an attorney
with the Miami-based law firm Akerman LLP, which advises U.S. businesses
interested in Cuba.

The biggest question on the US side is how quickly the multilayered and
legally codified U.S. embargo against the island can be dismantled to
allow free flows of trade, capital, and credit, as well as tourists.
This requires the cooperation of the U.S Congress, whose Republican
majority is no friend to outgoing President Obama.

In the last State of the Union address of his tenure, on January 12,
2016, Obama urged Congress to lift the embargo, but few believe that
this can happen before the new president takes office in early 2017.
Whether it happens at all may also depend on who wins the November 2016
US presidential election, with some contenders strongly support lifting
the embargo, while others oppose this move and Obama's Cuba policy.

On the Cuban side, the biggest unknown is whether Raúl Castro and the
Communist Party leadership, both military and civil, really want to
fully embrace the United States as a trading and investment partner.
Doing so involves making complete peace with the "Yankee imperialist
enemy" of decades — a radical rejiggering of an ideological DNA that
used "anti-imperialism" as a successful rallying cry both internally and

"Obama urged Congress to lift the embargo, but few believe that this can
happen before the new president takes office in early 2017."

Although much remains to be clarified, it is possible to sketch out
three possible ways in which the process could unfold: the "Slow-Motion"
scenario, the "Steady Movement on a Middle Road" scenario, or the "Big
Bang" scenario.

The third scenario — of a "big bang" embrace — seems the least likely,
given the political realities of both countries. The second scenario of
steady, growing engagement between the U.S. and Cuba seems achievable,
unless political developments hold back the process or derail it.

The "Slow-Motion" Scenario

Political mistrust hinders the process on both sides, although full
embassies are in place and Cuba has been removed from the U.S. list of
state sponsors of terrorism. A Republican-dominated Congress is dragging
its feet over lifting the embargo, limiting the president's ability to
move the normalization forward. Raúl Castro's Cuban administration also
creates obstacles to the process by making political demands and
continuing to prosecute dissidents and restrict the flow of information,
trade and investment from the U.S.

Few significant business opportunities for U.S. companies have been
created to date beyond small openings in travel and telecommunications,
and Cuba continues to seek alliances with more politically compatible
allies such as China and Russia (and ailing Venezuela).

Obama can do little more to advance the normalization process before he
hands over the presidency in early 2017. In Cuba, no significant
political or economic change will take place before Raúl Castro's
announced departure in early 2018. A handpicked successor, perhaps a
Castro scion, seems likely to maintain the island's one-party Communist
system. In this scenario, fresh diplomatic spats and quarrels could set
back the process.

The "Steady Movement on a Middle Road" Scenario

In this scenario, bilateral relations improve steadily, travel and trade
restrictions for Americans are eased further, and air and ferry links
are established, leading to an increase in tourism, air and sea travel,
and telecommunications between the two countries. Business booms in
these sectors, and U.S. cruise lines and ferries begin service to Cuba.
Many executives of U.S. companies engage in fact-finding exploratory
visits to Cuba, meet government and private contacts and identify areas
of interest. Congress modifies embargo sanctions to allow more U.S.
exports to Cuba, including the provision of credit, and to allow more
Cuban imports. Financial and banking links are developed.

"The immediate challenge facing US businesses is to exploit existing
openings and position themselves for the bigger opportunities that could
come in the future."

Cuba does not abandon its socialist political and economic model but
allows more space for political dissent and private enterprise, while
maintaining Communist Party dominance. By the end of Obama's presidency,
relations have improved and seem headed for further improvement,
although the U.S. is still only one in Cuba's diversified range of
global trading partners. Some groundbreaking memorandums of
understanding are signed by major U.S. corporations for investment
projects in Cuba. Cuba rejoins the Inter-American Development Bank and
opens dialogues with the IMF and the World Bank.

The "Big Bang" Scenario

Congress lifts the U.S. embargo and travel ban in 2016 in this scenario,
and Americans flock to Cuba, leading to a surge in tourism. Normal trade
and financial links are quickly reestablished, leading to a boom in
bilateral trade that makes the U.S. Cuba's leading commercial partner.
Major U.S. corporations announce big investment projects in Cuba's oil
and gas, manufacturing, nickel mining, agriculture and biotechnology
industries. Compensation claims posed by both sides are resolved through
major U.S. financing and investment deals involving the affected lands
and properties.

Fidel Castro dies, marking the end of an era on the island, and
President Raúl Castro steps down before or in 2018, handing power over
to a pragmatic civilian leadership that announces a transition to a
multiparty system that will include free elections. Political
persecution of dissidents ends and thousands of Cuban exiles return
home. The new Cuban government announces plans to privatize loss-making
state companies. Obama hands over the presidency in early 2017 with the
clear legacy of a changed Cuba once again a friendly neighbor of the
U.S., and U.S. companies look set to play a key role in the island's
economic future.

Staying the Course

President Obama's policy shift toward Cuba is undoubtedly a potential
game changer for U.S.-Cuban relations. The immediate challenge facing
U.S. businesses is to exploit existing openings and position themselves
for the bigger opportunities that could come in the future. "My advice
would be to travel [to Cuba], start shaking hands and develop a
relationship," says Cuban American businessman Hugo Cancio, who left
Cuba in 1980 as a 16-year-old refugee and is now pursuing interests in
media and telecom projects on the island.

Despite widespread support for the normalization in both nations, few
expect some kind of immediate "big bang" reconciliation across the
Straits of Florida, either in terms of the U.S. embargo's being
completely and quickly lifted at a stroke or Cuba abandoning its
single-party Communist system to embrace Western-style capitalism and
multiparty democracy. "We should not confuse reality with wishful
thinking or expressions of goodwill," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez cautioned in October 2015 at the United Nations.

"US investors interested in developing major on-the-ground projects in
Cuba need to take a longer-term view and be ready for bumps on the road."

Most experts see normalization as a long and complex process that will
involve tough diplomatic wrangling and trade negotiations, political
battles and strains in both countries, and hitches and setbacks of
varying magnitude. "But I think it will advance," says Emilio Morales,
of the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group.

Although many see openings for quick wins and short-term opportunities,
especially in the travel, tourism, transportation, and telecom fields
and related services, U.S. investors interested in developing major
on-the-ground projects in Cuba need to take a longer-term view and be
ready for bumps on the road — just as in other frontier or emerging
markets in Latin America or Africa.

"You have to engage in very in-depth research. You need to get the facts
on what's there in Cuba today.… You need to get boots on the ground and
do the due diligence that anyone would do in any emerging economy," says
Tres Mares Group CEO Faquiry Diaz Cala.

Excerpted from The Road to Cuba: The Opportunities and Risks for US
Business, Updated and Revised Edition, by Knowledge@Wharton

Source: The Road to Cuba: Three Scenarios for U.S. Business Relations -
Knowledge@Wharton - Continue reading
Cuban Small Farmers Association Defends State Monopoly On The Export Of
Coffee / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 5 May 2016 — The National Bureau of the
National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cuba rejects the recent
measures from the U.S. Department of State which include coffee among
the products produced by the non-State sector in Cuba that can be
imported into the United States.

In a statement published Wednesday, the Association lambastes the
flexibility, which came into force on 22 April, allowing the import into
the United States of coffee and textile products from "independent
businesspeople" in Cuba.

John Kavulich, President of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
acknowledged at the time that Washington aims to support the small
private sector of the island with this measure, although he highlighted
its "very limited impact."

However, ANAP does not appear to assess new business opportunities in
the same way. The organization, created in May 1961 defines itself by
its "social character" and claims to represent "the interests of Cuban
farmers." In response to the US State Department actions, it explains
that "the objective pursued by this type of measure is to influence the
Cuban peasantry and separate it from the State."

The entity, with around 200,000 members, details that something like
that "cannot be permitted, because it would destroy a Revolutionary
process that has provided participatory democracy, freedom, sovereignty
and independence." The National Bureau statement does not say, however,
if farmers devoted to the cultivation of coffee were consulted before
the statement was published.

Among the arguments put forth in the statement released in the official
press is the fact that "no one can imagine that a small agricultural
producer can export directly to the United States… To make this possible
Cuban foreign trade companies would have to participate and would have
to produce financial transactions in dollars, which so far they have not
been able to achieve," added.

ANAP presents itself in different forums as part of Cuban civil society,
but this statement says that the Cuban peasants are "members of the
socialist society" and they exist "as part of the State and not as
opposed to it."

The text which repeats an idea that has been raised by several figures
of the ruling party in recent months, says: "We face the objective of
the imperialist policy of promoting the division and disintegration of
Cuban society."

In 2014, Cuba managed to produce 6,105 tons of coffee, an amount that
does not cover annual domestic demand, which stands at 24,000 tons. This
figure is very far from that achieved in the decade of the 1960s, when
more than 62,000 tons of this grain were produced.

Translated by Alberto

Source: Cuban Small Farmers Association Defends State Monopoly On The
Export Of Coffee / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 5 May 2016 — The National Bureau of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cuba rejects the recent measures from the U.S. Department of State which include coffee among the products produced by the non-State sector in Cuba that can be imported into the United States. In a statement … Continue reading "Cuban Small Farmers Association Defends State Monopoly On The Export Of Coffee / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata" Continue reading
US visitors to Cuba surge 93 percent
May 4, 2016

Havana (AFP) - The number of Americans visiting Cuba surged 93 percent
year-on-year in the first four months of 2016, the Cuban government said

The communist island is basking in its newfound glow as a trendy tourist
destination since Washington and Havana announced a historic
rapprochement in December 2014.

Cuba has welcomed a stream of celebrities and VIPs since then, including
US President Barack Obama, the pope, the Rolling Stones and German
designer Karl Lagerfeld, who presented a Cuban-inspired runway show
Tuesday for French fashion house Chanel.

The United States still maintains a trade and financial embargo on Cuba
that forbids US citizens from traveling to the island for tourism, but
Obama has loosened restrictions to the point that the first US cruise
ship in 50 years was able to dock in Havana Monday.

The Carnival cruise liner circumvented the tourism ban by offering
passengers "cultural exchanges," including meetings with artists,
musicians and business owners, as well as dance classes and guided tours.

In all, 94,000 Americans visited Cuba from January to April, Tourism
Minister Manuel Marrero said at the opening of an international tourism
fair in Havana.

The figure for all of last year came in at more than 160,000, an
increase of 76 percent from 2014, he said.

Cuba welcomed 3.5 million tourists from around the world last year, a 17
percent increase, adding a much-needed $2.8 billion to the economy.

Regular flights from the United States to Cuba are expected to begin
later this year.

The Cuban government has announced an accelerated hotel construction
program to cope with booming demand.

Source: US visitors to Cuba surge 93 percent - Continue reading
… love for the country of Cuba is showcasing the island nation … , ‘La Cuba Vista’." Cuba is a country locked in time. “Cuba is … .” Sides says the similarities between Cuba and south Louisiana are obvious … may soon start shipments to Cuba. “Being able to establish trade … Continue reading
Yes, the Castros can be pressured
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | La Habana | 3 Mayo 2016 - 8:39 am.

The Castro brothers' caving in and allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to
Cuba aboard Carnival cruise ships revealed that they are vulnerable.
Despite their efforts to conceal it, it is clear that they can be
successfully pressured.

Now it is time to demand an end to the outrageous requirement that
Cubans have a visa to visit their own country, while those who have US
citizenship can travel with their US passports, as the socialist
constitution's Article 32 actually prohibits dual citizenship.

The acquiescence to the Cuban exile community in the case of Carnival
would have been unthinkable back in the days when Moscow was subsidizing
Cuba with billions of dollars a year, or during the boom days of
chavismoin Venezuela, when oil prices were sky high and the Castros were
receiving some 36 million barrels of oil and billions of dollars in
cashevery year.

But the Chaves-sponsored boon is over, and in Latin America changes are
underway that have begun to erode that scenario of plenty and to
aggravate the regime's financial situation every day, already calamitous
due to its unworkable socio-economic system.

It is true that the reason for the Castros' consent had to do with the
fact that Cuba does not have enough hotel capacity to accommodate the
flood of tourists reaching the island every day, and the Government did
not want to lose out on the money provide by a floating hotel in Havana Bay.

In addition, there is the devastating crisis in Venezuela, the
increasingly likely fall of the professor of Marxism and former pro-Che
activist Dilma Rousseff as the president of Brazil, and the rise to
power in Argentina of Mauricio Macri, marking the end of the Kirchner
era and a turning point, spelling the decline of leftist populism,
dominant in Latin America since the beginning of the century, and a
possible return to liberal democracy.

It should also be added that Evo Morales lost his referendum and may not
be reelected in Bolivia, and Peru's next president will not be a
leftist, as neither of the two candidates on the ballot for the second
round of elections there on 5 June are of this ideology.

The man from Havana, in danger

Nicolás Maduro actually lived in Cuba in the 80s and studied at the
Communist Party's Ñico López Advanced School in Havana. There he was
recruited by the Castros' intelligence division and began working for
the Departamento América, headed up by Commander Manuel Pineiro (aka
Barbarossa, or Red Beard), a coordinator of leftist terrorist groups in
Latin America, many of them trained in Cuba. That is, Maduro had
stronger personal ties to the Castroist cadre than Hugo Chávez. That's
why they requested that Maduro succeed him.

Well, apparently Maduro's days at Miraflores are numbered. And, whoever
replaces him, he won't grovel to the Cuban dictatorship like Nicolás did
– even if he is a Cháves disciple. Given the appalling crisis Venezuela
is suffering, the subsidies for Cuba are bound to decrease, or even
disappear, if the devotees of the late Chaves lose power. With these
ominous signs on the horizon, and it being clear that neither Russia,
China, Brazil or any other country is going to replace Caracas as a
patron of the Castros, they need the United States.

If the Venezuelan and Brazilian subsidies (in Brazil there are thousands
of Cuban doctors, the regime retaining 70% of their salaries) abate or
disappear, the Island's economy will depend on its northern neighbor;
that is, on remittances and packages, and Cuban and American tourism,
the only thing that can really grow, and quickly, if the embargo is
ended, which would also allow Cuba to obtain international loans, and
trade with the US.

But with all the bravado in the US Congress, it is unlikely that there
will be enough votes to lift the embargo. And there's the rub: the
insolent rhetoric of Raúl and Fidel Castro, and the entire ruling elite
at the recent VII Congress of the Communist Party lacks any economic or
political foundation – much less a moral one.

Such posturing is really just for domestic consumption. The Castros
should be pressured for them to tone it down. Sooner or later they will
have to do, and at least to recognize the basic rights of their people,
and lift existing prohibitions against self-employed and ordinary Cubans.

More vulnerable than ever

The Castros are losing, or about to lose, the political and economic
protection provided them for decades by external subsidies and their
collusion with populist Latin American governments. Never before they
have they been so vulnerable.

This is something that the White House must now realize. With both
commanders in power there will be no structural reforms in Cuba, but
they are fragile. And Obama made all the unilateral concessions he could
do as US president to placate Havana. Therefore, his administration
should change course with its accommodating policies, based on turning
the other cheek.

Castro's return to his orthodox Stalinist rhetoric also shows something
that the White House and the State Department have failed to realize:
the tactic of embracing the Castros, to infect them with democracy, is
not working.

It is true that Obama's visit to the Island frightened the dictatorial
leadership, as it showed Cubans how their dictatorship pales in
comparison to a modern Western democracy. But we have already seen their
reaction: an attempt to erase the "counterrevolutionary" effects of that
visit, to the point of paralyzing the process for the normalization of
bilateral relations.

This largely spoiled the legacy the American leader wished to leave, as
a normalizer of relations with Cuba. It is one thing to have
re-established diplomatic relations – like there were with the Soviet
Union for almost 60 years – and quite another is a return to relations
without political tension and pugnacious speeches against the United
States. This has not been achieved.

"...or the game is over."

The good intentions and optimism of Obama, the Democrats, and American
businessmen, their desire to forget the past and focus on the future of
bilateral relations, for the benefit of the Cuban people, clash with the
retrograde nature of the Castroist hierarchy, only interested in staying
in power. The welfare of Cubans has never been a priority for the

But that same civil-military elite is obliged to reach agreements with
Washington in order to continue governing. It's a question of life or
death. Of course, the regime still has enough strength left to control
and repress the Cuban people. And that should also be the focus of both
international and internal pressure.

The members of the Cuban diaspora, by demanding their right to travel to
the island by sea, also demonstrated their strength, when properly
channeled. This, and the increasing and admirable struggle of dissidents
and political opponents, constitute a formidable weapon. The able
coordination of joint efforts by these three factors could yield
additional victories against Raúl Castro and his military junta. In the
past this was not a possibility, but today it is.

And the White House should tell them, once and for all: "Move ... or the
game is over."

Source: Yes, the Castros can be pressured | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Mexico-Cuba Chamber formed to be ally to firms doing business on island
Published May 02, 2016 EFE

The Binational Mexico-Cuba Chamber of Commerce was created with an eye
toward being an ally to Mexican companies wanting to expand trade and
investment on the communist island at a historic moment after the
strengthening of bilateral relations.

"We're seeking to become an ally of companies in closing business
(deals). Also having greater participation in the Mexican business
sector, and not only in the export area, but also in the ...
opportunities for investment that turn up" in Cuba, the president of the
organization, Beatriz Barreto, told EFE in an interview.

In this way, the private organization, which began operations in 2015,
is seeking "to strengthen commercial relations" between nations and
foster "strategic associations" within the framework of the relaunching
of relations by the two governments in 2012, when Enrique Peña Nieto
came to power in Mexico and put an end to more than a decade of tension.

The organization functions as a civil association and received
government - although not financial - support so that it could establish
itself in just a year.

It is looking to expand its influence and last November, for example,
members of the Chamber visited Havana and signed three "important"
letters of intent in the health, culture and education sectors.

The tourism opening on the island, which was visited in March by U.S.
President Barack Obama, implies a trade benefit not only for Mexico and
other countries seeking to do business in Cuba, the head of the
organization - which has several offices in Mexico - said.

During this new phase in Mexico-Cuba diplomatic relations - which date
from 1902 and, although they have never been interrupted, have gone
through highs and lows - Barreto said she did not want to focus only on
the economic realm.

In 2014, Mexico and Cuba achieved a trade balance of $374 million, 89
percent more than a decade before, but Mexico's share of that total was
$362 million in exports. EFE

Source: Mexico-Cuba Chamber formed to be ally to firms doing business on
island | Fox News Latino - Continue reading
May Day In Cuba: Many Commitments, No Demands / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 1 May 2016 — With the slogan "For Cuba:
Unity and Commitment," massive Labor Day parades were held across Cuba.
The march in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution started at 7:30 in the
morning, with the presence of some 600,000 people and was marked by
references to the recently concluded 7th Communist Party Congress and
ex-president Fidel Castro's 90th birthday, coming up in August.

Among the thousands of posters on display, none addressed workers'
demands or wage increases. A peculiarity of the May Day parades that
have taken place on the island for the last half century has been that
their principle motivation was to show the commitment of professionals
and workers to the political system.

On the podium greeting participants in the parade, which lasted about an
hour and a half, were Cuban president Raul Castro, recently re-ratified
in position as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC); first
vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez; Jose Ramon Machado Ventura,
second secretary of the PCC Central Committee; and Ulises Guilarte de
Nacimiento, director of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the only union
organization permitted in the country, with a membership of 3.4 million
state, private and retired workers.

In the speech that began the parade, Guilarte de Naciemiento, also a
member of the Politburo, described as "maneuvers" the problems
threatening several of the leftist governments of Latin America. In
particular, the protests or legal processes challenging the executives
in Venezuela and Brazil, as well as Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and El

The union leader also referred to the process of normalization between
the governments of Cuba and the United States, which he said could not
be completed as long as "the economic, commercial and financial blockade
against our country continues," and as long as there is a US presence at
the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

From the early hours of the morning, Havana workers from the city's
various districts and areas close to the Cuban capital began to gather.
The majority of them were brought on buses belonging to their workplaces
and some 3,257 vehicles that serve urban transport routes in the city.

References to the upcoming 90th birthday of former President Fidel
Castro also marked the day. (14ymedio)
The march was opened by a representation of 40,000 teachers in reminder
of the Literacy Campaign which is celebrating its 55th anniversary this
year. According to the official Cuban press, also participating were
1,600 guests representing 68 countries and 209 trade union
organizations. However, unlike previous years the event was not attended
by any foreign leader and on the foreign grandstand the highest ranking
figure was a deputy of the Venezuelan ruling party, Elias Jaua.

"We will not forget history," different speakers repeated at several
moments to encourage the parade, a direct reference to Barack Obama's
speech in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, when the US president said he
knew the history between Cuba and the United States but refused to be
"trapped by it." A reference that especially bothered the Cuban officialdom.

The parade proceeded as planned at the close of Party Congress last
April 19, when Raul Castro called on workers to show "the world" through
an "enthusiastic and massive participation," their "unity and support
for" the agreements reached at the Congress and "the socialist and
independent course of the Fatherland."

Source: May Day In Cuba: Many Commitments, No Demands / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Foreign Investment Law: More Apartheid
JORGE A. SANGUINETTY | Miami | 2 Mayo 2016 - 12:02 pm.

At first glance, the Cuban Foreign Investment Law (Law 118, April 2014)
seeks to attract capital to the country in order to raise its production
level, especially as regards exportable products. Attracting foreign
capital is perfectly legitimate for any economy, but in the context of
Cuba several observations are in order.

All countries, even the richest, benefit from foreign investment; that
is, the flow of capital from other nations to increase the productive
capacity of the country (direct investment) or acquiring existing
properties or equity instruments (financial investment). The Cuban
economy needs these forms of investment, but especially direct
investment, not only to solve its chronic production crisis, but for
other reasons, all of them vital. One of them is to create an investment
capacity capable of increasing the nation's meager capacity to generate
resources for investment. That is, the Cuban economy under the Castro
regime has been unable to generate investments sufficient to ensure the
replacement of those in place when they were expropriated, or to create
enough well paid jobs. In other words, so-called Cuban socialism has not
even been able to bring about the "simple reproduction" (Marxist term)
of its economy, which should scandalize those who still believe in this
type of economic organization.

Another reason to attract foreign capital to Cuba goes beyond what is
seen with the naked eye, and consists of attracting managerial talent of
all kinds to an economy that not only lost a catastrophic proportion of
its endowments of capital - physical financial, human and social - but
also their management capacity.

Expropriations of companies in 1960 were followed by a massive loss of
managerial, administrative and technical staff, which affected all their
operational aspects. These operations included their technical and
production processes; the management of personnel and wages; financial
administration and the handling of investments; and the organization of
sales, inventory, distribution and marketing, among others. To keep the
businesses running and prevent production stops, and the consequent mass
unemployment they would entail, the expropriations were followed by the
replacement of executive staff with people politically and ideologically
aligned with the revolutionary government. But the new executive staff
generally lacked their predecessors' technical and administrative
qualifications, the effect being immediate drops in production and
efficiency levels at virtually all businesses. This deterioration of the
nation's productive capacity was the main reason that Cuba would need
substantial subsidies from the Soviet Union, first, followed by
Venezuela. Over time this dynamic of managerial degradation, in which
loyalty to the Government took precedence over the quality of
administration, worsened, and Cuba gradually lost the culture of
production efficiency that had made it solvent and relatively prosperous
until 1959.

This was part of the legacy of inept economic management that Fidel
Castro dumped on his brother Raúl. The Cuban economy now must recover
not only a portion of the investments that have been mishandled and lost
due to more than 50 years of administrative negligence, but also restore
a substantial part of its degraded administrative capacity. Otherwise
Cuba will once again lose the resources invested in physical capital, as
it not complemented by the technical and managerial human capital needed
– as has already occurred in several cycles since the beginning of the
Castro era. Hence, the Foreign Investment Law not only serves to attract
physical capital, but also the human capital to manage it, as has been
the case with foreign investments in Tourism, which has important
implications for Cubans.

A notable feature of this law is that it excludes, subtly but
categorically, Cuban residents on the island from participating as
investors in the economy, but not necessarily those who reside off it.
In this regard the law is ambiguous and subject to being applied at the
Government's discretion. The problem is that such a prohibition affects
all Cuban citizens in many ways, whether or not they are entrepreneurs
or investors. Castro's expropriations were not limited to the private
properties that existed before 1960, but included the rights of citizens
to invest in their country, to create the wealth needed for development,
to make decisions that directly affect them, and to enjoy the benefits
of active participation in the nation's economic affairs. But the new
Foreign Investment Law excludes Cubans, who are not only to be barred
from being investors in their own country, but also from being
executives of these investments for an obvious reason: foreign investors
will prefer to take their own executives to Cuba, because they trust
them more than those assigned by the Cuban government, as called for by
the Law.

The Law's Article 30.1 states that the employees under these foreign
investments will be hired "by an employing entity proposed by the
Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and authorized by the
Ministry of Labor and Social Security." With these restrictions Cubans
are destined to not only be employees of state or foreign companies, but
also to occupy lower-ranking jobs in their country's economy. "The
tourism apartheid that existed in Cuba for several years resurges, and
legally, through this new official disposition."

Under these conditions the effects of the normalization of relations
between Cuba and the US will depend on the degree to which the Cuban
economy liberalizes, as determined by Washington and Havana. The
unconditional lifting of the US embargo without Cuba liberalizing its
economy will only aggravate the economic apartheid to which Cubans are
subjected. As Cuban citizens are economically weaker, this means that
they will have fewer opportunities to acquire political power. In other
words, the Foreign Investment Law tends to confirm President Obama's
dilemma, as described in a a previous article in this publication: if he
liberalizes too much (lifting the embargo) without Castro introducing
internal reform, he will not achieve the (secondary) objective of
improving political conditions for Cubans. Even worse, he'll end up
lining the pockets of the Castro family and its entourage, bolstering
their political power and possibly dismantling the self-employed sector,
which they won't need if new investments generate sufficient employment.
The US Congress may want to consider these points before lifting the
embargo without getting anything in return.

Source: Foreign Investment Law: More Apartheid | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
U.S. businesses' money can be frozen because of references to Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff Published: May 1, 2016 Updated: May 1,
2016 at 07:51 PM

Nothing from his inventory originates from the island nation nor does
any of the business's money come from or go to Cuba.

Still, over the past year, financial transactions involving online
payment giant PayPal have been frozen again and again, sometimes for
weeks, until PayPal verifies they don't violate U.S. policy on Cuba.

The same thing happens at Island Travel and Tours, a company that does
conduct business with Cuba. Financial transactions were delayed so long
by banker J.P. Morgan Chase that the charter air company had to cancel
eight flights to Cuba over the course of a week.

The U.S. is moving to normalize relations with Cuba, but that isn't
always making it easier for Americans to do business there. One reason
is fear linked to policies of isolation from the past, hard for
financial intuitions to overcome, combined with complicated new policies
plus an unprecedented surge of customers interested in Cuba.

"This is a problem we're having in a changing environment," said Dan
Zabludowski, an international business attorney in Miami with Hinshaw &
Culbertson. "Some banks are still operating like it's two years ago.
They need to update how they operate."

The U.S. government is adding ways for its citizens and businesses to
engage in commerce with the island nation after more than five decades
of largely prohibiting it.

U.S. credit cards can now be used in Cuba, for instance. And where only
agriculture and medical supplies could be sold to Cuba two years ago,
today, the list has expanded to telecommunications devices, restaurant
equipment and construction supplies.

Before the new engagement, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control,
OFAC, aggressively administered and enforced economic and trade
sanctions on the island nation. With its enemy status, most transactions
were illegal.

Now, to promote U.S. commerce with Cuba, OFAC has been directed by the
White House to let up.

But for financial institutions, it turns out, that's easier said than done.

"It has been difficult to absorb," said John Kavulich, president of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "There has been a cautiousness
that has provided an increasing amount of pain to small and medium sized

PayPal appears to be a case in point.

❖ ❖ ❖

In March 2015, OFAC fined PayPal $7.7 million for failing to screen
properly for potential subjects of U.S. sanctions in transactions that
it processed.

The violations included 136 transactions involving Kursad Zafer Cire, a
Turkish man on a U.S. list of weapons of mass destruction proliferators,
and 98 transactions for more than $19,000 in goods from Cuba or in which
Cuba had an interest.

In response to the fine, PayPal instituted a new screening solution,
according to OFAC documents, although the company did not elaborate.

PayPal acknowledged it received a request for comment from the Tribune
but never replied otherwise.

The PayPal screening now includes an algorithm that freezes any
transaction containing certain words associated with Cuba, said David
Brown of New Jersey-based online store, which sells items
needed to practice the religion known as Santeria.

Santeria originated in Cuba, but the religious items sold by Brown did
not. Still, like, some of Brown's transactions have
been frozen — something that never happened before.

Whenever it does, PayPal emails him a notice saying it will take up to
72 hours to vet a transaction. It can actually take weeks. He shared one
of the emails with the Tribune.

Martin of said he receives the same notice. His funds
have been held up for as long as a month. It did happen before, a few
years ago, but the issue was resolved. It started again a year ago.

On "any given day," he said, he can have as many as three to five
transactions held up, as much as $1,000 all told.

Martin provided the Tribune with a copy of a statement from early April
showing it took PayPal 15 days to clear transactions totaling around $150.

He said he fears customers will grow weary of doing business with him
because money is immediately deducted from their account but the product
arrives days or weeks late. Confounding him more is that the suspensions
are random. Some go through without trouble.

As a small businessman, said Brown of, he needs the
suspended funds to pay bills. During the last holiday season, he had
trouble replenishing his stock because PayPal took weeks to release
transactions worth around $1,500.

Antonio C. Martinez II, a New York attorney, has a client who provides
consultation on licensed travel to Cuba.

That client has been waiting for PayPal to unfreeze a transaction of
about $5,000 for six months.

"The business took place between a U.S. citizen and a U.S. entity yet
they still haven't released the money," said Martinez, who did not share
more information on the matter.

❖ ❖ ❖

PayPal is just one of the institutions suspending transactions with Cuba
in the name.

The founder of mobile app company, Ryan Matzner of New York,
uses online payment system Venmo.

In February, Venmo flagged his payment for a meal at New York restaurant
Cafe Habana because of the word "Habana."

Matzner provided the Tribune copies of two notices emailed to him by
Venmo that read, "We were hoping you could provide us details for your
reference to 'Habana' as well as give us some insight on what this
payment was specifically for."

A second read, "We are required to follow-up on potential items that may
be related to policies pertaining to OFAC sanctions."

When the Tribune asked Venmo how it screens transactions with a mention
of Cuba, even in product or company name only, a spokesperson replied
via email with a link to OFAC's online resource page for Cuba sanctions.

Attorney Zabludowski has a client who also sells goods marked Cuban that
have no direct relationship with the nation. Yet the client's former
bank was regularly freezing the funds. He said he could not share
further details on the matter.

Attorney Peter Quinter of Miami, head of the international trade-law
group for Orlando-based GrayRobinson, said he still frequently
represents clients with money wires to Cuba that have been frozen by a
U.S. bank even though the transaction meets all legal requirements.

In order to land in Cuban airports, Island Travel must first pay fees to
the island nation's government by wiring money through a bank in a third

Still, in November, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. suspended more than $250,000
in payments sent to Cuba, resulting in the cancellation of flights, said
Island Travel President Bill Hauf.

Asked how J.P. Morgan Chase flags transactions containing the word Cuba,
a bank spokesperson responded via email, "As a matter of policy, we
screen all payments for violations of U.S. sanctions, applying to all
sanctions programs."

Ultimately, said Hauf, it was OFAC that resolved the issue, nearly three
weeks after the transactions were suspended.

❖ ❖ ❖

Island Travel has experienced random suspensions since then but the
money has been released faster, so no flights were affected. Still, it
makes conducting business difficult.

Hauf said other charter companies have had the same problem.

"This all started six to nine months ago," he said. "I've been doing
this without a problem for five years. Why is this an issue now when
business in Cuba is supposed to be getting easier?"

For starters, attorney Zabludowski said, financial institutions might be
overwhelmed. Two years ago, a limited number of Americans were doing
business with Cuba. Today, U.S. citizens are lining up for commerce
opportunities there.

Then add confusion over new regulations.

Doing business in Cuba still is influenced by the travel and trade
embargo. Some forms of commerce are legal. Some are not.

For instance, Cuba can only buy U.S. agriculture products with cash but
can buy items like construction supplies on credit.

Also, before the U.S. engaged with Cuba again, OFAC licenses to a
specific company or individual were required for any financial
transaction in Cuba and for the sale of any goods and services to the
island nation. Today, some of these deals are covered by
easier-to-obtain general licenses.

Charter flights are one such enterprise, Hauf said, yet his bank keeps
asking him for a specific license before it will transfer his funds.

Regulations are also vaguely written and open to interpretation.

A U.S. company may think a venture is covered under a general license
but is not. The enterprise, unknown to the company, might not be legal
at all.

"Now a banker has to make an interpretation on a general license as to
whether it is legal or not," said David Seleski, CEO of Pompano
Beach-based Stonegate Bank, the first U.S. bank to allow customers to
use its credit cards in Cuba. "So it is trickier for banks that do not
specialize in Cuban banking."

Seleski said Stonegate has created a specific Cuba department staffed
with people who stay updated on U.S. policy and personally vet
transactions on a case-by-case basis.

In the past, a financial institution was required to fully police all
customer transactions involving Cuba. Even if there was nothing
suspicious about a transaction, failure to demonstrate proper vetting
means a fine for a financial institution.

If it was illegal, but expertly hidden, the financial institution could
still be penalized.

"In large measures that is what led to fines," said Kavulich of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "Banks couldn't control every
facet of the transaction."

Now, generally, financial institutions will no longer be found at fault
if a transaction with Cuba is not obviously a violation of U.S. policy.

"What the regulation says is reasonableness now applies," Kavulich said.
"If someone is trying to engage in a transaction that isn't lawful and
is smart enough to do everything possible to cover their tracks, the
bank may not be held liable."

❖ ❖ ❖

Attorney Quinter advises that individuals and companies doing business
in Cuba through an American financial institution become proactive until
banks and online payment systems can better grasp changes in U.S. law.

Quinter suggests sending the financial institution copies of the general
or specific license, an explanation of the business, plus any
correspondence with OFAC or the State Department verifying that a type
of commerce with Cuba is allowed.

"Contact the bank and make sure they know what is going on," he said.
"That is the smart thing to do."

Brown of sent PayPal an itemized list of everything he
sells plus invoices to prove their origin.

On April 5, PayPal replied to him with an email he shared with the
Tribune crediting his diligence with the approval of an exemption "which
should prevent your payments from being put on hold."

On April 21, according to a notice he shared with the Tribune, more
transactions were held up by PayPal. The money was released within 24
hours rather than in days or weeks, but it caused financial strain

Brown has removed the words "Cuba" and "Cuban" from his products but
does not want to change his company name.

"You can't separate Cuba from Santeria," he said. "Besides, why should I
have to? They should have to change."

For PayPal, that may be coming.

By the end of the year, the company hopes to launch its international
transferring service Xoom in Cuba for U.S. citizens to send remittances

And as Western Union can attest after working in the Cuban remittance
business since 1999, such a venture requires a loosening of restrictions.

Western Union uses algorithms to screen money transfers, said Tyler
Hand, the company's head of global sanctions and interdiction, but the
word Cuba alone will not stop one.

Instead, the company keeps an up-to-date list of Cuban nationals and
businesses, Cuban government officials, and members of the Communist
party whom the U.S. government restricts from partaking in certain
transactions. If one of those names appears on the transaction
affidavit, the transaction could be suspended.

Before joining Western Union in 2014, Hand was OFAC's assistant chief
counsel of designations and enforcement.

Still, he said, even with that experience, it isn't easy for him to
navigate the new Cuba regulations.

"We don't always know what they mean when they make rule changes," he
said, "and often times we do our best to balance the risk. It's tough."

Source: U.S. businesses' money can be frozen because of references to
Cuba | and The Tampa Tribune - Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 1 May 2016 — With the slogan “For Cuba: Unity and Commitment,” massive Labor Day parades were held across Cuba. The march in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution started at 7:30 in the morning, with the presence of some 600,000 people and was marked by references to the recently concluded 7th Communist Party … Continue reading "May Day In Cuba: Many Commitments, No Demands / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata" Continue reading
Cuba's budding businesswomen are learning as they build
Carole Sole, AFP

The six women came to Mexico City to participate in the Women's Forum on
Wednesday and Thursday, an international gathering of women, but also
men, from politics, business and civil society to discuss social and
economic issues.

They came with an arsenal of business cards with phone numbers, email
addresses and even Facebook pages or business websites.

While they use the Internet, web access is very expensive and hard to
come by in Cuba, where it is tightly controlled by the state.

Only 3.4 percent of households have Internet access, but the government
is opening public WiFi hotspots and President Raul Castro has promised
access to all Cubans by 2020.

"Our dreams and wishes include being able to export and through the
Internet you can not only buy but also sell," said Caridad Luisa
Limonta, who owns a workshop of seamstresses in Havana.

"If Cuba is opening up to the world, one of its potentials is to be able
to export," she said.

Gradual changes
In the meantime, like many Cubans who can afford to travel, they take
advantage of their trips to shop for the things they can't find in Cuba.

De la Rosa bought fabric for her children's decoration store, but it was
a "limited" quantity to avoid problems with customs in Havana.

It's nothing compared to the stuff that Nidialys Acosta buys and brings
on planes.

"For example, I've had car bumpers and fenders in my luggage," said
Acosta, who since 2011 has run a business that repairs the famous
classic American cars from the 1950s that are part of Cuba's street
landscape and which are used as taxis for tourists.

Most of the six women used to work for the government but they entered
the nascent private sector that Castro allowed after he succeeded his
brother, Fidel, in 2008.

This has helped them earn more money in a country where the average
monthly salary is $24.

Only 10 percent of the island's labor force, or nearly half a million
people, is in the private sector.

While the US-Cuba diplomatic thaw has raised hopes of change on the
island and a potential end to the US trade embargo, the Communist Party
Congress earlier in April suggested that Havana's opening to the world
would remain slow.

"I think that there were a lot of expectations of sudden, quick changes,
but I think the changes that are coming will be very gradual," Vicente said.

Source: Cuba's budding businesswomen are learning as they build -
Business Insider - Continue reading
Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign
Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in
the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of
their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand
Cubans, most stranded on the border with Costa Rica, will also benefit
from this operation, the last of its type, according to the Panamanian
president, Juan Carlos Varela on Thursday.

"Starting from the completion of transfer operation of the Cubans
counted in the census, those who enter later will have to make a
decision about what country they want to return to; we can't become a
permanent logistical support for the trafficking of migrants," warned
the Panamanian president.

According to the regional director of migration, commissioner Alfredo
Cordoba, the transfer of more than 200 migrants in various shelters to
the Los Planes encampment began yesterday afternoon. "This mainly
involved pregnant women and families with children, who need to be
brought to a place with the attentions they deserve," he said.

The official told this newspaper that the purpose of this measure is to
"concentrate all the migrants in one area where their basic needs can be
met, taking into account their rights as people."

Cordoba said that right now there are 3,704 Cuban migrants in the
Republic of Panama, who should be gradually transferred to Gualaca,
where a joint task force–which includes the National Civil Protection
System (SINAPROC), the Panama National Migration Service, the State
Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National Police–have mobilized to
address the humanitarian crisis.

"I believe we are in the final stretch, at least they are already making
photocopies of our passports, and that's something," said Angel Chale,
one of the stranded who came through Ecuador. Chale decided to abandon
the old Bond warehouse, in San Isidro, a mile from the Costa Rican
frontier, where she shared the floor with 400 other Cubans in the most
precarious conditions.

Both Angel and Leslie Jesus Barrera have spent a week at the Los Planes
shelter. "This place where we are now is pretty fun. Usually we play
baseball, dominoes or we dance," says Barrera. "We help when they ask us
to collaborate with some chore and for the rest, it's like camping." He
added that he is very grateful for the treatment he has received from
the Panama government, which right now includes free medical care.

The godmother of Cubans

Angela Buendia is the director of community organizing for SINAPROC, but
migrants have dubbed her "the godmother." As she herself says, "They
call me that because I identify with their needs and all the pain they
have gone through."

Buendia says she learned to deal with migrants from the island in the
last crisis and since then sympathizes with the plight of "these
thousands of people who have to leave their land and often go through
very intense trauma." She stresses that, even after spending weeks in
Panama, many still live in fear.

According to her, the migratory flow does not seem to stop, although
official statistics indicate a decline. "Every day we receive between 20
and 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriqui. This is why we decided to prepare
this camp."

Buendia explained that Los Planes was originally built to shelter Swiss
workers who worked on a local dam. "It's a ten acre site with a fresh
landscape and all amenities," she added. She also stressed that "the
only prohibition is not to leave at night, and this is for their own
security." She said they will have free WiFi, but right now they can use
data connections on a local network.

"The biggest problem I've had with the Cuban people is that when they
come here, having come from a place without freedom, they feel
completely free and clear, sometimes confusing liberty with license,"
she said.

Not everyone wants to be in the shelter

But not everyone wants to go to the shelter in Los Planes. "The problem
that I see to this place is that it is very far away. From the Milennium
one can at least work 'under the table' and earn a few bucks," said
Dariel, who prefers to omit his last name for fear of discovery. His
work as a carpenter, a trade he learned in Cuba, allows him to cover his
expenses and at the same time, he confesses, save something "for the end
of the journey."

"Here there were even Cubans who were whoring and charge less than the
Panamanians. Those were the smart ones, because in the end, they managed
to get together the money and now they're in the [United States]," says
the migrant.

In overcrowded rooms, hallways, or simply in tents put up at dusk in the
doorways of neighboring houses, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to
stay near the Costa Rican border.

"It's a problem that affects communities that often find themselves
overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving," says Commissioner Cordoba.

Many of the local inhabitants, from Puerto Obaldia to Paso Canoas, have
seen a business opportunity in the Cubans. With the flow of migrants,
businesses have flourished from hostels to simple restaurants where the
prices are usually double for inhabitants of the island.

"I don't want to go to the Gualaca shelter because it's very far away, I
prefer to stay here because I'm in a village and at least I can fend for
myself," says Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who arrived in Panama
from Guyana. "It's hard, sure, but if I want to go with a coyote
tomorrow, there will be no one to stop me."

The coyotes prowl…

Juan Ramon is one of those Cubans stranded in Panama who decided not to
wait any longer to reach the United States. After collecting $1,400 from
family and friends in Miami, he left one night sneaking across the Costa
Rican border, along with six other companions under the guidance of a
coyote. "In each country a coyote handed us off to another, and we have
gone all the way: through the jungles, rivers, lakes… it is very hard,"
he said.

The worst thing for the young man was the moment they ran into a
military checkpoint in Nicaragua, where "a thug assaulted us, sent by
the same guide, who robbed us of everything we had. He even took our
cellphone. It was a terrible experience because it could have cost our
lives and nobody would have known about it," he told this newspaper.

After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramon found himself at the
border crossing station of El Paso, Texas, hoping they would process his
documents to enter the United States under the "parole" program.

To try to circumvent the army and police control on the borders of Costa
Rica and Nicaragua the migrants use unique measures such as hiding
themselves in a water pipe or hiding in a boat to pass through the
dangerous coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean.

In November of last year, Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government closed
the borders of his country to Cuban migrants using Central America as a
path to the United States.

The measure worked like a plug, leaving 8,000 people stranded in Costa
Rica, which in turn also closed its border transferring the problem to
Panama. Following an agreement with Mexico, both countries managed to
build a humanitarian bridge that allowed the orderly exit of a great
part of the migrants.

The coyotes, or human traffickers, have turned the migration to the
north into a huge business that generates millions of dollars. From
October of 2014, almost 132,000 Central Americans and around 75,000
Cubans reached the southern border of the United States.

The Cuban government has reiterated that all the migrants have left Cuba
legally and so can return to the country.

Source: Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico /
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring
April 30, 2016

Havana (AFP) - Visiting British Foreign Secretary Anthony Hammond
reached an agreement on restructuring Cuban debt payments in a meeting
with President Raul Castro, officials in Havana said.

The agreement deals with Cuba's mid and long-term debt with Britain,
according to a Cuban government statement.

The agreement "should contribute to the development of economic,
commercial and financial relations between the two nations," the
statement reads.

At the meeting, Castro and Hammond "verified the advances" in bilateral
relations and "the potentials" in areas of mutual interest.

Neither the British embassy in Havana nor Cuban officials gave a figure
for the debt, nor any further details on the agreement.

In December, Cuba reached an agreement with its creditors in the Paris
Club -- which include Britain, France, and Spain -- to pay $2.6 billion
in debt unpaid to foreign creditors for the last 25 years.

In exchange, the Paris Club is writing off the interest accumulated of
$8.5 billion.

Hammond is the first British foreign secretary to visit Cuba since the
1959 revolution.

The visit also follows meetings in recent months between Castro and
other top officials and leaders from the European Union.

Castro met with French President Francois Hollande on a visit to Paris
in February.

In March, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini became
the highest-ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba when she travelled to

She signed a deal to normalize relations with Cuba, including an
agreement on human rights.

Cuba's leaders have rejected criticism of their human rights record by
the United States and Europe, warning that they will not tolerate
meddling in their country's internal affairs.

Britain was the second-biggest source of foreign tourists to Cuba last
year after Canada, with 160,000 Britons making the trip.

Hammond's visit comes one month after US President Barack Obama's
historic visit to the Caribbean nation, which is opening up to warmer
ties with its old Cold War rivals.

Although Havana and Washington restored diplomatic ties last year, the
US trade embargo on Cuba dating to the 1960s remains in place.

Source: Britain's Hammond, Cuba's Castro agree on debt restructuring - Continue reading
Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops
First Published 4 hours ago

Florida citrus farmer Dan Richey is worried about a Cuban fruit invasion.

"They have a better climate than us and the same growing season," said
Richey, who farms 4,000 acres of mostly grapefruit near Vero Beach.
"They could become the low-cost competitor, right at our doorstep."

While a diplomatic thaw is just beginning, President Barack Obama is
seeking closer U.S. trade ties with Cuba, signaling an end to five
decades of sanctions that left the country starved of cash and little
changed since Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959.

That's clearing a path for more agricultural investment on a Caribbean
island just 90 miles south of Florida.

Cubans have been more buyers than competitors because they eat mostly
imported food and already get grain from the Midwest.

But expanded farming in the country poses a new threat for Florida, the
top U.S. grower of sugar cane, oranges and fresh tomatoes. Cuba was once
a major supplier of sugar, fruits and vegetables, and with land
untouched by modern chemicals or genetically modified seed, it is
drawing the attention of organic food producers.

"The opening of full trade and commercial relations with Cuba will have
a more significant impact on Florida agriculture than anything else in
the history of our state," said William Messina, an agricultural
economist with the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Trade agreements have been a lightning rod in this year's presidential
campaign. Candidates from both parties have decried the impact on jobs
when domestic industries are forced to compete with cheaper imports,
especially those subsidized by foreign governments or produced with
fewer workplace or environmental rules than in the United States.

U.S. farmers were early and enthusiastic advocates for closer ties with
Cuba. Congress in 2000 authorized humanitarian exports, including
agricultural products valued at $685 million in 2008.

Since 2014, when Obama moved to re-establish normal diplomatic ties --
an effort that included a trip to Havana to meet Raul Castro, who
replaced his brother Fidel as Cuba's leader -- agriculture groups have
streamed south. Cuban purchases could mean $1.1 billion in annual sales
for American farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. But
the prospect of more grain sales has overshadowed concerns from growers
who may eventually compete with the island once crop output is expanded.

"Exports to Cuba are always a huge economic opportunity," said Janell
Hendren, national affairs coordinator with the Florida Farm Bureau
Federation in Gainesville. "Imports from Cuba we are not really keen on."

The state is the biggest U.S. producer of oranges and sugar cane, and
ranks second to California in vegetables and third in fruit. Florida
sold $4.2 billion of crops in 2014, exporting $3.6 billion of them,
according to USDA data.

Cuban agricultural production struggled as its economy sputtered. In
1989, the island was the largest sugar producer behind Brazil and India,
growing 8.12 million metric tons, USDA data show. With the collapse of
the Soviet Union, its biggest buyer, production plunged. By 2011, it was
1.1 million tons, the lowest since before the revolution.

"They don't have much money, but they have land they could give away to
farmers," said Messina, the University of Florida professor. "That makes
production much less expensive."

It's also a lure for U.S. investors. Agricultural equipment maker Deere
& Co., soybean processor Bunge Ltd., and several state farm bureaus are
all in favor of opening Cuba trade, according to lobbying records.
Cargill Inc., the world's largest agribusiness, is bankrolling the U.S.
Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, a consortium of commodity growers, farm
lenders and exporters.

Members of an organics-focused group that includes food companies like
Stonyfield Farm plan to visit Cuba for several days starting May 3. They
see the island's land and farming practices as a potential fit,
especially with expanding demand for food that isn't produced with
pesticides or genetically modified seeds.

"We as an industry need to start to developing new supply chains," said
Dave Alexander, president of Global Organics, the biggest seller of
organic sugar in the U.S. and Europe. "We're rapidly approaching the
time when demand is far outstripping supply."

Any competition with Cuba is still years away, and its agricultural
exports to the U.S. probably will never evolve beyond niche-market
status, said John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council.

Crop diseases may be a bigger immediate concern, especially if the U.S.
moves too quickly ease limits on food imports. Citrus greening, which is
destroying fruit trees, has cut Florida's production of oranges, its
biggest crop, by 46 percent since 2013, according to a USDA forecast in
April. Meanwhile, fruit flies have damaged crops in Dade County.

"Some of the insects and disease that we got in citrus came from
abroad," including South America, said Dean Mixon, 64, who grows citrus
on 50 acres in Bradenton, Florida, that his grandfather started in 1930.
"There are large plantations with citrus in Cuba, and they don't have
all the rules and regulations we do, that's when it becomes unfair."

The White House is sensitive to grower concerns but sees plenty of room
for more supply, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Cuba is in a position to be a supplier, especially in organic," Vilsack
said by telephone on April 20. "But that doesn't necessarily mean
they're competing against us when there's so much demand."

Source: Food fight with Cuba risky for big Florida crops | The Salt Lake
Tribune - Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand Cubans, most stranded on the border with … Continue reading "Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton" Continue reading
Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of modernity

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Friday praised Cuban
President Raul Castro for embracing the realities of the modern world
after a meeting with the Communist leader that marked a further step in
Cuba's thaw with the West.

He is the first British Foreign Secretary to set foot on the Caribbean
island since its 1959 revolution, and his visit follows one by U.S.
President Barack Obama in March.

Hammond said he had a "long and interesting discussion" with Castro
about the octogenarian leader's push to update one of the world's last
Soviet-style command economies.

"He is espousing a program of gradual change, embracing the realities of
the world we live in," Hammond said in an interview at the British
ambassador's residence in Havana.

"I was very struck by the fact that he described the Internet as the
reality of our world, spoke positively about the benefits the Internet
could bring."

Cuba still has one of the world's lowest Internet penetrations with
access expensive and restricted.

The state says it wants to expand access and has been installing Wi-Fi
hotspots throughout the country. But change is slow and critics suggest
the government fears losing control of media and seeing new avenues of
political opposition open up.

Castro has vowed to "update" Cuba's socialist model but market-style
reforms have been implemented haltingly and even reversed in some areas.
A Communist Party Congress this month proposed little new to tackle the
country's economic woes.

"Castro is seeking to position himself in the middle between those who
are resisting change and those who want much faster, more radical
change," said Hammond, adding that Britain hoped to foster reforms
through cooperation in certain sectors.

The Foreign Secretary said the government recognized its financial
services sector was underdeveloped.

"Castro said to me directly 'we lack management expertise in banking
services' and this is an area where the UK (United Kingdom) has
something very clear to offer," he said.

The main sectors where Britain sees opportunities for its companies to
do business in Cuba were financial services, tourism and renewable
energy, Hammond said.

Challenges to doing business in Cuba remain however, he said, not least
due to the U.S. trade embargo.

"We have also had discussions with the U.S. about the challenges for
British and other European banks in doing business with countries that
face U.S. sanctions," said Hammond.

"There are some problems here but we are working through them with the
U.S. and hope to make progress in a way that will enable British
businesses to do more business with Cuba."

Exports of British goods to Cuba rose 32 percent in 2015 compared with
the previous year but the government deems there is scope for growth as
other European countries export far more to the island.

(Editing by James Dalgleish)

Source: Britain praises Cuba's Castro for embracing realities of
modernity | Reuters - Continue reading