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Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by GH

Source: Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/undercover-american-tourists-in-cuba-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Cuban Activist Juan Goberna Arrested / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2017 — Human rights activist Juan Goberna
Hernández was arrested around 9 am this Saturday when he left home to
attend a meeting of the Inclusive Culture Network, a project to defend
the rights of people with disabilities.

On Friday night Goberna, who is blind, was visited by two State Security
agents to warn him that they would not allow him to attend the
meeting. Two other agents named Brayan and Nacho were posted in a car
from early Saturday to stop him if he persisted in his decision to go to
the meeting.

In Aguada de Pasajeros, Goberna was taken from a bus on which he panned
to travel to Havana to attend the meeting.

Minutes before his arrest Goberna told 14ymedio by phone that it was his
"duty" and his "right" to participate in the activity.

So far it has not been possible to determine where he was taken.

The Network of Inclusive Culture tries to promote a greater sensitivity
towards the treatment of people with disabilities, working to make
visible the difficulties that such individuals face on a daily basis.

In addition to conducting workshops and seminars, members of the Network
provide support and advice in cases of violations of rights to anyone in
situations of vulnerability.

Source: Cuban Activist Juan Goberna Arrested / 14ymedio – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-activist-juan-goberna-arrested-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Americans skipping out on Cuba
By The Washington Post By Justin Bachman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Because of the U.S. restrictions," Zuccato said, "you really don't see
any advertising from the airlines promoting Cuba."

Source: Americans skipping out on Cuba -
http://www.swtimes.com/news/20170226/americans-skipping-out-on-cuba Continue reading
Family, Freedom and the Oswaldo Payá Prize
BORIS GONZÁLEZ ARENAS | La Habana | 26 de Febrero de 2017 - 12:04 CET.

The home of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban political leader who was killed,
along with Harold Cepero, under murky circumstances in 2012, has a small
living room. It is a space consonant with a house of modest dimensions,
for a family whose social and political life, under normal conditions,
is lived through the appropriate institutions, with no other aspiration
than its domestic harmony and its children growing up healthy. It was
really not large enough to constitute an appropriate site for the
bestowal, on Wednesday 22 February, 2017, of the Oswaldo Payá Freedom
and Life Prize, awarded to Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS,
and Patricio Aylwin, the former Chilean president who was given it
posthumously.

Aylwin's honor was to be collected by his daughter Mariana. But the
Cuban government blocked both her and Almagro from entering the country,
in addition to Mexican president Felipe Calderón, who was nominated and
had accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony along with other
international guests.

The Government also foiled the arrival of an unverified number of people
from Cuba's civil society, either because they were stopped directly,
like Henry Constantín, or with the paramilitary cordon set up around the
house in the Havana municipality of Cerro, like Diario Las Americas
journalist Iván García.

The humble room still proved insufficient to accommodate the members of
civil society, diplomatic corps, and foreign media who were able to get
there. The chairs initially set up were stowed, and throughout the event
the attendees had to stand. It was a vivid example of how, thanks to
Castroism, private spaces have to assume the functions of public ones,
among other uses not corresponding to them.

The remarks by Rosa María Payá on the need for freedom for Cuba, a
reading by Saylí Navarro of a letter written for the occasion by Ofelia
Acevedo, Oswaldo's widow; the words of Ivan Hernández Carrillo, the only
nominee who made it to the event, and a taped speech sent by Felipe
Calderón to the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, dramatically
demonstrated the competence and political maturity of the organizers.

Rosa Maria's words, stating that the prizes would not be sent to their
recipients, but rather stored and given to them, in that same room, in a
free Cuba, expresses an aspiration instilling that small space with a
universal dimension.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro deserves praise for having accepted
the award and the invitation to travel to Cuba to receive it, in Cerro,
in a modest room, on an old and rickety chair.

The OAS was instrumental in distancing other Latin American governments
from Fidel Castro during the most lethal stage of his political
machinations, when he subjected the country to a succession of vicious
schemes. The estrangement occurred after the democratic government of
Rómulo Betancourt severed relations with Cuba and endorsed its
condemnation by the OAS due to the Communist nature of Fidel Castro's
government and its role in the subversion of the Venezuelan government.
It had taken a similar stance against Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the
tyrant of the Dominican Republic, and shortly thereafter, the same
commitment to democratic standards led it to break off diplomatic
relations with the Haitian government, then headed by François Duvalier.

For Fidel Castro to be treated like just another Caribbean despot was an
affront that he was unwilling to tolerate, sparking hostility towards
the OAS that remains today.

The fact that the Payá family's home was the venue for an event of this
nature honors the Cuban family. If in recent years there has been a bit
of an economic upturn for families, it has been due to, precisely, the
conversion of domestic spaces into facilities for private business and
industry, though the Castro regime has offered nothing but obstacles and
impediments to this growth.

The success of the event organized by the Latin American Youth Network
for Democracy evidences that, together with its management capacities,
and economic initiative, it is in Cuban families that there endures,
with astonishing vitality, our people's yearning for and commitment to
its political freedom.

Source: Family, Freedom and the Oswaldo Payá Prize | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1488106982_29242.html Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the American Airlines’ departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of corridors and passages. That’s why Noahn, an American living in Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight’s scheduled departure time to Varadero. He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son … Continue reading "Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García" Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2017 — Human rights activist Juan Goberna Hernández was arrested around 9 am this Saturday when he left home to attend a meeting of the Inclusive Culture Network, a project to defend the rights of people with disabilities. On Friday night Goberna, who is blind, was visited by two State Security … Continue reading "Cuban Activist Juan Goberna Arrested / 14ymedio" Continue reading
The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro's Departure From Power / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2017 — On February 24 of next year Raul
Castro must leave the presidency of Cuba if he is to fulfill the
promise he has made several times. His announced departure from power is
looked on with suspicion by some and seen as an inescapable fact by
others, but hardly anyone argues that his departure will put an end to
six decades of the so-called historical generation.

For the first time, the political process begun in January 1959 will
have a leader who did not participate in the struggle against the
dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Nevertheless, Raul Castro can
maintain the control of the Communist Party until 2021, a position with
powers higher than the executive's and enshrined in the Constitution of
the Republic.

In the 365 days that remain in his position as president of the Councils
of State and of Ministers, the 85-year-old ruler is expected to push
several measures forward. Among them is the Electoral Law, which he
announced two years ago and that will determine the political landscape
he leaves behind after his retirement.

In the coming months the relations between Havana and Washington will be
defined in the context of the new presidency of Donald Trump and, in
internal terms, by the economy. Low wages, the dual currency system,
housing shortages and shortages of products are some of the most
pressing problems for which Cubans expects solutions.

Raul Castro formally assumed the presidency in February of 2008,
although in mid-2006 he took over Fidel Castro's responsibilities on a
provisional basis due to a health crisis affecting his older brother
that forced him from public life. And now, given the proximity of the
date he set for himself to leave the presidency, the leader is obliged
to accelerate the progress of his decisions and define the succession.

In 2013 Castro was confirmed as president for a second term. At that
time he limited the political positions to a maximum of ten years and
emphasized the need to give space to younger figures. One of those faces
was Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 56-year-old politician who climbed through the
party structure and now holds the vice presidency.

In the second tier of power in the Party is Jose Ramon Machado Ventura,
an octogenarian with a reputation as an orthodox who in recent months
has featured prominently in the national media. A division of power
between Díaz-Canel and Machado Ventura (one as president of the Councils
of State and of Ministers and the other as secretary general of the
Party) would be an unprecedented situation for millions of Cubans who
only know the authority being concentrated in a single man.

However, many suspect that behind the faces that hold public office, the
family clan will continue to manipulate through pulling the strings
of Alejandro Castro Espín. But the president's son, promoted to national
security adviser, is not yet a member of the Party Central Committee,
the Council of State or even a Member of Parliament.

For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies,
Raúl Castro leaves without doing his work. "There were many promises,
many pauses and little haste," he summarizes. He said that many hoped
that the "much-announced reforms would move from the superficial to the
depth of the model, the only way to update the Cuban economy, politics
and society."

Raul Castro should "at least, push until the National Assembly passes an
Electoral Law" that allows "plural participation of citizens," says
Valdés. He also believes that he should give "legal status to private
companies" and "also give legal status to other organizations of civil
society."

The American academic Ted Henken does not believe that the current
president will leave his position at the head of the Party. For Henken,a
professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in
New York, Castro's management has been successful in "maintaining the
power of historic [generation] of the Revolution under the authoritarian
and vertical model installed more than half a century ago" and "having
established a potentially more beneficial new relationship with the US
and embarking on some significant economic reforms. "

However, Henken sees as "a great irony that the government has been more
willing to sit down and talk with the supposed enemy than with its own
people" and points out "the lack of fundamental political rights and
basic civil liberties" as "a black stain on the legacy of the Castro
brothers."

Blogger Regina Coyula, who worked from 1972 to 1989 for the
Counterintelligence Directorate of the Interior Ministry, predicts that
Raul Castro will be remembered as someone "who could and did not
dare." At first she saw him as "a man more sensible than the brother and
much more pragmatic" but over time "by not doing what he had to do,
nothing turned out as it should have turned out."

Perhaps "he came with certain ideas and when it came to reality he
realized that introducing certain changes would inevitably bring a
transformation of the country's political system," says Coyula. That is
something he "is not willing to assume. He does not want to be the one
who goes down in history with that note in his biography."

Independent journalist Miriam Celaya recalls that "the glass of milk he
promised is still pending" and also "all the impetus he wanted to give
to the self-employment sector." She says that in the last year there has
been "a step back, a retreat, an excess of control" for the private sector.

With the death of Fidel Castro, his brother "has his hands untied to be
to total reformist that some believed he was going to be," Celaya
reflects. "In this last year he should release a little what the
Marxists call the productive forces," although she is "convinced… he
won't do it."

As for a successor, Celaya believes that the Cuban system is "very
cryptic and everything arrives in a sign language, we must be focusing
on every important public act to see who is who and who is not."

"The worst thing in the whole panorama is the uncertainty, the worst
legacy that Raul Castro leaves us is the magnification of the
uncertainty," she points out. "There is no direction, there is no
horizon, there is nothing." He will be remembered as "the man who lost
the opportunity to amend the course of the Revolution."

"He will not be seen as the man who knew, in the midst of turbulence,
how to redirect the nation," laments Manuel Cuesta Morua. Cuesta Morua,
a regime opponent, who belongs to the Democratic Action Roundtable
(MUAD) and to the citizen platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), reproaches
Raúl Castro for not having made the "political reforms that the country
needs to advance economically: he neither opens or closes [the country]
to capital and is unable to articulate another response to the autonomy
of society other than flight or repression."

Iliana Hernández, director of the independent Cuban Lens,
acknowledges that in recent years Raúl Castro has returned to Cubans
"some rights" such as "buying and selling houses, cars, increasing
private business and the right to travel." The activist believes that
this year the president should "call a free election, legalize
[multiple] parties and stop repressing the population."

As for the opposition, Hernandez believes that he is "doing things that
were not done before and were unthinkable to do."

Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello is very critical of Raul Castro's
management and says she did not even fulfill his promise of ending the
dual currency system. "He spoke of a new Constitution, a new economic
system, which aren't even mentioned in the Party Guidelines," he says.

"To try to make up for the bad they've done, in the first place he
should release all those who are imprisoned simply for thinking
differently under different types of sanctions," reflects Roque
Cabello. She also suggests that he sit down and talk to the opposition
so that it can tell him "how to run the country's economy, which is
distorted."

Although she sees differences between Fidel's and Raul Castro's styles
of government, "he is as dictator like his brother," she said. The
dissident, convicted during the Black Spring of 2003, does not consider
Diaz-Canel as the successor. "He is a person who has been used, I do not
think he's the relief," and points to Alejandro Castro Espín or Raul
Castro's former son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, as
possible substitutes.

This newspaper tried to contact people close to the ruling party to
obtain their opinion about Raúl Castro's legacy, his succession and the
challenges he faces for the future, but all refused to respond. Rafael
Hernández, director of the magazine Temas, told the Diario de las
Américas in an interview: "There must be a renewal that includes all
those who have spent time like that [10 years]." However, not all
members of the Council of State have been there 10 years, not even all
the ministers have been there 10 years."

This is the most that the supporters of the Government dare to say.

Source: The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro's Departure From Power /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-countdown-begins-for-raul-castros-departure-from-power-14ymedio/ Continue reading
The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector / Iván
García

Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2017 — Marino Murillo, the presumptive tsar of
economic reforms in Cuba, a prime minister with broad powers, passed up
a seat in the first row next to the senior staff of a long-lived
revolution governed by an exclusive club of elders who, as a group, have
lived almost 500 years, to take a seat in the third row, far from the
spotlight and the cameras.

In closed societies, where rumors are more truthful than the information
offered by the State press, you have to learn to read between the lines.
Lacking a government office that offers public information to its
citizens, academics, journalists and political scientists, you must look
with a magnifying glass at the most insignificant signs.

That morning in December 2015, when the autocrat Raúl Castro feigned
indignation before the more than 600 deputies of the monotone national
parliament about the abusive prices of agricultural products, was the
beginning of the end for Marino Murillo.

Castro II requested that measures be applied. And not very consistently,
alleging the law of supply and demand that governs the produce markets,
Murillo mumbled that he would try to implement different regulations to
try to curb the increase in prices.

Apparently this wasn't sufficient. The previous super-minister fell into
disgrace, and now not even his photo appears in the official media,
although theoretically he continues at the front of the agenda, charged
with implementing the economic guidelines, a kind of commandment that
moves at a snail's pace and with serious delays: In six years, only a
little more than 20 percent of the guidelines have been implemented.

With the fading-out of fatso Murillo, the dynamic of timid economic
reforms — together with openings in the obsessive defense of Fidel
Castro, who transformed Cubans into third-class citizens — the game
began to be directed by the most rancid and conservative of the military
leadership.

It was essential to open to the world and repeal the feudal exit permit
needed to travel outside the island, to permit Cubans to rent hotel
rooms and to buy or sell houses, among other normal regulations in any
country in the 21st century.

There is no doubt that this was a leap forward, with barriers, absurd
prices and spite for people who make money. Yes, in Cuba they sell cars,
but a Peugeot 508 is worth more than a Ferrari, and you must pay cash.

The Internet and cell phones are not exactly tools of science fiction,
but the price for service is insane for a country where the average
salary is 25 dollars a month.

The supposed reforms were always incomplete. They were left halfway.
Cubans cannot invest in large businesses; professionals don't have
authorization to work for themselves, and the State claims the right to
establish a ridiculous list of jobs that are or are not permitted.

Of the 201 authorized jobs, there are at least 10 or 15 enterprises
where, with creativity and effort, you can make large sums of money,
always taking into account the Cuban context, where anyone who earns
10,000 Cuban pesos a month (about $400) is considered "rich." This is a
country where for almost 60 years, the average citizen is sponsored by
the State.

Of course the regulations, excessive taxes, harassment by State
inspectors and a deadly clause in the Government's economic bible, which
prohibits persons or groups from accumulating large sums of capital,
hinder prosperity and the boom in private work.

In a nation where the Government has been in charge of clothing,
shoeing, rewarding or punishing its citizens, a margin of liberalism, as
small as it is, was an oasis for a half million entrepreneurs who now
live on the margins of the State.

The starting shot that would put the handbrake on the reforms began on
December 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and General Raúl Castro,
of mutual accord, put an end to the incredible Cold War between Cuba and
the United States.

Once out of the trenches, Obama began to launch packets of measures with
the marked intention of favoring private workers. The Regime didn't like
that.

They wanted to do business with the gringos but with their own State
enterprises, not to empower the private ones. Then, progressively, the
Castro autocracy started to slow down the dynamic sector, probably the
only one that was growing on the Island, that paid salaries from three
to five times more than the State, and which gave employment to some 20
percent of the work force.

In autumn of 2015, a negative dynamic began. Presently only 30 percent
of the supply-and-demand produce markets are functioning. The State
harasses and penalizes the cart vendors who sell meat, fruit and
vegetables, and they have declined by 50 percent. The State closed the
largest produce market in Trigal, south of Havana, and the Taliban
juggernaut expects to increase with regulations and taxes on all the
buoyant businesses in gastronomy, transport and hotel services.

What's this new "revolutionary offensive" about? I don't think it has
the reach of the confiscations of french fry stands and shoeshine stalls
of 1968, or the counter-reforms for certain openings in the 1980s and '90s.

But it's undeniable that the Regime doesn't want the train to derail.
Presently there's a small segment of Cubans, between 60,000 and 100,000
persons, who have amassed small fortunes thanks to their taste and
talent for business.

We're talking about 100,000 dollars going forward, an insignificant
figure in any First World country, but extraordinary in a country
impoverished by the poor management of the Castro brothers.

In addition to pleasure and social status, money engenders power. While
Castroism functions in Cuba, private businesses will not be able to
prosper. This is the reason for the brakes put on the private owners.

A word of advice to the olive green Regime: Be careful with excesses. In
December 2010, an abusive fine on the owner of a food stand, Mohammed
Buazisi, who out of contempt immolated himself, put a final end to the
Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali and unchained the Arab Spring.

In its present offensive against the private taxi drivers, the Cuban
authorities shouldn't forget what happened in Tunisia a little more than
six years ago. In societies of order and control, the devil is always in
the details.



Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector
/ Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-cuban-regime-has-redoubled-its-assault-on-the-private-sector-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio, EFE

Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro could not collect. (Networks)
14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 22 February 2017 — The presentation of the Oswaldo
Payá "Freedom and Life" Prize has led to a diplomatic conflict, after
the Cuban government vetoed the entry into the country of three of the
guests: OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Former Mexican President
Felipe Calderón, and Mariana Aylwin.

Almagro, Calderón and Chilean delegate Mariana Aylwin were unable to
travel to the Caribbean country on Tuesday to participate in the event
called by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, chaired by
Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá,
which the Cuban government Cuban has labeled a "provocation."

Around Payá's house, in the Havana municipality of Cerro, a police
operation deployed in the early hours of the day prevented activists
from reaching the home. From Manila Park, near the house, State Security
agents dressed in civilian clothes demanded documentation from any
dissident or independent journalists who approached.

Payá told this newspaper that her phone had been "out of service" in the
afternoon although "in the morning it worked." The ceremony was attended
by seven activists who had spent the night in the house "plus another 20
people who where able to reach it," said the dissident. Among them was
the head of the political-economic section of the US Embassy in Cuba,
Dana Brown, as well as diplomatic representatives from Sweden and the
Czech Republic.

Payá told this newspaper that her phone had been "out of service" in the
afternoon although "in the morning it worked"

Payá said that the award ceremony had been surrounded by a lot of
repression on the part of the regime, Cuban State Security and the
Foreign Ministry." She condemned the reprisals "suffered by civil
society members who wanted to participate in the ceremony, resulting in
many of them being arrested and others prevented from leaving their homes."

All of the leaders of the opposition groups on the island "were
invited," Payá told this newspaper. "There are some with whom we have
lost communication over the last few days because of everything that is
happening, and others who are not in the country and others who couldn't
get here."

"We hope that this aggression, this rudeness, will find a response and a
reaction in all the governments belonging to the Organization of
American States (OAS), in all the governments of our region and also in
the European Union," said Rosa María Payá.

Luis Almargo tweeted: Our interest: To facilitate #Cuba's approach to
Interamerican values/principles and to expand the country's achievements
in science, health and education.

The Chilean and Mexican Chancelleries regretted the decision of
Cuba, and Chile announced that it will call its ambassador on the island
for consultations.

Meanwhile, the only official response from Cuba has come from the
Cuban embassy in Chile, which issued a communication referring to the
matter as "a grave international provocation against the Cuban
government," with the aim of "generating internal instability" and
affecting Cuba's diplomatic relations with other countries.

According to this note, the act was created "by an illegal anti-Cuban
group that acts against constitutional order and that arouses the
repudiation of the people, with the collusion and financing of
politicians and foreign institutions."

The ceremony finally took place without the presence of the
international guests. "The chairs will remain empty" until the awardees
"can land in Havana" to pick them up in person, assured Rosa María
Payá. Other Cuban guests were prevented from leaving their homes or
arrested on the road.

Independent journalists Henry Constantin Ferreiro and Sol García Basulto
were detained in the airport of Camagüey at the moment that they tried
to board a flight towards the capital.

Constantín Ferreiro is vice-president of the Inter-American Press
Association for Cuba and remains in custody without his parents being
able to see him or provide him with personal hygiene supplies, according
to his father.

Havana's decision not to authorize the arrival of the head of the OAS
was known after a night of uncertainty in which it was not clear whether
Almagro had traveled to the Cuban capital, where he initially planned to
fly from Paris, where he had participated in institutional activities
yesterday. Rosa María Paya today called on the OAS to support the right
of the Cuban people to decide on their destiny.

"To the point that Cuba is democratizing, all democracies in Latin
America will also gain stability," said the opposition leader, who hoped
that "today is the beginning of an OAS commitment to the cause of rights
and freedom in Cuba."

She pointed out that they do not expect the OAS to "speak out against
anyone," but instead to put itself "on the side of all Cuban citizens in
their right to begin a transition process."

Source: Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio,
EFE – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/oswaldo-paya-award-ceremony-is-absent-the-winners-14ymedio-efe/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2017 — On February 24 of next year Raul Castro must leave the presidency of Cuba if he is to fulfill the promise he has made several times. His announced departure from power is looked on with suspicion by some and seen as an inescapable fact by others, but hardly anyone argues that … Continue reading "The Countdown Begins For Raul Castro’s Departure From Power / 14ymedio" Continue reading
After frequent price hikes, cost of visiting Cuba coming down
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

American travelers checking into Cuban hotels and dining at Havana's
more upscale private restaurants since the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba
have experienced more than a bit of sticker shock.

Since the Obama administration's opening to Cuba allowed more Americans
to travel to the island most travel-related costs have jumped 100 to 400
percent, said Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, which organizes
tours to Cuba.

But what goes up usually comes down.

Mandated prices for state agencies and hotels are scheduled to drop for
the spring and summer seasons, said Popper. Different tour operators
receive their rates from the Cuban government at different times, but
Popper said the new prices quoted to insightCuba will result on average
in a $250 savings per traveler on a six- or seven-day trip this spring
and summer.

"The question was for how long were prices going to increase or stay at
artificially inflated levels," he said. "This is the first time we've
seen costs come down, instead of up, in three years."

The trend had been up, up, up.

Rates for standard rooms, which averaged around $150 a night at some
popular Havana hotels before the Obama opening, climbed to more than
$600 last year. A junior suite at the Hotel Saratoga is listed at $605 a
night during the first week of March. And the new Kempinski luxury
hotel, which is slated to open in Havana later this year, recently
announced that rates at the Gran Hotel Manzana would start at $600
during the November to March high season and at $400 from April to October.

Though bargains exist for the traveler willing to seek them out, many
visitors are surprised to find South Beach prices when they dine at some
of Havana's better paladares, or private restaurants.

"Prices are still incredibly high, given the quality of the offerings.
However, they have come down about 25 percent for March/April/May
compared to November/December of last year," said Collin Laverty,
president of Cuban Educational Travel, which organizes group travel to Cuba.

At Road Scholar, a nonprofit that offers educational travel programs,
demand has slowed a bit this year because of the high hotel prices, said
JoAnn Bell, senior vice president of program development. But she said,
"Americans continue to be fascinated by the prospect of traveling to Cuba."

A Road Scholar representative is currently in Cuba, she said,
renegotiating rates. "If successful, we will pass along any savings to
Road Scholar participants," Bell said.

There's a lot of talk about pricing among foreign hoteliers in Cuba,
said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul, which offers tours and travel
arrangements to Cuba. "We see prices likely coming down in October (when
the next high season begins), and we are advising our clients of that,"
he said.

Guild said that a number of groups have canceled because of the high
prices, but others have come in and made up for it. Overall, he said,
Marazul hasn't experienced a drop in demand. "During the [winter] season
we've been running 100 groups a month," Guild said.

The price run-up began in 2015, said Popper, when the tourism minister
announced that hotel costs would go up 100 percent in the face of
overheating demand. "The intent of the price increases was not only to
get more revenue but also to tamp down demand. They couldn't keep up
with it," he said. Throughout 2015 and 2016, there were additional 15 to
20 percent price hikes.

Visitors are still coming to Cuba in record numbers, but tour operators
said a market correction was needed.

Cuban tourism officials are predicting that the number of international
visitors in 2017 will increase to 4.2 million, about 100,000 more than
last year. This January, the number of international visitors was up 15
percent, and the Ministry of Tourism is forecasting Cuba will finish the
high season with a 17 percent jump in international visitors.

Popper said he expects demand from the United States to cool off a bit
from the Obama heat wave when Americans rushed to take advantage of new
regulations that made it easier to travel to Cuba. They are permitted to
visit if they fall into 12 specific categories such as educational
travel, but aren't supposed to take trips to simply soak up the sun on
the beach.

284,937 Americans visited Cuba last year
Last year, 284,937 Americans visited Cuba, a 74 percent increase from
the previous year. Cuban Americans are counted in a separate category
for the Cuban diaspora, and they added nearly 330,000 to the total
number of visitors coming from the United States.

But it's possible that President Donald Trump, who has ordered a review
of all executive orders related to Cuba, could take action that would
affect U.S. travel to the island.

Last year, U.S. commercial airlines competed for the first regularly
scheduled routes to Cuba in more than five decades. Some airlines
received flight frequencies from the Department of Transportation that
would make sense only if travel to Cuba from the United States were
totally opened up and regular tourism permitted.

JetBlue recently decided to put smaller planes on its routes to Cuba,
and American Airlines cut its daily flights to Cuba from 13 to 10 in
mid-February. Silver Airways, which flies out of Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, also has reduced frequencies
on some of its Cuba routes.

"The airlines had no historical data whatsoever [on the Cuba market].
They made a huge guess," Popper said. "But all of them tried to gobble
up as much capacity as they could and now they are making adjustments."

Although passenger tallies out of some new gateways offering flights to
Cuba, such as Charlotte, are lagging, traffic to Cuba through Miami
International Airport is up since the first regularly scheduled flight
from MIA to Cuba took off on Sept. 7, 2016.

From Sept. 1, 2016, to Feb. 21 this year, total passengers coming or
going to Cuba through MIA increased from 466,213 during the previous
year to 620,592. The totals also include charter passengers.

620,592 passengers traveled through MIA coming or going to Cuba
The hotel price reductions are welcome.

On eight people-to-people tours planned by insightCuba for May through
October, prices will drop by $500 per couple, Popper said.

Other tour operators also have cut prices for trips during the latter
part of the year.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, which is organizing its 28th
people-to-people visit to Cuba since 2011, also recently reduced the
price of its May 22-28 trip by $400. Former state Rep. Annie Betancourt,
who will lead the trip, said the price reduction came from the tour
operator and she was unsure if it was related to lower hotel prices.

But she said travelers can still find accommodations in the $150 price
range at hotels such as the Sevilla, Presidente, Vedado and Florida. "We
usually plan these trips 6 to 8 months ahead of time," Betancourt said.
But demand is still such, she said, "that the hardest thing is getting
bookings for hotels."

Betancourt said she plans to recommend that the League consider putting
its travelers in casas particulares, private homes that offer rooms for
rent, on future trips. The casas generally cost from 20 CUC to 40 CUC
per night. For those exchanging U.S. dollars, that's about from $23 to
$46. Hotel accommodations outside the capital also are generally far
more economical than in Havana.

"Demand is still high," Laverty said. "However, travelers have started
to discover private homes, hostels, travel outside of Havana and other
ways to save money by not staying in overpriced hotels."

Private taxi drivers also jacked up prices, doubling fares for shorter
rides and charging 120 CUCs ($138) for an eight-hour shift.

But in early February the government imposed ceilings on fares for some
of the more popular fixed routes in Havana and said those who charged
more were in danger of losing their licenses.

Instead of improving the situation, it created traffic chaos, with some
drivers taking their cars off the road in protest and others saying they
could no longer earn a living with the price caps. Gasoline is in short
supply, and some of the drivers had been relying on higher-priced black
market gas and passing that increase on to their customers.

The result of the price caps: fewer taxis on the road and longer waits.
Some drivers also have refused to pick up passengers unless they want to
travel entire routes.

"This doesn't really affect tourists, who don't take route taxis on a
regular basis, but it has certainly made it difficult for Cubans who are
accustomed to taking shared taxis," Laverty said. "Not only did they put
price controls on that are below market rates, but they restricted
drivers that don't have Havana addresses from working in Havana, further
limiting supply."

FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI

Source: Overheated hotel prices in Cuba start to come down | Miami
Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article134586559.html Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2017 — Marino Murillo, the presumptive tsar of economic reforms in Cuba, a prime minister with broad powers, passed up a seat in the first row next to the senior staff of a long-lived revolution governed by an exclusive club of elders who, as a group, have lived almost 500 years, … Continue reading "The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector / Iván García" Continue reading
… travelers checking into Cuban hotels and dining at Havana’s more upscale … , president of Cuban Educational Travel, which organizes group travel to Cuba. At … visited Cuba, a 74 percent increase from the previous year. Cuban Americans … don’t have Havana addresses from working in Havana, further limiting supply … Continue reading
… ), Luis Almagro, to travel to Havana to receive an award invented … up in Havana an open and serious provocation against the Cuban government … affecting the good progress of Cuba’s diplomatic relations with other … the diplomatic relations among states, Cuban authorities contacted the governments of … Continue reading
Havana, February 23 (RHC)-- The Cuban Foreign Ministry (MINREX) has confirmed … ) Luis Almagro to travel to Havana to receive a so-called distinction … and notorious terrorist of Cuban origin.   The Cuban Foreign Ministry said that … sovereignty, the Cuban government decided to deny entry to Cuba for the … Continue reading
Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio, EFE

14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 22 February 2017 — The presentation of the Oswaldo
Payá "Freedom and Life" Prize has led to a diplomatic conflict, after
the Cuban government vetoed the entry into the country of three of the
guests: OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Former Mexican President
Felipe Calderón, and Mariana Aylwin.

Almagro, Calderón and Chilean delegate Mariana Aylwin were unable to
travel to the Caribbean country on Tuesday to participate in the event
called by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, chaired by
Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá,
which the Cuban government Cuban has labeled a "provocation."

Around Payá's house, in the Havana municipality of Cerro, a police
operation deployed in the early hours of the day prevented activists
from reaching the home. From Manila Park, near the house, State Security
agents dressed in civilian clothes demanded documentation from any
dissident or independent journalists who approached.

Payá told this newspaper that her phone had been "out of service" in the
afternoon although "in the morning it worked." The ceremony was attended
by seven activists who had spent the night in the house "plus another 20
people who where able to reach it," said the dissident. Among them was
the head of the political-economic section of the US Embassy in Cuba,
Dana Brown, as well as diplomatic representatives from Sweden and the
Czech Republic.

Payá said that the award ceremony had been surrounded by a lot of
repression on the part of the regime, Cuban State Security and the
Foreign Ministry." She condemned the reprisals "suffered by civil
society members who wanted to participate in the ceremony, resulting in
many of them being arrested and others prevented from leaving their homes."

All of the leaders of the opposition groups on the island "were
invited," Payá told this newspaper. "There are some with whom we have
lost communication over the last few days because of everything that is
happening, and others who are not in the country and others who couldn't
get here."

"We hope that this aggression, this rudeness, will find a response and a
reaction in all the governments belonging to the Organization of
American States (OAS), in all the governments of our region and also in
the European Union," said Rosa María Payá.

Luis Almargo tweeted: Our interest: To facilitate #Cuba's approach to
Interamerican values/principles and to expand the country's achievements
in science, health and education.

The Chilean and Mexican Chancelleries regretted the decision of
Cuba, and Chile announced that it will call its ambassador on the island
for consultations.

Meanwhile, the only official response from Cuba has come from the
Cuban embassy in Chile, which issued a communication referring to the
matter as "a grave international provocation against the Cuban
government," with the aim of "generating internal instability" and
affecting Cuba's diplomatic relations with other countries.

According to this note, the act was created "by an illegal anti-Cuban
group that acts against constitutional order and that arouses the
repudiation of the people, with the collusion and financing of
politicians and foreign institutions."

The ceremony finally took place without the presence of the
international guests. "The chairs will remain empty" until the awardees
"can land in Havana" to pick them up in person, assured Rosa María
Payá. Other Cuban guests were prevented from leaving their homes or
arrested on the road.

Independent journalists Henry Constantin Ferreiro and Sol García Basulto
were detained in the airport of Camagüey at the moment that they tried
to board a flight towards the capital.

Constantín Ferreiro is vice-president of the Inter-American Press
Association for Cuba and remains in custody without his parents being
able to see him or provide him with personal hygiene supplies, according
to his father.

Havana's decision not to authorize the arrival of the head of the OAS
was known after a night of uncertainty in which it was not clear whether
Almagro had traveled to the Cuban capital, where he initially planned to
fly from Paris, where he had participated in institutional activities
yesterday. Rosa María Paya today called on the OAS to support the right
of the Cuban people to decide on their destiny.

"To the point that Cuba is democratizing, all democracies in Latin
America will also gain stability," said the opposition leader, who hoped
that "today is the beginning of an OAS commitment to the cause of rights
and freedom in Cuba."

She pointed out that they do not expect the OAS to "speak out against
anyone," but instead to put itself "on the side of all Cuban citizens in
their right to begin a transition process."

Source: Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio,
EFE – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/oswaldo-paya-award-ceremony-is-absent-the-winners-14ymedio-efe/ Continue reading
Cuban Government Blocks Several Guests From Entering Cuba For The
Oswaldo Payá Award / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 21 February 2017 – The Cuban government has mobilized
in the last hours to prevent several guests from arriving in Havana to
attend to Oswaldo Paya Award ceremony, scheduled for tomorrow,
Wednesday, at 11:00 am. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has
been the most recent to make public that Cuban immigration authorities
did not allow him to enter the country.

"We are informed by Immigration of Cuba that passenger FCH is not
authorized to enter Cuba and request that he not be documented on flight
AM451", Calderón published in his Twitter account transmitting the
message that the Aeromexico airline gave him.

For the moment, Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confined itself
to regretting the decision of the Cuban government not to allow the
entry into its territory of the ex-president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa,
through the Ministry's official Twitter account.

Calderón is the third case known today, after those of independent
journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantin Ferreiro, who were
prevented from traveling from Camagüey to Havana. In addition Mariana
Aylwin, a former Chilean Minister, was prevented from boarding a plane
in Chile to travel to the Cuban capital on Monday, to collect the
posthumous award for her father, former President Patricio Aylwin.

The entry veto augurs diplomatic consequences, as Bachelet's government
has already announced that it will call Chile's ambassador on the island
to protest the decision. "The Government of Chile deeply regrets the
situation that has affected former minister and former parliamentarian
Mariana Aylwin being prevented from traveling to Cuba," the Foreign
Ministry said in a statement.

"The problem was fundamentally the visit of Almagro. I had my tourist
visa. I had problems checking in and I went to the airport early, where
they told me I was would not be admitted to Cuba," Aylwin told 14ymedio.

The Cuban government notified the Chilean Foreign Ministry that her
visit was not welcome. However, Mariana Aylwin no longer holds positions
in the Chilean Administration. "As I do not represent the Government, I
decided to go as many democrats came to support our struggle during the
dictatorship," she explained.

The former secretary of state explained that she would receive the award
given to her father "for the defense of democratic values."

"It's an arbitrary act, I deeply regret it because my dad opened
diplomatic relations with Cuba and now they do this," she said. Aylwin
described what happened as an "act of a dictatorship and
incomprehensible in the 21st century," and recalled "when, during the
time of Pinochet, there were many Democrats who wanted to come to give
us their solidarity who also could not enter Chile."

"That is the difference of a democracy and a dictatorship. They are
afraid of everything that opposes them in their arbitrary desires, they
own the truth, they impose themselves by force," she said, although she
admits that the country's situation hurts more than her personally. "It
hurts me a lot more that there is repression in Cuba than that I am
prevented from coming. Be of good cheer!!! There are many of us who are
with you," she told this newspaper.

Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late opponent Oswaldo Payá, has
denounced the decision taken by the Cuban Government and has made public
the document delivered to the former Chilean minister at the
airport. The text reads "Do not approve nor send the passenger [Mariana
Aylwin] who is inadmissible in Cuba."

Payá, who leads the initiative Cuba Decides, which calls for holding a
plebiscite on the island to initiate a transition to democracy, lamented
what happened and added that "now more than ever we have to work to
recover our nation hijacked by an elite never chosen by anyone."

In addition to these actions, travel bans have also been imposed on
journalists Henry Constantin Ferreiro and Sol García Basulto. Garcia
Basulto, a correspondent for 14ymedio in Camagüey, was detained until
six o'clock in the morning, while Constantin Ferreiro is still being held.

García Basulto explained that both were arrested inside Ignacio
Agramonte International Airport when they were preparing to take a
flight to Havana that departed at midnight Monday. Police seized her
"cell phone and several documents" that she carried with her, she
explained via telephone.

After the arrest, García Basulto was transferred to the third Police
Station in the Montecarlo District, where she remained until being
released shortly before dawn.

Last November, the Garcia Basulto remained under house arrest for
several days while the caravan with the ashes of former President Fidel
Castro was traveling across the country. On that occasion State Security
agents guarded her door to prevent her from leaving.

Constantin Ferreiro's mother declared at midday that from seven in the
evening on Monday, "the police had set up an operation around the house
but he had already left for the airport."

Constantín, who was named last December as regional vice president for
Cuba for the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), also serves as
director of the magazine La Hora de Cuba and at the time of his
appointment at the IAPA he committed to disseminate " The reality of
journalism "in the island. The organization has issued a press
release condemning Constantin's detention, demanding his immediate
release and calling on the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of the
press and expression.

In addition, Rosa María Payá informed 14ymedio that Cuba Decides
coordinators in Holguin Province, Julio Cesar Alvarez and Felix Fara,
were arrested on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Payá said that
Álvarez was arrested "just after" she called him to invite him to
tomorrow's event.

Thanks to some relatives of the activists, she learned that they are
still being detained as of Monday at the Holguín City Security Unit and
that their wives were warned not to approach the place to find out
anything because they would also be detained.

The first ceremony of the Oswaldo Payá "Liberty and Life" Award is
scheduled for Wednesday, and Luis Almagro, secretary general of the
Organization of American States, and, posthumously Patricio Aylwin
Constantín, will be honored.

The award recognizes "persons or institutions, whose career or concrete
action have highlighted the effective promotion and defense of human
rights, life and democracy." The award is a project of the Latin
American Network of Youth for Democracy, led by Rosa Maria Payá. The
entity brings together members of civil society, political parties and
student organizations in more than twenty countries in the region.

Source: Cuban Government Blocks Several Guests From Entering Cuba For
The Oswaldo Payá Award / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-government-blocks-several-guests-from-entering-cuba-for-the-oswaldo-paya-award-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara
and Daniel Delisau

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata and Daniel Delisau, Havana/Las Palmas de Gran
Canaria, 20 February 2017 — The players arrange their dominoes on the
table. Outside, the sun still floods the wide entryway on Monserrate
Street in Old Havana and time seems to have stopped. The scene occurs
at the Canary Island Association of Cuba, a community that languishes
between nostalgia and lack of resources.

People from the Canary Island migrated to Cuba for decades. In 1862
there were 48,192 Canary Islanders in Cuba, 41.5% of the total Spaniards
in the country. The flow continued, with highs and lows, and between
1898 and 1932, another 70,000 Canary Islanders arrived.

The descendants of those travelers maintain some of their customs and
gather at the Association that bears the name of Jose Marti's mother,
Leonor Perez.

In the main building, there's a cultural folk night every Thursday, with
typical dances and songs although the average age of the regulars is
over 60 and the younger ones rarely come, says an employee of the place.
"They are older people, most of them with economic needs," she explains
to 14ymedio. "They need food and basic products like vitamins,
disposable diapers, bedsore creams, wheelchairs or walkers. But we are
less and less able to help them, because they've cut off a lot of the
aid to us," she adds.

"When they are helpless we have to send them to the Church, because this
Association is going through a bad time. We can barely help them and we
also have to prepare the activities we hold here," she confessed. "This
building consumes a tremendous amount of resources and keeping the doors
open every day is a heroic task."

Upstairs, sales of food and drink try to raise some cash. Coffee, soft
drinks, chicken and garbanzo Milanese, says the menu board. But the food
service isn't enough to stop the institution's decline. A deterioration
hardly noticeable to the newcomer, dazzled by the majesty of the
interior and the recently painted façade.

The Association has around 47,000 members throughout the country, and
those who are able pay 12 Cuban pesos a month in dues. This money is
barely enough to run the building, a few yards from the most luxurious
hotels in Havana's historic center, nor to maintain the association's 14
houses across the country.

In mid-2014, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the government of
the Canary Islands sent three grants worth 16,000, 9,000 and 6,000 euros
for the Association, intended for a day care center for the elderly, the
purchase of medications, and repairs and improvements to the Guines
headquarters. But the resources were quickly depleted due to high
demand, according to internal sources.

The president of the Association, Carmelo Gonzalez Acosta, traveled to
the Canaries this January to remind its public administration of the
need to maintain the aid and interviewed the Deputy Minister of Foreign
Action, Pedro Rodríguez Zaragoza, with a view to "recovering the support
of the Community Administration toward those who have Canary Island
blood in their veins," reported local media.

The Cuban authorities also asked the Canary Island government to help
them by sending a stone mill to supply Canary descendants with gofio
(flour made from roasted grains), the Cuban consul in the Canary
Islands, Ulises Barquin, explained recently in an interview.

The official explained that the gofio disappeared "at the end of the
1980s with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which was the main
supplier of wheat," but now they want to restart the production because
"it goes far beyond the food aspect… it has an enormous symbolic value."

The mill sounds like a distant promise to those who spend their hours in
the spacious facility in Monserrate Street. "Before, you could come here
and eat very cheaply, but we've lost a lot of options," complains an old
man. "Now they don't sell custard and rice pudding for us, which I can't
eat any more because my sugar is through the roof."

Paco, a Cuban son of the Canaries, feels grateful for being able to
count on a place to "meet friends and have a good time." His two sons
emigrated to get Spanish nationality and now the old man waits to "have
a place in the Canary Island vault in Havana's Columbus Cemetery,"
because his family "doesn't have a proper tomb."

A woman walks through the wide gate and asks the receptionist if there
will be a feast for Easter. Her name is María Antonia Hernández, she is
56 years old and she is the granddaughter of a Canary Islander who came
to the Island at the beginning of the 20th century. "He came looking for
a better life and ended up owning a bodega in San Antonio de los Baños,"
says the woman. "A short time later he married a woman from Pinar del
Rio and they had eight children."

Roberto Domínguez, author of the book Ariguanabo: History, Music and
Poetry, says that "the behavior, the character and the way of being of
Cubans is very linked to the Canary Islands." He calculates that at
present in Cuba "there are at least 650,000 Canary Islanders of their
descendants.

When she was a child and was annoyed by something, Maria Antonia
Hernandez's mother repeated with a sneer that she was acting like an
"islander" like her grandfather. Although Cuba is also subject to "the
damn circumstances of water everywhere," according to the poet and
playwright Virgilio Pinera, Cubans rarely self-define as islanders. In
the popular language "islander" is reserved for those from the Canary
Islands.

"We are the few who called them by their place of origin, because the
rest of the Spaniards call them Galicians," reflects the granddaughter
of the old man. "He had a lot of friends who came from villages close to
his and he loved to eat ropa vieja, but with garbanzos," she recalls.

Hernandez tried to obtain Spanish nationality through the Law of
Historical Memory, popularly known as the Law of Grandchildren, but
failed to complete the paperwork with all the required documents. "My
grandfather came to this country with just his clothes and always gave
very little importance to the papers," she laments.

Failure to obtain a European Community Passport has meant a severe
economic blow for her. Earlier this month the Spanish Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Cooperation announced the subsistence allowances for
2017, support that would have been very welcome to María Antonia
Hernandez, who is retired with the equivalent of 10 euros per month.

Others have been luckier than this descendant of a Canary
Islander. According to Cuba's National Statistics Institute (INE), as of
January 2015, 119,662 Spaniards resided in Cuba, the vast majority of
them Cubans who obtained Spanish nationality through the law of
grandchildren. In 2014 alone, some 5,618 nationals received their
European Community passport through that route.

Maria Antonia's grandfather was never able to return to his homeland.
"He died a few days after the events of the Port of Mariel," the
migratory crisis that led thousands of Cubans to escape the island in
1980 and that came to be known in the United States as the Mariel
Boatlift. "He would not have believed that the country he had come to
would have turned out like this."

"The bodega was nationalized and suffered directly from the shortage of
things that he liked most: tobacco, gofio and sardines," recalls Maria
Antonia. As an inheritance he left her an old mahogany wardrobe and a
three-string guitar that he played in country parties.

From Island to Island

José Luis Mosqueda is president of the Association of Cuban Residents in
Gran Canaria, the second largest of the Canary Islands. The entity "was
created six years ago and is meant to bring together the majority of
Cubans" who reside on that other island, he comments to 14ymedio.

The group has 112 members and the last public event they celebrated was
for the anniversary of José Martí, when they took flowers to a bust of
him in Telde. "The mother of José Martí was from Tenerife, but her
ancestors, the grandparents, were from San Mateo, in Gran Canaria,"
Mosqueda proudly remarks.

Consul Ulises Barquín estimates that there are some 22,700 Cubans spread
over the seven islands that make up the archipelago, "although 25 to 30%
of them are not physically here" because "they left with the economic
crisis or they repatriated themselves after Cuba changed its controls on
travel and migration, in January 2013, eliminating the requirement for
an exit permit to leave the country.

"In actual numbers, we are around 15-16,000 Cubans living in the Canary
Islands, with Tenerife having the most," and 95% of them are
regularized, says the consul.

Mosqueda emigrated to Gran Canaria 26 years ago. His sister is married
to "a Canarian of those who went to Cuba to avoid military service
during the Spanish Civil War," he says. In 1961 they decided to return
and soon the brother joined them.

When he arrived he began to work "in a company that polishes parquet and
granite, with a friend of the family." Later, he became independent and
created "a building and renovation business," he adds. He then set up an
aluminum workshop where he has been working for 15 years.

The association that he leads, Mosqueda says, brings together those who
"continue to believe that they are really Cuban and still love Cuba."

Source: Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mara and Daniel Delisau – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/canary-islanders-in-cuba-islanders-two-ways-14ymedio-zunilda-mara-and-daniel-delisau/ Continue reading
14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 22 February 2017 — The presentation of the Oswaldo Payá “Freedom and Life” Prize has led to a diplomatic conflict, after the Cuban government vetoed the entry into the country of three of the guests: OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Mariana Aylwin. Almagro, Calderón and Chilean delegate Mariana … Continue reading "Oswaldo Payá Award Ceremony Is Absent The Winners / 14ymedio, EFE" Continue reading
… group’s “life-changing” interaction with Cuban musicians in 2015. See the … connection between New Orleans and Cuba, as both served as a … different forms. You travel from Havana to Santiago, and it feels … their first trip outside of Havana,” he said. “Having those students … Continue reading
OAS chief denied visa to visit Cuba
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 | 10:38 AM

WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Cuban authorities have denied a visa
to the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to
travel to the communist-ruled island to receive a prize from a dissident
organisation, he said Wednesday.

Almagro had been invited to receive a prize named for dissident Oswaldo
Paya, who died in 2012 in a car crash under mysterious circumstances.

"My request for a visa for the official OAS passport was denied by the
Cuban consulate in Washington," Almagro said in a letter to Paya's
daughter Rosa Maria, who organised the ceremony to confer the prize.

Almagro said he was informed by Cuban consular authorities that he would
be denied a visa even if he travelled on his Uruguayan diplomatic passport.

The Cubans conveyed to a representative of Almagro that they regarded
the motive of his visit an "unacceptable provocation," and expressed
"astonishment" at the OAS's involvement in what they deemed anti-Cuban
activities, he said.

Almagro said he asked that the decision be reversed, arguing that his
trip to Cuba was no different from events he had participated in other
countries of the region.

Two other political figures who wanted to travel to Cuba for the award
ceremony — Mexico's former president Felipe Calderon and former Chilean
education minister Mariana Aylwin — said they also had been denied visas.

Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962 at the height of the Cold War,
and has declined to return despite having been readmitted in 2009.

Since Cuba's suspension, the only OAS secretary general to visit the
island was Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean who attended a Latin American
summit in Havana in 2014.

Source: OAS chief denied visa to visit Cuba - News - JamaicaObserver.com
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/OAS-chief-denied-visa-to-visit-Cuba Continue reading
Cuba blocks Chilean, Mexican former officials from entry

Cuba stoked tensions across Latin America on Tuesday by blocking a
former Chilean minister and one of Mexico's ex-presidents from traveling
to the island to attend an award ceremony hosted by political dissidents.

Chile said it was recalling its ambassador to Cuba for consultation and
asking the Cuban government why Mariana Aylwin, a former education
minister and daughter of an ex-president, was blocked from entering Cuba
on Monday night.

Aylwin was traveling to the island to receive a prize on behalf of her
father. The event, planned for Wednesday, was organized by the Latin
American Network of Youth for Democracy, a group opposed to the
Communist government.

Cuba opposes anything that legitimizes dissidents, which it claims are
funded by U.S. interests. The government is bracing for a tougher U.S.
approach to the island under President Donald Trump.

"Exercising the right (to travel between nations) should not be
interfered with, especially given that Chile has recognized the feats of
various figures in Cuban history and politics," Chile's Foreign
Relations Ministry said in a statement.

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon tweeted on Tuesday that Cuban
immigration prevented him from boarding a flight from Mexico City to
Havana to attend the same meeting.

Aylwin was prevented from checking in to her flight in Chile's capital,
Santiago, apparently at the request of the Cuban authorities, she told
journalists on Tuesday.

Calderon, from Mexico's conservative National Action Party, ruled Mexico
from 2006 to 2012 and improved relations with Cuba, which had been
severely tested by his predecessor.

Mexico's foreign ministry said on its Twitter account that it
"regretted" Cuba's decision to block Calderon's entry.

The group, known as JuventudLAC, has also invited Luis Almagro, the head
of the Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba in 1962 for
being Communist. It agreed in 2009 to lift the ruling, but Cuba declined
to rejoin the Washington-based group, which it deems an instrument of
its former Cold War foe the United States.

"The behavior of the Cuban government is deeply gross, vulgar and rude,"
Rosa Maria Paya, the group's leader and daughter of dissident Oswaldo
Paya, who died in 2012, told Chilean media.

"We have all received information that (invited guests) are receiving
pressure from the Cuban government."

Mariana Aylwin is seen as an ideological leader of the most conservative
segment of Chile's center-left ruling coalition. Her father was Chile's
first democratically elected president after the 1973 to 1990
dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Santiago; Additional reporting by Sarah
Marsh in Havana; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)

Source: Cuba blocks Chilean, Mexican former officials from entry |
Reuters - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-chile-cuba-idUSKBN1602IB Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 21 February 2017 – The Cuban government has mobilized in the last hours to prevent several guests from arriving in Havana to attend to Oswaldo Paya Award ceremony, scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, at 11:00 am. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been the most recent to make public that Cuban immigration authorities did … Continue reading "Cuban Government Blocks Several Guests From Entering Cuba For The Oswaldo Payá Award / 14ymedio" Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata and Daniel Delisau, Havana/Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 20 February 2017 — The players arrange their dominoes on the table. Outside, the sun still floods the wide entryway on Monserrate Street in Old Havana and time seems to have stopped. The scene occurs at the Canary Island Association of Cuba, a community that languishes between … Continue reading "Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara and Daniel Delisau" Continue reading
¿Qué debe saber si quiere emigrar a Estados Unidos? 14YMEDIO, Miami | Febrero 20, 2017 1. ¿Qué fue la política de pies secos/pies mojados? La política de pies secos/pies mojados fue una orden dictada por el presidente Bill Clinton en 1995, pocos meses después de la Crisis de los Balseros. Mientras estuvo vigente, los cubanos […] Continue reading
Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to
Improve Public Transport? / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2017 — Seven in the morning at the bus stop at
Acosta Avenue and Poey Street, in the dense La Vibora neighborhood in
southern Havana. Almost a hundred people are waiting for the No. 174 bus
to Vedado.

While waiting for the bus, some take the opportunity to have a coffee
from the roving coffee-seller. Others breakfast on bread with croquette
or an egg sandwich from a private cantina, continually looking at the
bus stop, in case a 'guagua' (bus) shows up.

Also at Acosta and Poey, some 40 people are in a line waiting for their
turn to catch a shared-taxi to Vedado. Jaime, a maintenance worker in a
polyclinic, can't give himself the luxury of taking taxis.

"In the morning the taxi driver charges twenty "reeds" (Cuban pesos,
CUP) to Vedado. Since I work in Playa, I have to take a second taxi for
another 20 pesos. The return is the same. Eighty 'coconuts' to come and
go from work, and I only get paid 20 a day. If I take a taxi I can make
the trip in an hour, and if I wait for the bus, it's three hours coming
and going. Many documentaries, books and recorded chats about the life
and work of Fidel Castro, but the government spent 60 years without
being able to solve the transport problem. This is crap, brother," says
Jaime, notably angry.

If you want to meet a Cuban ruminating on the horrors of Castroism,
visit him at home during a blackout, or ask him about the supposed
benefits of socialism at the bus stop crammed with people.

At best, he relaxes at a popular pachanga (party) with some cheap beer
and infamous rum, with reggaeton or aggressive timba in the background.
But when it comes from moving from one place to other in Havana, they
put on a whole other face.

Like Mireya's face right now. She's a kitchen helper at a school. "Oh
mother. I leave at 6:30 in the morning to catch a bus. And at 8:00 I'm
still at the stop. And when you do manage to get on, you have to keep
your wits about you because at least opportunity the pickpockets will
lift your wallet. And don't even talk about the perverts. They shove
themselves up against your 'package' from behind like you're their wife.
The other day some shameless guy was so hot he took it out and
masturbated in plain sight," said Mireya, talking openly to everyone
around her.

The lines at the butcher shop to buy "chicken for fish," or to do legal
paperwork, or to wait for public transport, have become a kind of
people's plaza where a journalist, politician or specialist in social
topics could take the pulse of a nation. Two years ago, the president of
Finland disguised himself as a taxi driver to learn his compatriot's
opinions about his management of the state. That would be a good example
for the Cuban authorities to follow.

Managing efficient public transport, be it land, air, rail or sea, is
something the olive green junta that governs Cuban can't get done.

Fidel Castro, today feted for his extensive anti-imperialist discourse
and his role in the decolonization struggle of Africa, was never able to
design a working transportation system for the island.

Havana, with its million and a half inhabitants, and a million foreign
tourists and illegal visitors from other provinces, probably features
among the worst cities of the world to get from one place or another
quickly and cheaply.

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro acquired three thousand Leyland buses in
Great Britain for urban and interprovincial transport. But it wasn't
like that. In the following decades, they were bought in Spain, Japan,
Hungary, Brazil and China.

In Havana it has always been an odyssey to travel by bus. At its best,
there were more than 100 bus routes in the capital and 2,500 buses plus
a fleet of 4,000 taxis, bought from the Argentina military dictatorship,
although they never finished paying for them.

With the coming of the Special Period in 1990, the closest thing to a
war without bombs, public transport experienced its real death throes.
The "camels" — a monster patented by some sadistic engineer — were
container trailers outfitted with seats and pulled by a semi-truck
tractor unit that could carry 300 people each, packed like sardines in a
can.

Havanans still remember the memorable brawls inside the "camels," worthy
of an Olympic boxing match. Those steel boxes were saunas in the
tropical heat and according to street legends they served to procreate
dozens of kids of unknown fathers.

If every Cuban state official had to pay a penny for every revealed lie,
believe me, there would be a legion of new rich on the island. Many
thought it was a bad joke, but in 2014, the government, in complete
seriousness, after authorizing the sale of Peugeots at Ferrari prices,
announced that they were going to use the profits to create a fund to
buy buses to improve urban transport.

Three years later not a single Peugeot 508 has been sold. Logically, you
don't have to have a Nobel in economics to know that no one is going to
pay the equivalent of 300,000 dollars for a touring car. And in cash.

Thus, ordinary Cubans like the worker Jaime and the cook Mireya, are
still waiting two hours to board a city bus. Until all those lovely
Peugeots are sold.

Source: Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s
to Improve Public Transport? / Iván García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/do-we-have-to-wait-for-the-government-to-sell-the-peugeot-508s-to-improve-public-transport-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Cuban Doctors Stranded: Can't Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in Colombia
by CARMEN SESIN

When Adrian Lezcano Rodriguez, a physical therapist from Cuba, was
chosen to serve on a "mission" in the small town of Maroa in the Amazon
rainforest of Venezuela, he knew he would defect. He would make his way
to the U.S. embassy in Colombia, and apply for the Cuban Medical
Professional Parole Program (CMPP), which up until January 12, allowed
certain Cuban medical personnel to apply for U.S. visas.

Lezcano spent around 20 days in the jungle town working in a small
clinic, which only had electricity for about two hours a day. He ate
once a day, usually lunch.

"If it rained, we drank rain water. If not, we would drink water from
the river," he said by telephone.

Lezcano met a few local indigenous men who were willing to take him, for
a fee, through the treacherous Río Negro to the border with Colombia.
During the five-day journey, they slept along the banks of the river at
night. During the day, they would get lost at times. The boat would
often get stuck in the sand, and they would have to push it so they
could continue on their journey.

When he finally arrived at the border with Colombia the night of January
12, Lezcano found out that just a few hours earlier, former President
Barack Obama had ended the CMPP. It took another day to get to the
capital in Bogotá, where he tried to speak to someone at the U.S.
embassy, but he was turned away. "I was so frustrated," he said.

Lezcano lives in a house with nine other Cubans who have been left in an
unusual situation. He has run out of money and sometimes goes two days
without eating.

Just like Lezcano, there are over a dozen Cuban doctors and other
medical professionals who abandoned their posts in Venezuela and were in
transit to the U.S. embassy in Bogotá when the parole program was
abruptly ended. They say they cannot return to Cuba and they face
deportation if they remain in Colombia. The only reason they risked
deserting was to apply for the now defunct program.

The government of Cuba has said it will accept Cuban doctors and
reincorporate them into the national health system. But, those stranded
in Colombia insist this is not true. They say desertion is considered
treason in the communist island. Those who defect are punished, medical
degrees are revoked, and society scorns them.

Sending doctors and other medical professionals to countries like
Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia on "misiones internacionalistas" is an
important source of revenue for the communist island. In 2014, it
totaled $8 billion - though recently they have scaled back on their
operations in Venezuela because of the economic crisis.

Raúl Castro applauded the end of the CMPP. The government always said
the program robbed the island of professionals they had educated. But
according to health care workers, the "missions' are equivalent to
indentured servitude. They are pressured to meet a quota of patients per
day, their accommodations are meager and they are paid a small fraction
of what the Cuban government receives for their services. They say the
parole program was their only way out.

That was what Yenniffer Santiesteban, a 25 year-old doctor from Holguin,
had in mind when she decided to defect after 15 months in the state of
Sucre in Venezuela. She had been seeing up to 35 patients a day, but the
money she made disappeared in buying food.

"I was wasting my money to subsist in a foreign country — you spend
months working hard and you don't see the results," she said. She became
disillusioned. She wanted to flee and take advantage of the CMPP, but it
meant spending years without seeing her family. Doctors who defect are
barred from entering Cuba for eight years.

On January 10th she decided to leave, but her supervisors had been
tipped off and caught her before she could escape. Before being taken to
the airport and returned to Cuba, she and her two supervisors stopped at
a restaurant to eat. She pretended she needed to use the bathroom,
grabbed her backpack, and fled.

Santiesteban said she did not have a phone and had no idea how to get to
Colombia. She went to a cyber café, contacted friends, and figured out
the best route. She stayed in a motel that night and began her journey
the following day. When she finally arrived in Bogotá on the 13th, a
friend who had defected earlier, took her in and explained the CMPP had
been terminated the day before.

"I was disappointed, desolate, depressed, and enraged," she said.
Santiesteban is now staying in a two-bedroom apartment with six other
Cubans hoping that the Trump administration reinstates the CMPP.

When asked to comment on these particular Cubans, the White House said
in an email, "the administration is reviewing all aspects of the US-Cuba
policy, we do not have any further information to offer other than that
at this time." At a February briefing, White House press secretary Sean
Spicer said the policies "are in the midst of a full review."

Cuban-American lawmakers, like Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio,
both Florida Republicans, have expressed hope that the Trump
administration reinstates the medical parole program.

"If that takes a long time or if the Trump administration doesn't agree
to do that then obviously we want this specific group to be given as
much consideration as possible given their unique circumstance," Curbelo
told NBC Latino.

He said all of the Cuban-Americans in Congress agree the program should
be reinstated. "We will continue communicating to them that while we
understand the broader policy (wet foot, dry foot) had to change, that
particular element of it is worth keeping," Curbelo said. Wet foot, dry
foot refers to the policy that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to
stay as legal permanent residents, but returned to Cuba those captured
on the open sea.

Reversing Obama's policy on the medical program seems like an easy
maneuver for Trump, according to William LeoGrande, a professor of
government at American University who coauthored "Back Channel to Cuba:
The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana." He
said, "the problem is that if he does reinstate the parole program, the
Cubans may back away from their willingness to cooperate on immigration
more broadly."

He thinks it's possible the small group of Cubans who were in transit
when the policy changed could still be admitted because the attorney
general has broad discretionary authority to parole into the U.S. people
who don't have a valid visa on humanitarian grounds. "These would seem
to be cases that qualify for that because they took certain actions in
anticipation of what the U.S. had promised them and then the U.S.
changed the program," LeoGrande said.

In the past few years, the number of Cubans applying to the program more
than tripled, according to numbers provided by U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services. In fiscal year 2014, a total of 1,208 applications
were submitted and 76 percent were approved. But by fiscal year 2016,
the number of applicants soared to 3,907 and 86 percent of those were
paroled.

Until January 12, applicants who were denied visas made their way to the
U.S. -Mexico border and entered the U.S. under the wet foot/dry foot
policy, but Obama also terminated the policy. Now, the applicants who
are denied visas are also stuck in a similar situation: unwilling to
return to Cuba and unable to stay in Colombia.

There are about 10 Cubans in Bogotá who have been denied visas during
the past month, according to Yusnel Santos, who is also in Colombia and
keeps track of the Cubans in Colombia and Bolivia waiting for their
applications to be processed - something that can take months. According
to Santos, there are about 500 Cubans in Colombia waiting for visas and
about 16 who did not arrive on time to apply for the program.

Marisleidy Boza Varona, a 26 year-old dentist from Camaguey, thought of
defecting from the beginning. When she arrived to the city of Guayana in
Venezuela, and saw the conditions she would have to endure, it made her
more eager to leave.

"We would only eat once a day because we didn't have enough money," she
said.

Sometimes she would have to "invent" to reach the quota of patients she
had to see per day. "People would cancel and I would have to fill that
space, if not, it would be a big problem for me," she said.

On January 9, a friend sent her a text message saying to be vigilant
because their superiors suspected she would defect. She began to receive
calls from the coordinator of the program. That's when she fled and hid
inside the house of a friend. On the 13th, she decided it was safe
enough to make her way to Colombia and it was along the way that she
found out Obama had already ended the program.

"I was in shock. Everything came crashing to the ground … I know people
who have returned to Cuba and they lose everything. They lose their
diploma. They send you to work in the mountains as punishment," she said.

"We all have faith that the U.S. government will realize the situation
we are in," Boza said crying.

Source: Cuban Doctors Stranded: Can't Travel to US, Cuba, or Stay in
Colombia - NBC News -
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/cuban-doctors-stranded-can-t-travel-us-cuba-or-stay-n720491 Continue reading
McGovern in Cuba to discuss new partnerships
Worcester Democrat is part of bipartisan delegation
By Anthony Fay
Published: February 20, 2017, 9:48 am

WASHINGTON (WWLP) – Congressman Jim McGovern is in Cuba with a group of
other members of Congress, to discuss increasing cooperation between the
two nations. McGovern (D-Worcester), who has long advocated for the end
of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is attending meetings on a
variety of issues, ranging from health care to human rights.

"Americans are ready for a 21st Century approach to Cuba, and two year's
after President Obama's historic announcement of a new U.S.-Cuba policy,
I am proud that this delegation will build on that progress," McGovern
said in a news release sent to 22News.

Obama removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism,
oversaw the re-opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana, and allowed for the
loosening of some trade and travel restrictions relating to Cuba,
however there are still many barriers to travel and trade between the
U.S. and the communist-controlled island.

During the trip, McGovern and fellow Massachusetts Congressman Seth
Moulton (D-Salem) will attend meetings with members of the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council, the Washington Office on Latin America, and a
group from Northeastern University that is investigating academic and
business partnerships in the country.

Other members of the congressional delegation in Cuba are Sen. Patrick
Leahy (D-Vermont), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Sen. Michael
Bennet (D-Colorado), and Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico). The lawmakers
departed for Cuba on Sunday, and will return on Thursday.

Source: McGovern in Cuba to discuss new partnerships | WWLP.com -
http://wwlp.com/2017/02/20/mcgovern-in-cuba-to-discuss-new-partnerships/ Continue reading
Los estadounidenses no viajan a Cuba ahora que pueden hacerlo, según ‘Bloomberg’ DDC | Washington | 19 de Febrero de 2017 – 19:05 CET. Los estadounidenses no viajan a Cuba ahora que pueden hacerlo, entre otros factores por los problemas que encuentran los turistas con la inflación y los altos precios, cuestiones legales como las […] Continue reading

14ymedio

¿Qué fue la política de pies secos/pies mojados?

La política de pies secos/pies mojados fue una orden dictada por el presidente Bill Clinton en 1995, pocos meses después de la Crisis de los Balseros. Mientras estuvo vigente, los cubanos que trataban de llegar a Estados Unidos y eran interceptados en el mar, eran devueltos a la Isla. Aquellos que tocaban territorio norteamericano eran acogidos. El pasado 12 de enero el presidente Barack Obama puso fin a esa política.

2. ¿La Ley de Ajuste Cubano sigue en pie?

Sí. La Ley de Ajuste Cubano (CAA, por sus siglas en inglés), aprobada por el Congreso en 1966, se mantiene vigente. Esta norma permite a los cubanos que llevan un año y un día en suelo estadounidense obtener la residencia permanente, la conocida green card.

El abogado especialista en inmigración de Miami, Wilfredo Allen, explicó a 14ymedio que para obtener la green card bajo la CAA se necesitan cuatro condiciones:

- Ser cubano por nacimiento o por haberse acogido a esa ciudadanía.

- Haber entrado legalmente a EE UU (con visado).

- Permanecer un año en territorio de Estados Unidos.

- No cometer delitos ni tener problemas con la justicia durante ese período.

3. ¿Se debe demostrar persecución política para beneficiarse con la Ley de Ajuste Cubano?

La Ley de Ajuste Cubano no requiere demostrar persecución política.

4. ¿Recibirán los cubanos que entran con visado de turista ayuda del Gobierno durante el proceso para acogerse a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano?

Los cubanos que entren a Estados Unidos con visado no podrán obtener ayudas de Children and Family como hasta enero de 2017, aclara a este diario la abogada Grisel Ibarra.

5. Con una visa temporal para ingresar a Estados Unidos, ¿qué no se debe decir en el aeropuerto?

No es recomendable decir al oficial de inmigración frases como "me quiero quedar" o "me acojo a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano". En ese caso el viajero podría ser deportado de forma expedita. En caso de que se pregunte por una intención de residir en el país es mejor negarla e insistir en los motivos familiares, turísticos o culturales del viaje temporal. Nunca reconocer que se ha trabajado sin permiso en visitas anteriores.

6. ¿Mostrar en la ventanilla de inmigración el pasaporte español o el cubano?

Los cubanos nacionalizados españoles pueden continuar viajando a Estados Unidos sin visado gracias al Visa Waiver Program que incluye a 38 naciones del mundo. Solo tendrán que cumplir los requisitos de ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) a través de un formulario en internet. Es importante no mostrar el pasaporte cubano en la ventanilla de inmigración, en cuyo caso podrían ser deportados de inmediato.

7. ¿Al entrar con un pasaporte español es posible acogerse a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano?

Sí, aunque se deben cumplir los requisitos de permanencia en territorio estadounidense, que incluyen no cometer ningún delito durante el año y un día en que se espera para poder solicitar la CAA.

8. ¿Al entrar con visa de turismo es posible acogerse a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano?

Sí, pero solo si se espera un año y un día en territorio estadounidense sin tener problemas con la justicia. "El delito que cometen quedándose ilegal al expirar su visa es un delito curable que se elimina al acogerse a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano", explica el abogado Wilfredo Allen.

Todavía nadie ha cumplido ese plazo de tiempo en EE UU tras el fin de la política de pies secos/pies mojados el pasado 13 de enero, por lo que no hay antecedentes.

9. ¿Qué pasa cuando se llega en balsa a Estados Unidos?

Un balsero que logre tocar territorio estadounidense habrá llegado a ese país de forma ilegal y no podrá acogerse a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano. Es necesario entrar legalmente para tener derecho a solicitar ese beneficio pasado un año y un día de permanencia en ese país.

10. ¿Qué pasa si la guardia costera detiene a un balsero?

Será devuelto de manera inmediata a Cuba.

11. ¿Se puede pedir asilo político a los oficiales en la frontera de Estados Unidos?

Los oficiales deben ver en el solicitante un temor creíble y lo conducirán bajo arresto a territorio norteamericano. Allí estará el tiempo que precise un juez para atender su caso. El asilo político será muy difícil de probar si nunca se ha tenido una trayectoria política en Cuba ni militado en alguna organización de la oposición.

En caso de que el juez falle a su favor, será dejado en libertad con el estatus de asilado, que, en caso de permanecer un año en territorio de Estados Unidos, le permitiría acogerse a la CAA. Si el juez considera que el asilo no tiene lugar, el migrante será devuelto a Cuba.

12. ¿Se puede perder el permiso de residencia por un viaje a Cuba?

No existe ningún impedimento, hasta ahora, para que los cubanos continúen visitando a sus familiares en la Isla. Independientemente de las siglas que se encuentren en la residencia permanente, aquellas personas que tienen green card pueden entrar y salir de Estados Unidos.

En el caso de los cubanos que han obtenido el asilo político, Allen tampoco cree que tengan inconvenientes en viajar a la Isla. Eso sí, se recomienda que los viajes sean justificados. "Si un oficial de inmigración pregunta a la persona por qué viajó al país desde donde salió huyendo por una supuesta persecución y el cubano tiene una explicación plausible, no debe tener ningún problema", explicó el jurista.

13. A corto plazo, ¿los cubanos podrán viajar a Estados Unidos sin visado?

La posible inclusión de Cuba en el programa de exención de visas Waiver es una noticia falsa. "Esa es una categoría que se establece para aquellos países en los cuales los ciudadanos no tienen motivaciones de emigrar a Estados Unidos. En América Latina solo Chile tiene ese privilegio", agrega Ibarra.

14. ¿Qué está pasando con los médicos del Parole? ¿Por qué en las últimas semanas entraron algunos si el programa fue eliminado?

El Cuban Medical Professional Parole que permitía a los médicos cubanos en misión del Gobierno viajar a Estados Unidos fue eliminado también por el presidente Barack Obama. Ningún profesional de la salud que escape de las misiones en terceros países podrá viajar legalmente a Estados Unidos, a no ser que logre un visado de turista. Los galenos que arribaron desde Colombia, Brasil u otros países ya habían tramitado sus solicitudes antes del 12 de enero pasado.

15. ¿Cuba será excluida de la Lotería de Visas?

De momento la lotería internacional de visas se mantiene para la Isla.

16. ¿Ha cambiado el proceso de pedir visas en el consulado de EE UU en La Habana?

El proceso sigue siendo igual. El programa de reunificación familiar también se mantiene.

Continue reading
… relations with Cuba back in 2014, many expected that Cuba would become … for its Cuban flights. Speaking to an expert in Cuban travel, Bloomberg … a fully legal trip to Cuba. The embargo remains intact, blocking … caused prices to quadruple in Cuba, making this a pricey option … Continue reading
… government of Cuba has said it will accept Cuban doctors and reincorporate … two-bedroom apartment with six other Cubans hoping that the Trump administration … to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.… Cuba and unable to stay in Colombia. There are about 10 CubansContinue reading
Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2017 — Seven in the morning at the bus stop at Acosta Avenue and Poey Street, in the dense La Vibora neighborhood in southern Havana. Almost a hundred people are waiting for the No. 174 bus to Vedado. While waiting for the bus, some take the opportunity to have a coffee from … Continue reading "Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to Improve Public Transport? / Iván García" Continue reading
… Caribbean,” Cuba has been left in the past.  Cuba’s capital, Havana, was …  cars are the legacy of Cuban socialism, which survives only  through … of all political opposition.  The Cuban people are now enslaved, there … not travel to Cuba; “your paradise” is the Cuban’s hell. Fernando … Continue reading
Cuba abrió sus puertas pero ahora los estadounidenses no van Domingo, 19 de febrero del 2017 El resto del Caribe está animado con la multitud estadounidense del receso de invierno, pero Cuba tiene algunos problemas singulares. Aquí los detalles de su situación. (Bloomberg).- ¿Acaso en los Estados Unidos pasaron por alto la circular del sector […] Continue reading
5 errores que no deben cometer los cubanos tratando de entrar a EEUU Posted on 16 febrero, 2017 Por Ivette Leyva Martínez Tras la derogación de la política de “pies secos/pies mojados” y la imposición de órdenes ejecutivas del presidente Donald Trump sobre inmigración, los cubanos con intención de ingresar y radicarse en Estados Unidos […] Continue reading
Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by teething problems
Claire Boobbyer
The Telegraph 17 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

US and Cuba: a timeline

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

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

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

14 sights to catch before Cuba changes forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama's Glasnost

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pounds of Dollars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Now That Cuba Is Open, Americans Aren't Going - Bloomberg -
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-17/now-that-cuba-is-open-americans-aren-t-going Continue reading
In Cuba Most Small Businesses Are Still Illegal
February 17, 2017
By Eileen Sosin Martinez

HAVANA TIMES — Mairim Rodriguez* used to spend her days looking through
Revolico and other ad websites, seeing "what jobs were out there on the
market." She quickly found out that there were lots of other people in
the same position as her, and others wanting to find employees for their
private businesses.

Then, Mairim had an idea: "there isn't a job center for the
self-employed, which links owners to employees. So I had the idea of
putting out a job management ad, to connect both parties. And I got
called one day."

In the beginning, everything was experiential, until I managed to set up
a job fever system. Owners of restaurants, hair salons, home rentals…
contact her when they need staff with so and so requirements. On the
other hand, those who seek out opportunities outside of the public
sector also call her or send her an email.

She draws up a customer file where she collects all the essential
information; then she matches this information and sets up an interview.
If the employer and employee agree, and the person is hired, Mairim
charges them 5 CUC (5.70 USD) each. Given the time and energy she saves
them, the price is very reasonable.

"I started out with this because I came across a niche in the market.
Over 20 people call my house everyday, and while I'm talking, other
people leave me several messages on my answering machine," she tells me
and confirms that her initiative has been a great success.

Mairim is a chemical engineer and after having started up her job
agency, she has studied legal and economic issues. "In fact, I'm taking
a small business management course."

In spite of her interest and the tried-and-tested usefulness of her
business venture, what she's doing isn't allowed. Like a kind of legal
lifeline, she has taken out a license as a "Collector-payer" and wants
to present a "new activity project" to include what she really does to
the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, "let's see if they accept it."

That's it?
When we talk about the private sector in Cuba, some officials boast that
in 2010, 178 jobs had been accepted, and there are over 200 today. 201,
to be exact. Several economists have warned about the fact that even
though the number of self-employed people increased, licences continue
to be restricted, because it's being regulated the other way around.

That is to say, the State should limit itself to stating what is banned
(instead of what's permitted); which would specify that you can do
anything except x, y and z. "No marijuana and coffins, but everything
else yes," says a black market salesman.

"Sometimes, self-employment awakes a lot of people's imagination, who
are tired of spending more time traveling to get to work than they do in
the company of their families," researcher Librada Taylot wrote in her
book "Me? Self-employed!", which was published in 2013.

And this imagination, the Cuban people's proverbial creativity, is too
much for any list, it doesn't matter whether there are 201 or 500
authorized jobs. "You can't make laws which creativity then overcomes,"
explains lawyer Ernan Garcia*.

So, let's take a look at licenses. There are 19th century activities,
such as Palm tree pruner, woodcutter, shearer and shoe-shiner. Others
seem to have come out of a vernacular fair: Gypsum figure
manufacturer/seller, Pinata manufacturer/seller, Dandy, Havana woman,
Artificial flower seller… It would be very interesting if the Ministry
of Labor published stats on just how many people are Button liners.

Without wanting to belittle the people who practice these jobs, we're
talking about a country which spends around 25% of the State budget on
education.

"The kinds of self-employment approved for the non-governmental sector
don't correspond to the profile outlined for Cuba's work force. The vast
majority of jobs included on the authorized list can be classified as
low-value aggregates, where the requirement for complex skills is
reduced," rounds up economist Ricardo Torres.

However, it keeps progressing… just in the background. If there is a
demand, supply will follow. For example: Cynthia Rodriguez* set up a
"travel agency" for Cubans who want to travel to other provinces. She is
in charge of buying the tickets, depending on her customer's ideal date
and if they want, she can also arrange accommodation and other services
at the destination. Is what she's doing wrong? Does it go against the
principle of socialist society in any way? Then why is it illegal?

Last October, several restaurants in Havana received "special"
inspections. The authorities used several arguments, among them, that
they were operating as clubs or nightclubs. Just think about how many
problems would have been simply side-stepped if they just allowed
private bars to exist. How is that risky business? OK: let's discuss it,
let's establish rules, and make them pay taxes… But insisting on the ban
of these activities just means banging your head against the door again.

"Let's think about a weird case," the lawyer puts forward, "if I want to
earn a living by dancing on one foot on top of a tree, and suddenly I
have a large audience who pay to see me, are you going to tell me that I
can't do it?"

Freelance work, which is so common in the rest of the world, isn't
officially recognized in Cuba. Damian Fleites* is an architect and works
of his own accord or as he puts it: "freelancing". "Of course, I would
love this to be legal; it would give you peace of mind being able to
practice your profession without fear. There are a lot of people who,
like me, want to formalize their businesses, have a logo, a place, place
ads, pay taxes…"

The benefits of broadening job opportunities are clearly obvious:
transparency, job security, greater financial incomes… Meanwhile, the
country would take advantage of its greatest asset: the Cuban people's
high education level.

Sixty-eight percent of people who undertake private ventures, have no
link with their past job. Let's put it like this, they were unemployed
at home, or on the street, "inventing", "struggling", until they saw an
opportunity to work for themselves. Many others continue "to work behind
the curtain", waiting for the day when what they do is legalized.

[*) Names have been changed at the interviewees' request.

Source: In Cuba Most Small Businesses Are Still Illegal - Havana
Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=123728 Continue reading
… to Cuba that included not only playing baseball but also visiting Cuban … to the Cuban players." "I expect the Cubans to be … supplies to donate to the Cuban teams. "People were more … other, the Americans and the Cubans." The team will travel … Continue reading
… information being released. According to Cuban officials, the combined total number … . Administration on the future of Cuban relations, the momentum of public … .S. airline ticket office in Havana last November; American Airlines will … destination being booked for 2017, Havana, Cuba, ranked #49 (tied with Vancouver … Continue reading
La desinformación aumenta el temor de los cubanos a perder la ‘green card’ Las agencias de viajes informan de la cancelación de reservas y las frecuentes consultas pese a que no hay cambios en la política de viajes MARIO J. PENTÓN, Miami | Febrero 15, 2017 Los comentarios en torno a la posible pérdida de […] Continue reading
Carnival Cruise Line Will Join the Crowds in Cuba
Hannah Sampson, Skift - Feb 15, 2017 6:00 am
@hannahbsampson

SKIFT TAKE

With Carnival Cruise Line now in the mix, all the major mass-market
cruise lines now have Cuba on the horizon. The question now is how
travelers will respond.

— Hannah Sampson

More than a year after Carnival Corporation first sent a cruise ship to
Cuba, the operator will finally sail its namesake line to the island.

Carnival Cruise Line announced Tuesday that it got the green light from
Cuban authorities to sail to Havana and stay docked overnight on a dozen
voyages between June and October of this year.

The cruise giant hopes those dozen sailings are just the beginning.

"We're very much in this for the long haul," said Terry Thornton, the
line's senior vice president of port operations. "Obviously we don't
think 12 cruises is the end game here….We have a much longer-term vision
of this."

Carnival Corp.'s newest brand, Fathom, was the first modern U.S.
operator to visit Cuba in the spring of 2016. It will sail its last trip
to the island in May before the 704-passenger ship returns to its former
line in the UK and Fathom transitions to branded experiences instead of
a cruise line.

Tuesday's news about Carnival comes after rivals Norwegian Cruise Line
and Royal Caribbean International both announced expanded Cuba plans
through late 2017, including overnight stays in Havana, earlier this
month. Both originally received permission in December to sail to the
island along with some higher-end brands.

Thornton said the company believes there is plenty of interest to go around.

"These 12 cruises are going to be extremely popular," he said. "We have
no concerns about the demand for it."

He said Carnival hopes the sailings will also attract travelers who
haven't taken cruises before.

"We've been interested as a company for a very long time in trying to
attract more first-time cruisers," he said. "We're hoping that having
Havana and Cuba in our mix will keep encouraging people to give cruise a
try for the first time."

Carnival Paradise, a 2,052-passenger vessel, will visit the island from
Tampa on four- and five-day trips. The shorter cruises will spend a day
and night in Havana and visit no other destinations, while the five-day
trips will also stop in Cozumel or Key West.

The vessel had originally been scheduled for four-day sailings that
visited Cozumel and five-day itineraries that went to Cozumel and Grand
Cayman.

Carnival's cruises to Cuba will be different than Fathom's, which had a
personal enrichment focus and fewer traditional onboard experiences.
There was no casino, for example, and entertainment was limited.

Carnival Paradise, on the other hand, has four pools, a water slide,
activities for kids, comedy and stage shows, and other entertainment.

Still, Thornton said Fathom's experiences in Cuba will help Carnival
prepare guests for the experience, which requires more red tape than
most Caribbean cruises. Because of the embargo against Cuba, visitors
from the U.S. cannot simply go to the beach as tourists; they must
participate in sanctioned forms of travel. Most cruise passengers visit
for cultural purposes.

"Because of the learnings from Fathom, we are really in a better
position to make that as easy for our guests as possible from a shore
excursion standpoint," Thornton said. "We know what worked wth Fathom,
what didn't work, we know the process that has to go into place, all the
document requirements."

Like other major cruise lines that have announced Cuba itineraries in
recent months, Carnival is staying in Havana rather than venturing to
other cities in the country. Fathom has been the exception, visiting
ports in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

"Right now we believe that most consumers today have an interest in
visiting Cuba for the first time to see Havana," Thornton said. "There
will be a lot of time and appetite for guests to see Cuba; we think,
over time, that will develop."

Source: Carnival Cruise Line Will Join the Crowds in Cuba – Skift -
https://skift.com/2017/02/15/carnival-cruise-line-will-join-the-crowds-in-cuba/ Continue reading
Agents Seeing an Explosion of Cuba Bookings
HOST AGENCY & CONSORTIA TRAVEL LEADERS GROUP ROBIN AMSTER FEBRUARY
15, 2017

Nearly 22 percent of its leisure-focused travel agents have already
booked clients for Cuba travel in 2017 while more than 59 percent said
clients are interested in going this year, according to a Travel Leaders
Group survey.
Travel Leaders Group noted that its survey results corroborate data from
Cuban officials. Josefina Vidal, Cuba's chief negotiator in talks with
the United States, who said recently that the combined total of visits
by Cuban-Americans and other U.S. travelers last year was 614,433, a 34
percent increase over 2015.
This hike in demand comes despite the continued U.S. government
restrictions limiting approved travel to the island nation via 12
authorized categories, said Travel Leaders Group.
"While there is some uncertainty about the views of the current U.S.
Administration on the future of Cuban relations, the momentum of public
opinion among the American traveling public for unfettered access to
Cuba continues," said Travel Leaders Group CEO Ninan Chacko.
"Based not only on our survey, but also on anecdotal feedback travelers
are giving to their travel agents, more Americans are taking advantage
of the avenues available to them to legally travel to this once
forbidden island that is less than 100 miles from Key West, Florida," he
said.
"Our travel agent experts are continuing to assist clients who have a
desire to visit Cuba this year by observing the existing law, and they
are preparing travelers for culturally-immersive experiences that these
travelers will remember for a lifetime."
Travel Leaders Group also pointed to statistics from a Pew Research
Center national survey, conducted in December. The survey found that 75
percent of U.S. adults approve of the decision last year to re-establish
U.S. relations with Cuba and nearly as many (73%) favor ending the
long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
READ MORE Travel Costs Falling in Cuba
Travel Leaders noted that there is now regularly scheduled air service
to Cuba for the first time in 50 years. Delta Air Lines opened the first
U.S. airline ticket office in Havana last November, American Airlines
will operate 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities this year, and United
Airlines, as well as five other U.S.-based carriers, will have regularly
scheduled flights to Cuba.
Major cruise lines also are sailing to Cuba this year. Royal Caribbean
International and Norwegian Cruise Line have scheduled sailings through
November.
In the Travel Leaders Group survey, 1,097 leisure-focused agents were
asked, "Are clients expressing interest in traveling to Cuba in 2017?"
The responses included:

2017
2016
Yes, we've booked many clients already.
2.1%
3.8%
Yes, we've booked some clients already.
8.7%
8.6%
Yes, we've booked a few clients already.
11.0%
6.5%
Yes, but interest has not yet translated to bookings.
59.2%
57.8%
No
19.0%
23.3%

For clients interested in traveling to Cuba this year, the top five
responses for when they'd want to go were:

1. When they can do it as an independent trip rather than
people-to-people exchange program

2. Right away before Cuba changes dramatically

3. As part of a cruise vacation

4. When the prices decrease

5. When they can enjoy it as a regular beach vacation

The Cuba findings are part of a comprehensive travel trends survey of
nearly 1,700 U.S. based travel agents from Travel Leaders Group's
flagship Travel Leaders brand, All Aboard Travel, Cruise Specialists,
Nexion, Protravel International, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel
Leaders Network, and Tzell Travel Group. It was conducted from Nov. 17
to Dec. 9, 2016.

Source: Agents Seeing an Explosion of Cuba Bookings | TravelPulse -
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Travel Costs Falling in Cuba
TOUR OPERATOR DAVID COGSWELL FEBRUARY 15, 2017

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

Source: Travel Costs Falling in Cuba | TravelPulse -
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