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The King, The President and The Dictator

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the
Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was
prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never
sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain's King Felipe VI visit
may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of
symbolism and protocol.

The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the
country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official
visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be
like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across
the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a
part of a rigid dynasty.

The visitors will arrive in the middle of "the cooling off of the thaw"
between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the
diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted
with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than
two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it
imagined to merge from its economic quagmire.

US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba,
discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans
traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent
tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet
from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more
discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram
accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the
most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out
of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in
shorthand as "17-D," has given way to boredom and apathy, because life
is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly
long move where almost nothing happens.

Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but
the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply
of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought,
scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or
carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are
not uncommon.

Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their
money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized
and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the
Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial
projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime's last pharaonic
and useless project.

But Donald Trump's arrival in the White House hasn't meant an iron fist
against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US
president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now
seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the
anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking
advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for
anything in return. Right now there hasn't even been start on the
drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was
that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally
decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince
the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of
openings?

To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against
opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled
from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process
in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in
this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a
spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of
its disasters.

Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in
times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that
plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last
year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government
applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off
Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The
convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without
premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but
rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to
understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just
changes its skin.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit
of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals
will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to
avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter
beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As
was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to
participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the
streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors,
emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting
one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most
residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the
royal couple walked.

Their successors, who will travel to the island "as soon as possible,"
could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to
shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American
president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the
gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a
snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A
defeat for the Revolution's visual epic.

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official
press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and
negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the
circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension
that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the
island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish
citizens, also represented by that nation's leader and who are, in the
end, his most important interlocutors.

Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be
bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his
convalescent retirement. The king declined his father's participation in
death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of
the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that
of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment
in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country
very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a
decadent regime.

Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its
king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of
its dictator.

Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish
Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País.

Source: The King, The President and The Dictator – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-king-the-president-and-the-dictator/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit may end such a long wait, … Continue reading "The King, The President and The Dictator" Continue reading
Commentary: Social justice in Cuba? No racism?
Javier Garcia-Bengochea
Guest Columnist

Privacy Policy
It ain't what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you think you
know that just ain't so ... Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige
paraphrasing Mark Twain.

It's called fake news. For decades, Cuba has promoted a false narrative
regarding its revolution. A receptive media have dutifully perpetuated
this lie and Americans remarkably suspend all critical thinking
regarding Cuba, accepting this deception categorically.

What Americans think they know about Cuba just ain't so. Here's the
#FakeNews:

Cuba is a socialist country. Wrong. Cuba is a totalitarian white male
military dictatorship that insulates itself from accountability to the
Cuban people through the enormous bureaucracy of the Cuban government.

The Cuban government "owns" Cuba's industries. No, the military owns
these, particularly the tourist industry run by Raul Castro's son-in-law
(a general). Virtually every aspect of licensed travel by the U.S.
Treasury to Cuba is controlled by the military (who are white). Tourism
funds the repression.

There is social justice in Cuba. Nope. The dictatorship has
institutionalized an apartheid between foreigners and Communist Party
elites — Cuba's 1 percent — and "ordinary" Cubans. How? Through two
currencies, a valuable one for the former and a worthless one for the
latter, who are mostly black and brown.

Tourists use one currency (CUCs) pegged to the U.S. dollar. Cubans are
paid (by law) in the second worthless currency. The latter can pocket
tips in CUCs. Consequently, neurosurgeons rush through brain surgeries
to park cars, drive taxis and bus tables for tips. Most doctors,
lawyers, teachers and engineers leave their professions altogether. This
slavery few Americans even notice. It's disgraceful.

There is no racism in Cuba. Ha! As one white regime official put it on
page 119 of UCLA professor Mark Sawyer's book, "Racial Politics in
Post-Revolutionary Cuba," "It is simply a sociological fact that blacks
are more violent and criminal than whites. They also do not work as hard
and cannot be trusted." This was 2003; enough said.

Free health care and education for all. Sorry. University professors and
managers in tourism are overwhelmingly white and connected to the
generals. Most university students must join the communist party.

There are hospitals for foreigners and Communist Party elites and those
for everyone else. The former are for medical tourism with Cuba's best
doctors. The latter have no sheets, soap, toilet paper, electricity,
medicines or even Cuban doctors — they are imported from Africa.

Where are Cuba's doctors? Those not driving cabs are "rented" to foreign
countries for $10,000 monthly. The chattel slave doctors are paid a few
hundred CUCs while their families are held in Cuba. Ditto for thousands
of Cuban nurses, social workers and teachers. Human trafficking is the
dictatorship's largest source of hard currency — by far.

Opening Cuba represents a tremendous business opportunity. Really? Cuba
is bankrupt. Moreover, everything in Cuba is stolen: land, homes, rum,
cigars, even old American jalopies — in many cases from Americans. Every
enterprise in Cuba will involve trafficking in stolen property. This
isn't a business opportunity; it's criminal and immoral behavior.

The intent of U.S. law is to protect, not disenfranchise claimants as
President Obama has done by allowing select companies to "do business"
and traffic in stolen property. Sustaining this requires protection by
the dictatorship and a U.S. administration that disregards property
rights and the rule of law. It's politically sanctioned organized crime.

History is replete with examples that economic engagement will not bring
political liberalization or change (e.g., China). See Cuba before 1959,
when American cronyism brought corruption and three dictators — Batista
and the Castro brothers. Why would U.S. businesses "invested" in Cuba
property want change? A democratic government will return property to
the legitimate owners and these "investments" will be lost. Investment
seeks certainty.

The embargo is "failed" policy. The teeth of the embargo, the ability to
prosecute traffickers in stolen property, has been waived since its
inception to "expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba," a
justification that is conclusively false.

It's the definition of insanity: capitulating with another dictatorship
and perpetually violating existing sanctions while expecting change.

Here's a novel approach to Cuba policy: Enforce the law.

Javier Garcia-Bengochea, a Jacksonville neurosurgeon, is a certified
U.S. Claimant for The Port of Santiago de Cuba.

Source: Social justice in Cuba? No racism? #FakeNewsCuba - Orlando
Sentinel -
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-cuba-fake-news-20170424-story.html Continue reading

Norwegian Cruise Line está desarrollando un nuevo espectáculo de teatro musical estilo Broadway inspirado en Cuba, según informa la web Travel Agent Central.

La puesta podrá verse en el barco más grande de la compañía, el Norwegian Bliss.

leer más

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… 43,159 Cubans entered that way. We asked our Cuban friend, who … her professional standing. I passed Havana’s specialist hospitals, for orthopedics … popular pressure, in January, 2013, Cuba lifted restrictions on foreign travel … program was underway in Old Havana offering free home Internet to … Continue reading
An inside look at Cockfighting in Cuba
SARAH MARSH AND ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI
Apr 23rd 2017 6:01PM

CIEGO DE AVILA, April 20 (Reuters) - Cuban farmer Pascual Ferrel says
his favorite fighting cock's prowess was "off the charts," so after it
died of illness he had the black and red rooster preserved and displays
it on his mantelpiece beside a television.

"He fought six times and was invincible," the 64-year old recalled
fondly, talking over the crowing of 60 birds in his farmyard in the
central Cuban region of Ciego de Avila.

Though it is banned in many parts of the world, cockfighting is favored
throughout the Caribbean and in Cuba its popularity is growing.

Last year, Ciego de Avila opened its first official cockfighting arena
with 1,000 seats, the largest in Cuba, to the dismay of animal rights
activists who see it as a step backward.

Cockfighting is a blood sport because of the harm cocks do to each other
in cockpits, exacerbated by metal spurs that can be attached to birds'
own spurs.

After the 1959 revolution, Cuba cracked down on cockfighting as part of
a ban on gambling, recalls Ferrel.

Over the years that stance has softened. Official arenas have opened and
hidden arenas are tolerated as long as there are no brawls.

"'People say: if the government is allowed to hold cockfights, why can't
we?" says Nora Garcia Perez, head of Cuban animal welfare association
Aniplant.

Enthusiasts argue that cockfighting is a centuries-old tradition.
Critics say it is cruel, and they blame its popularity on lack of
entertainment options, poor education on animal welfare, and its
money-making potential.

In Ciego de Avila, there is a different clandestine arena for every day
of the week, some hidden among marabu brush or in sugarcane fields, down
dirt tracks with no signs.

People carrying cockerels in slings or under their arms travel to these
venues by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or in candy-colored vintage
American cars.

Arenas made of wood and palm fronds operate like fairgrounds. Ranchera
music blasts from loudspeakers, roasted pork and rum are sold and tables
are set up with dice and card games.

"You'll see how fun this is," says Yaidelin Rodriguez, 32, a regular
with her husband, writing in a notebook bets she has placed on her cock.

Gambling is outlawed in Cuba but wads of cash exchange hands at most
arenas. Enthusiasts wear baseball caps that read "Cocks win me money,
women take it away."

In the Ciego de Avila official arena, foreigners pay up to $60 for a
front row seat. At concealed arenas, mainly a local affair, seats are $2
to $8, a princely sum in a country where the average monthly state
salary is $25.

"We can earn about $600 a day from entrance fees and the sale of seats,"
says Reinol, who declined to give his full name.

He splits that sum with his business partner and still earns more from
it than from his regular job as a butcher.

Cuba also exports cockerels, breeders say, adding that cocks with proven
fighting prowess could sell for up to $1000.

At a secluded arena near Ciego de Avila one recent afternoon,
cigar-smoking, rum-swigging owners guarded their birds to make sure
noone hurt or poisoned them before the fight.

"Come on," "Go for it," onlookers screeched once it began, the cocks
flying at one another in rage.

"You have to train the cocks like they are boxers, so they are
prepared," says Basilio Gonzalesm adding they must also be groomed,
scarlet legs sheared and feathers clipped.

Some, like cockfighting enthusiast Jorge Guerra, dream of making more
money in countries where betting is legal.

Source: An inside look at Cockfighting in Cuba - AOL News -
https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/04/23/an-inside-look-at-cockfighting-in-cuba/22047976/ Continue reading
Theft and Subsidies, Not Exports
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | Los Ángeles | 24 de Abril de 2017 - 17:00 CEST.

Once gain former Economy minister José Luis Rodríguez has attempted to
pull the wool over everyone's eyes. Apparently the Castro dictatorship
has called on him to do its dirty work and cook the books to present a
more favorable picture of the regime's administration.

Rodríguez recently wrote, in Cubadebate, that the export of doctors,
nurses and other health professionals brought in revenue amounting to an
average of 11.543 billion dollars yearly between 2011 and 2015. False.
As a source he drew upon the 2016 Statistical Yearbook on Health – which
was so incomplete that it does not even mention how many health
professionals work outside Cuba, the most important factor of all. The
Ministry of Public Health acknowledges that there are about 50,000 in all.

I think it is appropriate to note that last February Rodríguez announced
that in 2016 Cuba paid its foreign creditors $5.299 billion, which is
also false. And, in 2006, as Minister of the Economy, he said, with a
straight face, that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Cuba had grown
12.5%, the greatest growth in the world, even surpassing China.

This time the former Castroist higher-up – who today serves as an
advisor at Cuba's International Economy Research Center (CIEM), and at
the aforementioned Yearbook of Public Health – is guilty of several more
"inaccuracies."

To begin with, in order for the medical services that Cuba exports to 62
countries on four continents to have generated $11.543 billion, the
average salary of each contracted Cuban professional would have to have
been around $19,200 per month, which is impossible. His claim is even
more far-fetched when said yearbook indicates that 35 countries paid for
these services, and the other 27 paid nothing.

The key to all this is that the regime lies. It calculates Venezuelan
subsidies as a sale of medical services. Curiously, in his article
Rodríguez did not include the year 2016, in which Caracas slashed its
subsidies to the Island. Experts estimate that they have fallen by 40%,
and that oil deliveries were reduced from 110,000 to 55,000 barrels a
day, which would explain the current fuel crisis on the Island.

Cuba now depends and will depend more and more of the flow of foreign
currency coming from the "Empire" via remittances, packages and travel
to the island, which in 2016 came to more than 7 billion dollars. That
figure probably already equals or exceeds the subsidies from Venezuela,
and triples the gross revenue generated by tourism.

Moreover, even supposing that everything stated by the former minister
were true, it is immoral for the Castroist leadership to openly proclaim
that it steals salaries from doctors. That's called trafficking. Those
$11.543 billion belong to the doctors, who earned them with their work,
and then saw them confiscated.

According to the pact between the previous government of Brazil and
Cuba, negotiated with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the
Brazilian government pays Cuba $4,080 per month for each Cuban doctor.
Of this amount, the physician receives less than 25%, that is, less than
$1,000, according to doctors who have left Brazil, and complaints from
the National Federation of Brazilian Doctors, which describes the
contracts as "slave work." For every Cuban doctor in Brazil, Castro
pockets $3,000 a month.

The figures do not add up

There are now some 10,400 Cuban doctors and professionals in Brazil;
that is, 20% of those it has abroad. Venezuela, meanwhile, has more than
34,000 professionals, almost 70% of the total. That means that if the
average salary obtained, based on the figure cited by Rodriguez, comes
to $19,200 per month, and Brazil pays only $4,080 per doctor, then
Venezuela pays several times that monthly amount for each Cuban
professional, which is untrue.

Moreover, the $11.543 billion reported surely include the more than $720
million per year that Cuba was making by re-exporting gasoline from
Venezuela, or refined in Cienfuegos with crude given away by Caracas. Is
that not that a subsidy, like the one that was previously received from
the USSR, when the Island re-exported Soviet oil?

It is outrageous that the international community has not condemned the
export of Cuban doctors, essentially working as slaves in the 21st
century. Neither the International Labor Organization (ILO), nor any
government in the world has censured this abusive practice. The UN
Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Maria Grazia Gianmarinaro,
just visited Havana, but apparently apparently was satisfied with the
explanation provided by her hosts, masters of propaganda to protect the
dictatorship.

In Brazil, for example, Article 149 of the Penal Code states that "slave
labor" exists when one is subjected to "forced labor, excessive shifts,
and remuneration that is dramatically deficient relative to the work
performed, justified by debts owed one's employer."

But the governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff wanted to favor
the Castros, and signed those shameful agreements. And the current
government has done little to fight this abuse.

Why no self-employed doctors?

The truth is that more than a third of the 90,161 doctors of the Island,
according to the yearbook, do not work in Cuba, but rather abroad, which
affects medical services on the Island. The regime graduates them, en
masse, to export and exploit them, as they are sent abroad for the
selfish aim of confiscating their wages. They are reminiscent of the
"talking instruments," as Marco Terencio Varrón called slaves in
classical Rome, 2,000 years ago.

If the Castro hierarchy allowed university professionals to enjoy
economic freedom, provide their services on their own, and doctors to
have private practices, they would render a valuable public service,
earn much more income, and not have to accept being exported as if they
were owned by the State, or the Castro family, to receive meager
remuneration, with which to make their lives and those of their families
on the Island more bearable.

Exported doctors have their freedom of movement restricted. They travel
alone, without their families. Their passports are held, and they are
enlisted in pro-Castro political campaigns with local populations, with
which they cannot interact privately. The whole system is like a modern
version of labor markets in the 18th and 19th centuries through which
masters rented out their slaves to third parties for given periods.

In short, the $11.543 billion cited by Rodríguez were not obtained just
through the "exported services." Rather, they mainly came from
Venezuelan and Brazilian subsidies. And the money confiscated from
doctors constitutes an international crime, which does not prescribe,
and ought to be punished.

Source: Theft and Subsidies, Not Exports | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1493046046_30603.html Continue reading
Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba?
Apr 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba? -
Knowledge@Wharton -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-business-should-hit-pause-on-new-u-s-cuba-ties/ Continue reading
Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze
when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his
wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar
Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated
neighborhood of La Victoria, in the heart of Havana.

A couple of cylindrical metallic tanks that can carry 55 gallons of
water each are attached to the truck. At seven o'clock in the morning,
when the city listens as a symphonized tune, a trail of alarm clocks,
and Havanans get ready to go to work or school, Antonio unloads dozens
of buckets to several customers in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo.

"Two years ago, for filling a 55-gallon tank, I charged 50 Cuban pesos
(equivalent to two dollars) but now, because of the drought which is
causing some scarcity, the price has risen to 60 pesos for each tank,"
Antonio explains, while lunching on a serving of congrí rice, pork steak
and cole slaw and cucumber in a private restaurant.

After five o'clock in the afternoon he goes back to the capital's
neighborhood to sell the water. In one day he can earn 500 pesos, about
20 dollars. "In addition to earning money, I keep in shape," he says,
and shows his trained biceps after almost twenty years carrying buckets
of water.

In Havana there are more than 170,000 units that do not receive drinking
water in their homes. Some of them due to breaks in the pipes and others
because with aluminum sheets and pieces of cardboard and veneers they
have raised frightening shacks without bathrooms and lacking the most
basic conditions for human life.

According to an official of the state-run Aguas de La Habana, "these
people are supposed to receive water in (state) tanker trucks. But
because of the lack of gasoline, the drought that affects the country or
simply corruption, the 'pipers' sell water to those who can pay, and
thousands of families do not receive water in a timely manner."

In Cuba, plagued with a dysfunctional government and low productivity
that generates scarcity, anything can become a business. Why not water.

From aguateros, like Antonio, who travel through the cracked streets of
the old part of Havana selling water, to the tanker trucks of the state
companies that also profit from the precious liquid.

"A full tank at this time costs between 25 and 30 pesos Cuban
convertible pesos (about 25-30 dollars US). And demand outstrips
supply. The buyers are business owners who have restaurants or rent out
lodging, those who have swimming pools in their homes and in buildings
where there is water shortage and people have a source of hard
currency," says the driver of a tanker truck.

The problem of the water supply in the capital is longstanding. For lack
of a coherent hydraulic policy, the regime has been overwhelmed by
something that is as essential as water.

With a population that exceeds two and a half million inhabitants,
Havana continues to have as its main source of supply the old Albear
aqueduct, a masterpiece of industrial engineering that began to be built
in 1858 and was inaugurated in 1893, for a city of 600,000 people.

When Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, and after the October 1963
passage of Hurricane Flora, which left more than a thousand dead in the
eastern part of the island, hundreds of dams and reservoirs of water
were built that multiplied the country's water storage capacity by a
factor of five.

In 1987 the construction of the El Gato aqueduct began in the
southeastern part of Havana. But because of lack of maintenance of the
aqueduct and sewer networks, more than half of the water that was
distributed was lost by leaks and ruptures of the pipes.

In the midst of the current drought, which plagues 81% of the country
and is considered the worst that Cuba has suffered in the last hundred
years, authorities that manage water resources have tightened measures
to prevent water being wasted.

Manuel Manso, Aguas de La Habana's ombudsman, explained that an
inspector squad of 108 workers is trying to interact more directly with
consumers, whether business or residential. One of the provisions is the
application of fines, with 870 already having been imposed on private
companies, in amounts of up to one thousand Cuban pesos (about 42 dollars).

Although the regime has invested nearly 9 million dollars in the
rehabilitation of 550 miles of water networks in the capital, the effort
appears to be inadequate.

"The company repairs a section, but then the water pressure damages
another section that has not yet been repaired. Also, the quality of the
repairs is not always good. And the technological obsolescence and
timespans between maintenance complicate things. It's like 'plowing the
sea,' (a complete waste of effort)," says an engineer.

A health and epidemiology specialist is worried that "the water deficit
in the residential sector could have an impact on the emergence of new
outbreaks of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, carriers of dengue fever,
chikungunya and other deadly diseases. Plus there is the proliferation
of rats and cockroaches. Water scarcity, poor cleanliness in streets and
public spaces, and the irresponsibility of citizens who dump garbage on
any street corner have made Havana one of the dirtiest cities in Latin
America."

If the drought persists, along with poor hygiene in the city and
problems with water supply, which cause families to store water in
inappropriate containers without adequate protection, the arrival of
summer could bring the breeding ground for a huge epidemic of
mosquito-borne diseases.

"Every year we run the same danger, for not carrying out the necessary
preventative work and the lack of hygiene in the city," said one
official. And walking on the edge of a cliff always carries risks.

The worst has not yet come. But the conditions are given.

Note: Although this article is limited to Havana, the water shortage due
to drought has long been affecting all provinces.

Source: Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-risk-of-health-crisis-due-to-lack-of-potable-water-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated neighborhood of La Victoria, in the … Continue reading "Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García" Continue reading
… Square, Havana (Picture: Deni Kirkova) Cuba is a photographer’s dream. Havana in … : Celestyal Cruises) Cubans are expert rum distillers. Bacardi and Havana Club began … la Artisanias in Havana, where you can also taste Cuban cigars and … las Artesanias in Havana, where you can also taste Cuban cigars and … Continue reading
… wanted to go the most: Havana, Cuba. No, the city doesn’t … that virtually nothing had changed. Havana’s buildings were the same … things in perspective for me.” Havana nights pic.twitter.com… prouder than ever of her Cuban roots. “Havana will probably change soon … Continue reading
Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García – Translating
Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/is-raul-castro-in-hibernation-mode-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation’s president, army general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018. I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the … Continue reading "Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García" Continue reading
Spain's King Felipe and PM Rajoy to visit Cuba "as soon as possible"
Cuban foreign minister describes ongoing talks between Havana and Madrid
"beneficial"
JAVIER CASQUEIRO
Madrid 18 ABR 2017 - 12:11 CEST

Spain's King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have accepted an
official invitation to make an official visit to Cuba, which the Foreign
Ministry says will take place "as soon as possible," probably at the end
of this year, ahead of the retirement of the Caribbean island's leader,
Raúl Castro, in February 2018.

Felipe's father and predecessor, Juan Carlos, led a Spanish delegation
that attended the funeral of Fidel Castro in November 2016. During Juan
Carlos's 39 years in power, between 1975 and 2014, he only visited
Havana once: in 1999, when Cuba hosted the IX Ibero-American Summit.
José María Aznar, who was prime minister with Spain's conservative
Popular Party between 1996 and 2004, has said publicly that he refused
to sanction further visits by Juan Carlos to Cuba given the politician's
ideological differences with the regime in Havana.

King Felipe and Rajoy intend to visit Cuba "as soon as possible,"
according to official sources. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez
gave King Felipe the invitation at a meeting in the Zarzuela official
royal residence in Madrid on Monday during a private visit to the
Spanish capital. He later met with Rajoy.

The invitation comes after a May 2016 visit by the then-Spanish foreign
minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.

King Felipe and Queen Leticia are making a state visit to the United
Kingdom between June 6 and June 8, which means the visit to Cuba could
take place after summer, toward the end of the year.

During their conversation, Rodríguez and King Felipe discussed the
worsening situation in Venezuela where protesters have taken to the
streets after the opposition-controlled national congress was briefly
stripped off its powers. Speaking at a press conference afterward,
Rodríguez said Cuba would continue supporting the government of
President Nicolás Maduro to find the best "solutions and decisions." He
also referred to the 2002 coup that briefly toppled Maduro's
predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said after meeting with
Rodríguez that the invitation "symbolizes the will of Cuba to increase
links with Spain." He added that following the end of the year-long
political stalemate in Spain in October produced by two inconclusive
elections, Prime Minister Rajoy intended to "strengthen and intensify"
political, social, economic, trade, cultural, family and other ties
between the two countries.

In December, Spain raised the issue of renewing the EU's agreement with
Cuba, leaving behind the approach of the Aznar government and its focus
on human-rights issues. Rodríguez described talks between Madrid and
Havana as "multi-faceted", "promising," "cordial," "productive,"
"useful," and "beneficial."

Spain is Cuba's third-major trading partner and the
eighth-most-important source of tourists. Rodríguez praised Spain and
the EU's position regarding the ongoing US embargo.

Dastis pointed out that Spanish governments over the years have not
supported the trade embargo and hoped that the Trump administration
would continue the thaw begun by Barack Obama. On the subject of
political prisoners and human rights in Cuba, Dastis, who has offered to
travel to Cuba ahead of the visit, said both governments would address
all issues "with respect andtrust, and pragmatically."

English version by Nick Lyne.

Source: Spanish head of state visit to Cuba: Spain's King Felipe and PM
Rajoy to visit Cuba "as soon as possible" | In English | EL PAÍS -
http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/04/18/inenglish/1492502808_481245.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 11 April 2017 – The treatment of blacks and the market in slaves brought from Africa developed by the European colonists has clearly been established as a crime against humanity before all contemporary civilized beings without the slightest doubt. It was a practice that “sold” human beings as if they were … Continue reading "The Treatment Of ‘White Coats’" Continue reading
… some, the rewards have benefited Cuba. Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product, a …  tourists, all meeting Cubans. The number of visiting Cuban-Americans has steadily increased … more Cuban-Americans find values in common with their native counterparts. Cubans are … Continue reading
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… traveling to Cuba on your own and his top stops — Havana, colonial … Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 – Cuba just suspended the sending of a group of 710 health professionals who would have worked on the “More Doctors” mission in Brazil, our of fear of desertions, according to a report from the Brazilian press informed by that country’s Ministry of Health. The decision not to … Continue reading "Cuba Stops Sending Doctors To Brazil For Fear Of Defections" Continue reading
… to land passenger flights in Havana in more than 50 years … the part of the Cuban government. Meanwhile, the Cuban government is also … or Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Cuban businesses and workers are well-prepared … in the Cuban market, its people and its future. Cuba holds incredible … Continue reading
Spirit Airlines to end Havana service June 1; last flights on May 31
Arlene SatchellContact Reporter
Sun Sentinel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American also serves Havana from Miami.

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

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

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

Source: Spirit Airlines to end Havana service June 1; last flights on
May 31 - Sun Sentinel -
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5 Things Cruise Lines Won't Tell You About Cuba
April 13, 2017

Of all the ports I've sailed into as a crew member, Havana is my
favorite. I fell in love with the city while working as a guide on the
first round of Cuba cruises. We were the only ship from the United
States, with just 700 passengers every 2 weeks. This summer is the
beginning of a new era for Havana. If you're considering a cruise to
Cuba, don't hesitate! But make sure you follow my insider tips to get
the most out of your visit.

#1- Don't miss the sail in: Sailing into Havana is like going back in
time. On the port side of the ship, you'll get up close and personal
with the Morro Castle as you sail through the narrow harbor. On the
starboard side, you'll enjoy a panoramic view of hustle and bustle of
central Havana, Art Deco facades, classic cars, and pedestrian traffic
on the Malécon, Cuba's ocean-front boulevard. Get a good spot on the top
deck early in the morning and bring your binoculars.

#2- Carry a lot of water with you: It's going to be a long, sweaty day
and you need water by your side. I suggest investing in a 40 oz.
Hydroflask. Fill it with ice and water from the ship before disembark.
You'll have cold water for 12+ hours and create less waste from buying
and disposing plastic bottles.

#3- Don't get stuck in the line to exchange money: Your credit and debit
cards from the United States likely won't work in Cuba so you'll need to
exchange money…and so does everyone else. Either get off the ship before
you're fellow cruisers, or get stuck in an hour long backup at the
exchange booths in the cruise terminal. Another option is to exchange
money at the San José Artisans Market down the street. Save money: Make
sure you bring Euros, Pounds, or Canadian Dollars to avoid the extra 10%
exchange fee on United States Dollars.

#4- Get away from the bus: Tours are great, but let's face it, you spend
more time stuck on a bus than you do immersing in the local culture.
Budget some time in your schedule to stroll around the Plazas of Old
Havana or visit a museum near Parque Central. Just make sure you check
the "self-guided" box when you fill out your affidavit. This means that
you agree to document the educational and cultural activities you do
while you're in Cuba.

#5- Do some research beforehand: Enrichment presentations can be hit or
miss, so don't wait until you're onboard to start thinking about Cuban
politics and culture. This doesn't mean you have to bury your head in a
long history book. Rent the movie Una Noche. It's a thriller about
teenagers who try and escape Havana on a homemade raft. If you're
looking for a quick and easy read, checkout my cruise-friendly guide 12
Hours in Havana available on Amazon.

About the Author:
Greg Shapiro is a millennial travel hacker, an expert at packing lots of
fun into short periods of time. From backpacking South America to
sailing around the world, he's visited over 35 countries and counting.

Source: 5 Things Cruise Lines Won't Tell You About Cuba -
http://cruisefever.net/5-things-cruise-lines-wont-tell-cuba/ Continue reading
… 's Cuba flights between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Havana… to four Cuban destinations starting May 3. Those Cuba routes are Havana, Santa Clara, Holguin and Camaguey. The announced pullouts from Cuba … also serves Havana from Miami. Today, travel to Cuba from the United … Continue reading
Havana, April 13 (RHC) -- The president of Cuba's International … to lift travel restrictions against Cuba. Diaz Escrich said that May … .S. citizens, who cannot visit Cuba as tourists, but are covered … Continue reading
Cuban-American Relations in 2017
BY SAMANTHA MENDIGUREN AND JORGE DUANY • APRIL 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Cuban-American Relations in 2017 -
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What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations
Apr 11, 2017 Latin America North America

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

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

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

Uncertainty and Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

As international hotel companies signed building contracts, U.S.
arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34% between 2015 and 2016. Hotel rates soared
by between 100% and 400%, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night
skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight
Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and other carriers started
operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn't
welcomed U.S. airlines in decades. But the novelty has worn off, and
hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overestimated demand for Cuba
are cutting back on their routes and using smaller planes.

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

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

Travel: 'A Bad Telenovela'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons for Optimism

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

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

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

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

Source: What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations -
Knowledge@Wharton -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/future-holds-u-s-cuba-relations/ Continue reading
Congressman reflects on recent Cuba trip
Apr 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Congressman reflects on recent Cuba trip | Opinion | hpj.com -
http://www.hpj.com/opinion/congressman-reflects-on-recent-cuba-trip/article_ad47ad5a-1a41-11e7-9ebf-2b3d00857b97.html Continue reading
Eliécer Ávila, The 'New Man' Who Became An Opponent

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Walking along the
streets with Eliécer Ávila can be a complicated task. His face is well
known thanks to a viral video broadcast almost a decade ago. However,
before fame came into his life, this young man born in Las Tunas was a
model "New Man": the most finished product of ideological indoctrination.

Like all Cuban children, Avila shouted slogans during his school's
morning assembly, participated in countless repudiation activities
"against imperialism" and dreamed of resembling Ernesto 'Che'
Guevara. But while, in school, they taught him the social achievements
that the Revolutionary process brought to the population, at home
reality was stubborn and showed itself to be something quite different.

The residents of Yarey de Vázquez – the Puerto Padre municipality of
Puerto Padre where the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement was
born – are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat. A
place lost in nothingness, where many families still use latrines for
their bodily needs, and live in houses with roofs made of palm fronds.

Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life
did not resemble the official version he was being taught. Born in 1985,
in the middle of that "golden decade" when the Soviet Union was propping
up the island, he was barely walking a year later when Fidel Castro
ordered the closing of the free farmers markets in the midst of the
"Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies."

Eliécer Avila reached puberty during what was called the Special
Period. With the voracity that still characterizes him, he faced many
days of his adolescence with his plate half full, or almost empty. He
hand stitched the shoes he wore to school, invented all kinds of
"outfits" from his grandfather's old shirts, and turned off the light
when it was time to strip down to his underwear, so no one could see the
holes.

With a natural leadership quality, in which a certain humor mixes with
an undeniable histrionic capacity to narrate anecdotes, the young man
made his way through those years without climbing aboard a raft to
escape the country or ending up in jail. Those who knew him predicted a
future in politics, because of those "fine lips" that helped him in
student meetings and in romantic conquests.

A little bit later, luck smiled on him. He was able to enroll in the
University of Computer Sciences (UCI), founded in 2002 in the middle of
the Battle of Ideas. UCI was located on the site that had once been the
Center for Exploration and Radioelectronics Listening, known as the
Lourdes SIGNIT Station, where until 2001 Russia – and the Soviet Union
before it – had had its largest spy station outside its borders. UCI was
a school for trusted young people to become computer soldiers for a
Revolution that fears the Internet.

While a student at UCI, Avila led Operation Truth. His task was to
monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government. In those
spaces, the young revolutionary sharpened his arsenal of tools for
political struggle that included everything from hacking to the
execution of the reputation of anyone who opposed the Plaza of the
Revolution.

Little by little, like acid that filters through the cracks, those
anti-government arguments he read on the web began to sink into his mind
and mingle with his own disagreements. Restless, in 2008 he took his
turn at the microphone during a visit to UCI of Ricardo Alarcón, then
president of the National Assembly. The minutes of that public
appearance that followed marked the rest of his life.

The video of the collision between Ávila and Alarcón jumped to first
place in the hit parade on the clandestine networks that distributed
audiovisuals. No one wanted to miss it, especially the moment when the
leader of Parliament justified the travel restrictions imposed on Cubans
by saying how congested the skies might be, if everyone were allowed to
board an airplane.

Now, nine years later, the young activist prefers not to be called
"Eliécer, the one who debated with Alarcon," but for the rest of his
life it will be his most important letter of introduction to millions of
Cubans. His challenge of power, with simple questions and a firm voice,
has been one of the most accurate and best documented gestures of
rebellion in almost six decades of Castroism.

After that, he received his punishment. After graduating, the
authorities sent him to a remote Youth Computer Club to purge his
audacity. It was the decisive moment in which he decided to cross the
red line towards independence. He left the state sector, founded the
Somos+ Movement and relocated to Havana. One audacious act after another.

The attacks rained down from all sides. State Security raised the level
of pressure on his environment, traditional opposition leaders threw
darts at the upstart, and there was no shortage of those who claimed
that he was only a mole for the political police disguised as a dissident.

Since then, Ávila has tried to give shape to a civic discourse that uses
new technologies and a less politicized language, closer to the concerns
of ordinary people. But, like every dissident, he is caught in the grip
of charges of illegal action, subjected to constant vigilance and
assigned the halo of demonization imposed on anyone who does not applaud
power.

The numerous trips abroad that he has made since the Travel and
Immigration Reforms of 2013 have allowed him to know the world, only to
discover that the most exciting and indecipherable of the territories
that await him is located in the future Cuba. That country so many have
dreamed of and that is taking so long to arrive.

Recently he went a step further and announced that he was prepared to
represent the electors of his constituency as a delegate. A somewhat
remote possibility, given the oiled mechanisms of control over the
People's Assemblies maintained by the ruling party where, by show of
hands, the attendees must nominate the potential candidates.

This week, the guajiro of Yarey de Vázquez has crossed another line. A
public protest at José Martí International Airport has resulted in his
house being searched, and him being arrested and charged with "illicit
economic activity." The trigger was the seizure of his laptop at Customs
when he returned from Colombia.

Now, it is expected that the siege around the young leader and his
Somos+ Movement will continue to close. Nothing is more disturbing to a
system that has played with social alchemy than a creature from its own
ideological laboratory turning against it. Eliécer Ávila will be doubly
punished because power acts with more fury against its own, when it rebels.

More articles in English by and about Eliécer Ávila can be read here.
http://translatingcuba.com/category/authors/eliecer-avila/
With online translation:
http://www.cubaverdad.net/weblog/?s=eliecer+avila

Source: Eliécer Ávila, The 'New Man' Who Became An Opponent –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/eliecer-avila-the-new-man-who-became-an-opponent/ Continue reading
… people backpacking through South America. Cuban migrants often must work in … ,240 on his flight from Havana to Guyana, and said it … , let alone travel. After leaving Cuba in May, he passed through … be killed like thousands of Cubans, deceived, cheated …” Acosta said, clenching … Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Walking along the streets with Eliécer Ávila can be a complicated task. His face is well known thanks to a viral video broadcast almost a decade ago. However, before fame came into his life, this young man born in Las Tunas was a model “New Man”: the most finished … Continue reading "Eliécer Ávila, The ‘New Man’ Who Became An Opponent" Continue reading
… start regular nonstop flights to Cuba late last year, are already … travel agent who specializes in Cuba travel, said airlines likely overanticipated … also expensive to travel to Cuba, said Hershberger, compared to, say … . Related: American cruisers bump into Cuba's rules, but Lindblad … Continue reading
The first independent United Nations human rights expert to visit Cuba in a decade will travel to the island next week. U.N. Special Rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, a member of … Click to Continue » Continue reading
How to plan a Cuba trip without an organized tour
By KAREN SCHWARTZ | karenlschwartz@yahoo.com |
April 6, 2017 at 12:01 am

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

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

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

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

If that sounds appealing, considering these tips:

Know the law

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

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

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

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

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


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

Have a plan

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

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

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

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

You can't ask too many questions

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

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

Mission accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Marco Rubio: 'Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is'
| Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article142898404.html Continue reading
… capital Havana. The United States prohibits tourism travel by Americans to Cuba … the Cuban economy illegally. Knowing the history of America and Cuba and … Jay-Z and Beyoncé saunter around Havana so casually? Jay-Z is a … policy that causes millions of Cubans to suffer economically from the … Continue reading
… the Havana Marathon and explore the island nation of Cuba on their Havana … for the Havana Marathon and has a pulse on Cuba unlike anyone … , which occurs simultaneously in every Cuban province. It's a … as the Yosemite of Cuba. The 4-day Havana Marathon Tour, November 17-20 … Continue reading
Virgin Atlantic launches new route to Cuba's biggest beach resort
The Caribbean island is home to some seriously amazing sandy white beaches
BYJULIE DELAHAYE
11:01, 3 APR 2017UPDATED11:45, 3 APR 2017

When you think of Cuba, it's Havana's colourful buildings and classic
1950s-esque cars that spring to mind.

However, there's so much more to the Caribbean island that makes it a
tropical paradise - and thanks to Virgin Atlantic, it's easier than ever
to go exploring.

The airline launched a new flight route on Sunday from London Gatwick to
Varadero, one of Cuba's most popular beach resorts thanks to the
pristine white sand beaches and crystal-clear blue oceans.

Virgin Atlantic expects to transport 28,000 more Brits for a holiday in
Cuba, after research conducted by the airline showed that in the last
two years, a third of UK travellers have become more interested in
checking out the island.

Not only has Cuba become an increasingly popular holiday hot spot, but
the death of Fidel Castro has also played a role in igniting interest in
the nation.

It's not surprising that the resort of Varadero is topping the list for
a go-to luxurious getaway: after all, it's home to a string of
all-inclusive hotels, award-winning spas and lusciously green golf courses.

Currently, almost half of holiday makers in Cuba have been landing in
Havana and making the two-hour drive to Varadero.

Many have been spending a few days in the capital for a cultural break
before heading off to unwind on the resort's beaches.

Therefore, Virgin Atlantic is expecting a significant increase in the
number of customers who arrive and depart from different airports -
especially as they are the only UK airline to provide year-round service
to both destinations.

To celebrate the inaugural flight, Virgin Holidays has launched a new
booking service aptly named 'Cars to Cuba', so customers can ride in a
classic car just like the ones you can spot across Havana's busy
streets. The offer includes a one-hour drive in a vintage Cuban car, a
take-home voucher for salsa lessons and a hamper full of Cuban goodies.

Source: Virgin Atlantic launches new route to Cuba's biggest beach
resort - Mirror Online -
http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/travel/usa-long-haul/virgin-atlantic-launches-new-route-10148145 Continue reading
Uncertainty surrounds charter flights from Pittsburgh to Cuba
THERESA CLIFT | Monday, April 3, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Uncertainty surrounds charter flights from Pittsburgh to Cuba |
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14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 31 March 2017 – A report published by the Associated Press published last Monday, under the title “Far From the Dark Past, Evangelicals Growing in Cuba,” upset evangelical pastors with its open defense of the Cuban regime to the detriment of religious freedom. The author, Andrea Rodríguez, cites one of the … Continue reading "Cuban Evangelicals Denounce Complacent Article By Associated Press" Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 3 April 2017 — The three Holguin siblings who had been on hunger strike since last March 7 were released on Sunday on parole, according to what their mother, Maydolys Leyva, told this newspaper. The activists Anairis Miranda, Adairis Miranda and Fidel Batista were sentenced were sentenced to one year in prison for the … Continue reading "Three Siblings On Hunger Strike Released On Parole" Continue reading
The Cuban Music You Haven't Heard: 'Forbidden Shore' at Havana Film
Festival New York
by SANDRA GUZMAN

If there is one film that can serve as a metaphor for how little the
world knows about Cuba, Latin America, and the rest of the region, it's
"The Forbidden Shore," a marvelous documentary that introduces the world
to forty Cuban artists.

It's one of thirty-seven films being shown at the Havana Film Festival
New York, the longest running festival featuring the work of Cuban and
Latin American filmmakers, now in its 18th year.

The film's director, Canadian-born Ron Chapman, said that when he first
visited Cuba eight years ago, "I was overwhelmed at what I didn't know.
I was amazed at the diversity of its music and how very little Cuban
music is known or played internationally other than The Buena Vista
Social Club."

The same could be said of the rest of the region, but that has been
changing, partly due to the work of today's Latino and Latina
filmmakers, as evidenced in this festival.

"We wanted to show a snapshot of the work that is being produced today,"
said Diana Vargas, the festival's artistic director for the past
seventeen years.

"Cinema coming out of the area is fresh and innovative and artists of
the region are eager to tell stories that correct many misconceptions of
Latin America," Vargas said.

This year the festival is paying tribute to two film masters: Cuba's
Juan Padrón, whose iconic Vampiros en la Habana (Vampires in Havana) is
a hilariously funny animation classic that was produced decades before
"Twilight," as well as the work of the late Argentine Eliseo Subiela,
whose brilliant film, El Lado Oscuro del Corazón (The Dark Side of the
Heart), paved the way for Argentina's film boom.

In addition, twenty directors are traveling to New York to participate
in talkbacks during the nine-day festival.

We spoke to The Forbidden Shore's Ron Chapman about his film, which
closes the festival on April 7.

What inspired you to make this film?

I am a Canadian and we have an open relationship with Cuba that
continued uninterrupted through and after the revolution in 1959, in
spite of considerable pressure from the United States to join the
embargo; more Canadian tourists visit Cuba every year than from any
other destination in the world.

In Cuba I learned about rumba to rap and everything in-between. I wanted
to make a film that would be able to cross borders and restrictions
imposed by the difficulty of travel and restrictions imposed by the US
embargo.

I made a film that helps to overcome some of the myths about Cuba and
the Cuban people that showcases their great diversity of musical talent
and shares with the unique creative collaborative relationship the
artists have with each other and their unusual and very pure passion for
art. [It's] the creative process that is uniquely not affected or
informed by the necessity of creating for an international market or any
market that requires making music or art for profit. I stopped shooting
this film on the day Obama said publicly in his famous speech that it
was time to end the embargo.

What is unique about Cuban music?

Cuban music's main influences come from Africa and Europe, mostly Spain,
so it is based on an interesting mix. Up until the Cuban Revolution,
Cuban music and artists traveled freely throughout the world, and there
was a connection and dialogue between artists of the world.

After the Cuban Revolution, there was no longer the same ability for
Cuban artists to travel, meet, play and be influenced by contact with
foreign artists. Also, all multinational record companies connected with
the U.S. could not sign an artist from the island because of the
embargo, making it difficult to export the art form.

As a result, the island developed a musical community and identity that
was not based on appealing to the tastes of the international community.
The music was created really solely for the Cuban population; it is much
more insular and a reflection of the Cuban people, their culture,
society politics and life.

This music is beyond the Buena Vista Social Club. What are some of the
lesser known genres and artists that you want the world to meet?

My working title for the film for years was "This Ain't the Buena Vista
Social Club." The world knows their music, and they are great musicians
and there are some Cuban groups living on the island that have
followings in some countries around the world, especially in
Spanish-speaking countries, like Los Van Van, or Chucho Valdez.

But it's fair to say that most of the artists in the film, which have
some of the greatest artists and talents in Cuba, are not well known in
the world.

I included forty artists in my film, and I still had to leave artists
and music on the cutting room floor, not because they were not as good,
or as talented, only because of the time limitations.

Even some of the greatest artists in Cuba now are unknown to the world,
such as X Alfonso, Haydee Milanés, Kelvis Ochoa, Roberto Fonseca, Aldo
López Galvan and Harold López Nusa, Telmary, Charanga Habanera, Danay
Suarez, Roberto Podermo, Djoy de Cuba and Polito Ibáñez.

There are so many artists, and so many different genres which is why I
found it necessary to "take a snapshot" of the music of Cuba today, and
present the incredible diversity of artists that are creating on the
island and make this film to share this music with the world.

You mentioned that there are 33 unique musical genres in Cuba. Why do
you think this island has given birth to such distinct music?

Part of why the island has given birth to so much distinct music has
been the isolation. Cuba, the country, has been very much like a petri
dish, everyone influencing each other, but not really having the
opportunity to go outside the country and mingle with other artists.
They could for the most part only interact with artists who came to Cuba
for short periods of time, and also, whatever music made it into the
country that they could find.

There were no radio stations from outside the country available, or
television stations, newspapers or magazines or Internet connection
available to the majority of the population. It was a matter of what
came in, what they found some exposure to, and then they would take
elements from these musical styles and integrate aspects of them into
their core music, so their music would grow, expand, but always be
anchored by its Cuban roots.

What is your hope with this film?

I wanted to educate the public. I realized how little the people of the
world, and, in the case of this New York premiere, how little the people
of the United States actually know or understand about the music of
Cuba, the people of Cuba, their artistic process, the effects of the
embargo (good and bad) and how they then overcame or worked around these
difficulties.

I was greatly moved by some of the things that impacted their careers,
lives and creative output, in a good way, and as well, in a bad way. All
these contribute to the creative spirit, soul and the creative outcome
and process.

Hopefully, this film will encourage viewers to search them out and find
their music, and introduce audiences to new styles of music, to
encourage them to visit Cuba, to know Cuba better through their music,
and in the case of the U.S. to better understand the effects of the
embargo on the population, on the people of Cuba, and to encourage them
to actively encourage their leaders to end this political situation and
stalemate that has caused so much damage to the people of Cuba in so
many ways, and kept the people of the U.S. from knowing or having any
real relationship or understanding of the people or the country.

The New York Havana Film Festival runs from March 30th thru April 7th.
For a full calendar check out www.HFFny.com

Source: The Cuban Music You Haven't Heard: 'Forbidden Shore' at Havana
Film Festival New York - NBC News -
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Luxury Cruise Line Makes Inaugural Visit to Cuba
March 31, 2017 by Ben Souza

Luxury cruise line Azamara Club Cruises made their inaugural visit to
Cuba this week when Azamara Quest arrived in Havana, Cuba.

The ship sailed down the Bahía de la Habana alongside Havana's famous El
Malecón providing guests magnificent views of the local shoreline before
turning alongside Cuba's Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro through
the Canal de Entrada to dock.

Azamara Club Cruises President & CEO, Larry Pimentel, Royal Caribbean
Cruises LTD. President & COO Adam Goldstein, and Royal Caribbean Cruises
LTD. Vice President of Business Development, Global Government and
Community Relations, Jorge Delgado joined Captain Angel Albertini, Chief
of Havana Cruise Terminal and a contingent of Cuban Dignitaries to toast
the arrival of Azamara Quest, and this important moment in the brand's
history, during a Keys & Plaques ceremony.

Azamara created a variety of unique people-to-people land programs, by
night and by day, to enable guests a fully immersed experience in the
destination and have the opportunity to connect with the great culture
and people of Cuba. Azamara is able to do this because of our overnight
stay in Havana. All tour programs offered by Azamara are designed to
meet United States' requirements for travel to Cuba.

Highlights include:

Tropicana Cabaret Extravaganza: The most spectacular of the open-air
cabarets showcase Caribbean rhythms and sultry dancers. An English
speaking guide shares history of the famous show while on the ride to
the Tropicana. Once there guests sip on rum cocktails surrounded by lush
tropical gardens and enjoy the folklore and music of Cuba.

Nelson Dominguez Art Gallery Tour: Located next to the pier, guests can
join Larry Pimentel for a private gallery tour of renowned artist Nelson
Dominguez followed by the chance to browse and shop artwork to take home
as a souvenir.

Evening Stroll and El Cañonazo Ceremony: A guided walk through the
cobblestone streets of Old Havana at night allows travelers to
appreciate the city's rustic charm and rich history. A brief bus ride
transports the group to the nearby Morro Castle with a ceremonial firing
of the cannon at 9 pm.

Best of Havana – a full-day, all-encompassing trip through Havana
exploring the city's beautiful sprawling cemetery, notable squares,
artsy neighborhoods, literary connections and authentic cuisine.

Havana By Classic American Car – Guests can venture back to 1950's Cuba
in a vintage American automobile for a panoramic ride to a historic
luxury hotel and along the quintessential Malecón waterfront.

Hemingway's Havana – Guests get to explore the literary connections
between Cuba and the late American novelist Ernest Hemingway on a
dynamic four-hour tour that offers the chance to see where he lived,
dined and sipped his favorite cocktails.

Azamara Club Cruises is a boutique up-market cruise line operating two
690 guest ships, the Azamara Journey and the Azamara Quest. Azamara's
wide selection of Destination Immersion® signature programming offers
guests the opportunity to Stay Longer and Experience More, delivering
guests authentic cultural experiences across the globe. The ship's
smaller size allows for visits to ports larger ships are unable to
venture to.

In 2017, Azamara will take guests to more than 200 ports, in 68
countries, including 195 late night stays and 82 overnights. Azamara's
commitment to Destination Immersion coupled with exceptional onboard
service offers a unique cruise vacation.

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Geneva, March 31 (RHC-PL)-- Cuba has maintained a zero tolerance … representative will reportedly travel to Cuba shortly. The diplomatic mission said the report submitted by Cuba confirms the commitment by the … rights of the victims, the Cuban government has maintained a zero … Continue reading