Tag Archives: Cuba Mining

Cuban Weekly News Digest – March 31st, 2011

Cuban Weekly News Digest - “A compilation of news articles about Cuba, distributed since 1992 in order to encourage a balanced understanding of the Cuban situation”

Solvision – Guantanamo – The elimination of the so-called low-voltage areas in Guantanamo is benefiting nowadays about 66,000 customers in the easternmost Cuban province, thanks to the program of the Energy Revolution in Cuba, sponsored by the Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz. Engineer Sael Cantillo Guzman, head of the Integrated Projects (DIP) of Network Rehabilitation, in the local electric company, explained that since 2006, when there began such efforts in the territory until the end of last year, in some 529 the problem was solved in order to provide better service to citizens. Guzman also said that until 2010 the 86.4 percent of the work planned under the program in the province was executed, in which is investing about 27 million pesos. Although still remain about 63 low-voltage areas to eradicate the real impact can be seen admirably, since the quality of networks implies a reduction of interruptions from the changes, said the engineer.

Havana – DTC – The company Habaguanex S.A., which runs tourist facilities in Old Havana, is carrying out new projects in 2011. Works include the enlargement of the commercial network, which consists of 19 hotels, 38 restaurants, some 80 shops and more than 60 cafeterias and bars. In that regard, the Hotel Palacio de Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal, the first such establishment on Saint Francis of Assisi Square, was inaugurated in 2010. In addition, Habanaguanex S.A. also administers the hotels Santa Isabel, Valencia, Ambos Mundos, Florida, Raquel, Palacio O’Farrill, El Comendador, Los Frailes, Tejadillo and San Miguel, among others. In the gastronomic sector, the company runs the restaurants Monserrate, El Baturro, La Zaragozana, Castillo de Farnés, Café del Oriente, La Dominica and Prado y Neptuno.

CubaStandard.com – Prosecutors are seeking long-term prison sentences for an ex-minister and a Chilean businessman, after a provincial court in Havana found them guilty in a corruption case apparently designed to show the limits of translating power and influence into business in Raulista Cuba. A long-term sentence for Alejandro Roca Iglesias, 75, who was minister of food industries from 1976 to March 2009, would send a strong signal to Cuban officials with material ambitions. Max Marambio was absent, fighting the court proceedings from Chile; he was represented by a court-appointed defender.

If prosecutors have their way, Roca will get 15 years of prison, while Max Marambio, 63, former part-owner of the Alimentos Río Zaza joint venture, would get 20 years, offical daily Granma reported. The court ruled that Roca was guilty of bribery and “acts harming economic activity or commerce,” and Marambio of bribery and falsification of business documents, according to the Communist Party newspaper. Initially, Marambio was also accused of fraud and embezzlement. Sentencing is expected “in the coming days.” The brief Granma news item didn’t provide any details about the case. According to rumors, Roca made considerable bank deposits abroad from illicit commissions. A son of Roca’s works for Marambio in Chile.

The government shut down Río Zaza, which produced and sold processed food products in Cuba to the tune of $100 million a year, early last year and took back Marambio’s house in Havana. As of October, two Río Zaza executives were imprisoned in relation to the investigation, according to Marambio, but the government hasn’t released any information regarding other pending cases.

A Havana court indicted Marambio in May 2010, after a one-year investigation. The governments’ efforts to get Marambio to appear before a court have been published by official media, but this is the first time official media mentioned Roca’s case. The Chilean businessman, a political insider in Cuba during the 1970s and 80s, has not returned to the island since fall 2009. He filed legal proceedings against Cuba before the court of arbitration of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in October 2010.

“The central objective of this legal action is the unrestricted defense of my honor, that of my collaborators, and of all people who have cooperated with, and trusted in, the entrepreneurial project Río Zaza,” Max Marambio wrote in a press release about his ICC case in October. He explained the ICC was the forum for disputes indicated by the Cuban government to foreign investors, adding that the ICC offers the necessary neutrality to “fight a conflict built on unfounded and libelous accusations.” Marambio claims that part of the accusations stem from his paying generous benefits to Cuban employees.

Shortly after he filed the ICC case, the government asked Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for Max Marambio. It also published a summons for Marcel Luis Marambio, Max’s younger brother and a vice president of the holding company that controlled Río Zaza. “I will go through this process with serenity, prudence and firmness,” Marambio said in the October press release. “I will do this maintaining the same feelings of admiration and respect towards what has been the Cuban Revolution, with the certainty that the truth is always revolutionary and always ends up winning, if it is defended with solidity and conviction.”

Marambio is one of the few foreigners who made it into Cuba’s inner circles of power under Fidel Castro. Since the 1990s Marambio, a former student leader in Chile, body guard of President Salvador Allende, member of Cuba’s special forces, and founding chief executive of the Cimex holding — today Cuba’s largest business conglomerate — used his close relationship with the Cuban government to build a thriving business. Roca lost his long-term post in March 2009, the same time as Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and Vice President Carlos Lage, both of whom had been close to Fidel Castro.

Havana – DTC – Tourist arrivals in Cuba increase 14.7 per cent in February, compared with the same month in 2010. According to preliminary figures from the National Statistics Office, 588,394 vacationers visited the country in that period, accounting for a year-on-year increase of 75,234 visitors. It was reported that on February 2007, 439,134 tourists arrived in the country, and that number increased to 508,000 vacationers a year later, which confirms the importance of this activity for Cuban economy. Tourism contributes nearly 70 percent of hard currencies to the country’s economy. Tourism in Cuba benefits from the island’s geographic location in the Caribbean, rich nature and history, and the development of hotel infrastructure.

Miami Herald – The U.S. government said it will allow charter flights to Havana from Fort Lauderdale- Hollywood International Airport — all part of the ongoing easing of travel restrictions to the island by the Obama administration. It’s unclear which charter carriers will offer the flights, but the Broward County airport now has permission to schedule them. In recent years, only charter flights from Miami to the island have been allowed. “We still don’t know exactly when the flights will begin, but they have been approved,’’ said Greg Meyer spokesman for the airport. “We asked for permission on Jan. 28 and were optimistic they would be approved.” The government approved flights to Cuba from eight other U.S. airports, including Tampa, Chicago O’Hare, Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The approval of the new flights does not change existing restrictions which prohibit U.S. tourists travel to Cuba. For now, the U.S. government only allows Cuban exiles with relatives on the island and some American under special categories. The Obama administration allows Cuban exiles to visit the island as often as they wish, as opposed to only three times a year during the previous George W. Bush administration. In the U.S., there are nearly 2 million Cuban-Americans and their families, most live in South Florida. The flights out of Fort Lauderdale would likely serve this group.

Granma Intl. – Havana – The US government is planning to spend some extra $30 million on projects aimed at using the internet to destabilize the Cuban government, Granma newspaper reported. The Cuban daily revealed that with that purpose the US Agency for International Development (USAID) requested non-governmental organizations and specialized companies to submit their “ideas”, according to a document recently posted at the Cuba Money Project website by US journalist and researcher Tracey Eaton.

The document —dated January 11, 2011— was brought to light the day before the beginning of the trial in Havana against American USAID contractor Alan Philip Gross, who was charged of leading illegal activities in Cuba. The document details in a precise way, so much that it seems to be referring directly to the Gross case or to previous intelligence operations, that applying organizations must have experience on intense hostile internet fields. The spearhead of these operations, called web-based circumvention technology, is aimed at going around firewalls and filters used to discover multiple forms of illegal use of the internet according to the laws of every country.
The strategy includes a training program for the development of a network of instructors to train bloggers, citizen-journalists and civil organizations to operate illegally. The program comprises as well a “defense” fund for activists facing legal charges of hacking and “cyber intrusion.” Granma said that in addition to requesting proposals of initiatives against Cuba under the classical rhetoric of “help” for “digital activists,” the document also mentions China, Burma, Iran, Russia and Venezuela, all of which are countries refusing to submit to U.S. imperial domination.

Havana – DTC – The eastern Cuban province of Holguín will host the 12th commercial fair EXPOHOLGUIN-2011 this month. The meeting is sponsored by the local delegations of the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment. According to organizers, the meeting is aimed at promoting business opportunities, creating strategic alliances among Cuban companies and reducing imports. In that regard, they recalled that Holguín offers opportunities to national and foreign entrepreneurs to diversify operations. On this occasion, the main sectors represented at the fair will be tourism, the sugar industry, mining, power generation, iron and steel, mechanic, informatics and construction.

CubaStandard.com“…Petrobras has more to gain from organically growing its position in Brazil than going abroad to expand production”. Petrobras CFO Almhir Guilherme Barbassa (Forbes magazine, February 28, 2011)

More than 80 percent of the world’s crude oil production is in the hands of national oil companies (NOCs), the majority with a good track record of managing their national patrimony. But only a handful have been able to keep an arms-length relationship from their country’s politics du jour. Many governments treat their NOCs’ coffers as a petty cash box to finance their political or social agendas, without taking into consideration the huge amounts of capital that have to be reinvested, in order to maximize the NOCs’ return on assets and the life span of their hydrocarbon resources.

A rare exception is Brazil’s Petrobras, which has demonstrated an envious independence from the central government’s politics. This oil company is marching to the beat of its own drummer. In September of last year, Petrobras announced the sale of $67 billion worth of shares to finance its ambitious $224 billion, five-year investment plan, which is aimed at nearly doubling its current domestic crude oil production to 3.9 million barrels a day by 2014. The transaction generated $25.4 billion from the sale of preferred shares, giving the Brazilian government 55.6 percent of the voting shares; and another $39.2 billion from the sale of common shares, giving the government 48 percent of the common shares of Petrobras.

The results of the sale demonstrated private investors’ trust in Petrobras future performance. Projects by political allies Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and former Brazilian President Inácio Lula da Silva such as the Gasoducto del Sur, the Abreu e Lima refinery, and the Carabobo heavy oil project have failed to materialize, because they were not able to meet Petrobras’ profitability and strategic thresholds. In December of 2010, Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa was quoted in the Oil & Gas Journal as saying that “Petrobras was willing to build the Abreu e Lima alone if Venezuelan state oil company PdVSA did not meet its financial terms and conditions,” thus underscoring the national oil company’s independence.

Now, to Cuba. In October 2008, Petrobras was awarded, under a two-year exploration concession, the 1,600 km² Block 37, located in Cuba’s Strait of Florida just 12 miles north of the island’s north coast between La Habana and Matanzas. After spending more than $8 million in seismic and geological work, Petrobras last fall determined that the hydrocarbon potential of the block did not warrant the additional expense of exploratory drilling and did not seek an extension of the concession.

This was the second time that Petrobras attempts to develop Cuba’s oil and natural gas resources. In 1998, Braspetro, Petrobras’ former international subsidiary, drilled two dry holes in the area of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo at a cost of over $15 million. The Cuban government awarded this area — today Block L — to Russia’s Zarubezhneft oil company last year; it is just south of The Bahamas’ Andros Island, were British and Norwegian oil companies are conducting seismic studies.

The recent departure by Petrobras from Cuba should not be taken as a final verdict on Cuba’s oil and gas potential, or as a signal on possible strained political relations between the governments of Cuba and Brazil. It was simply an economic and strategic decision by Petrobras, following their long term-vision of focusing resources on developing its recently found 10 billion barrels of deepwater offshore oil and natural gas at the Santos and Campos basins, along the Atlantic coast.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – The Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) state oil company signed a contract in Caracas for the creation and administration of the Venangocupet oil joint venture with Cuba and Angola. The operation includes the production, transportation, refining and exchange of crude oil, said Eulogio del Pino, president of PDVSA’s subsidiary Venezuelan Oil Corporation (CVP). PDVSA will own 60% of the stocks while the remaining 40% will be equally shared by Angola’s Sonangol Pesquisa & Producto and Cuba’s Cupet.

A press release from the Venezuelan Ministry of Oil and Energy notes that the agreement is the first economic alliance of this South American nation with an African country in the oil sector. Del Pino added that Venangocupet will work in the Migas and Melones fields, located in the Venezuelan state of Anzoategui, nearly 23 kilometers away from the city of El Tigre. The executive pointed out that the joint venture’s initial production capacity will be 20,000 barrels of crude oil per day with prospects to increase it to 60,000 in the future.

Cupet’s representative Rafael Luis Arias said that this alliance is a big opportunity for Cuba, which enters this exclusive economic zone for the first time. Prensa Latina reports that Cuba and Venezuela are currently working together on several projects in diverse social and economic areas as part of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) founded in 2004.

Havana – DTC – Trinidad’s tourist destination at the center of the Island is enhancing current hotel infrastructures. Earthworks have started at the place to build the 5-star Pansea Hotel next to the historical core. The establishment, financed by a French-Cuban joint venture, will offer 52 rooms with eight different typologies, and three suites. The building program is expected to conclude in 14 months, as well as some other works to enlarge La Ronda Hotel. Therefore, the former facility, from the Encanto chain improves its category with 17 rooms and a privileged location for its guests.

Vertientes,Camaguey – The granting of land plots in free usufruct in the municipality of Vertientes, some 26 km south-west of Camagüey, is consolidating as an effective alternative for the development of the sugar cane crop in this province, the largest in Cuba. An example of this project can be seen in the cooperative farms of this borough, which are providing the sweet graminaceous plant to Batalla de las Guásimas cane processing factory, which is a mainstay of the provincial economy.

José Manuel Ocampo Basulto is one of the Camaguey-resident farmers who looked towards the countryside and today his smallholding produces more than 90 metric tons of cane per hectare. Member of the Abel Santamaría Credit and Service Cooperative Farm, Ocampo Basulto set to produce 12 hectares of land that he and his family sowed with the variety La Cuba 173. Today José Manuel Ocampo Basalto is satisfied watching the modern sugar cane harvesting machines coming and going, while he expects to diversify his crops and expand his areas.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – By the end of 2011, Cuba will have three modern tire-retreading plants that will contribute to saving hard currencies, an imperative need to mitigate the effects of the current international financial crisis. The director of the Union Nacional de Gomas (National Tires Group), Rolando Alfonso Sanchez, told ACN that the facilities will be located in the provinces of Mayabeque, Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey. These plants will contribute to saving nearly 20 million dollars, and to lengthen the useful life of tires, so essential for transporting loads and passengers.
Alfonso noted that despite the advantages of having enough tires in good conditions, some enterprises make no good use of them and have to buy them in the international market at very high prices. Cuba retreads only between 30 and 50% of tires with conditions to be reused, a very low figure for a tire importing country. According to data offered by the Union de la Goma, 90,000 tires were retreaded last year, which saved the Cuban economy 13 million dollars.
The general director of the Chemical Industry Business Group, Fidel Miranda, told ACN that retreading is a very good economic alternative because financial resources to buy new tires are not always available. Miranda added that the existing five tire-retreading plants in Cuba have the necessary raw materials to carry out their work. Specialists in the field affirm that it is possible to retread tires up to three times, depending on the wear degree.

Havana – DTC – The company MICALUM, based in the central Cuban province of Cienfuegos, has developed aluminum carpentry based on internationally-recognized quality standards. The firm received the Quality Management certificate due to its excellent work in producing and assembling the aluminum elements. The National Standardization Office granted the certificate, according to the Cuban Standard ISO-9001 of 2008. Other services provided by the company, including metallic structures for façades, industrial gates and garage doors, office furniture and modular constructions, will also get the certificate. MICALUM was founded 16 years ago and its main client is the domestic market in hard currency, especially the tourism sector, shopping centers and airports.

CubaStandard.com – Outright theft and under-the-table sales to private buyers are major reasons for Cuba’s record-low coffee harvest figures, official daily Granma wrote in an investigative report. The 2009-10 coffee harvest officially yielded a record low of 6,000 tons, forcing the government to import 16,000 tons of coffee last year to meet domestic demand. This year’s production plan won’t be met either, according to the article. Natural causes and mismanagement are only part of the picture, Granma suggests, adding that a history of low prices paid by the state distributor (21 pesos per can until last year) has created a thriving illegal coffee trade.

Despite a recent boost in coffee prices to 65 pesos, illegal sales and theft by both outsiders and employees continue, the article said. Illegal buyers — unidentified by the article — offer the same price, but accept lower quality. And while service and credit cooperatives owned by small landowners are now complying with production plans, the problem continues at large state cooperatives. A crackdown is necessary, the Communist Party newspaper suggests. “With the new price, radical change was expected in the issue,” the article says. “But it didn’t happen.” “The solution will not be to increase prices indefinitely; rather, we have to be more rigorous in the confrontation of these violations,” the article concludes, adding that “discipline and administrative order” must be imposed.

TAMPA, Florida – (Reuters) – The Port of Tampa hopes to start passenger and car ferry service between Tampa and Cuba under President Barack Obama’s relaxed travel restrictions, a port spokesman said. “There has been interest by some companies in starting the service,” said spokesman Andy Forbes. He said one of those companies was United Caribbean Lines of Orlando, which has applied to the United States to operate ferry service between Cuba and Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

“We’re waiting for approval and could start as early as this fall,” United Caribbean Chief Executive Bruce Nierenberg said in a telephone interview. The Cuban government would also have to agree to the deal. Tampa International Airport was one of several U.S. airports approved for nonstop flights to and from Cuba earlier this month, expanding the current service from Miami, New York and Los Angeles. It is uncertain when the flights will start. U.S.-Cuban relations have been strained since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power, and a 49-year-old U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba remains in effect.

Obama announced the eased travel restrictions in January, saying he wanted to increase people-to-people contact between Americans and Cubans. But relations between the two Cold War enemies grew strained again last week when Cuba sentenced a U.S. aid contractor, Alan Gross, to 15 years in prison for what it called a subversive project to topple the Cuba revolution. The United States said Gross was working to set up Internet access for Cuba’s small Jewish community and did nothing wrong by bringing in communications equipment. Cuba found him guilty of “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state.” The United States has said it will not undertake any more initiatives with the Caribbean island until Gross is freed.

U.S. travel to Cuba is still generally restricted to Americans with relatives in Cuba and to cultural, educational and religious groups. Tampa has the second largest Cuban-American population in Florida, behind Miami. Many are descendants of Cuban cigar makers who came to Tampa in the 1880s and made the city the center of cigar production in the United States. The sailing time between Tampa and Cuba would be about 18 hours and the cost about $350 round-trip. The ferries would have overnight accommodations and could carry 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. Nierenberg said he also wanted to start ferry service between Tampa and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in 2012. A ferry service was started between those two ports in 2003 but was discontinued after less than a year.

Havana – DTC – Supplies from Cuban enterprise CUBALUB, specializing in the production of diverse kind of lubricants gain ground at the Island’s domestic market. In the most recent edition of EXPOHOLGUIN commercial fair, company presented oil for two-stroke motors Super Moto 2T. Enterprise experts indicated that the oil is designed to lubricate two-stroke gasoline motors and that it complies with Japanese Jaso FC quality parameters. Besides, it reduces harmful emissions to the environment, protects motor mechanisms and increases lubricating efficiency. CUBALUB also produces MARTRON T1 404 lubricant, approved by HYUNDAI and MAN companies.

Granma International – Havana – In an exercise of democracy, based on proposals by organizations at the base, delegates were elected, as well as 1,280 candidates for the Central Committee. The 1,000 delegates to the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) this April have been elected in assemblies of base organization general secretaries in municipalities, districts, and equivalent units within the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior. Those elected also include representatives of Cuban volunteers working in countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Haiti.

A parallel process at the same levels has resulted in 1,280 candidates for the Central Committee of the Party; part of a pool from which a definitive list will be presented at the Congress. It is worth noting the exercise in democracy carried out by the Party nuclei, which initially had the opportunity to put forward proposals and, once the lists were drawn up at the municipal and district levels, members were consulted, expressed their opinions, and could object to the composition or other aspects of the lists. The opinions expressed in the nuclei were duly taken into account by the municipal committees with the presence of cadres at that level and in some cases at the provincial level in various base organizations, in order to explain and discuss members’ doubts, misunderstandings, suggestions and general concerns in relation to the candidacies.

Members’ approval of delegates to the Congress and candidates for the Central Committee in the assemblies of the general secretaries of nuclei was done on the basis of debate and not always by unanimous vote. Given the current need for efficiency and functionality, this Party Congress will take place with the lowest number of delegates to date. Its essential issue is an analysis of the draft guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy Development Project of the Party and the Revolution, which therefore explains the interest in achieving a balanced delegate composition in order to contribute to that debate.

The review of amendments to the Guidelines proposed during the broad-based consultation process in workplaces and neighborhoods is currently being completed. Once the work of the groups meticulously examining the additions, modifications and eliminations proposed and comments expressing doubts and/or concerns, a new version of the document will be placed in the hands of elected delegates to be assessed, still as a draft project, prior to the April Congress. The 6th Congress of the Party coincides with the days on which Cubans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist nature of the Revolution and the Bay of Pigs victory.

The updating of our economic model implies a tremendous responsibility for Cuban patriots, and in this context, the Communist Party, as the vanguard of society, must assert the maxim expressed by the leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro in the central report to the 2nd PCC Congress, “The Party exists solely through the people and for the people… The closest and most indissoluble ties must exist between cadres, members and the people, fundamentally based on the example and the confidence that revolutionaries will live and die for their people.”

Havana – DTC – Cuba has taken actions to restore Viñales, a town in the western part of the country and designated Humankind’s Cultural Heritage. The town’s buildings are benefiting from a restoration program sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to repair the damage caused by hurricanes. In that regard, the roofs of a group of houses of high cultural value will be restored, as well as the carpentry work at the House of Culture, one of the oldest in the town. UNESCO provided the funds to buy the materials and inputs to rebuild the typical houses of the Viñales Valley. That zone is also well known for its beautiful landscapes and tobacco crops among round-top hills called mogotes.

Granma Intl. – Havana – Rice producers in the central province of Camagüey are getting the drying and milling facilities ready for the upcoming season’s crop of the cereal starting in May. The facilities will be ready in time, despite the delay in the supply of laminar rolls and bearings, said Honorio Saavedra, vice-director of the Ruta Invasora Agroindustrial Complex (CAI), which is charge of the management of the buildings. In the winter crop season, from November to February, Camagüey planted around 8,800 hectares that will be harvested at the end of April. The rice crop will continue until November, when the crops planted from March to July will be harvested.

Saavedra noted that seven of the eight drying facilities in the CAI will be ready for the season. The eighth is not up for working since investments need to be done. Those facilities have a capability of producing 650 tons of rice a day. The harvest potential are currently at 515 tons per day considering the harvesting capacity of the harvesters of the complex. But the capacity of the drying facilities are not enough during the peak of the season, between the months of July and August and they have to look for alternatives such as laying the rice on roads to dry out in the sunlight, explained Elexis Rivero, from the Manual Ascunce Cooperative of Credits and Services, the largest rice producer in Cuba.

In addition to mechanical harvesting, producers also harvest the rice manually in small extensions of ground. There are also back-up harvesters to support the harvest when the factory capacity is smaller than the harvest. Saavedra also explained that the milling will be done in three out of the four existing plants because one of them is undergoing works for the upgrading and widening of its facilities, a project financed by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. The National Association of Small Farmers estimates that private farmers will harvest around the 70% of the rice in Camagüey.

Havana – DTC – Cuban agriculture gives a boost to industrial fruit processing, as part of efforts to make good use of harvest in the Island. As a result it is working on the final details of a plant equipped with Italian technology, a project implemented with nearly two million dollars. Located at Matanzas province the installations will yield 20 tons of juice per hour, thus becoming the major in the country. Plans for this year consider processing around 165,000 tons of citrus and varieties such as mango and pineapple for tourism and export. Cuba also increases farming areas dedicated to plant about 19 thousand hectares, in order to reach one million 119 thousand tons of fruits in 2015.

HOLGUIN, Cuba – (acn) – The two wind farms in the municipality of Gibara, in the eastern Cuban province of Holguin, contributed with 21,000 megawatts to the National Electric System, in three years of functioning. The director of the National Electric System, Jose Pifferer, told ACN that this contribution saved the Cuban economy more than 4,000 oil tons, taking into account that these two wind farms produce nine megawatts per hour. It also played a part in ceasing to emit to the atmosphere more than 15,000 cubic meters of toxic gases, which benefits the environment.
The Cuban program of energy generation from the wind has other two facilities, with less generation capacity, located in the special municipality of the Isle of Youth and in the central province of Ciego de Avila. Pifferer noted that the Gibara I, in Holguin, was severely damaged by hurricane Ike, in September 2008; otherwise, these two farms could have made a larger contribution. The director of the Electric Company of Holguin, Hector Lugo, pointed out that the project to use the energy of the wind began in the province with the inauguration of Gibara I, on February 16, 2008, and expanded recently with Gibara II.

HAVANA – (AP) – Cuba’s central bank is devaluing the country’s two types of peso by about 8 percent in relation to the dollar and other foreign currencies, hoping the move will spur exports and local production as the government seeks to overhaul a moribund economy. The announcement published in state newspapers says the hard-currency peso used mostly by tourists and foreign companies on the island will now be worth $1, down from $1.08. Each hard-currency peso is still worth 24 of the standard pesos with which most Cubans are paid in an unusual two-tiered currency system.

It was the first time the government has revalued the currency in six years, when it increased the nominal value of its currency in relation to the dollar. This shift puts the exchange rate back to where it was before. Economists have been arguing for just such a change. They say it will be a boon for the island’s crucial tourism industry, because it will make trips to Cuba more affordable. It will also increase the peso value of remittances sent from abroad, a key lifeline for many cash-strapped Cubans working for salaries of about $20 a month. Arturo Lopez-Levy, an economist who left Cuba in 2001 and is now a lecturer at the University of Denver, said the devaluation was a step in the right direction, but did not go far enough. “The new rate is still too high,” he said. “The Cuban economy needs something more dramatic.”

Lopez-Levy said Cuban competitiveness was not strong enough to warrant a one-to-one exchange rate with the U.S. dollar, and countries with an overvalued currency face impediments to growth. He added, however, that the revaluation was a politically bold move from President Raul Castro, who has been struggling to lift the island out of its chronic economic malaise since taking over from his brother in 2006. The devaluation “is the clearest sign yet of Raul Castro’s will to put economic growth and structural adjustment ahead of political niceties,” Lopez-Levy said. In Havana, Cubans reacted with a mix of approval and indifference. “It’s good for someone who has family abroad,” said Jorge Kuri, 49, who works as a security guard at a state-owned company. “But for a normal worker, everything is going to be the same. This won’t resolve anything.”

Neither Cuba’s dollar-pegged peso or its normal peso are traded on international markets, so when the island’s government purchases items for import, it must do so in dollars, euros or other hard currency. The decision will make such imports more expensive, but the bank said the government hoped to ease the effect by boosting productivity at home. Cuba has cut its food and other imports by more than 30 percent in recent years. The statement said that the country’s economic woes, exacerbated by the effects of three monster hurricanes that struck in 2008 and the global financial crisis, had forced the bank to maintain an exchange rate that “did not correspond to the country’s current economic conditions.”

The bank said that despite Cuba’s economic woes, the government had managed to resume payments to foreign companies that had seen their payments blocked and accounts frozen the year before. It also said the country had managed to renegotiate its foreign debt, though it gave no details. Cuba does not release statistics on foreign debt.

Cuba is in the midst of a major overhaul of its economy. The communist government has made it easier for tens of thousands of Cubans to work for themselves in the private sector, albeit in a limited number of jobs. It has also said it wants to eliminate half a million public sector jobs, though Castro acknowledged recently that the plan had been beset with problems and would be delayed indefinitely. One of the long-term goals is to eliminate the two-tiered currency system.

Havanatimes.org – Daisy ValeraThe latest CD by the duo Buena Fe (titled Pi 3.14) made it into my hands just a few days ago. I had heard the songs on the bus and in cafeterias, but because so many people had been around me talking, I was never able to pay it close attention. I began to listening to these musicians only recently, last year, on the CD Extremistas Nobles that they made with trova musician Frank Delgado. I found Extremistas Nobles to be an excellent collection and my door to the music of Buena Fe.

Almost to my surprise, Pi 3.14 turned out to be a disk that continues in the line of Extremistas; it takes up the challenge of revealing the reality of Cuba today. In songs like “Lo que un dia fue y no es” (What was one day but now isn’t), they invite us to dispense with the speeches of past glory and to center ourselves on the shortages and dogmatism of the present. “Dos emigrantes” (Two emigrants) is a song that speaks to us of the two fundamental positions that Cuban emigrants exhibit when they return to visit to the island: those who believe they now live in a democracy and those who understand the problems of capitalism.

The song Libre (Free) is an appeal for us to reflect, to be objective and increasingly less easy to manipulate, and to exercise thought – which is often opposed to obedience. “Despedidas” (Farewells), a song performed in the company of the magnificent voice of Pablo Milanes, is a dialogue between a father and his son, one that strips bare the generational conflicts and pain of Cubans when losing family and friends as a product of emigration. The disk includes the song Marti, recalling the phrase of this Cuban thinker of the 19th century: “With all and for the well-being of all,” referring to Cuban society. “Miedo” (Fear), sung together with Los Aldeanos (a hip-hop dual censored by the officialdom) enumerates the fears that cause people not to act.

In the CD’s title track, “Pi 3.14,” they express opposition to exploitation and plead for respect and love. They close the list with the songs “Serpiente y Paloma,” “El Puerco,” “Contracorriente” and “La sospecha.” As a whole, these songs make up a critical collection with demands that demonstrate the commitment of these artists to people — especially to the youth of Cuba — in these days of momentous changes to the island’s economic and political model.

MANZANILLO, Cuba – (acn) – The Onell Cañete footwear enterprise, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma, installed 53 modern machines with Italian technology, as part of its productive revival. The technical director of the enterprise, Julio Ramirez, told ACN that these modern equipments, placed in one of its three factories, will be used to produce Coloso military boots. Ramirez affirmed that this investment will contribute to duplicating the daily production and to improving the finish of the products, which will meet the needs of the personnel from the ministries of Agriculture and the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
The new equipment will offer a financial improvement for the enterprise given that they guarantee considerable incomes in CUP, the Cuban national currency, and in CUC, the Cuban convertible peso. Director Noemi Villalon recalled that, before the arrival of the new technology, the factory used to produce only 200 pair of shoes daily; an insufficient figure to meet the demand. Villalon explained that 2011 perspectives give priority to continue increasing productions and to offer the best shoe quality. The Onell Cañete enterprise is located in historical center of the city. It was founded in 1964 and has been working, in conjunction with similar enterprises in the provinces of Villa Clara and Havana, to achieving better results.

Havana – DTC – Cuban agriculture gives a boost to industrial fruit processing, as part of efforts to make good use of harvest in the Island. As a result it is working on the final details of a plant equipped with Italian technology, a project implemented with nearly two million dollars. Located at Matanzas province the installations will yield 20 tons of juice per hour, thus becoming the major in the country. Plans for this year consider processing around 165,000 tons of citrus and varieties such as mango and pineapple for tourism and export. Cuba also increases farming areas dedicated to plant about 19 thousand hectares, in order to reach one million 119 thousand tons of fruits in 2015.

AIN – SANCTI SPIRITUS – With more than 1.5 million people in the 10-19 age group, adolescents make up close to 14% of the Cuban population. The largest totals of young people in that age group live in the provinces of Habana, Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Holguín, it was reported at a workshop that opened activities for the 20th anniversary of the Guidance Center for Youth, Adolescents and Families in Sancti Spíritus province. Speaking at the workshop, Dr. Francisca Cruz Sanchez, member of the executive of the Ibero-American Federation on Adolescence and Youth, confirmed that the 10-19 age group needs to be taken more into account in educational terms.

Cruz, also president of the Cuban Pediatric Society’s Adolescence Department, noted that the principal causes of death for this age group are related to accidents and malignant tumors. Rafael Wert, COJAF director, said that families, schools and society all have responsibility and the capacity for helping children and young people overcome problems and conflicts. There was a consensus at the workshop that fundamental activities during adolescence are related to affective relations with friends, hence the importance of influences on this sector in order to attain good habits in dressing, in ways of speaking, tastes, preferences and conduct.

Fort Lauderdale – Sun Sentinel – WASHINGTON — To help prevent a potential oil spill from wrecking Florida’s environment, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham urged federal officials to form a pact with Cuba and Mexico to enforce safety standards and establish disaster-response plans for offshore drilling. Graham’s warning reflects growing concerns about Cuban plans to drill exploratory wells about 50 miles from the Florida Keys in the midst of the Gulf Stream, which rushes along Florida’s east coast. “Potential sites are close enough to the United States that if an accident like the Deepwater Horizon spill occurs, fisheries, coastal tourism and other valuable U.S. natural resources could be put at great risk,” Graham and William Reilly, co-chairmen of a national commission on offshore drilling, told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“This [drilling off Cuba] will be almost at the back door of the Florida Keys,” Graham added during a break in the committee hearing. “The Keys would be the first in line; the east coast of Florida would be next. The risk specific to Florida, and more broadly to the United States, is very real.” Graham, a Democrat from Miami Lakes who also served as Florida’s governor, said he and Reilly will meet with Mexican officials next month to press for a regional agreement on drilling practices to guard against another disaster.

“We think Mexico could be the interlocutor to work with Cuba to bring them into this,” Graham said. “This may take the form of a treaty or some other formal agreement. Then we can take the next step, with Mexico in the lead, to try to bring Cuba into standards and enforcement of those standards.”

Cuba has contracted with Repsol, a Spanish company, to drill exploratory wells as early as this year. Respol, with long experience in offshore operations, has asserted that it maintains the strictest safety measures. Nevertheless, Florida environmentalists and members of Congress are alarmed by the prospect of rigs so close to the state’s shores, especially near marine sanctuaries in the Keys. The Deepwater Horizon spill south of Louisiana, which fouled the Gulf coast and ruined its summer tourist season, dramatized the risks. Florida leaders for many years struggled to maintain a federal ban on drilling near the state’s shores, though some Republicans more recently have proposed expanded offshore production to generate jobs, raise revenue and boost U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas.

A 2006 federal law set a no-drilling zone that extends at least 125 miles from Florida’s west coast, and as much as 230 miles in some places. The Cuban exploration would drill in the narrow Florida Straits only 50 miles from the fragile ecosystem of the Keys. The rigs would be directly in the path of the Gulf Stream, a powerful current that carries water alongside the South Florida beaches and up the Atlantic coast. “If oil spilled from a well in the North Cuba Basin, it would coat popular South Atlantic beaches like Miami and West Palm,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., warned the Senate last month. “I am not prepared to take chances with Florida’s coral reefs and other marine life, nor with the livelihood of millions of Floridians who depend on tourism for their economic well-being.”

Nelson introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to prepare for a potential spill in Cuban waters. Under the bill, if a company that’s drilling near Cuba wants to lease drilling rights in U.S. waters, it would be required to prove it has a spill-response plan for both places. The bill also would require federal officials to recommend a multinational agreement on ways to prevent and contain oil spills, much like Graham’s proposal. Another bill introduced by U.S. Rep.Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and 11 other Floridians would go further by authorizing U.S. officials to deny drilling leases to companies that do business with any nation facing trade sanctions, such as Cuba.

Though the United States and Cuba are adversaries with no formal diplomatic relations, they do cooperate in several ways, including sea rescues and weather warnings. Graham said that Mexico, which has closer ties to Cuba and is also exploring oil ventures, could act as a liaison for a regional agreement. Graham plans to visit Mexico the first week of April to make his case, and he hopes to visit Cuba to press the same concerns. Members of the Senate committee indicated they want to carry out some of the commission’s recommendations. “We know one thing: If oil is drilled, oil will be spilled,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “We saw it in the worst of terms in the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t need to repeat that experience.”

BBC Video clip re new business licences in Cuba –

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12876893

Guantanamo – (Solvision) – More than a hundred businessmen, distributors, entrepreneurs and specialists from different parts of the world will meet in Cuba in April for the 21st Encounter of Clients-Friends of the Partagas Cigar House. The director of the Partagas House in Havana, Abel Exposito Diaz, told ACN that the event will coincide with the celebrations for the 166th anniversary of this Cuban cigar brand, one of the favorite ones among cigar lovers worldwide. Exposito noted that representatives from Italy, Grand Caiman, and Brazil have already confirmed their attendance, and mentioned that they have received several emails from people interested in attending the event.

He explained that the agenda of the meeting includes visits to tobacco plantations in westernmost Pinar del Rio, a province that produces the best tobacco leaves for the famous hand-rolled Cuban cigars. The director of House Partagas explained that, on the occasion of its 166th anniversary, humidors with 50 cigars of two vitolas ––especially made for this celebration–– will be on sale. Partagas recently launched two new vitolas to the international market, within the context of the 13th International Habano Festival. The head of marketing from Habanos S.A., Ana López, told ACN that these cigars have a unique taste and are presented in colorful boxes.

House Partagas was inaugurated in 1845 by Catalan Jaime Partagas, who bought some low-lying fertile lands in the Cuban western regions of Vuelta Abajo and Semi Vuelta —today’s Pinar del Rio province. Nowadays, Partagas owns a series of vitolas with different forms and sizes. Its Reserva, Lusitanias and Piramide vitolas stand out among the rest.

Havana – DTC – The road work enterprise in the Cuban capital is executing a wide rehabilitation program that intends to recuperate the road system in the city. For that reason, operations in 2010 resulted in laying 114,878 tons of asphalt compound, the largest volume in the company’s history, which surpasses 15 per cent of the quantity planned for this period.  The firm contributes with the coming into service of two modern plants and the incorporation of new equipment, such as resurfacing machinery, trucks and cylinders. The agenda for 2011 includes laying up to 295,000 tons of asphalt compound on roads of national interest for public transportation.

Granma International – Havana – The seabed fiber optic cable linking Cuba with Venezuela touched land February 9 on Siboney beach, in Santiago de Cuba province, 14 kilometers east of its capital city, during a ceremony attended by Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, member of the Political Bureau and vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers; Medardo Díaz, minister of Informatics and Communication; Hamadou Touré, general secretary of the International Telecommunication Union; and Manuel Fernández, Venezuelan deputy minister of Telecommunication.

According to PL reports, Wilfredo Morales, Pres. of the Gran Caribe Telecommunications company, recounted the history of this integrating effort, initiated in 2007 by President Hugo Chávez with the creation of a joint entity and which had as its high point the 19-day journey of the French ship Ille de Batz, which extended the cable to Cuban shores. According to the Venezuelan news agency AVN, Morales indicated that the timetable established for the process was met as expected. Manuel Fernández emphasized the symbolic nature of the physical connection between the two countries which will end centuries of poor communication and advance the two governments’ efforts for integration and development.

The Cuban Minister of Informatics and Communication stated that the underwater cable opens a breach in the United States blockade of Cuba and strengthens its sovereignty in telecommunications. He also announced that, within the following 48 hours, the cable would be extended to Ocho Rios in Jamaica, providing the opportunity to connect with this country and others in the region, according to AIN. Leaders and workers in the informatics sector, residents of the coastal area and special guests also attended the reception ceremony.

Havana – DTC – The eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas hosted the 2011 CINEMAZUL Festival. The film “Boleto al Paraiso”, Gerardo Gijona’s most recent film, was premiered at the meeting. The motion picture is based on the book “Confesiones de un Médico” (a Doctor’s Confessions), and tells the story of four youngsters who met in the 1990′s and traveled around Cuba. On this occasion, CINEMAZUL was dedicated to the anniversary of the Cuban Film Institute, and consisted of debates about the most prominent Cuban filmmakers. The exhibitions of films and debates were held at educational, productive and cultural institutions, and a children’s workshop named “Sala de Sueños” (Room of Dreams), was also held.

Havana – Prensa Latina – Experts in geology, geophysics and mining from the five continents will attend the 4th Cuban Convention of Earth Sciences (Geociencias 2011) to be held in Havana on April 4-8.  Specialists from Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Angola, Namibia, the United States and Canada are expected to take part. The Third Cuban Congress of Oil and Gas, including an international workshop on Geology and oil potential in the Gulf of Mexico, will also be held in parallel to the Convention.

The website dedicated to the convention announces other sideline events, including a Congress of Geology, Geophysics and Mining with symposiums, round tables and seminars on Cuban breakthroughs in these fields. There will also be an exhibit, book launchings and several masterly lectures to be given by guests. Geociencias 2011 is sponsored by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and the Ministry of Basic Industry.

(Reuters) – Cubans, speaking out in citizen meetings leading to a Communist Party congress in April, have given officials an earful about their economic worries and said the government must do a better job, people close to the process said this week.

They said concerns about low salaries, high prices and cutting state subsidies dominated discussions in the thousands of meetings held across the country from December through February. The government said more than 7 million people, out of a population of 11.2 million, participated. “People are very preoccupied over rising prices, over the lack of balance between wages and prices and over what will happen to the most vulnerable, for example if the food ration is cut,” said a Communist Party member involved in compiling comments from the meetings.

A summary of the citizen input will be provided to the public before the party congress, where 1,000 delegates will vote on proposed economic reforms put forth by President Raul Castro, who is under pressure from creditors over late debt payments and the population over economic stagnation. He wants to transform Cuba’s social system from one based on collective work and consumption to one where markets, individual initiative and reward play larger roles and targeted welfare replaces cradle-to-grave subsidized goods and services.

According to the proposals the state would pull back from some secondary activities in favor of private initiative, stop directly administering state-run companies and cede more power to local governments. Hundreds of thousands of state jobs would be cut in favor of an expanding “non-state” sector, while such things as subsidized utilities and the monthly food ration would be eliminated to improve government productivity and finances.

Cubans appear to be looking to the congress with a mix of hope and dread. Under changes already taking place, more than 113,000 people have taken out licenses for self-employment and 100,000 leased fallow state land in hopes of earning more money, but the state is also demanding more taxes and giving fewer handouts. “Me and my family feel much more squeezed than last year,” said pensioner Yolanda, who rents out a room to tourists in her Santiago de Cuba home. Yolanda said she supported Castro’s reforms, but thought lower taxes and more controls on rising prices were needed. “I used to pay a monthly tax of $136 to rent my room and now I have to pay $200,” she said.

The public meetings also reflected changing sentiment about the country’s economic woes. Many people blamed the system, and not just the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, long accused of being the main culprit, the sources said. People repeatedly demanded the government improve its performance in exchange for tightening their belts. “Many people asked why, after repeatedly complaining about the waste generated by its monopoly on food distribution, most produce was still under its control and food rotting in fields and on trucks,” said a retired party official in Guantanamo, with knowledge of the discussion. All in all, “the discussions generated an enormous amount of information about how the people look at and understand the main problems facing the country,” said a party member in central Camaguey province.

“And this puts enormous pressure on the government to respond adequately.” It will not be easy, said Vicente Gonzalez, president of the Santiago de Cuba Provincial Administrative Council, but “we have to carry out these changes because the alternative is a debacle.” “If we are not capable of creating a sustainable country where we produce what we need through hard work and sacrifice we will lose our main achievements,” he said, referring to free healthcare and education provided to all Cubans.

Havana – DTC – Cuba will host a new edition of the Terry Fox Run this month to pay tribute to that young Canadian man after whom the race is named. Organizers estimate that two million people will participate in the race all over Cuba. This year, the race will be part of the national Paralympics, so everybody is welcomed to participate. Every year, millions of Cubans take to the streets to remember the great deed of the Canadian runner, who, at the age of 18, began running in Canada after his right leg was amputated due to cancer. For 143 days, Terry Fox ran 42 kilometers a day, but the disease affected his lungs and he died at the age of 22.

Cuban News Agency – HAVANA, Cuba – Cuba will mark the official proclamation of the socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution and the 50th anniversary of the victory over the 1961 mercenary invasion of Bay of Pigs with a military parade and a popular march on April 16 at the Jose Marti Revolution Square in Havana. Cuba will change and it would be nice if for once the U.S. were ahead of the curve on an international development.  With the participation of VP Esteban Lazo, representatives of grass-roots and political organizations met at the Lazaro Peña Theater in the Cuban capital to coordinate all the actions prior to the celebration, which —Lazo said— will be dedicated to the young generations.
“We will show the world the patriotism of our youth and their determination to defend the same ideals that we defended at Bay of Pigs,” the VP added. The Secretary of the Young Communist League (UJC) in Havana, Judith Area Sarmiento, announced that the march will be opened by the students of the Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational School and will finish with young professionals, university students and athletes, among others. Also present in the meeting were the head of the Ideology Department at the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party (PCC), Rolando Alfonso Borges, and the First Secretary of the PCC in Havana, Lazara Mercedes Lopez Acea.

San Francisco, CA – (Vocus/PRWEB) – EcoArts Tours is dedicated to being a new kind of entity – one that serves as a nexus of bridging the gap between the arts, sustainability and travel. This June 27 – July 7, 2011, the Culinary EcoArts Tour provides professionals and aficionados of Cuban cuisine the opportunity to travel to a region normally restricted to Americans. So now, anyone can go! From Havana to the island of Cayo Coco, visit organic farms, gain insight on renewable energy, enjoy culinary lessons and explore the diverse culture and natural wonders. The registration deadline is March 31st, so reserve your space today.

Take a city tour of Havana with an agro-ecological focus of visiting organic gardens and a farmers market

Visit with the ACTAF (Cuban Association of Crop and Forestry Professionals)

Enjoy traditional dinners and culinary lessons at restaurants such as El Bambu and the 12 Apostles (at the foot of the Fortaleza Morro Cabaña)

Visit Cuba Solar, the country’s leading NGO for renewable energy, and gain insight on rural electrification

Stay a few days in the beautiful coastal city of Cienfuego where you will meet with members of rural cooperatives, enjoy farm tours and visit a school incorporating environmental education

Explore Trinidad, an intriguing 500-year old town and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Visit the organopónico El Ranchon and Sanidad Vegetal’s CONBIOL facility in Sancti Spiritus

Take an eco-excursion of the island of Cayo Coco. A guided tour will cover topics of sustainable tourism and marine conservation on the island, while also giving time to enjoy the beaches or scuba amongst the massive coral reefs.

*Pricing: full pricing information can be found here.

*Logistics: to take a look at the detailed itinerary click here.

*Application: to book the trip, find the full application here.

What does EcoArts Tours do?

EcoArts Tours is a creator of experiences, providing customized tours and workshops that focus on arts and sustainability on a global level. These experiences include:

Customized Tours – We create tours for special groups, corporate clients, families and honeymooners, as well as workshops and day-long tours for youth. The focus for each tour and program highlights a specific arts and sustainable element.

The EcoRenaissance Project – This initiative invites artists to travel on an EcoArts Tour to learn from leaders and convey how their art form can make an impact on combating an environmental issue, while incorporating inspiration from local artists.

Exceptional Partnerships – EcoArts Tours has an ongoing partnership with Global Exchange, an organization with over 20 years of experience working for international human rights, social, environmental and economic justice. Formed in 2009, this alliance shares the value that the arts is many-faceted, and when used as an ecotourism product, not only helps preserve cultural traditions but is also a means of economic empowerment.

Although we do not presume to have the solution to climate change, we are climate conscious and are partnered with NativeEnergy, a climate solutions pioneer in the US carbon market. For press inquiries or other questions, please contact:
Rosalyn Salters atRosalyn@ecoartstours.orgor call 415-680-3474

Havana – DTC – In order to boost tourism for vacationers with a high purchasing power, Cuba will host the 3rd International Gourmet Festival, the most important meeting on gastronomy and hotels. The event will be held from April 6-8 at Plaza America, in Varadero beach, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of Havana. Sources from the organizing committee said some 200 people from Argentina, Jamaica, South Africa and the United States are expected to participate in this important meeting, The festival will consist of eight presentations and wine-tasting events, including new products from several countries, a surprise prepared by suppliers and a lecture on Cuba’s tourism training system FORMATUR. The meeting will be sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and the entrepreneurial group Palmares.

(Reuters) – London-listed oil explorer Bahamas Petroleum Co said it planned to raise 45.6 million pounds through a discounted share placing mainly to fund its existing exploration programme and other working capital expenses. The Bahamas-focused explorer, which owns five exploration licences in Bahamian waters to the east of Florida and Cuba, said it placed about 243.1 million shares at 18.75 pence apiece, a discount of 2.6 percent to the stock’s Tuesday close.

Canaccord Genuity Ltd, FirstEnergy Capital LLP and Novus Capital Markets Ltd acted as joint bookrunners for the placing. As of Dec. 31, 2010, Bahamas had about $6 million of cash. The company also said it is currently in talks to farm out some of its licences with potential partners. Bahamas shares, which have gained about 48 percent since the company was awarded a seismic survey contract in January, closed at 19.25 pence on Tuesday on the London Stock Exchange, valuing the business at 190.1 million pounds ($304.8 million). ($1 = 0.624 British Pounds)

Guantanamo – (Solvision) – Cuba will observe daylight saving time at midnight between Saturday and Sunday when the clocks will turn one hour ahead to 1am on March 20. Daylight saving time is used as a way to save energy by extending daylight, therefore reducing the need to use artificial lighting.  Daylight saving time was first introduced in Cuba in 1928 but it was not widely accepted until World War II. After the war, daylight saving time was no longer observed until 1965. In 2004 the Caribbean nation remained on daylight saving time until October 29, 2006. After two years operating all year-round without changing from “summer” to “normal” time, Cuba decided to re-establish standard time on October 29, 2006.

CubaStandard.com – With anticipation that U.S. President Barack Obama will soon lift the travel ban on American tourists visiting Cuba, representatives of Cuba, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands met here during the recent Miami International Boat Show to draft a strategy to handle the predicted influx of boats heading south.

Figures from the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida vessel registration authorities indicate that there are more than 600,000 boats in Florida alone that are capable of making the 90 mile sea voyage from South Florida to Cuba. U.S. boats have been barred from visiting Cuba for more than 50 years and opening a floodgate of vessels would rapidly inundate Cuba’s marinas.

NEW CRUISING GROUND SEEN
The representatives included Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, representing Cuba’s major marina provider, Marlin; Dale B. Westin, representing the Port Authority of Jamaica; plus Neville Scott, representing Cayman Island marina interests. All agreed that any relaxation of the travel ban for American’s to visit Cuba would have the effect of creating a new Central Caribbean cruising ground consisting primarily of Cuba, plus the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.

MARINE TRADES GROUP PLANNED
In addition to marketing the three-country cruising ground, the representatives forecast the formation of the Caribbean Marine Trades Association that would serve as an umbrella organization to promote yachting tourism to the Central and Western Caribbean.  Today, the Eastern Caribbean is the significant yachting destination from the US and British Virgin Islands south to Trinidad and Tobago, plus Puerto Rico, the Bahamas along with Turks and Caicos.

USA TRAVEL BAN RELAXATION IN STEPS
Presently, most USA citizens are the only ones in the entire world that do not have the freedom to travel to Cuba.  President Obama in the past year has been relaxing the ban in several increments.  Bans imposed by President George W. Bush that prevented Cuban nationals and persons of Cuban extraction from visiting Cuba frequently were ended early in 2010. Most recently, visitation by members of the press, religious groups, cultural exchanges and educational travel have been considerably relaxed by the Obama administration.  Additional restrictions are expected to be eliminated in the near future.

The Cuba Embargo relaxation rests largely with the U.S. Congress and with U.S. Rep. Ilena Ross Lehtenin, now controlling the House Foreign Relations Committee, it is unlikely this measure will get house floor consideration in the next two years.  Obama, however, does have the authority to relax the travel ban. For additional information and details about the proposed Caribbean Marine Trades Association, contact Jamaican representative Dale B. Westin at dwestin@portjam.com or at 876-477-6914.

SAN DIEGO/PRNewswire/ – “We wish to make CUBA Herbal Energy Juice (Pink Sheets: CUBV) the official energy drink and non-alcoholic beverage of Five Star Airlines.  CUBA Herbal Energy Juice will be served on all flights, domestic and international and we will use our best efforts to promote the brand to the best of our abilities on every flight,” said Gabriel Rosillo, President of Five Star Airlines.

Five Star Airlines will commence service to multiple destinations in Mexico direct from San Diego, California in the spring of 2011.  They are offering multiple flights per week to popular destinations in Mexico. “We look forward to serving an all-natural CUBA Beverage products on our flights and in setting a new standard of promoting health and wellness on Five Star Airlines flights,” said Mr. Rosillo. Over 3 years ago, CUBA Beverage Company® was one of the first companies to market with an all-natural energy juice.  In response to consumer demand for a healthier, better-tasting energy beverage, CUBA Herbal Energy Juice® is now replacing traditional unhealthy energy drinks in many locations in the United States and internationally.

CUBA Herbal Energy Juice® is an all natural herbal energy juice currently available in three unique flavors; Pomegranate-Cranberry, Wild Berry and Passion Fruit-Orange. CUBA Beverage Company’s® products represent a healthy all-natural energy drink, with no caffeine, no taurine, no high fructose corn syrups or sugars, no preservatives and no artificial ingredients of any kind. CUBA Herbal Energy Juice®:  No monsters, no bull, just pure healthy energy!

CONTACT: Investor Relations
866-431-CUBA (2822)
info@cubabev.com
WEB: www.cubabev.com

HAVANA – (Reuters) – Brazilian oil giant Petrobras (PETR4.SA) has withdrawn from an offshore oil exploration block in Cuba’s waters that it leased amid great fanfare in 2008. Petrobras signed up for one of Cuba’s 59 offshore blocks in October 2008 in a Havana ceremony attended by then Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Cuban President Raul Castro.

Cuba’s offshore oil hopes now ride even more heavily on Spanish oil company Repsol YPF (REP.MC) , which is expected to bring a Chinese-built drilling rig to Cuba in August.

Repsol, in partnership with Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL) (STO.N) and India’s ONGC (ONGC.BO) l, plans to drill at least one well, then pass the rig over to Malaysia’s state-owned oil company Petronas. The oil industry is watching the Repsol project closely and if it finds significant reserves, more companies are likely to want to explore in Cuban waters. Repsol drilled an offshore well in Cuba in 2004 and said it found oil, but that it was “non-commercial.”

It said at the time it planned to drill more wells, but is believed to have had difficulty finding a rig that did not violate the 49-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The embargo limits the amount of U.S. technology that can be used in equipment employed in Cuba. It also prevents U.S. companies from operating on the island.

Garcia said Brazil wished Cuba well in its search for oil. “There are other companies like Repsol and from China that are trying (to drill for oil) and I hope they find it,” he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated Cuba has about five billion barrels of oil offshore.

Cuban News Agency – SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba – Primary results of a pilot study on  Cuban breast cancer patients have demonstrated the effectiveness of electrotherapy to combat the disease of such a high incidence and mortality rate in the world. Researcher Hector Camue, with the National Applied Electromagnetism National Research Center, told ACN the therapy consists on applying low-intensity direct current on a tumor by means of electrodes.
Camue said a multidisciplinary team in charge of the study started from clinical experiences practiced by Chinese scientists who visited Santiago de Cuba in 2005 and trained a group of specialists on the technique. Camue said the current outcomes of the study are very encouraging, although the study is still on incipient. According to scientists, the electrotherapy is a safe and low-cost alternative method that helps to destroy both malignant and benign tumors. Camue said the therapy could be considered as a possible treatment that can be combined with other established therapies.
The results of Cuban studies on the application of electrotherapy on breast tumors have been presented in several international conferences, including the 4th International Conference on Applied Electromagnetism underway in Santiago de Cuba. The technique has been used in China since 1987 where more than 20,000 patients have been treated, Camue said.

Guantanamo – (Solvision) – The BRASCUBA enterprise will launch in the international market a new line of black menthol cigarettes made with the same kind of leaves as the worldwide famous Cohiba cigars. The co-president of this Brazilian and Cuban joint venture, Antonio Nacimiento, told that the new line will be gradually introduced in the international market, starting this month; thus contributing to increasing hard currency incomes to the country.
The launching of the product in Cuba is due to April, and it will be available throughout all Cuban hotel, trade and gastronomic facilities. According to sales manager Anderson Moraes, the new Premium product, with exquisite aroma, marks distinctively the existing cigarettes in the international market, mainly full of blond tobacco. He noted that export strategies are directed towards Spain, France, Morocco, Japan, and other Asian countries because they are the higher consumers of black cigarettes.

The BRASCUBA factory, in Havana, is under renovation to improve its technology and train its personnel, aiming at meeting the clients’ increasing demands. Moreas explained that nowadays, this enterprise exports its product to Spain, Dubai, Andorra, Albania, Germany, Mexico, Panama and Jamaica, among other nations. The H. Upmann, Monterrey, Vega, Hollywood, H. Upmann Selecto, Lucky Strike and Cohíba brands are included in the catalogue of the enterprise.

radiorebelde.Havana, Cuba – The Cuban Ministry of Agriculture is working on the recovery of the production of citrus to increase the offer to the population and tourism, and to reduce imports. As part of a national strategy ––up to 2015–– in the production of citrus, the 6,400 workers in the Victoria de Giron Enterprise, in the province of Matanzas, have planted 1,600 hectares of new citrus trees. The director of the enterprise, Jorge Risquedo, told ACN that the new technology implemented allows alternating orange trees with other fruit trees as guava and mango, which increases yielding.

Risquedo mentioned that this enterprise had to cut down large areas given that they were seriously affected by the 2008 cyclones and by the Huanglongbing disease. He explained that the aim is to plant 1,000 hectares this year in Jaguey Grande up to completing the rehabilitation and development plan. The director of the Tropical Fruit Research Institute, in Havana, Raisa Llauger, noted that the new plants come from high technology nurseries; and made emphasis on the introduction of new fruit varieties for exporting them and for taking them to the national markets. According to sources form the Ministry of Agriculture, the lands granted in usufruct contributed to increasing the number of fruit and timber trees.

Guantanamo – (Solvision) – The singer-songwriter Carlos Varela will record his next album in collaboration with US and Latin American musicians.  We will work with few luxuries, but with excellent musicians, said Varela, whose record productions have captivated music lovers in America and Europe. Varela defends the idea that the Cuban and American artists should and can build projects together. Favored by international critics, Varela wrote his first compositions in 1978, two years later he began his prolific career as a troubadour.

Holguin, Cuba – A new report of blind fish in caverns of the region of Gibara, to the north of Holguin, were made by a local research group. Jose Corella Varona, head of the team of scientific divers reported the identification of new fishes that “swim away from the light,” as described by Cuban zoologist Felipe Poey (1799-1891). The new species was identified as the type dentatus and was named n.sp. Corella Varona said several fishes of that species were found during a study in the underwater caves of El Baga, Cristalitos de Papaya and Dos Anas, close to the towns of Caletones and Laguna Blanca, northeast Gibara.

The expert explained that one of the fishes was particularly singular and it could be that it is a new variety of blind fishes, which is commonly known as n.sp. In Cuba, four blind fish species of the Lucifuga genus distributed irregularly across the island: subterraneus, dentatus, simile and teresinarun. There is a fifth species under study known as Lucifuga sp, and the fish found in Cristalito de Papaya. Corella Varona, who has a long experience on the research of cave systems in Holguin and a diver, said prior to this report, there was only information from the caves of El Masío and Tanque Azul, both in Gibara.

The specialist said blind fish of the Lucifuga genus evolved to cave-dwelling species and the feed on shrimps and crustaceous. Speleologist diver Juan Carlos Almaguer added that those species also live in both fresh and sea water and more than 90 percent of reports on the fish locate it in the western region of Cuba, except for keys and the Isle of Youth. According to specialists, these types of blind fish can only be found in Cuba, the Bahamas and Galapagos Islands.

(Reuters) – Cuba’s program to slash 500,000 state jobs nationwide has barely gotten off the ground in the provinces, as officials scramble to provide alternatives and deal with unease and anger over the layoffs. Confusion about how to implement the cuts, a lack of alternative jobs and worker resistance have led President Raul Castro to drop a deadline to carry out the plan by March. The layoffs, aimed at cutting expenditures by the debt-ridden government and increasing productivity on the Caribbean’s biggest island, are a key part of economic reforms Castro says are critical to the survival of Cuban communism.

Some 3,000 jobs have been cut in eastern Granma province since the program started in October, a similar number in adjacent Santiago de Cuba and 1,000 in central Camaguey, local officials told Reuters last week. But that is just 10 percent of the 70,000 jobs they said were slated to go by March in the three provinces and already the experience has proved wrenching for a society where a secure job had been guaranteed for decades under a centrally run socialist economy. “We never know now if tomorrow we will wake up with a job or not and it was never like that before,” said a middle-aged woman in Santiago de Cuba, asking that her name not be used.

A companion reform measure lifting many curbs on operating small private businesses and working privately in skilled trades was originally designed to absorb the workers who have yet to be let go. As of January 31, 113,000 people nationwide had taken out licenses to work on their own, including 15,000 in the Camaguey, Granma and Santiago provinces. But Marta Adan Hernandez, the director of labor and social security in Camaguey province, said there is room for many more people working on their own.

“There is no limit and many services still need to be provided to the population,” she told Reuters.

Castro’s reforms envision a growing “non-state” retail and farming sector and more efficient state-run companies. They are expected to be approved at a Communist Party congress in April. The massive lay-offs have reportedly come under fire during tens of thousands of meetings held across the island as a prelude to the congress. The program is being described as a “reorganization” of the labor force because in theory laid-off workers are declared “available” and offered other jobs or they can lease fallow state land or become self-employed. Twenty-nine nurses at one of nine health clinics in Camaguey, upon being declared “available” last week, were offered jobs at local hospitals.

“Some are taking the offer and others are going home because at the clinic you work eight-hour days while in hospitals you work a 12-hour day or night shift and it often turns into 24 hours when your relief doesn’t show up,” said Anaida, a nursing supervisor. That was not the case for bookkeepers at 20 restaurants in Santiago de Cuba attached to the Tourism Ministry. Their jobs were simply eliminated and all 20 let go, with their four supervisors taking over the work. “They declared me ‘available’ January 4 and sent me home with a month’s salary and then 70 percent for another month,” 40-year-old Maria Eugenia said. “They haven’t offered me anything. They haven’t even called me or any of the others.

Granma’s provincial vice president for economic affairs, Raul Lopez Rodriguez, insisted the reorganization would continue, but admitted only 10 percent of those laid off could be absorbed by a shrinking state sector. The remainder will have little choice but to return to the land or strike out on their own. “You are going to see a reorganization of the labor force to improve efficiency and those who remain must be paid much more,” he said. He estimated that average monthly wages, now about 440 pesos ($20), would need to double to motivate workers.

Radio Angulo.cu – Viñales’ gorgeous landscape attracts visitors from all over the world. Viñales Nacional Park, famous for its jurassic mogotes (Karst mountains) in the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio, receives every year thosands of Cuban and foreign visitors, who go over caves and roads, surrounded by living fossils, such as palma corcho (cork palm). One of the most outstanding options for tourists is Santo Tomas, one of the largest cave systems in Latin America, which received the World Heritage Cultural Landscapes award. Yoel Martinez, director of the Nacional Park, said to Prensa Latina that Maravillas de Viñales path, ideal for bird watching from a lush forest, is also preferred by nature lovers from various continents.

Martinez said that from 2002 up to the current year, 82,000 Cuban and foreign visitors have enjoyed the ecotourism proposals of that place, which also includes tours through El Cable cave, among other places prominent for their natural and scenic values. Among the source markets are Germany, France, Spain, the UK, and Italy, Martinez said. In about 15,000 hectares (37,500 acres), the area’s flora consists of more than 200,000 species, whose endemism in carbonate substrates approaches 30 percent. The stunning scenes of the Valle de Viñales have being painted from earlier centuries by famous artists such as Domingo Ramos.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Almost 76,5 % of the land given in usufruct by the Cuban government by way of Decree 259 is being exploited throughout the country after the conclusion of works to cut down marabu trees (Dichrostachys cinerea, aka sicklebush) and weeds. The Cuban Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodriguez, told ACN that most of these areas are used for livestock raising and for vegetable and fruit growing purposes. He pointed out that the process of approval of applications is still slow and that there are delays in the assessment of the annual agreement among usufruct beneficiaries, the municipal delegate, the director of the agricultural and livestock enterprise, and the president of the cooperative to which the producer is linked.
Luis Suarez, one of these new beneficiaries ––who is already collecting the results of its first tomato, papaya and sweet potato harvests––, told ACN that this is a dream come true for him. He added that now there is a lot to study in order to implement the best techniques as to agricultural work and sanitary conditions in accordance to the kind of crop. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, by the end of December 2010 the government had granted 1,179,795 hectares in usufruct and had received more than 155,000 applications, out of which over 128,000 were approved and another 19,000 were pending from approval.

Xinhua – Cuba enforced Wednesday a new Highway Code imposing harsher measures against traffic violations such as speeding or drunken driving. The new code is aimed at reducing the number of accidents on the island. The so-called “Law 109,” approved on Aug. 1, 2010 by the Cuban Parliament, prohibits completely driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. According to official statistics, drunken driving is one of the most common causes of accidents on the island, where the road accidents caused by alcohol left a toll of 41 dead and 200 injured in 2010. The resolution, taking effect Wednesday, not only forbids driving under the influence of alcohol, but also provides penalties for passengers also drunk or affected by other substances, which could jeopardize the ability of the driver. Those involved in speed competition on the road will also be punished with measures ranging from the cancellation of their driver’s license to the confiscation of the vehicle.

Miami Herald – Four antennas for satellite telephones were smuggled into Cuba disguised as surfboards. Many others were simply home-made on the island out of metal sheeting or cement. Cuba alleges the satellite phones are part of a secret U.S. “cyberwar’’ to subvert the communist system by giving dissidents and others access to Internet and telephone services that its intelligence services cannot monitor or block.

Yet the vast majority of the illegal satellite phones in Cuba were slipped in not by U.S. government agents but by exiles who want their relatives and friends to access the services, several knowledgeable sources told El Nuevo Herald.

One Miami man quietly offers “satphones’’ for $3,500 up front and $50 a month. Other systems offered by U.S., Canadian, European and Central American companies cost as little as $410 for the equipment and $39.99 a month. The exact number of satphones in Cuba is unknown because of their illegal status, but one industry expert who knows Cuba estimated it “in the dozens.” A second industry expert put it at 50 to 70. Raúl Castro’s government has been telling its version of the cyberwar in a string of recent TV programs, titled “Cuba’s Reasons,” that explain its dark views of U.S. efforts to increase Cubans’ access to the Internet.

“They try to present it as a way to facilitate the free flow of information to and from Cuba,” an intelligence official identified only as Captain Mariana said on one program. But they are really aimed at “espionage, subversion and media manipulation.” Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was arrested in Havana in 2009 after he allegedly delivered satellite Internet communications equipment to Cuban Jews. He was tried last week on national security charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Communist Party’s Granma newspaper alleged last week that the U.S. effort to expand Cubans’ access to the Internet was part of a plan to “spark a popular uprising’’ like those that toppled the Egyptian and Tunisian governments.

Defenders of the U.S. programs argue that there’s a moral right to violate Cuban laws in order to give uncensored access to the Internet to a people living under a dictatorial system. “The issue is how much legitimacy we are willing to give to the legislation of an authoritarian and repressive society,” said a post this week in the Spain-based blog Penultimos Dias — The Last Few Days. The latest “Cuba’s Reasons’’ program featured Dalexi González, a telecommunications engineer who told how a former neighbor living in Spain offered in 2007 to introduce him to a “friend’’ who would help him set up an illegal Internet connection.

Gonzalez, who collaborated with Cuban intelligence, claimed that he received four satellite telephone antennas, with foam covers that made them look like surfboards, from a blond American during a surfing contest east of Havana in 2008. He also received software programs for communications security from the “friend,’’ Gonzalez added. But Gonzalez did not clarify whether he ever received the rest of the components for the satellite phones. Cuban TV identified the “friend’’ as Robert Guerra, head of Internet programs at Freedom House, a pro-democracy group based in Washington. Its web page says Guerra works to “expand the use of anti-censorship technologies (and) build support networks for citizens fighting against online repression.”

“We try to help Cuban citizens to connect with counterparts in other countries, and in most other parts of the world this is totally acceptable,” Daniel Calingaert, Freedom House’s deputy director of programs, told El Nuevo Herald. Freedom House never sent any satellite phones to Cuba, according to persons knowledgeable about its work, but it did send Guerra to the island to help broaden and improve Cubans’ access to the Internet. Cuba’s government tightly controls access to the Web, and the island has the lowest Internet penetration rate of Latin America. It blocks local access to many “enemy’’ Web sites and locally registered smartphones cannot download Web pages.

Access is largely limited to state officials and institutions, and others must pay exorbitant prices — $6 an hour at tourist hotels and $40-$50 a month to use an official’s password at night. Cuba’s average monthly salary stands at $20 a month.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana has 23 computer stations that offer uncensored and free Internet access to Cuban visitors by appointment, and the Dutch embassy has another three. But satellite phones allow users to surf the Web or make phone calls from their own homes. They connect users directly to satellites — bypassing Cuba’s telephone system — and then to ground stations abroad that link to Internet or telephone networks. The George W. Bush administration first approved sending satellite phones to Cuba around 2006, but kept the numbers to a handful because of Havana’s likely protests, said two former administration officials. Cuba’s Decree 269, issued in 2000, requires satellite transmitters and receivers be registered with the government.

Satellite phones sent in by Cuban exiles clearly far outstrip those paid for by the U.S. government, industry experts told El Nuevo Herald. They asked that they not be further identified because of the illegal nature of most of the Cuba connections. The top-of-the-line phones are the BGANs, which costs $3,000 to buy. Voice chats cost 99 U.S. cents a minute and Web connections run $6-$7 for the equivalent of transferring two large photographs. The average BGAN bill runs $150-$200 a month. BGANs are expensive compared to other systems but are easier to hide because they do not require large satellite antennas. The lid of the laptop-sized satellite phone works as its antenna.

Cheaper but easier to detect and slower are the satellite Internet/phone systems sold by several companies around the world for use in remote locations, boats and other places without access to high-speed Internet. One man contacted by El Nuevo at a Miami phone number last week said he could provide satellite Internet access in Cuba for a $3,500 one-time fee and $50 a month. His offer is on the Web, boasting that his system is “not detectable.” A Cuban exile in Panama said he paid $1,000 up front and $60 a month to have a Panamanian company install the satellite connection for his father in Havana four years ago, and has since referred a dozen of other exiles to the installer.

Although the U.S. embargo bars U.S. satphone companies from selling their services for use on the island, exiles in South Florida can easily contract foreign companies to hook up friends and relatives on the island, industry experts said. They also can contract U.S. companies to provide the systems in remote U.S. locations — the Florida Keys, for example — then smuggle the equipment into Cuba while continuing to pay the bills in the United States. HughesNet, a U.S. company, charges $410 for the purchase of the equipment and monthly fees from $39.99 to $89.99. The more expensive plans offer faster connection speeds — though still slow by TV cable standards — and longer surfing times.

Such systems require a receiver-transmitter that looks like a fat 20-inch hot dog, a modem about the size of a book and a three-foot wide antenna. A photo on the Web shows an antenna made from concrete that can be flipped down to look like a square platform. Industry experts warn of not-infrequent fraud in the business. Because all the systems are illegal for use in Cuba, they note, exiles who buy them and lose their money have little or no legal recourse. An Orlando man who asked to be identified only as Omar but has put his complaint and telephone number on the Internet told El Nuevo Herald that he paid $3,000 to connect a relative in Cuba one year ago. He is still waiting.

(Reuters) – Alberto Granado, who accompanied fellow Argentine Ernesto “Che” Guevara on a trip immortalized in the film “The Motorcycle Diaries, died in Cuba on Saturday at the age of 88, Cuba’s state-run media reported. The report said his ashes would be spread in Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela. The famous trip across South America, begun in late 1951 on Granado’s old British motorcycle, supposedly awakened in Guevara a sympathy for the poor and desire for social justice that turned him into a leftist revolutionary.

He was one of the leaders of Cuba’s revolution that put Fidel Castro in power in 1959 and was in the Cuban government for several years until leaving to fight, less successfully, in other uprisings. He died in Bolivia in 1967 while trying to start a rebel force there. “The Motorcycle Diaries” was based on Guevara’s diary of the trip and on Granado’s book “Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary.” The 2004 film was directed by Brazilian Walter Salles. At the invitation of his friend, Granado, who was a biochemist, came to Cuba in 1961 and stayed.

Radio Havana – Cuba – The introduction of new technologies such as the double-row planting method will allow Cuban farmers to increase efficiency in the cultivation of tobacco. Oscar Basulto, director of the business group TABACUBA, stated that this technique is being successfully implemented in the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio as it allows to make the most of the cultivable land. The method also reduces the appearance of weeds and it favors the works of irrigation, fumigation and harvesting. At the same time, it contributes to the saving of oil.

According to data provided by specialists in the sector, with this technique, yields increase between 25 and 30 percent as the number of plants per hectare also increases. Hector Luis, a tobacco grower of the municipality of San Luis in Pinar del Rio, selected as Habano Man 2008, said the method also contributes to the reduction of materials used such as fabric and wire. According to reports from the Ministry of Agriculture, exports and sales of Cuban tobacco in 2010 reached 95% of the plan due to difficulties with the arrival of imports, an aggressive international anti-tobacco campaign, and the current international financial crisis.

Havana – DTC – The company EcoSol, attached to the Cuban corporation COPEXTEL, installed a backup mechanism to provide solar photovoltaic energy to the National Power System. According to experts, the new mechanism turns the direct current supplied by the photovoltaic modules into alternate current through a device called inverter. Results confirm the advantage of the technology, which provides clean renewable energy that can be stored and used in case of a power outage. EcoSol imports, sells and exports products and services in the field of renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency. That way, it provides integral solutions based on studies, diagnoses and saving solutions, energy efficiency and engineering systems using alternative sources of energy.

BUENOS AIRES – (Hollywood Reporter) – Puerto Rican Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro arrived in Cuba to direct a segment in the collective film “Seven Days in Havana.” Del Toro’s first time as a director will be a documentary featuring an American actor traveling to the island for a seminar. The doc was first presented in December during the New Latin American Film Festival in Havana and will be supported by production companies Full House (France) and Morena Films (Spain). With a 3 million euro budget, the cast of filmmakers participating will also include Julio Medem, Laurent Cantet, Pablo Trapero, Gaspar Noe, Elia Suleiman and Juan Carlos Tabio.

“Havana is the best place to be starting this adventure; to shoot my first project as a director here is a great privilege,” Del Toro told Cuban agency Prensa Latina. “For now, this is the only project I will be focusing on in the next days. That’s what I have in mind, I focus on one thing at a time.” The shooting will feature Cuban actors Daisy Granados and Vladimir Cruz. In the meantime, Del Toro will scout locations in Havana’s Old Quarter.

Del Toro is no stranger to Havana. Last time he was there was in July 2008 to receive a lifetime achievement award, and he was even praised by Fidel Castro for his performance as Ernesto Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s Spanish-spoken Che, which won him a best actor award in Cannes and a Spanish Goya in the same category. “I have good friends here,” he said. “I always come here only to work, but I love to do so.”

CAMAGÜEY, Cuba – (acn) – The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) will finance the construction in the Cuban eastern province of Camagüey of a new fodder factory that will substitute one that has been in use there for 64 years. Braulio Muñoz Ramos, with the executive team of the Poultry Company of the territory, told ACN that the plans and costing stage will begin in the second semester of 2011 prior to the civil construction works and the installation of equipment. According to the stipulated period of construction, the factory should be finished 18 months later. Cuba is in negotiations with Chinese, German and Spanish companies for the purchase of the technology for the plant, which is expected to produce 25 tons of fodder per hour. Over the last few years and thanks to an agreement with ALBA, Cuba has been working to improve fodder manufacturers; in this regard, the modernization of a production line in a factory in central Villa Clara province is also scheduled for 2011.

This Week – Sometimes the people behind our huge Canadian travel industry are as fascinating as the destinations they take us to. When Colin Hunter sings “Come Fly with Me,” he means it. While you were boarding the plane, the chairman of the board of the Sunwing Travel Group was singing to you, and when the plane reaches altitude, tune in to channel 10 on your armrest and relax to his seductive, soothing, crooning voice.

Colin Hunter’s journey into singing didn’t happen overnight. His mother talked of him humming and swaying to music at two, and in his youth he sang in jazz clubs and had a half-hour show on All India Radio before immigrating to Britain, and then to Canada to use his commerce degree in the travel industry. He sang for his friends and family while he worked his way to stardom in travel. “For his 50th birthday we bought him a Karaoke machine,” says his wife Joan. “We had many Karaoke parties and that built his confidence again. “We’ve been on 20 cruises with the Oceania Nautica, and early on I told the pianist in the piano bar, that my husband was a great singer. Now the two are friends, and every night on our two week cruise, Colin performs in the piano bar.”

He’s now a living legend in the industry, and also in the last few years is becoming better and better known as a crooner-entertainer bringing 50s favourites to the forefront of old fans and new younger ones as well. Inspired by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole, Colin recorded a CD in 2005 when Sunwing Airlines was launched. Of course, it was called “Come Fly with me.” Now the sixth and seventh are due for release. This led to invites to jazz festivals, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in 2009 and in this past December the 26th Jazz Festival in Havana.

It seemed appropriate that the man who flies 350,000 Canadians yearly to holiday in Cuba should arrive with Joan on the inaugural flight from Montreal to Havana. And even more appropriate that he stayed and rehearsed in the famous historic National Hotel. The National just celebrated its 80th birthday and what stories the walls could tell. This after all, was one of the hotels built by the mob. It seems fitting that Colin rehearses in the Sala Tagansana, where back in 1958 Nat King Cole performed, and Frank Sinatra sang. The hotel was packed with international entertainers, and people simply wanting to listen and enjoy the music, and soak up the 50′s atmosphere.

Watching the rehearsal was very special as the musicians pulled it all together. Colin was accompanied by legendary award winning Canadian pianist Joe Sealy and Cuban Jazz, a large group of talented musicians. Orlando Sanchez was on saxophone, pianist Alexis Bosch, and Singer Danai Blanco in duets. They all spoke the language of music, and when words were needed, the efficient charming Miosotis Elliott pulled it all together. “I know Come Fly with Me is your signature song,” said Joe Sealy at one point. “But it isn’t working at this venue.” It didn’t appear on the programs.

Joan and Colin married 38 years ago have four children. They have a romance that sends sparks across a crowded room. When he rehearsed, the love songs were directed directly to Joan. She seemed so in tune with him that she knew exactly when to deliver a glass of water. The saying goes, “Behind every successful man is a surprised wife.” Well Joan isn’t surprised. “I’m his biggest promoter.” When does this busy executive get time to practice?” He sings an hour each way as he commutes to Sunwing offices from home.” There were more than 20 different concerts during the three day festival, but many more jamming sessions here and there. Cuba has always been known for fabulous music, and this showcase of talent was out of this world.

The first concert was at the famous Havana jazz club La Zorray el Cuevo ( Fox and Raven). It was a scene right out of a 50s movie, and when we left at 3 a.m. the place was still packed. The next night more than 200 Cubans and Canadians arrived at the Casa del la Cultura Plaza to listen under the stars. Before Colin’s performance I said stupidly, ” I know you’ll be great.” Joan said, “of course he will, he always is.” And he was. Check out the National for the new plaque commemorating Colin Hunter when you visit Havana.

Prensa Latina – CUBA has condemned a new action in the context of the U.S. blockade of the island: the seizure of $4.207 million that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had allocated for the first trimester. Orlando Hernández, deputy minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, who made the condemnation, affirmed that this action is yet another in the long list of examples of extraterritorial application of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba for more than 50 years.

He stated that in January the UN Development Program (UNDP), responsible for channeling financial aid to Cuba, reported that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had frozen funds for the Cuban health sector. The financing, regularly allocated every year, was assigned to Global Fund projects directed at combating Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and tuberculosis in Cuba. The Cuban official added that this action constitutes an illegal act which seriously impedes international cooperation provided by UN agencies to funds and programs.

He added that it is even more serious given that it affects funds directed to combating and preventing pandemic outbreaks of diseases to which the Cuban government and the international community are devoting their greatest efforts. His statement emphasizes that this unilateral measure on the part of Washington will hinder the implementation and continuity of social projects focused on vulnerable groups within the Cuban population, as well as the universal nature of UN agencies, funds and programs.

Granma International – Havana – Agreement No.30/11 of the  Central Bank of Cuba’s Monetary Policy Committee IN 2005, taking into account the international economic and financial context, as well as a combination of factors of a more specific nature which were having a positive influence on the performance of the country’s economic activity, the decision was adopted to revaluate the official exchange rate of the convertible peso (CUC) by 8% in relation to the U.S. dollar (USD) and other foreign currencies.

It is worth recalling that, since 1994, when the convertible peso became a national currency, to April 8, 2005, the exchange rate of the convertible peso in relation to the U.S. dollar remained invariably at 1 CUC to 1USD. The very dynamics of our economy in subsequent years, aggravated by the damage and losses provoked by the hurricanes of 2008, as well as the effects of the international economic crisis, characterized by much volatility on the monetary markets, obliged us to reconsider the convenience of maintaining a convertible peso exchange rate in relation to the U.S. dollar and other currencies which is not in line with the country’s economic needs in present conditions.

An analysis of all these factors has resulted in the conclusion by the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Cuba that it is opportune to devalue the Cuban convertible peso exchange rate with the dollar and other foreign currencies by 8%; in other words, to reestablish parity between the convertible peso and the U.S. dollar.

This decision signifies a discreet step directed at fostering an improvement in the country’s hard currency balance, given that it would constitute a stimulus to export activity and to the process of replacing imports. This, linked to more effective planning, procedures used for the allocation of hard currencies, greater rationality in managing the issuing of monies, and increased productivity and efficiency in the national economy, will help to establish more favorable conditions in our external financial relations.

As was announced in the 7th Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power 6th Ordinary Period of Sessions, the limitations that we were obliged to impose on payments from Cuban banks to foreign suppliers at the end of 2008 continued to decrease during 2010 and, at the same time, there have been significant progress in debt renegotiations with our principal creditors. Taking the above into account, as of March 14, 2011 the official exchange rate of the convertible peso in relation to the U.S. dollar will remain set at 1×1 throughout national territory, both for exchange operations in the business sector and those made by the population at CADECAS [national currency exchanges]. It should be noted that the commercial fees currently charged in exchange operations will be maintained.

The objective of these is to cover the costs of the financial institutions providing these services. In the same way, the 10% tax imposed on persons wishing to buy convertible pesos with U.S. dollars in cash will remain in place as compensation for the costs and risks caused by the manipulation of the latter as a consequence of the irrational and unjust economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States government for more than 50 years. This decision does not affect the current exchange rate of the Cuban peso in relation to the convertible peso in CADECA outlets, which remains set at 24 Cuban pesos for operations covering the sale by the population of convertible pesos, and 25 Cuban pesos for operations covering the purchase by the population of convertible pesos. Nor does it modify the official exchange rate of the Cuban peso against the convertible peso utilized in state sector accounting, which establishes that one Cuban peso is equal to one convertible peso.

Ernesto Medina Villaveirán
Minister-President
Central Bank of Cuba

SANTA CLARA, Cuba – (acn) – By the end of February, apiarists from the central Cuban province of Villa Clara exceeded the amount of honey collected last year, in that same period, by 76 tons. The Cuban agriculture minister, Gustavo Rodriguez, told ACN news agency that with this strategy, producers will be able to buy wood boxes directly, at the cost price of its production in hard currency, in accordance to a conversion rate of about 10 and 15 Cuban pesos per US dollars. Rodriguez explained that when farmers go to sell their products to the State, the enterprise will pay for the products including the container, and noted that the strategy aims at reducing annual loses, in this regard, throughout the country. The selling of nails for maintenance and restoration works is also included among the strategies.

According to the director of the apiculture enterprise in the province, Adelfo Sosa, the increase was the result of several changes such as the replacement of 60 percent of queen bees, the increase of beehives in the apiaries and the improvement in the handling of insects. Sosa noted that these results will contribute to meeting the plan of the present year, which rises up to 810 tons, with more than 15,000 beehives, and 71 apiarists in Villa Clara.

Farmer Fernando Marrero Estupiñan, from the Pedro Gonzalez Cooperative, in Madruga, in the western province of Mayabeque, asserted that these strategies will contribute to taking more fresh products in better conditions to the population. The president of the National Association of Small Farmers, Orlando Lugo Fonte, said that these strategies will contribute to the Cuban economy by saving thousands of dollars. Lugo pointed out that small carpenter’s workshops should be created in order to carry out maintenance and restoration works. The return of sacks, boxes and other resources is a common practice in many nations. Apiarist Ramon Marrero, the best producer in the province during the last harvest, explained that systematicity and strict compliance to the technical norms is the key of success in apiculture. Marrero affirmed that in order to avoid infestation by mites like Varroa, working bees have to be directly observed so as to detect on time any symptoms of the disease and prevent contagion.

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In 1999, OFAC (The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C.) confirmed that it had previously issued an opinion in 1994 which stated that a U.S. company or individual could make a secondary market investment in a “third-country company” that had commercial dealings with the Republic of Cuba as long as that investment in the “third-country company” was not a controlling interest. (Therefore, under that criteria, U.S. citizens and companies can invest in a private or public Canadian company doing business with Cuba)

James
Cuban Weekly News Digest

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Feb. 5, 2011

Havana – DTC – Cuba is expected to receive 2.7 million foreign travelers in 2011 to maintain the growing trend in the country’s tourism industry. In order to achieve that goal, authorities are building hotels in major tourist destinations such as Cayo Santa María, in central Villa Clara province. In addition, hotels in Havana (the country’s main tourist destination), Varadero beach, Cayo Coco and Holguín have been re-modeled. Actions have also benefited hotels in Havana’s Historic Heart and patrimonial cities such as Trinidad, Remedios, Camagüey, Ciego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa. In addition, authorities are working to boost cruise tourism, as a result of which several cruise ships that operate in the Caribbean region have docked in Cuba since last year.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

President Obama has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security to take a series of steps to continue efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future.

The President has directed that changes be made to regulations and policies governing: (1) purposeful travel; (2) non-family remittances; and (3) U.S. airports supporting licensed charter flights to and from Cuba. These measures will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.

The President believes these actions, combined with the continuation of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens. These steps build upon the President’s April 2009 actions to help reunite divided Cuban families; to facilitate greater telecommunications with the Cuban people; and to increase humanitarian flows to Cuba.

The directed changes described below will be enacted through modifications to existing Cuban Assets Control and Customs and Border Protection regulations and policies and will take effect upon publication of modified regulations in the Federal Register within 2 weeks.

Purposeful Travel. To enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel, the President has directed that regulations and policies governing purposeful travel be modified to:

• Allow religious organizations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general license.

• Facilitate educational exchanges by: allowing accredited institutions of higher education to sponsor travel to Cuba for course work for academic credit under a general license; allowing students to participate through academic institutions other than their own; and facilitating instructor support to include support from adjunct and part-time staff.

• Restore specific licensing of educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes people-to-people programs.

• Modify requirements for licensing academic exchanges to require that the proposed course of study be accepted for academic credit toward their undergraduate or graduate degree (rather than regulating the length of the academic exchange in Cuba).

• Allow specifically licensed academic institutions to sponsor or cosponsor academic seminars, conferences, and workshops related to Cuba and allow faculty, staff, and students to attend.

• Allow specific licensing to organize or conduct non-academic clinics and workshops in Cuba for the Cuban people.

• Allow specific licensing for a greater scope of journalistic activities.

Remittances. To help expand the economic independence of the Cuban people and to support a more vibrant Cuban civil society, the President has directed the regulations governing non-family remittances be modified to:

• Restore a general license category for any U.S. person to send remittances (up to $500 per quarter) to non-family members in Cuba to support private economic activity, among other purposes, subject to the limitation that they cannot be provided to senior Cuban government officials or senior members of the Cuban Communist Party.

• Create a general license for remittances to religious institutions in Cuba in support of religious activities.

No change will be made to the general license for family remittances.

U.S. Airports. To better serve those who seek to visit family in Cuba and engage in other licensed purposeful travel, the President has directed that regulations governing the eligibility of U.S. airports to serve as points of embarkation and return for licensed flights to Cuba be modified to:

• Allow all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed charters, provided such airports have adequate customs and immigration capabilities and a licensed travel service provider has expressed an interest in providing service to and from Cuba from that airport.

The modifications will not change the designation of airports in Cuba that are eligible to send or receive licensed charter flights to and from the United States.

Havana – DTC – The Plaza Hotel, in Havana, turned 101 and remains among the top tourist establishments in Cuba. Run by the chain Gran Caribe, the four-star hotel offers 188 rooms for guests, who mainly come from Spain, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, according to executives. In 2002, the Plaza Hotel won the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award and was the first hotel in Latin America to win the Ibero-American Award to Quality. The hotel is decorated with artworks by prominent Cuban painters and has been visited by world-renowned personalities.

Guantanamo – Solvision – The experiment with 21 varieties of tomato that takes place in Valle de Caujerí (caujeri valley) in Guantanamo municipality of San Antonio del Sur, is a step forward in the effort to become the place in the locomotive of Cuban agriculture, as recommended Cuban VP Esteban Lazo in a recent visit to this province. Misael Hernandez, president of the Agricultural Production Cooperative “May 17th”, said the scene of the experimentation covers a hectare and added it should conclude in he first quarter of this year and intends to satisfy the needs of the tomato and fruit processing plant as planned for the cultivation area visited by the Commander in Chief Fidel Castro on three occasions.

Among the varieties that in case of yielding favorable results of the harvest, are listed as candidates to settle in the region there are the HA3329 (hybrid), red tomatoes (locally produced), ESEN-2 and Vita he noted. This agricultural empire, located 80 kilometers from Guantanamo city is benefited since August from the gravity transfer of Sabanalamar river to the dam Pozo Azul, sustainable alternative to irrigate the fertile lands that lie downstream of the installation. The investment will ensure annually more than 10 million cubic meters of water to the three agricultural association units which run  in the valley and have already received half that volume during that period.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s international trade of goods and services grew 5.5 percent last year, compared to 2009. According to the National Statistics Office, Cuba’s foreign trade totaled 23.317 billion dollars in 2010. Exports amounted to 13.623 billion dollars, accounting for an annual increase of 13 percent. Exports of goods rose from 3.279 billion dollars in 2009 to 4.222 billion dollars a year later, while exports of services totaled 9.401 billion dollars. Last year’s imports decreased 3.3 percent, to 9.694 billion dollars.

St. Petersburg Times – WASHINGTON — More Americans will be allowed to travel to Cuba, likely from Tampa International Airport, under changes announced by the Obama administration. The White House said it was easing restrictions to enhance the “free flow of information” and promote the independence of the Cuban people from communist rule. The change affects religious and cultural groups and college students. People will also be able to send more money to the island. But a ban on general tourism travel remains.Up to now, people intending to fly from the United States to Cuba had to do so out of Miami, Los Angeles or New York City.

The new travel policy opens the way for any United States airport with adequate customs and immigration capability to apply to provide the service. Tampa International Airport appears to fit the qualifications, having the customs and immigration personnel and infrastructure the government will require. “I couldn’t be happier,” said Steve Michelini, managing director of the World Trade Center of Tampa Bay, a group that seeks to foster better relations between countries for trade and development. “We’ve been working on this for so long.” Michelini said his group has been in contact with a potential charter company to supply flights to Cuba, and he believes it could have flights available within 60 days.

In a news release, TIA officials said they were eager for the chance to begin the flights. “This is great news from an international air service development standpoint,” said Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport. “We will begin meeting with air charter companies and working with the federal authorities to make sure we meet all requirements for these Cuba flights.” Al Austin, chairman of the Hillsborough Aviation Authority, said the flights would “open up economic development opportunities for the entire community.” And board member Steve Burton said the airport had been exploring the prospect before. “I can’t imagine we won’t move quickly on it. … I see Cuba as a big opportunity for our area,” he said.

Others were not so pleased. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, said it was “unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people.” But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, predicted it would boost business and ease the hardship on families who have to pay extra to travel to Miami. She has lobbied in particular to allow direct flights out of TIA since not long after she was elected to Congress.

The Tampa Bay region has the fifth highest concentration of Cuban-Americans of any region nationally, she said. Given that, plus the presence of the University of South Florida and University of Tampa, “We will be at the forefront of the new educational exchanges,” she said. The changes will allow religious organizations to sponsor travel under a general license as well as accredited colleges and will expand access to journalists. The administration also will restore the broader “people-to-people” category of travel, which allows “purposeful” visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

Around the Tampa Bay region, even some hard-liners who have fought any easing of relations between the United States and Cuba were positive. Ralph Fernandez, a lawyer and longtime opponent of lifting the trade embargo with Cuba, said he had a hard time arguing with the change. A native of Cuba, he said the easing of restrictions should help the local economy. What’s more, he said, it is not easy to find anyone, even among the older generation of exiles, who objects to the modest changes. “The passage of time has eroded, I think, the will of resistance among many of the people,” he said.

Obama in 2009 removed restrictions for Cubans living in the United States who want to visit family. That was not changed, though access to more airports could make travel more convenient for Cuban-Americans. For 13 years, Renee Kincaid has led a group of Tampa area Methodists to their sister churches in Cuba to offer help. It has, for years, been a minor ordeal of red tape, expense and aggravation, and the new travel policy was welcome news, she said.  “We would not have the effort, the expense,” said Kincaid, a native of Havana who emigrated when she was 28 years old. “It would save us time and money and effort.”

Havana – DTC – Last year, the western Cuban Oil Extraction and Drilling Enterprise extracted more than 7,330,000 barrels, which contributed to the reduction of oil imports. Company executives praised the efforts of entities associated to the Santa Cruz del Norte facilities, which allowed meeting the electricity needs of the Cuban capital and maintaining a stable supply of gas for cooking to more than one million people. The workers of this enterprise aim at attaining more efficiency in the exploitation of oilfields, the implementation of modern technologies, and the training of personnel so as to achieve better results. This enterprise, which is made up of three big production groups, must increase its efficiency levels in view of the high prices of hydrocarbons in the international market.

The Washington Post – Cuban prosecutors announced Friday that they will seek a 20-year jail term for U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested more than a year ago for distributing satellite communication equipment to the island’s Jewish community. Despite emotional pleas by his wife for his release and tough talk by the Obama administration, prosecutors said they would charge Gross with “acts against the integrity and independence.” Gross has been held in a Cuban jail cell since December 2009.

The detention of the 61-year-old Maryland resident has dampened attempts to improve relations between old adversaries in Havana and Washington. The announcement by Cuban state media on Friday via a government-run Web site will likely freeze further efforts by the Obama administration to soften its stance toward Cuba. Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, recently said it would be “very difficult to move to greater engagement in the context where they have continued to hold Alan Gross.” Gross, who lived in Potomac with his wife and has two daughters, was arrested while working to provide satellite-phone and computer gear to Cuban Jews to help them communicate with Jews abroad.

It was all part of a secretive American democracy-promotion program that grew during the George W. Bush administration under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, have suggested that Gross is a spy. U.S. diplomats have denied that, and sought to portray him as a luckless pawn in a geopolitical struggle. The White House on Friday said it remained “deeply concerned” about Gross, adding that Cuba’s latest decision “compounds the injustice suffered by a man helping to increase the free flow of information, to, from and among the Cuban people.” A lawyer for Gross’s family urged Cuban authorities to free him immediately on time served.

“The charges announced today by the Cuban authorities against him demonstrate, once again that Alan is caught in the middle of a long-standing political dispute between Cuba and the United States,” said the lawyer, Peter J. Kahn. “Alan and his family should not have to pay the price for more than 50 years of turmoil in U.S.-Cuba relations.”

In recent weeks, there had been some signs of warming. U.S. officials had traveled to the Communist-ruled island to discuss Gross’s case. Last month, the Obama administration announced the broadest liberalization of travel to Cuba in a decade, making it easier for American students and religious and cultural groups to visit the country. But the steep punishment being sought by Cuban prosecutors in the Gross case is likely to set relations back once again. U.S. officials had expected Gross would be accused of a crime but were hoping for a lesser charge.

Phil Peters, a Cuban analyst at the Lexington Institute, said Gross could face a quick trial, which would allow the Cuban government to present its case, and perhaps allow for a “political solution.” Cuba officials have said that Gross, a subcontractor for Bethesda-based Development Alternatives, was clearly violating their laws when he tried to provide Jewish groups online access via satellite connections. Visitors who come to Cuba with satellite phones but no permit risk confiscation and arrest.

The announcement that Cuba would seek a maximum sentence for Gross came on the same day that Cuba said it would free two of the last 11 political prisoners who remained behind bars, in a deal to free dissidents brokered by the Catholic Church on the island. Castro agreed with the church to free 52 jailed dissidents. Most have gone to Spain.

Associated Press – HAVANA – A salsa band, dancing schoolchildren and showgirls in bikini tops and feather headdresses welcomed some 1,500 tourists on a British cruise liner that officials described as among the biggest ships to visit Cuba in years. Once a frequent sight here, cruise ships have become a rarity since 2006, after then President Fidel Castro complained that the industry did little more than flood this communist-governed country with trash.

But the cash-strapped government now led by Fidel’s younger brother Raúl appears to have taken a rosier view of late. Tourism Ministry official Jose Manuel Bisbe said the arrival of the Thomson Dream underscored the recent resurgence of cruise traffic to the island. In a brief address to journalists as passengers in shorts and flip-flops streamed off the ship, Bisbe said a number of deals have been signed with European cruise operators to add regular stops in Cuban ports, and more accords are in the works.

Each passenger spends an average of $50 to $200 a day on the island, he said, adding that officials hope increased traffic will pump “several million dollars” into the lackluster Cuban economy this year. Bisbe did not specify how many cruise passengers were expected to dock in Cuban ports in 2011 but said about 10,000 visited the island last year. That was down from some 100,000 passengers in 2005, he said.

Bisbe blamed the downturn on the 2006 purchase of Pullmantur Cruises — a Spanish company that was among the biggest operator of tours to Cuba — by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises. Washington’s trade embargo bars U.S. tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibits nearly all business between both countries, so dockings dried up after the company changed hands. Cuba rolled out the red carpet to welcome the Thomson Dream, a nine-deck behemoth with four restaurants, two swimming pools, a casino and a disco. Richard Ring, a 40-year-old Briton, said he was amazed by the warm welcome. “People were leaning out of windows waving at us and we were waving back. It was really enthusiastic,” Ring shouted over the din of the salsa band. He added that “it was nothing like that” at the other ports visited by the Thomson Dream during a 14-day cruise, which included stops on the islands of Barbados, Grenada and Curacao.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s industry is working to increase production of concentrated fruit juice for export. According to agricultural authorities, plans aim to increase yield to more than 20 tons per hectare to meet the domestic demand as well and reduce imports. In that regard, Cuba’s installed capacity is enough to produce concentrated juice of citrus and other fruits. In addition, experimental crops are being developed, including a new variety of tangerine which ripens more rapidly. Cuba also plans to expand citrus and fruit crops to more than 100 cooperative farms, in order to increase yields and production.

Reuters – The State Department has no information about the whereabouts of a leading Cuban government trade expert who Miami news reports said had fled, an American official said. The newspaper El Nuevo Herald and several Cuban-American Web sites reported that Pedro Álvarez, 67, the former head of Cuba’s state food importing company, and a crucial figure in legal Cuban purchases of American farm products, had defected to the United States. Cuban authorities and state-run media made no mention of the reports from Miami, which said Mr. Álvarez had escaped and had been under investigation for corruption.

Havana – DTC – Ranchón La Rotonda, in the eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas, is a major attractions for tourists who visit the region. The restaurant, which has an architectural style typical of Cuba’s countryside, is located on a hill that overlooks the city. Run by the group Palmares, Ranchón La Rotonda serves some 300 costumers a day, who taste dishes from Cuban cuisine and buy local handicrafts. Costumers can also learn to make some Cuban dishes based on pork and to make good mountain-style coffee.

Pinar del Rio – (Prensa Latina) – Cuban scientists will assess the state of preservation of archeological sites in this western province, where evidence exists of the presence of indigenous communities 4,500 years ago. Marta Rosa Gonzalez told Prensa Latina that the upcoming research will aim at updating the inventory of those findings and searching for possible risks or vulnerability. The exploration, which might take more than a year, will include the areas of Sierra de los Organos and the Guanahacabibes peninsula, one of the last refuges of Cuban indigenous people, said the expert, who works for the Research and Environmental Services Center, ECOVIDA.

Pinar del Rio, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) from Havana, holds hundreds of archeological sites, most linked to the culture of the Guanahatabey people, a word that means rough man in the Arawakan language. The Guanahatabey were hunters, fishers and gatherers, and lived in caves and other natural environments in the region. Recent research showed that the pictographs and petroglyphs made by those primitive societies might be endangered by natural phenomena and human activity.

In Guanahacabibes alone, on Cuba’s westernmost tip, experts have found some 135 archeological sites, some of which have been damaged or altered by hurricanes. Caves hold rustic work instruments and fragments of human bone, along with other valuable artifacts that prove the existence of indigenous groups in the region. Local caves and other sites also show signs of the presence of black slaves who rebelled and ran away from slavery, as well as other evidence from the Spanish colonial period. The Cape, as that area is known, also treasures abundant elements from the activities of corsairs and pirates in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

NOTE: On this next story, who do you think benefits the most after these doctors head to the US…    the US?  the doctor? or the dying people in these third world countries? Who replaces them in giving this medical attention? Is the US sending other doctors in their place?

Wall Street Journal – Felix Ramírez slipped into an Internet cafe in the West African nation of The Gambia, scoured the Web for contact information for U.S. diplomats, then phoned the U.S. embassy in Banjul, the capital. He told the receptionist he was an American tourist who had lost his passport, and asked to speak to the visa section. As he waited to be connected, he practiced his script: “I am a Cuban doctor looking to go to America. When can we meet?”

Dr. Ramírez says he was told to go to a crowded Banjul supermarket and to look for a blond woman in a green dress—an American consular official. They circled one another a few times, then began to talk. That furtive meeting in September 2008 began a journey for the 37-year-old surgeon that ended in May 2009 in Miami, where he became a legal refugee with a shot at citizenship.

Dr. Ramírez is part of a wave of Cubans who have defected to the U.S. since 2006 under the little-known Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program, which allows Cuban doctors and some other health workers who are serving their government overseas to enter the U.S. immediately as refugees. Data released to The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act shows that, through Dec. 16, 1,574 CMPP visas have been issued by U.S. consulates in 65 countries.

Cuba has been sending medical “brigades” to foreign countries since 1973, helping it to win friends abroad, to back “revolutionary” regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba’s central bank counts as “exports of services”—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year. Many Cubans complain that the brigades have undermined Cuba’s ability to maintain a high standard of health care at home.

The U.S. immigration initiative is reminiscent of the sort of gamesmanship that was common during the Cold War. It has interfered with Cuba’s program by triggering defections of Cuban medical personnel all over the globe—an average of one a day since the U.S. countermeasure began in 2006. Cuba generally doesn’t include doctors among the 20,000 or more Cubans it authorizes to immigrate to the U.S. each year.

State Department officials say it isn’t the intention of the U.S. government to use the immigration program, known as CMPP, to engage in espionage or to disrupt medical missions. Cuban doctors, a State Department spokesman says, “are often denied exit permission by the Cuban government to come to the U.S. when they qualify under other established legal channels.” One goal of CMPP is to get Cuba to change that. A little-known U.S. initiative called Cuban Medical Professional Parole allows Cuban doctors working for their government overseas to get asylum from American embassies around the world. WSJ’s Joel Millman reports.

CMPP was the brainchild of Cuba-born diplomat Emilio González, director of the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services from 2006 to 2008. A former colonel in the U.S. Army, Mr. González is a staunchly anti-Castro exile. He has characterized Cuba’s policy of sending doctors and other health workers abroad as “state-sponsored human trafficking.” The Cuban doctors, he says, work directly for health authorities in other countries and have no say in their assignments, salaries, hours or work conditions.

Cuban doctors themselves regard such overseas assignments differently. Their salaries in Cuba top out at about $25 a month. When serving overseas, they get their Cuban salaries, plus a $50-per-month stipend—both paid to their dependents while they’re abroad, according to Cuban doctors interviewed for this story. In addition, they earn overseas salaries—from $150 to $1,000 a month, depending on the mission, the doctors say.

“In Haiti they paid us $300 a month, in gourdes, the Haitian money,” says one former overseas doctor who is now back in Cuba. “I converted my salary, and lived fine on $100 per month.” With her savings, she says, she bought a television and laptop computer, items she couldn’t have gotten in Cuba.

Ramón González, a defector who served on medical missions to Ghana and Gambia, says Cubans’ entrepreneurial instincts make for almost unlimited profit opportunities. “You go to the African flea market and buy a bathing suit from the U.S., anything with a Speedo or a Nike label. It’s like 45 cents in Africa,” he says. “You sell it for $5 in Cuba.”

An even more lucrative sideline, he says: private medical practice, including abortions. Dr. González says performing abortions can be a gold mine for Cubans, particularly in the Middle Eastern nations that pay the best salaries.

“The vast majority of Cuban doctors fight to get onto a mission because they can accumulate thousands of dollars,” says Dr. Darsi Ferrer Ramírez, director of the antigovernment group Juan Bruno Zayas Center of Health and Human Rights in Havana.

The 41-year-old dissident says the program is rife with corruption. “It’s known that to get to the better countries—we’re speaking of South Africa, Brazil—there are functionaries who will take money under the table. It costs between $500 and $1,000,” he says.

Juan Bautista Palay, chief of physical therapy at Havana’s 10 de Octubre Hospital, acknowledges that money is what draws colleagues abroad. “You’d go, too, if you could triple your pay,” he says. He denies anyone from his facility has paid bribes to serve abroad. The U.S. immigration program gives Cuban doctors yet another reason to serve abroad: a way to resettle in the U.S. Ordinary Cubans seeking asylum must reach American shores before applying. Under CMPP, Cuban doctors can do so from U.S. embassies anywhere in the world.

Of the nearly 1,600 defections through Dec. 16, more than 800 health workers have defected from Venezuela alone, and nearly 300 have come from Colombia and Curacao, which don’t host Cuban medical brigades but are easily reached from Venezuela. Another 135 have come from four other countries: Bolivia, Guatemala, Namibia and Peru. Others have showed up to defect in such far-flung locales as Qatar, Fiji, Djibouti and Mauritius.

Dr. Ramírez’s odyssey began when he was selected for a two-year posting to Gambia. Cuban doctors there are at the pinnacle of the public-health community, teaching in medical colleges and running hospitals. Dr. Ramírez says his aim from the start was to use CMPP to defect. He says he kept his plan secret from his wife and parents, who stayed behind when he left Cuba in 2008.

Dr. Ramírez was assigned to run the surgery unit at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul. When he arrived in the country to join a 138-person Cuban delegation, he surrendered his passport to security personnel at Cuba’s embassy. Cuban doctors also had to turn over other identification documents like driver licenses, Dr. Ramírez says, to hinder any attempt to satisfy U.S. diplomats of their bona fides as defectors. He kept his. “We had to get cellphones, too, so they always could find us,” he says. Dr. Ramírez bought two cheap phones—one to talk with his bosses, the other to plot his escape.

His meeting with the U.S. consular officer at the Banjul supermarket set his plan in motion. Mr. Ramírez says he was able to persuade the officer—he says her name was Wendy Kennedy—that he was a Cuban doctor working in the country. Their next meeting was at the hospital, he says, where Ms. Kennedy conducted a formal interview to prepare his asylum request.

The State Department declined to make Ms. Kennedy available for comment, but confirmed some details of Dr. Ramírez’s account, including that Ms. Kennedy worked in Gambia at the time of his asylum application. Dr. Ramírez had to wait months before learning whether he would be granted asylum. He got the news in May 2009 via cellphone. Ironically, he says, he was at an emergency meeting called by his brigade coordinator to discuss two Cubans who had just abandoned their mission and fled to neighboring Senegal.  “They called us in to warn us not to try to flee, or else our families in Cuba would be punished,” he recalls.

Getting a U.S. visa was one thing, but getting out of Gambia was another thing altogether. His Cuban superiors had his passport, and trying to get out by air would likely attract the attention of Gambian authorities, who would alert the Cubans. He figured he had to get to Senegal. There was no one to trust among his fellow expatriates, he says. He felt like a prisoner in the home he shared with four other Cubans. “There’s always one who is the informer,” he says. He needed permission from a brigade coordinator even to visit an African colleague’s home for dinner.

He had befriended a Lebanese merchant who was a patient. The merchant connected him with a smuggler, who agreed to take him to Senegal for $500. Dr. Ramírez left the night after his asylum request was approved, carrying documents from U.S. consular officials in Banjul. In Senegal, he discovered five comrades from the Gambian mission who, unbeknownst to him, also had been plotting their escape. At the airport, he showed airline officials his U.S. entry documents and was allowed to board a flight to Spain. When he arrived, a U.S. diplomat vouched for him so he could board a flight to the U.S.

It is unclear how disruptive defections like Dr. Ramírez’s are to Cuba’s medical-mission program. Only a small percentage of Cuban doctors sent overseas have actually defected, making it unlikely the program has put much of a dent in revenues collected by Cuba.  Information about exactly how much Cuba makes from medical brigades is hard to come by. In many cases, Cuba extracts a direct payment either from a host government or an international aid group. Individual Cuban doctors are paid only a portion of what Cuba collects.

Since Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela in 1998, Cuba has been bartering doctors for Venezuelan oil. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that Venezuela ships Cuba 90,000 barrels of oil a day—worth more than $2 billion a year at current prices. In addition, Venezuela pays Cuba for medical teams sent to countries that Mr. Chávez considers part of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” sphere. Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador and Paraguay all use Cuban doctors paid for by Venezuela.

Germany, France and Japan, working through the Pan-American Health Organization, paid $400 per month for each doctor sent to work in Honduras after a hurricane in 2005, according to the Honduran government.  Cuba’s Public Health Ministry said in November: “As a principle, we have prioritized donating medical brigades to countries with grave health problems and few resources and hard-to-reach settlements, where local doctors refuse to work.” It said that Cuba intends to send more doctors abroad, to nations better prepared to pay for services. “In countries whose economy permits, we will increase the presence of our professionals, with compensation,” it said.

Julie Feinsilver, who tracks Cuba’s medical diplomacy as a senior fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, a think tank, says such arrangements benefit both Cuba and the host countries. “Do you think that it is possible to hire doctors for less than $1,000 a month? The Cuban government does earn money, albeit considerably less than others would for similar services.”

By summer’s end, Dr. Ramírez and the five other Cubans who defected with him from Gambia were all in Miami. Four of them work as instructors at Dade Medical College. Dr. Ramírez is a surgical assistant at Baptist Health South Florida’s hospital in Homestead, Fla.  Dr. Ramírez’s parents and wife — and a son born shortly after he left for Africa, whom he has never seen — remain in Cuba, in Camagüey. All of them are eligible for U.S. visas under the CMPP program, but there is virtually no chance they’ll get out soon. Dr. Ramírez says his wife lost her job at a hospital because of his defection. “They’re blacklisted for five years, minimum,” Dr. Ramírez says. “I’m a traitor to the homeland now.”

La Habana – DTC – Eastern Ciego de Avila province saved Cuba’s economy more than 3.88 million pesos in hard currency by reducing imports to make furniture in 2010. Executives from the Camilo Cienfuegos furniture company, known as Lidex, explained that the achievement resulted from the installation of cutting-edge technology to make beds, dining room suites, computer desks, benches and archives, among other pieces of furniture. They pointed out that improvements in the Furniture Union have allowed Cuba to reduce 50 percent of imports of furniture for state agencies and sales in hard currency.

The Straits Times – HAVANA – CNN’S Spanish language channel will no longer be carried by Cuba’s sole cable TV provider, an official with the state-run Telecable network told AFP. CNN en Espanol was available to cable television subscribers in hotels, tourist centres, and the offices of foreign companies. When it suddenly went off the off the air on Jan 6 most people assumed it was due to a technical glitch that would be fixed. But a Telecable official said the cancellation is permanent.

‘The company has decided to no longer broadcast CNN on cable television,’ a Telecable official told AFP, giving no further details. Viewers hankering for their Cable News Network fix can still watch the 24-hour news channel CNN International, as well as its it sister channel Headline News, both in English. Or they can pay Telecable US$1,500 (S$1,931) a year – three times the cost of a cable TV subscription – for a satellite dish. The service however is limited to foreigners, including embassies.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban group Gran Caribe is facing the challenge of diversifying its offers and modernizing several of its hotels in 2011. The group, which mainly runs five-star establishments, plans to remodel its hotels, which offer more than 12,000 rooms. Gran Caribe administers 21 of its hotels and shares 24 with foreign companies such as Sol Meliá and Hoteles C.  In Havana, 33 percent of Gran Caribe hotels are located by the sea or near the coast, while 44 percent of them are on the beach. The group also plans to promote its establishments in emerging markets such as Russia, Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia and Venezuela, in addition to promoting domestic tourism.

HAVANA TIMES – In 1512 Spain authorized the bringing into Cuba of black African slaves, who came with their traditions and their religions, which were never abandoned though the masters forced them to practice the Catholic religion. Slaves of the same ethnic groups organized into brotherhoods or fraternal orders that were called cabildos (councils), similar to the town councils organized in Seville, Spain, in the 14th century.

The first cabildo was created in Cuba in 1568 and was named the Cabildo Shango. As part of the festivities of carnival in Havana, the Spanish colonial authorities authorized the cabildos to celebrate once a year (on January 6, Kings’ Day) when they were allowed to parade through the streets playing their African instruments and performing their traditional dances. Currently, as a way keeping alive the traditions of that culture — which is a part of the Cuban culture — on January 6 Afro-Cuban cultural groups revive the traditional fiestas of the cabildos, adding color and music to the streets in the historic center of Havana.

Havana – DTC – A company in the eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas guarantees an efficient and timely distribution of medications in the region. The company, which plays a major role in guaranteeing medical care in the province, fills the orders from medical emergency services in local hospitals in about four hours. It also supplies drugs to pharmacies. Cuba’s basic pharmaceutical stock consists of 870 drugs, 500 of which are produced in local laboratories and research centers.

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba – (acn) – A seedbed system for obtaining tobacco seeds using a technology developed in the westernmost province of Cuba, Pinar del Rio, has been expanded in the region, known for producing the best tobacco leaves of the country.The initiative is promoted by tobacco growers from the municipality of Consolacion del Sur, the largest tobacco area of Cuba, where 800 seedbeds using the new system have been created.

Developed three years ago in Pinar del Rio’s municipality of San Luis, the system is currently widely used in the province and it has been expanded to Villa Clara, Havana, Sancti Spiritus and Ciego de Avila. In statements to ACN, Deputy Director of the Tobacco Enterprise office in Consolacion del Sur, Crescencio Alvarez said with the new system, seedbeds are located close to tobacco plantations and more than 11,000 seedings can be grown on each of them as opposed to 2,500 produced with the traditional system. Alvarez said in Consolacion del Sur, 800 seedbeds using the new system have been created, and that more than 2,000 are expected to be ready for the next season.

According to official reports, the new variant is based on the principle of semi-covered organic gardens enriched with substratum resulting in stronger and healthier plants. Likewise, the system has been recognized for saving large amounts of fuel in the transportation of seedings as seedbeds are located close to plantations. On the other hand, the area used for the seedbeds is smaller than the one employed in traditional systems, and it is easier for famers to weed the plants so fewer workers are required for the job, while less fertilizers and pesticides are also needed, according to local famer, Matilde Pedroso (67). Once the seedings are collected, the seedbeds are used two grow two cycles of vegetables. Pinar del Rio is in the middle of the 2010-2011 tobacco planting season; more than 43,110 acres are scheduled to be planted in the province, of them 887.4 in Consolacion del Sur.

Havana – DTC – Cuban children will have the chance to enjoy new cartoons made by the animation studios of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). The new films include “Cazadores de Cuentos” (Short Story Hunters), an animated version of Kiki Corona’s audio-book, “La Colmenita in DVD” and the latest CD by singer songwriter Lidis Lamorú. “Cazadores de Cuentos” consists of the short stories “El Día que las Almohadas se Fueron de Casa (The Day Pillows Went Home) by Néstor Montes de Oca, “Montemar” by Nersys Felipe, “El Miedo” (Fear) by Reynaldo Alvarez, and “El Niño y el Burro” (The Boy and the Donkey) by René Valdés. “La Colmenita in DVD” contains a selection of the best shows staged by the children’s theater company La Colmenita. The animation studios also made 13 video clips of the songs contained in Lamorú’s CD “Por una Sonrisa” (For a Smile).

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba – (acn) – Workers on the infrastructure created in eastern Santiago de Cuba to connect the Venezuela-Cuba underwater cable have intensified their efforts as the date set for the starting of the laying of the cable approaches. In the beach town of Siboney, 14 Km east of the city, the group of technicians working on the infrastructure that includes a communications center needed for the successful development of the project have entered the final stage of the preparation process.

The laying of the cable is scheduled to begin between January 18 and 20. It will be laid from Camuri, a site close to the town of La Guaira in the northern coast of Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba, where it should be within the first half of February. Works on the beach registries, where the underwater cable will be connected with the land cable, are on the final stage; 70 % of equipment and accessories included in the investment for the project on the Cuban side have been already delivered, while the technical staff that will operate the system is receiving training to start working on July 2011.

The assembly of equipment at a maintenance center in Santiago de Cuba city is also about to be completed. Engineers and technicians who will work at the center are Cubans who studied in the island and received postgraduate training in France specifically to work on the project. After reaching Santiago de Cuba, a bifurcation of the 630-Km long cable will be extended through Ocho Rios, Jamaica, to connect that country and other nations in the area. According to previous reports, the cost of the project amounts to $70 million. It will give the island the possibility to access the fiber optic connection system for the first time.

Once operations begin, data, image and voice transmission will be 3,000 times faster and the country will have a capacity for 10 million simultaneous telephone transmissions. Using the two-pair fiber optic cable does not mean that Cuba will stop being tied to satellite internet service as it is the only means to access the web because of the U.S. blockade against the country; however, operation costs will drop by 25%.

Without such ties, Cubans could transmit medical consultations, teleconferences and teach courses on real time that could support collaboration programs established within the ALBA framework. Odalis Lopez, specialist with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies assured that the quality of communications will see a boost, however it doesn’t necessarily translate into an expansion on services because the country still needs to pay for them to internet providers. The official did point out that the project will certainly favor information independence for Latin America.

Havana – DTC – The plant in Manzanillo, eastern Granma province, made 125,000 batteries in 2010. It was the factory’s largest production over the past nine years, despite difficulties to get supplies of raw materials. Batteries mainly go to the domestic market, especially to the ministries of Sugar and the Basic Industry, among others. The plant, which benefited from the installation of Chinese-made state-of-the-art technology, will certify its environmental management system according to the ISO 14000 quality standard. The plant makes 100,000 batteries a year, and is expected to increase production to 13,000 batteries a month.

Havana – DTC – The Museum of Natural History in the city of Holguín, the capital of the eastern Cuban province of the same name, was reopened after undergoing restoration works that lasted 18 months. The museum has a large collection of reptiles, amphibians, and marine and ground mollusks, among other species that are native to Cuba. Among the most valuable objects of more than 1,600 pieces kept at the museum is a fossil fish, which is considered the crown jewel of local paleontology. The museum also holds the country’s best preserved Cuban solenodon or almiqui (Solenodon cubanus), a large insectivorous animal endemic to the eastern part of the island and almost extinct.

Granma Intl. – Havana – By way of a royal decree issued on October 8, 1607 by King Phillip III, Cuba was divided into “two halves,” each with its own independent government, La Habana and Santiago de Cuba, with the title of Captain General reserved for the governor of Havana. Up until that time, the island had been considered a single province. This act is recorded in history as the first territorial division implemented by the colonial powers. It was not, however, until 1774 that a political-administrative division was justified, as a consequence of changing demographics with the population reaching 171,620 residents, according to the first census conducted in the country, as well as significant development based on the plantation economy and the evolution of the sugar industry.

The division created just two departments: Oriental or Santiago de Cuba, with its seat in this city, including the territory which now comprises the country’s five eastern provinces and Occidental or La Habana, from the current province of Pinar del Río to Camagüey, and including the Isle of Pines, with its seat in San Cristóbal de La Habana, the capital beginning to flower.

The historic evolution of the country’s political-administrative division reflects a close relationship to its demographics; as the population grew, the territorial structures had to be adjusted, according to architect Fausto Martínez García, Physical Planning Institute (IPP) specialist. Two more divisions took place during the 19th century. In 1827 the departments were divided into three: Oriental maintained basically the same boundaries, while Occidental included the territory between what are today Pinar del Río and Matanzas, plus the Isle of Pines.

Central was the name given the new department and it included the current provinces of Camagüey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spíritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and part of Las Tunas. An interesting fact noted by Martínez García is that the capital of the new province was not Santa Clara, the city which, decades later, gave its name to the province located in the center of the island.

Trinidad was named department capital of Central because it was, at that time, an important population center and the sugar industry, led by Valle de los Ingenios, was developing notably, according to the IPP specialist. By the middle of the century, Cuba’s population had exceeded the one million mark. The use of the word ‘province’ appeared for the first time in 1878, when, through a June 9 royal decree, the designated areas were established towards this end.

Researchers affirm that the colonial power was motivated by political reasons to divide the island in six sections. Once the Ten Years’ War ended and the Baraguá Protest had taken place, the Spanish government felt the need to offer (never fulfilled) concessions to the Cuban insurrectionists, among them representation within the Spanish courts. The division of the country into provinces allowed for the election of deputies from each of these.

Santiago de Cuba, Puerto Príncipe, Santa Clara, Matanzas, La Habana and Pinar del Río, with capitals in the cities of the same names, were established. The Isle of Pines was assigned to the province of La Habana. The 20th century: the population grows, as does the number of provinces. The increasing birth rate and European immigration to the country after World War II brought the population to 5.8 million-plus by 1953, the year during which another political-administrative division took place.

This time, for some provinces, the territorial boundaries remained essentially the same, but names were changed. Santa Clara became Las Villas; Puerto Príncipe, Camagüey; while Santiago de Cuba was named Oriente. The triumph of the Revolution brought the challenge of a reorganization which would support the development of a socialist society. It was clear that this was not going to be implemented within a short period of time. A broad range of studies were necessary to adequately support the decision making process.

A first division, in 1970, maintained the six provinces with the names established in 1953, but adjusted the boundaries of some. La Habana took from Pinar del Río the municipalities of Mariel, Artemisa and Guanajay; Las Villas ceded Ciénaga de Zapata to Matanzas; and Oriente was assigned the municipalities of Amancio Rodríguez and Colombia, which had been in Camagüey, Martínez García explained.

As a significant step in the institutionalization of the country, after 15 years of accumulated experience, the Cuban Revolution undertook the renovation of legislation inherited from the colonial era. The Communist Party of Cuba and the revolutionary government considered feasible the creation of new Popular Power bodies. One of the articles of the May 3, 1974 Law 1269 establishes, “the election of Popular Power bodies, so that the masses are institutionally incorporated in state and administrative decision-making and so that the people are directly included within state bodies, this being fully identified as a socialist state of the workers, fundamentally democratic…”

A resolution from the 1st Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, in December of 1975, called for a new political-administrative division of the country, with the goal of achieving a more direct link between the national leadership and the base, given the demands of the country’s planned economic and social development. The following year, the number of provinces was increased to 14 and the Isle of Pines was designated a special municipality, formally re-named the Isle of Youth in 1978. This area was administered directly by national level bodies.

This division led to the former province of Oriente being divided into five: Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguín and Las Tunas. Camagüey ceded part of its territory to the new province of Ciego de Avila. The province of Las Villas became Villa Clara, its territory reduced with the creation of Cienfuegos and Sancti Spíritus. The province of La Habana was divided in two: City of Havana where the capital of the country is located and the vast province of La Habana (19 municipalities), uniquely without its own provincial capital.

Current modifications

The new political-administrative division, which came into effect in early January of this year, is meant to provide a more rational organization facilitating the delivery of services to the population and better government functioning in the performance of its tasks.

Another essential goal is the elimination of overstaffing and multiple offices, with the placement of political and mass organizations, as well as Popular Power bodies, within the same building. One clear indication of efficiency is the fact that the number of leadership staff approved for the various levels and institutions within the new provinces Artemisa and Mayabeque is approximately 50% of the number employed within the former province of La Habana.

The modifications implemented in the western provinces (Pinar del Río, Artemisa and Mayabeque) are consistent in terms of the number of municipalities assigned to each,11, and reduce the distance to the provincial capitals for many. Having an accessible provincial seat favors the development of a sense of ownership and belonging as well.

Thus Artemisa, which was assigned three municipalities formerly in Pinar del Río: Bahía Honda, San Cristóbal and Candelaria, has as its provincial capital the city of the same name, while Mayabeque has San José de las Lajas. This puts an end to La Habana province’s 34 years of dependence, with its capital being the national capital and not located within its own territory.

The area which since 1976 comprised City of Havana province regains its historic name, La Habana, and has been expanded to include land around the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), the University of Computer Science, the eastern side of El Cacahual, and the settlements Tirabeque 1 and 2, which had belonged to the municipality of Bejucal.

Varadero is no longer to be a separate municipality, but rather part of Cárdenas, as it was prior to 1976. The peninsula of Hicacos, plus the area extending to the Hotel Oasis, has been constituted as a special administrative zone, subordinate to the national

Council of Ministers.

Boundaries in the most eastern provinces were adjusted only slightly within the municipalities of Guantánamo, Manuel Tames and Yateras.

Municipalities in Cuba

More than one author believes that the first seven Villas founded by Diego Velázquez were the genesis of Cuba’s municipalities. Within these, the so-called cabildos were established, made up of a lieutenant governor, named by the central government, two mayors and several council members, regidores. It is rightly asserted that, in Cuba as well as in other Latin American countries, the municipality is a reproduction of the Spanish model.

There is no exact date associated with the appearance of municipalities in the country, according to studies of the subject. They emerged individually, according to the degree of development within given territories. Edgar Figueroa Fernández, from the Population and Development Research Center attached to the National Statistics Office, wrote that in 1859 a municipal law was established, and in this context a few municipalities were created in different areas of the island.

Years later, in 1878, they were recognized as extensive in a decree of common and municipal law in which the concept of a municipality was defined as “a legal association of all persons who live within a given municipality represented by a council as an economic-administrative body called an ayuntamiento . At that time, there were a total of 130, a figure which varied little through the end of the century.

The 20th century brought constant readjustments. The designated municipalities grew in number. In 1909, there were 82; in 1919, 112. By 1931, the number had reached 124, increasing only to 126 by 1953. In 1970, there were 360 and by 1973, 407, according to Figueroa. Additionally, during the first years after the triumph of the Revolution, regions were created, constituting an intermediate level between municipalities and provinces. This change provoked some malfunction and distancing between the national and local levels and was eliminated in 1976 with the creation of the 14 provinces and 169 municipalities.

With the current modifications, and Varadero’s designation as a separate municipality ending, the number of municipalities in the country has been reduced, presently standing at a total of 168.

A curiosity: regions identified by Bartolomé de las Casas

Once Cuba’s indigenous population had been calculated as 200,000 inhabitants, Friar Bartolomé de las Casas identified more than 20 regions: Maisí, Bany, Sagua, Maniabón, Barajagua, Bayamo, Mayné, Guaynaga, Bayaquitirí, Macaca, Boyuca, Cueiba, Cayaguayo, Guaymaro, Camagüey, Ornofay, Cubanacán, Guamuhaya, Mangón, Jagua, Sabaneque, Habanana, Marién, Guaniguanico and Guanahacabibes.

Sources:

- Historia de la división político-administrativa (1607-1976), Alfredo Mateo Domingo

- Atlas demográfico de Cuba, 1979.

- National Statistics Office.

Havana – DTC – The recording house Bis Music is working on an anthology dedicated to music from eastern Santiago de Cuba province and recorded at the Siboney studios. Bis Music executives pointed out that the project will consist of two CDs dedicated to local composers, including Salvador Adams Cisneros, Miguel Matamoros, Sindo Garay, Ñico Saquito, Compay Segundo, Enrique Bonne and Félix B. Caignet. The songs will be performed by Reinaldo Creach and Septeto Ecos del Tivolí, Sonarte, Septeto SanLuisero, Familia Varela Miranda, Garzón and Ronda Lírica. The anthology of music from Santiago de Cuba will be launched at the Cubadisco Festival, which will be dedicated to son (a Cuban musical genre) in 2011.

SAN JOSE DE LAS LAJAS, Cuba – (acn) – The municipality of Guines, in the new western province of Mayabeque, opened an electric power substation of 110 kilowatts as part of the activities for the Electricity Worker’s Day. This unit will offer a more stable electric supply and will eliminate losses; thus, it will contribute to saving energy and attaining more efficiency in the services. The celebration activities include workshops on innovations, reducing imports, and saving, as well as competitions among linesmen, and special morning meetings to mention the best results. The East Thermoelectric, located in Mayabeque, is modernizing its facilities and is using the gas coming out of the oil wells to generate electricity. January 14 was chosen as the Electricity Workers’ Day in Cuba because that day, back in 1934, Antonio Guiteras Holmes, at that time government secretary, took control of the Cuban Electricity Company, owned by the United States.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s healthcare system is developing cell therapy as a regenerative medical procedure to improve people’s quality of life. According to experts, more than 1,500 people have benefited from that kind of medical procedure since 2004. At present, cell therapy is provided in hospitals in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Holguín and Artemisa. That procedure has been applied successfully to treat periodontitis (a disease that affects the gums) and hemophilic arthropathy of the knee. In addition, the implants of stems cells from the bone marrow or peripheral blood are used to treat chronic arterial insufficiency.

Wall Street Journal – With three days left to go in my trip, I was walking around Havana flat broke. I had been spending my convertibles, the secondary currency used by tourists, like Monopoly money. I figured when my cash supply got low, I’d simply slow down my spending. With funds dwindling, I realized I had miscalculated the cost of my lodging, and forgotten about the exit fee at the airport.

Cuba is not a place where one can access American banks or use credit cards, so if you run out of cash you cannot get anything. You can’t even get off the island. I had been staying in a casa particular, where specific families are licensed to rent out a bedroom in their homes by the night. The couple putting me up had become like my surrogate Cuban parents; Carlos knew just how I took my coffee, and would stay up waiting for me if I came home late at night. We would sit in their sun room and chat about everything from rations to folkloric dance, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to pay my bill. When he tried to teach me a Spanish phrase using the tricky subjunctive tense, the example he gave translated to, “I would go out with you tonight if I had the money…”

I almost choked on my own tongue. What could I sell? Who did I know that I wouldn’t be ashamed to ask for a loan? How would I ever reimburse Carlos and his wife if I couldn’t send a check back from the States? I thought about reciting monologues in the Plaza Vieja for spare change. With only three days left to go in, Stiles found herself walking around Havana flat broke.

I could swallow my pride and ask to borrow from someone in the humanitarian aid group that brought me, but they had already left for the other side of the island. With few cell phones, most everyone is still accustomed to leaving messages at someone’s home and waiting for a return call. My younger sister, who was there with her college, had agreed to cover for me. That is, if anyone could find the person to unlock the dormitory safe, and that could take days. I knew I might not starve, but I would have to beg, borrow or steal to pay for the rest of my stay.

Cuba is not a place where one can access American banks or use credit cards, so if you run out of cash you cannot get anything. I replayed every expense that had gotten me to this point. If only I had argued with the taxi drivers more. If only I had waited in the very long lines with the locals for a better exchange rate, instead of lazily going to the Hotel Nacional. I was under the impression I had been quite frugal, but I was so accustomed to thoughtlessly using credit cards, I had underestimated how much cash to bring even just for the basics.

There are two currencies in Cuba, one for tourists and one for Cubans, and therefore two prices for everything. The first day I arrived, I wandered into the part of town everyone warned against to hear some live rumba. The music was free, but the overall experience was not. Two women decided to take me under their wing, explaining customs and the symbolism behind their dances. In exchange, they seemed only to want me to buy them drinks, and I was happy to oblige. “From each according to his ability,” I figured. It’s easy to romanticize the socialist ideals graffitied on every concrete wall, because generosity seems to be contagious. Obviously the reality is more complex.

Stiles learned that Cubans have had to become resourceful in order to survive. I needed to access my email in order to have a glimmer of hope that my group might learn of my dilemma, which was unlikely, considering virtually no one has internet access in their home. Even the controversial blogger Yoani Sanchez uses a flash drive to upload her blog posts at hotel kiosks. When I met her days before, I noticed paint on her hand and asked if she was a painter as well as a writer. Chuckling, she told me she was doing construction on her house—literally, as in she was doing it herself. She told me that every Cuban has to be resourceful in order to survive.

I knew that the painfully slow connection at a hotel was too expensive for me at this point, but I was told of a student’s residence hall that had a computer room. I snuck in and logged on to their ancient PC. Of course I got caught, but pleaded with the attendant to just give me five minutes. Before I was able to address my cash situation, an email from friends back in the States sidetracked me, congratulating me on a Golden Globe nomination. There I was, thrilled to have received such a professional honor, yet still unable to barter it for cab fare.

There are two currencies in Cuba, one for tourists and one for Cubans, and therefore two prices for everything. In Havana, everything can seem poetic. At movie theaters and baseball games, a few entrepreneurial people strap cardboard boxes to their shoulders and sell “Rositas de Maiz.” Instead of calling it popcorn, though, Cubans refer to the treat as “little roses of corn.” As elated as I was about the recognition from my industry, it would afford me no special treatment on this remote and yet not-so-distant island.

Eventually the Keeper of the Safe was located, and I was able to borrow money to pay for my housing. My host generously offered to drive me to the airport in his 25-year-old stick shift, and I boarded the flight to Miami. With all of its crumbling beauty, Havana taught me the true value of a dollar. It also taught me that the people you know, and the ways in which you rely on one another, are more valuable than any paper currency.

—Ms. Stiles will be appearing on Broadway this spring in the Neil LaBute play “Fat Pig.”

Havana – DTC – The Cuban capital will host the Havana Cigar International Festival, from Feb. 21 – 25, which will be attended by some 1,000 experts and cigar aficionados from 80 countries. According to experts, the 13th edition of the meeting will be dedicated to the Cuban brands Montecristo, Partagás and H.Upmann. Participants will have the chance to enjoy latest vitolas commercialized by the corporation Habanos S.A., and will participate in lectures, the trade fair and tours of tobacco fields. They will also visit cigar factories, including that of Partagás, one of the most important in Cuba’s cigar industry. In addition, the International Contest Habanosommerlier, in which participants show their knowledge and abilities to present wines and Havana cigars, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2011

LAS TUNAS, Cuba – (acn) – All eight municipalities of the eastern province of Las Tunas joined the National Program of Suburban Agriculture developed in the island to foster  agricultural growth in the cities’ peripheral areas. Jose Artelles, with the Urban and Suburban Agriculture Provincial Office, told ACN Las Tunas capital city was the first one to join the program out of 17 cities selected across the country for a first stage of the initiative launched in January, 2010.
According to the specialist, 156 of all 169 municipalities of the country, which meet the required conditions, are expected to participate in the national program. Artelles said suburban agriculture is a new branch of the National Program for Urban Agriculture consisting on fostering cultivation and stockbreeding in areas around cities and towns in a 2-10 Kilometer radius. The main objective of the program is to bring agricultural productions closer to the population, save fuel and other resources in the transportation of such produces and in general contribute to the Cuban effort to develop an economical and sustainable agriculture.
The program is based on the use of animal traction for both cultivation work and transportation to the markets, the use organic fertilizers and other ecological practices. Cuba has an area of nearly 11 million hectares, of which 6.6 million are considered agricultural areas. However, according to the National Statistics Office, only about 3 million hectares were cultivated in 2008, while more than 2 million were devoted to stockbreeding and pasture; the rest of the land was idle. For that reason, the Cuban government decided to implement some actions to make better use of the land faced with the need to increase food production and progressively reduce increasingly-expensive food imports.

Havana – DTC – The workers of Empresa Camagüey Diesel S.A. have contributed to saving resources by repairing or modernizing engines used in the country’s productive sectors. The company repairs 50 engines a month, mainly for sugarcane combined machines, according to firm executives, who noted the professionalism of Cuban mechanics and technicians, who are capable of repairing engines from different brands without difficulties, something that it unusual in other countries. The company also provides technical assistance to Chinese-made Yutong buses, thus contributing to reducing imports of spare parts. This year’s plan includes the repair of trucks from the Dominican Republic and the maintenance of vehicles used in Cuba’s mining sector.

HAVANA – (Xinhua) – Cuba announced its registration of the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer, named CIMAVAX-EGF, in the world here. Gisela Gonzalez, project head at the Molecular Immunology Center in Havana, said over 1,000 patients on the island have received treatment successfully with the vaccine. She explained that CIMAVAX-EGF provides patients with the ability to turn the advanced cancer into a “manageable chronic disease”. “CIMAVAX-EGF is the result of over 15 years of research, which does not cause severe side effects,” she said.

“It’s based on a protein that we all have: the epidermal growth factor, related to the processes of cell proliferation, which makes the cancer out of control,” she said. Gonzalez said it was necessary to create “a composition able to generate antibodies against this protein.” This vaccine is given when the patient finishes the treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy, and it is considered a “terminal without alternative therapy” because it helps “to control the growth of the tumor without associated toxicity,” she pointed out.

“CIMAVAX-EGF can also be used as a chronic treatment, which increases the expectations and quality of life for patients,” Gonzalez added. She concluded that the vaccine is currently being assessed as a therapy against prostate, uterus and breast tumors.

La Habana – DTC – Cuba’s hydraulic system has benefited from the installation of more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of polyethylene pipes made by CiegoPlast since it was founded 11 years ago. The Ciego de Avila-based firm is one of three companies in Cuba that produces those pipes in different diameters and pressures for the country’s hydraulic grid. CiegoPlast experts said some 170 kilometers (106 miles) of polyethylene pipes were made in 2010 and were mostly used to improve the hydraulic systems in Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

HAVANA, Cuba – A documentary on the strange appearance of the lionfish in Cuban waters “In the wrong throne” by Mundo Latino producing company will premiere this Friday in the Roundtable TV prime show. The 45-minute long documentary will be presented by its director Omelio Borroto, who will be accompanied by the head of the research department of the Cuban Food Ministry Elisa Garcia and the National Aquarium director Guillermo García. The lionfish is a maroon-striped marauder with venomous spikes rapidly multiplying in Cuba’s warm waters, swallowing native species, stinging divers and generally wreaking havoc on an ecologically delicate region.

Heavy Lift – Crowley Maritime Corporation has appointed Tony Otero as vice president of Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba liner services, based in the company’s Jacksonville office and reporting to John Hourihan, senior vice president and general manager of Latin America services. Otero’s new role includes the addition of Cuba services to what had been the company’s Dominican Republic and Haiti services. He now has responsibility for the coordination of the countries’ sales, marketing, and operations activities; overseeing the development of policies and procedures; reviewing operating results; establishing annual revenue and capital and budgets; coordinating and negotiating contractor and service provider agreements and developing business relations. Otero, who started his career as a senior accountant at Crowley in 1998 after working several years for the accounting firm, Deloitte & Touché, will also implement Crowley’s planned ro-ro service enhancements to the countries.

Havana – DTC – The factory La Palma, in the eastern Cuban province of Ciego de Avila, is producing different kinds of rums for the domestic and international markets. According to company executives, the plant produces refined, aged and silver dry rums, wines and elixirs under the brands Jardines del Rey, Avila, Carta Oro and Arecha. La Palma is the only factory in Cuba that produces Elixir de Arecha, which is highly demanded on the Spanish market. The plant has 2,000 oak casks, which can contain 214,000 liters of rum, which is aged from six month to two years.

NY Times – BAUTA, Cuba — Marisela Álvarez spends much of the day bent over a single electric burner in her small outdoor kitchen. Her knees are killing her. Her red hair smells of cooking oil. She hasn’t felt this fortunate in years. “I feel useful; I’m independent,” said Ms. Álvarez, who opened a small cafe in November at her home in this scruffy town 25 miles from the capital, Havana. “When you sit down at the end of the day and look at how much you have made, you feel satisfied.”

Eagerly, warily, Cubans are taking up the government’s offer to work for themselves, selling coffee in their front yards, renting out houses, making rattan furniture and hawking everything from bootleg DVDs to Silly Bandz and homemade wine. Hoping to resuscitate Cuba’s crippled economy, President Raul Castro opened the door to a new, if limited, generation of entrepreneurs last year, after warning that the state’s “inflated” payrolls could end up “jeopardizing the very survival of the Revolution.”

The Cuban labor federation said the government would lay off half a million of about 4.3 million state workers by March and issue hundreds of thousands of new licenses to people wanting to join Cuba’s tiny private sector, in what could be the biggest remodeling of the state-run economy since Fidel Castro nationalized all enterprise in 1968. By the end of 2010, the government had awarded 75,000 new licenses, according to Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, swelling the official ranks of the self-employed by 50 percent.

That is still a long way from the amount needed to create alternatives for all the workers who will eventually be laid off, and there is no guarantee that the market will support hundreds of thousands of freelancers. But licenses have been granted quickly, and the government has been encouraging the bureaucracy to keep them flowing.

Streets once devoid of commerce in towns like this and in Havana are gradually coming to life as people hang painted signs and bright awnings outside their houses and mount roadside stalls. An electronics engineer, who for years operated in the shadows, now publishes leaflets that claim he can mend every appliance under the sun. A practitioner of Santería sells beaded necklaces, ground sardines and toasted corn used in ceremonies at the tin-roofed shop in her yard.

Ms. Álvarez and her husband, Ivan Barroso, took out a license for the cafe and another to sell meat and fish. Now the couple does a brisk business serving soft white rolls filled with garlicky pork and fresh tuna for 60 cents at a wooden counter in the gateway of their house. Ms. Álvarez, a former school librarian who gave up work several years ago, runs the cafe with her stepson. Mr. Barroso goes fishing, culls pigs and delivers produce to clients in Havana. “If you have the ability, the dedication to achieve something, you should enjoy it,” said Mr. Barroso, who until November sold fish and pork without a license to a close circle of friends and clients.

About 85 percent of all Cubans with jobs are employed by the state, earning about $20 per month in exchange for free access to services like health and education, and a ration of subsidized goods. Fidel Castro grudgingly allowed the private sector to take root in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the Cuban economy to its knees. Over the years, however, the government stopped issuing new licenses and suffocated many businesses with taxes and prohibitions.

This time Raúl Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel in 2006, says things have changed. In a speech to the National Assembly in December, he urged members of the government and the Communist Party to help the private sector, not “demonize” it. “It is essential that we change the negative feelings that no small number of us harbor toward this kind of private labor,” Mr. Castro said.

Many remain skeptical. Juan Carlos Montes ran a private restaurant on the patio of his Havana home for five years but became worn down by nit-picking inspectors and closed it in 2000. Now he is reluctant to try again. “When someone who has made the same argument for more than 40 years suddenly changes their tune, you have to have a lot of faith to believe them,” he said. His wife, Yodania Sánchez, has been trying to change his mind. She has a license to rent two rooms in their higgledy-piggledy house and pays about $243 in taxes every month, whether the rooms are occupied or not.

“The changes are really positive; there are new opportunities,” she said on a recent morning as she cleaned their tiny kitchen. “People want Cuba to become Switzerland overnight, and that’s not possible.” But Mr. Montes swears he will not open a new restaurant until there is a wholesale market. “People can’t get what they need to run a business,” he said. “The carpenter has no wood. The electrician has no cable. The plumber has no pipes. Right now, there is no flour in the shops. So what are all the pizzerias doing? They have to buy stuff that is stolen from bakeries.”

The government says it will set up a wholesale market — though it might take years — and this year will import $130 million worth of goods and equipment for the private sector. It is also planning microloans and business cooperatives and mulling allowing people to buy and sell cars and houses, measures that some analysts speculate might be announced ahead of the Communist Party Congress in April. For now, carpenters like Pedro José Chávez are allowed only to do repairs, rather than make things, because there is no legal market for wood. His workshop, perched on a rooftop in the Vedado area of Havana, is filled with crude machines made of salvaged parts because proper tools are too expensive.

“It’s absurd that they will give you a license to work but they won’t give you access to materials,” Mr. Chávez said. “Cuba is falling apart,” he added, gesturing to the crumbling buildings nearby. “We could help rebuild it.” For the private sector to thrive, the government should vastly expand the list of occupations open to the self-employed to include mainstream professions like engineering or law, said Ted Henken, an expert on the Cuban private sector at Baruch College.

The list of 178 jobs currently open to self-employed Cubans — among them, fixing parasols and mending bed frames — is highly specific and seems intended mainly to legalize and tax people working on the black market. “There is a lot more to be done for the state to get out of the way and for people to produce and employ,” Professor Henken said. The government will also need to confront the question of civil and political rights that will emerge with the growth of a commercial class, including potentially divisive issues like growing disparities in wealth. “There’s no end to the chaos and demands of a private economy,” Professor Henken said.

In the meantime, Ms. Álvarez and Mr. Barroso are relishing life on the almost-free market. Mr. Barroso pores daily over an exercise book where he calculates profit margins. Total sales for the two businesses are around $270 a week, he said. He and his wife each pay about $37 a month in taxes, plus 10 percent on profits at the end of the year.

Ms. Álvarez vies for customers with a couple of cafes that have opened within two blocks of hers. On a recent morning, all three had more clients than the bleak state-run bar on the same street, whose offerings included omelet sandwiches, hand-rolled cigars and condoms. “I think the government has realized that state business doesn’t function,” Mr. Barroso said. “It’s the private sector that generates competition. We have a habit of doing things poorly in Cuba, but competition is going to put this straight.”

Havana – DTC – The cultural institution Casa de la Trova, in eastern Santiago de Cuba province, benefited from remodeling and restoration works. According to experts, the building recovered its original decoration, including portraits – original photos and paintings that were restored – of prominent Cuban musician, antique lamps, carpentry works and floors. After the restoration works were completed, Casa de la Trova hosted a meeting of several generations of singer songwriters. Artists from the Caguayo Foundation, cultural institutions that donated works rescued from oblivion and construction workers contributed to restoring Casa de la Trova.

HAVANA – (Reuters) – Cuba racked up a $3.9 billion trade surplus last year as President Raul Castro’s efforts to cut imports and earn more abroad bore fruit for a second consecutive year, the government’s statistics office reported. The surplus was nearly twice the $2 billion reported in 2009 — good news for Cuba but only a first step toward getting its debt-ridden economy out of the woods. The country has been struggling with severe financial problems since 2008, when hurricanes, the international financial crisis and internal inefficiencies left it without funds to pay its bills.

The National Statistics Office reported on its web page, www.one.cu, that exports increased 12.9 percent to $13.6 billion in 2010, led by the selling of services at $9.4 billion. Imports fell 3.3 percent to $9 billion. Higher prices for Cuba’s main exports — nickel, petroleum derivatives and medical and other technical services — likely accounted for most of the increase, while revenues from tourism and communications were also reportedly up. Some 75 percent of Cuban exports come from services such as tourism, communications and the export of doctors and other professionals to oil-rich countries such as Venezuela, Angola, Algeria and Qatar, which pay for the services on a sliding scale linked to oil prices.

Prices for oil increased significantly in 2010, as they did for Cuban exports nickel and sugar. Friday’s report appeared to correct recent statements by Economy Minister Marino Murillo, covered by the official media, that exports had increased 41.5 percent last year, though authorities were not immediately available for comment. Local analysts estimated Cuba’s current account registered a surplus of about $1 billion in 2010, though little data was available.

Many debts to governments and business were restructured or went unpaid in 2009, foreign company bank accounts frozen, dividends owed joint venture partners postponed and imports cut a staggering 37 percent. Castro said in December that all frozen accounts would be settled by the end of this year. Western diplomats and businessmen said Cuba was gradually unblocking the funds but at the same time still moving slowly on foreign debt payments and dividends owed its foreign partners operating in the country.

Cuba is under a strict U.S. trade embargo and excluded from most international lending organizations that could help in a pinch, while many creditors have tired of its repeated rescheduling of debt. Cuba last reported its foreign debt at $17.8 billion in 2007. Most analysts agree it is now above $21 billion — or close to 50 percent of the gross domestic product and some 25 percent more than annual export revenues. Raul Castro has hammered away at the need for Cuba to get its economic house in order and pay its bills since taking over as president from his brother Fidel in 2008.

The country’s growing debt and service payments are a key reason for Castro’s push to overhaul Cuba’s Soviet-style economy, according to government insiders. The reforms, to be discussed at a Communist Party congress in April, include drastic budget cuts and layoffs and ending most state subsidies. They also would grant state-run companies more autonomy and encourage more small private businesses, foreign investment, cooperatives and other “non-state” forms of running enterprises.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s educational system at the primary level will benefit from an electronic version of the Illustrated School Dictionary. According to experts, the dictionary will be a useful tool for professors and students to learn the Spanish language, and it will help them improve their spelling. The digital dictionary contains simple and clear definitions that are exemplified in sentences, so that users can get a more precise meaning of the words. In addition, all terms are short, no more than 12 letters, to make reading easier for first-grade students. The new dictionary has a search field and suggestions, a section for accented vowels and the Spanish letter ñ, syllabication, plurals, the alphabet and pictures.

HAVANA — President Raul Castro announced a reshuffle of key cabinet posts, relieving a veteran of the Cuban revolution of his communications portfolio and sacking another minister. Ramiro Valdes, a 78-year-old politburo veteran, was relieved of his post as minister of informatics and communications but retained his construction ministry portfolio in a move not necessarily seen as a demotion. Valdes, who fought alongside revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, is a former interior minister and vice prime-minister who Raul Castro made a government vice president in 2009. Construction Minister Fidel Figueroa was removed from his post for “errors committed in his job,” according to a statement read on state television, which did not elaborate.

Since assuming power from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, Raul Castro has made some 30 changes to the Cuban cabinet. Castro, 79, has proposed far-reaching economic reforms that include eventually cutting one million government jobs, encouraging some new foreign investment and less government interference in the market. The reforms, which would look to do away with state subsidies and foresee the setting up of a tax system, represent a dramatic shake-up of an economic model that has survived two decades since the Soviet Union dissolved. They are up for debate in April at the Cuban Communist Party Congress, the first such meeting 1997.

Havana – DTC – The Spanish group Barceló Hotels and Resorts, which is among the world’s 25 top chains, has increased its presence in Cuba, where it inaugurated a hotel in Varadero beach. The company merged two hotels in Varadero to create the All-Inclusive complex Barceló Arenas Blancas-Solymar, which offers 883 rooms. The new facility, located in one of Cuba’s best beaches, offers two smorgasbord and five a-la-carte restaurants, seven bars, sauna and recreational activities. Barceló runs six hotels, totaling more than 3,000 rooms, in Cuba, as it also administers the 548-room Barceló Marina Palace and the Cayo Libertad hotels in Varadero. The other hotel is the Barceló Cayo Santa María, a 1,308-room luxury complex made up of two five-star hotels.

MADRID – (Dow Jones) – Spain’s Supreme Court Thursday ruled in favor of Pernod Ricard SA (RI.FR) in a long-running dispute with rival Bacardi Ltd. over the rights to the Cuban rum trademark Havana Club, setting a likely precedent for other cases involving property taken over by Cuba’s Communist government. The ruling by the country’s top legal court represents the third time that Spanish courts have rejected Bacardi’s challenge against Pernod’s and Cuba’s ownership of the famous brand, after two previous decisions by lower courts. It also marks a significant legal victory for France’s Pernod, the world’s second-largest distiller by sales after the U.K.’s Diageo PLC (DEO), and the Cuban government, which has secured the rights to the brand in most countries.

Pernod sells three and a half million cases of rum in 124 countries each year under the Havana Club name, through a joint venture with the Cuban government. That arrangement, which began in 1993, excludes exports to the U.S. because of a longstanding trade embargo. However, Pernod and Bacardi have been locked in legal battles in Spain and the U.S.–traditionally the top two markets for the Havana Club brand–since Bacardi claims it has the rights to the trademark for the U.S. after it bought them in 1994 from the Arechabala family, founders of the brand early in the last century. The Arechabala family was stripped of its properties by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution there.

Bacardi claims that the move by the Cuban government was illegal, and it released Havana Club in the U.S. in 2006. Unlike the rum sold by Pernod, Bacardi’s rum is made in Puerto Rico. In its ruling, Spain’s Supreme Court declined to take a stance on the legality of the expropriation under Cuba’s Law 890 of 1960, which nationalized the country’s entire economy. The court added that its decision against the plaintiffs, Bacardi and the Arechabala family, is based on the fact that the legal register of the Havana Club brand in Spain, under the Arechabalas’ ownership, expired in the 1960s, and was later lawfully renewed and taken over by the Cuban government. Spokespeople for Bacardi weren’t immediately available to comment on the ruling. Bacardi last year won a key ruling in the U.S., when U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson in Delaware denied Pernod’s request for an injunction to bar Bacardi’s U.S. arm from using the brand name.

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Oct. 15, 2010

HAVANA – (Reuters) – Plans in Cuba and neighboring Bahamas to develop offshore oil fields may open big new oil frontiers at the doorstep of the United States, but the Cuban project has sparked opposition in next-door Florida reflecting the usual antagonistic U.S.-Cuba politics. Some Florida political leaders have asked U.S. President Barack Obama to find a way to stop Cuba’s drilling, but so far the White House has stayed out of the issue. Cuban oil exploration plans continue on the communist-led island, where significant fresh drilling is expected to begin early in 2011.

Suggestions from U.S. lawmakers such as Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Vern Buchanan have included withdrawing the 1977 recognition of Cuba’s claim to part of the Gulf of Mexico and pressuring Spain to curb Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF, which is leading the Cuba exploration. Florida, mindful of its $60 billion-a-year tourism industry, has successfully kept U.S. offshore exploration well away from its shores. In the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico, drillers are allowed no closer to the state’s west coast than 125 miles (200 km).

Still, some of Florida’s Panhandle beaches were stained by oil from the massive BP Gulf spill this summer. Buchanan, in a letter to Obama, said Cuba will drill in water deeper than the BP well, which was about 5,000 feet (141 metres) down, making it “extremely difficult” to control a spill. “It is critical that Florida’s unique coastline environment and its population be protected,” he said. Maritime boundaries with Cuba and Bahamas are about 50 miles (80 km) distance from South Florida, meaning they can drill closer to the state than U.S. operators. In the Bahamas, the Bahamas Petroleum Corp has leased more than 2 million acres offshore and has a joint venture in place with Norway’s Statoil, but this project so far has received little mention in Florida. The stakes are high in both countries.

Cuba believes it has at least 20 billion barrels of oil offshore, while estimated reserves for the leases controlled by Bahamas Petroleum have gone as high as 17 billion barrels. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated Cuba has 5 billion barrels of oil. Among anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Florida, concerns about Cuban oil are not just environmental. They fear a significant oil find would bring money that would prolong the rule of communism on the island. For five decades, they have supported U.S. economic sanctions aimed at toppling the government first led for over four decades by Fidel Castro, and in recent years by his brother Raul Castro.

“The regime is in tough economic straits and to keep itself afloat and is now looking at the oil industry, among others, to throw a lifeline,” U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida was quoted as saying by The Miami Herald. Cuba’s oil development plans are advancing however as Repsol has contracted a Chinese-built drilling rig from Saipem Corp., a unit of Italian oil company Eni SpA, that is expected in Cuba in the first quarter of next year. Once in place, state-owned Cuban oil company Cupet has said the Scarabeo 9 rig will drill seven wells by the end of 2012 for some of the various companies with offshore Cuba leases. None of the companies are American because the longstanding U.S. trade embargo prevents them from doing business in Cuba.

Nonetheless, the U.S. oil industry has begun taking interest, as signaled by an August visit to Havana by a delegation from the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors. The group’s president, Lee Hunt, said offshore accidents in Cuba would be better prevented if U.S. companies were involved. Senior attorney Dan Whittle at the Environmental Defense Fund agreed, telling Reuters U.S.-Cuba cooperation was critical to responding to any problems. “We have no more right to tell Cuba not to drill in its own waters of the Gulf of Mexico than it has a right to tell the U.S. to do the same,” he said.

“Florida should in the forefront of initiating this dialogue, not only with Cuba, but also with the Bahamas.” The Bahamas does not have the same political baggage as Cuba, nor is its oil exploration as imminent, said Bahamas Petroleum Chairman Alan Burns. The government will not allow drilling until it draws up offshore safety regulations, which will not be completed until the full cause of the BP accident is known. After that, it will take 18 months to start drilling, Burns said. Burns said technological limitations and low prices scuttled earlier Bahamas exploration efforts, but seismic tests indicate the presence of large reserves of oil. “To have new big producers close by can only be good for the U.S., particularly if they are friendly like the Bahamas,” he said. (Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Doina Chiacu) Keywords: CUBA USA/OIL (jeff.franks@thomsonreuters.com; +537 833 3145; Reuters

HOUMA — Under other circumstances, a Caribbean island nation with an emerging deepwater drilling program might be a fertile new market for south Louisiana shipbuilders, fabricators and offshore-service companies. But Cuba is different. The communist island nation has ventured into deepwater exploration to become more energy-independent, but some in the oil-and-gas industry fear that will be hard to do safely given the decades-old trade embargo with the United States, a leading provider of oilfield technology.

“We’re interested in safe drilling globally,” said Lee Hunt, chief executive of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, an international trade group that has pushed for increased collaboration between the two countries on offshore safety. “Because of the embargo, the top-quality services are not easily or readily available to them.” Given the push for higher deepwater standards in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, some are saying it’s crucial to collaborate more with Cuba to be sure that drilling is done safely in the Gulf that both countries share.

“Being it’s so close to our coast, we could be impacted by anything they do,” said Chett Chiasson, director of Port Fourchon, the Lafourche Parish port that supplies about 90 percent of the deepwater projects in the Gulf of Mexico. “If we’re so concerned about what we’re doing in the U.S. Gulf, we really need to be concerned about what Cuba is going to allow in its waters.” The island nation, roughly the size of Pennsylvania, has been under a strict U.S. trade embargo since the early 1960s. It imports much of its oil from Venezuela but produces a modest amount from facilities that drill directionally, or sideways, from onshore facilities. But advances in deepwater technology have made it possible to access those waters with offshore drilling.

Cuba has opened up 59 blocks for drilling in its waters, and they extend right up to the maritime boundary between U.S. and Cuban waters, 45 miles from the Florida coast, says Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. The embargo, instituted after dictator Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, means no U.S. companies can provide services to the country, nor can U.S. products be sold to foreign companies to be used in Cuban offshore projects. But firms from Europe, Asia and South America have been eager to do business there. And companies with roots in Norway, India and Brazil have been snapping up the leases.

And Repsol, a Spanish oil company, is scheduled to start deepwater test wells next year with a Chinese-built drillship.But those projects will move forward without technology from American firms, which make a wide range of equipment including underwater robots and blowout preventers. So with limited information coming from the country, there are lots of unresolved questions about the program and the implications if something goes wrong. Spills or blowouts could affect the Florida coastline within days.

If a spill drifts into our waters, “we’re going to be responsible for the environmental mess that could come into a very pristine part of Florida,” John said “We don’t know what kind of drilling safety regulations are on the Spanish oil company for worker safety and well integrity.” Could a necessary part be flown in from Louisiana or Houston, a few hours away, or would an unfolding ecological catastrophe have to wait overnight for Cuban suppliers to bring in a non-American version from halfway around the world? The same quandary emerges for oil cleanup teams or crews to drill relief wells.

But U.S. oil-and-gas companies, including those in Louisiana, would also stand to gain from a thaw in Cuban-American relations that went beyond safety collaboration to allow oil business between the two countries, John said, from service boats to production platforms and oilifield components. The thought of an emerging deepwater market so close by is an appealing prospect for Josh Jambon, who runs Jambon Boat Rentals of Golden Meadow. With work slowed to a trickle in the Gulf of Mexico, he’s looking as far away as Africa to find business for his fleet.

Were the political situation different, “I would much rather go to Cuba,” he said. “It’s real logical, if I could ship right there and stay in close proximity to home.” But Hunt says his group’s goal isn’t to promote American business. The Cuban business is relatively limited anyway, he said, with about seven wells planned over the next four years. For now the questions are still unresolved. The International Association of Drilling Contractors says it has received no response to its concerns. President Obama has renewed the embargo for 2011.

John, also a former Louisiana congressman who tried to work on agricultural policy relations with Cuba during his tenure, remembers the resistance encountered to any change in the long-standing policy. “Congress has been very reluctant, with Castro at the reins, to enter into good-faith negotiations or trade deals,” he said. “It’s a very complicated situation.”

Cuba Standard – Before signing a cooperation agreement on information technology and communications in Havana, the minister of communications of Azerbaijan proposed assembling personal computers in Cuba. Ali Abbasov made the statement during a round of negotiations in Havana, Prensa Latina reported. Azeri businesspeople brought samples of PCs made in Azerbaijan, according to Abbasov. Baku-based Ultra Co. started assembling notebooks in 2003, later adding PCs and servers to its products. Abbasov also toured the University of Informatics (UCI) in suburban Havana.

The Guardian – UK – In the revolution’s heyday an olive-green uniform was the favoured official garment but Cuba has now embraced a looser, floppier look: the guayabera. The foreign ministry has ordered officials to wear the pleated shirt, which has four big pockets and is worn untucked, to state functions. A resolution which was made law today made the guayabera an official dress garment, AP reported.

“The guayabera has been a part of the history of our country for a long time and constitutes one of the most authentic and legitimate expressions of Cubanism,” the resolution said. Male officials must wear white, long-sleeved versions at state events but women can vary colour and style. The shirt, normally linen or cotton, is considered ideal for humid, tropical climates. Raul Castro, though a lifetime soldier, has often favoured the civilian look over his military fatigues since succeeding his brother Fidel as president in 2008.

The guayabera is said to have originated in the province of Sancti Spiritus, on the banks of the Yayabo River, where farm labourers turned linen sheets into shirts with pockets for cigars to sustain them in the fields. The shirt is now popular across Latin America and the Caribbean – Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, reportedly wears a bullet-proof version – but retains a Cuban tinge. The foreign ministry resolution said the garment evolved from rural roots and was “worn with pride and satisfaction” by all Cubans.

The resolution is unlikely to be controversial since many Cubans prefer the guayabera’s lightness to heavier, western-style shirts and ties. The shirt’s symbolic value dates to the independence war against Spain. A revolutionary leader, Narciso Lopez, wore one while raising the Cuban flag for the first time in May 1850. In the 1970s, Mobutu Sese Seko, then president of Zaire, ordered officials to wear the “abacost” – a collar-less jacket worn with a cravat – in a campaign to boost African values.

Toronto – (Prensa Latina) – Relations between the United States and Cuba have not flourished over five decades because of conditions imposed on Cuba by Washington in exchange for a change in its policy, experts gathered here agreed. The issue was the center of discussions on the second day of a congress of the Latin American Studies Association, LASA 2010, in session in Toronto, attended by over 2,700 experts from three continents. It was addressed in four panels, including “Cuban Foreign Policy under Raul Castro” and “The USA-Cuba Dialogue: Lessons from the Past, and Prospects for Talks between Obama and Castro.”

In the latter, participants referred to personal experiences and documents classified as secret over the years. Peter R Kornbluh, an expert of the US National Security Archive, said that declassified documents show that over these years Washington was mistaken in its policy towards Cuba as it failed to recognize and accept the Cuban position, mainly by failing to grasp the benefits of a normalization of relations for the two countries.

Robert A Pastor, a professor of the American University and former national security adviser under the James Carter Administration, said that the presidency of Barack Obama has not drawn any lesson from the past. “The Obama Administration had a unique opportunity in the first six months in government to open links with Cuba, and the dialogue would have been successful, but they lost it,” he said.

Canadian Press – HAVANA — The Cuban government summoned a Chilean businessman for questioning in an ongoing corruption probe that also involves his brother, a close friend of Fidel Castro. Marcel Luis Marambio must return to Cuba by Oct. 15, according to a decree published in the Official Gazette, where the government announces new laws. The decree identified Marambio as being 56 years old and living in the Chilean capital, Santiago. It said he is vice-president of Compania International Network Group, a Chile-based conglomerate whose interests include Rio Zaza, a Cuban food distributor co-owned with Cuba’s government. Investigators here have accused the company’s top executives, including Marambio, of bribery, embezzlement and falsifying documents.

He is the brother of Max Marambio, the 63-year-old president of Compania International who was ordered by Cuban officials to return to the island for questioning by Aug. 23. When he failed to appear, the government issued an international arrest warrant and called on police forces overseas to capture him. He remains in Chile. In an interview with the Chilean newspaper La Segunda on Thursday, Max Marambio did not say whether he planned to eventually return to Cuba. But he said he filed a complaint with an international business tribunal based in Paris accusing Cuba’s communist government of engaging in “illegal and nonsensical reprisals” for mounting the investigation.

The charges against the Marambios stem from a corruption probe that began in April, when a top Chilean executive who worked for their company was found dead in his Havana apartment after being questioned by investigators. The cause of death has not been revealed. Max Marambio met Castro in 1966 while accompanying his father on a trip to Cuba as part of a delegation of sympathetic political leaders. He later became the chief bodyguard of Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende.

After Allende was toppled in a 1973 military coup, Marambio sought refuge in Cuba, where he maintained close personal ties to Castro and developed wide-ranging business interests, transforming himself from a revolutionary into a multimillionaire. Rio Zaza made Tropical Island juices and other products that were ubiquitous in hard-currency stores catering to foreigners and tourists. The brand has all but disappeared from shelves since the probe was launched, however.

The investigation of the Marambios and other Rio Zaza executives is one of several moves to combat alleged high-level corruption. In March, Cuba removed veteran revolutionary Rogelio Acevedo from his post overseeing the country’s airlines and airports amid speculation that he had committed fraud and embezzlement. Esteban Morales, a senior, pro-government intellectual, published a stinging essay recently that called corruption a greater threat to the communist system than the island’s small and fractured political opposition movements. He warned that top officials were waiting like vultures to snap up the country’s resources, much like the oligarchs who grabbed control of business in the Soviet Union following its collapse. His essay appeared on a state-run website, and Morales was later ordered expelled from the Communist Party.

NY Times – What happens when you put some great American jazz musicians onstage with the biggest names in Afro-Cuban music? They have a blast. At least, that is what they did at the Mella Theater in Havana. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra played to a packed house of 1,500 with a lineup of Cuban stars that included Chucho Valdés; Pancho Terry, the country’s foremost chekeré player; Bobby Carcassés; and Orlando Valle, known as Maraca.

They did it all: the Americans playing Afro-Cuban music, the Cubans jamming blues and quintets from both sides of the Florida Straits doing their own thing. The first night’s program of Cuban songs and arrangements, which opened with Chico O’Farrill’s “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite,” had the audience whooping and tapping out the syncopated clave beat on their laps. Some pieces got a traditional treatment: Mr. Carcassés, the 72-year-old elder of the Cuban jazz scene, took the stage in a wide-collared magenta shirt and sang and danced his way through Ernesto Duarte Brito’s “Como Fué.”

Other arrangements, like the Lincoln Center bassist Carlos Henriquez’s “2/3’s Adventure” — named for the structure of the clave beat -– played with Afro-Cuban traditions, splicing mambo and guajira with fusion jazz. Boris Sarmiento, a trombonist who was in the audience, said it was “interesting to hear their interpretations of Cuban songs and Cuban elements, played with their own style, their own arrangements, their own formation.”  Mr. Sarmiento said the American musicians played with more definition than Cubans do, giving the Latin music a new range. “We tend to play everything at full tilt.” he said. “But they give it this kind of delicacy: loud bits, quiet bits, different sounds.”

Thursday’s set was split between the American and the Cuban: Mr. Valdés and his Afro-Cuban Messengers showed off their European and African heritage with a playful danzón and a number dedicated to Changó, the Yoruba orisha of thunder and music, which had the percussionist Dreiser Bambolé thrusting his lean frame about the stage in an energetic rumba. Next a quintet of Lincoln Center players led by Wynton Marsalis played a 45-minute set of arrangements by Mr. Marsalis, which included “Skippin’ ” and “The Magic Hour.”

Then the two groups came together to play a blues homage to the giants of jazz, each digging into their African roots. Mr. Marsalis opened with a chant drawn from “Congo Square”; Mr. Bambolé came back with a Yoruba prayer. Speaking during Wednesday night’s concert, Mr. Valdés told the audience what many have been saying this week on the sidelines of the Lincoln Center residency, “Something magical is happening here.”

Havana – (EFE via COMTEX) – A $70 million undersea fiber-optic cable that will link Cuba with Venezuela and Jamaica is due to start operating in July 2011, Cuban media reported. The project, which will involve laying two pairs of submarine cable over a distance of 5,340 kilometers (3,320 miles), will dramatically multiply Cuba’s connectivity capacity, the official news agency Prensa Latina reported Friday, citing officials on the communist-ruled island.

Deputy Informatics and Communications Minister Alberto Rodriguez said the cable “will strengthen national sovereignty and security” in keeping with the integration aims of the eight-member Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, or ALBA, an international cooperation organization founded by Cuba and close ally Venezuela in 2004. The cable will enable “greater quality in info-communication services” and create “more favorable conditions for confronting future developments,” Rodriguez said at the start of a business forum in Havana.

The main cable will link the northern Venezuelan city of La Guaira with the southeastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba – a distance of 1,552 kilometers (965 miles) – and have a 640-gigabyte-per-second capacity, while the other segment will connect Cuba and Jamaica. Waldo Reboredo, vice president of Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe S.A., the Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture that will operate the undersea cable, said the “shark-proof” cable will be financed with Venezuelan bank loans as well as the company’s own funds and have a lifespan of 25 years.

Reboredo added that the cable will allow the island to “multiply its current data, image and voice transmission speeds by 3,000,” reduce operation costs by 25 percent and could be extended in the future to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Lesser Antilles. But he noted that these technological advances “will not imply an end” to Cuba’s current satellite-based Internet service, which he said is “all Havana is allowed due to U.S. hostility.” Cuban authorities accuse Washington of preventing the island from accessing the Internet via undersea cables, one of which connects Cancun, Mexico and Miami and passes just 32 kilometers (20 miles) northwest of Havana.

Cuba has had a satellite-based Internet link since 1996 that offers a 65-megabyte-per-second upload bandwidth and a 124 Mb/s download bandwidth; according to the Cuban government, any modification of the channel must be licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department. Havana blames the United States’ decades-old economic embargo on Cuba for high costs, slow speeds and the fact that Internet service on the island is almost entirely restricted to companies and some professionals in fields such as health and culture.

Xinhua – About 36 joint projects totaling 3.7 million U.S. dollars to support food security in the country are under implementation by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Cuban authorities, FAO representative Marcio Porto said Friday. Porto made the statements in a press conference marking the World Food Day, saying that his agency supported the strategies of the Cuban government to prevent anemia and to diversify food production.

He said that in the past 50 years the FAO had developed almost 200 projects in Cuba, with a valuation of some 60 million dollars, he said. Meanwhile, Joseph A. Quintero, official from Cuba’s foreign trade and investment department, stressed the Cuba-FAO collaboration was launched at a time when Cuban leader Raul Castro called for increasing food production as a matter of “national security.” Cuba spends 1.5 billion dollars annually to import food.

Periodico26 – GUADALAJARA, MEXICO.— Cuban representatives addressing the 18th International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico demanded fairer policies to access Internet and communications worldwide, as established at the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly. Addressing the meeting on Thursday, Cuban Vice Minister of Computing Sciences and Communications Ramón Linares called on internet service providers to implement more efficient and fairer internet coordination and distribution policies, reported the Cubadebate online magazine. ( http://www.cubadebate.cu/ )

He also spoke about the importance of implementing internet regulations based on cooperation, solidarity and respect for peoples’ sovereignty. During his keynote address, the Cuban diplomat spoke about ongoing efforts in Cuba to boost communications and social networking services, despite the half-century-old US blockade that hinders Cuba from importing software and internet services and technology. The vice minister also noted that Cuba has provided some 700,000 computers to the public sector such as education, healthcare, scientific research and culture and 65% have free Internet access.

Canadian Press – HAVANA — Cuba has already promised to fire a half-million state workers and reshape its communist economy. Now universal free education and health care, the very building blocks of the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power, could face cutbacks. A signed editorial in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Tuesday argued that the government cannot continue to run up large spending deficits — while noting that 46.7 per cent of state spending goes to providing free medical care and education through college for all citizens.

“Spending cannot be thought of as a right, and in order to spend, you must have proper revenue,” said the editorial, written by Granma deputy editor Alberto Nunez Betancourt. The story featured a cartoon where a fat man labeled “spending” climbs on a seesaw marked “budget,” sending his skinny playmate “revenue” hurtling skyward. It also singled out the high cost of providing basic food to all Cubans through a monthly ration card, as well as subsidized cooking oil and other domestic fuels.”It is a matter that is going to require analysis and participation to find effective answers,” Granma wrote, “as well as a rational use of resources and a permanent practice of saving.”

It’s the kind of opinion piece in the government-controlled press that can auger imminent announcements of reform. Last October, Granma’s editor wrote in a full-page editorial that it could be time to cut back on a ration system that allows Cubans to buy a series of foods at heavily subsidized prices every month. Since then, the government has cut potatoes, peas and other staples from the “libreta,” or ration book, that Cubans have depended on since 1962 to put meagre meals on their tables.

The story did not say when — or even if — cutbacks in schools and hospitals are coming, and it gave no suggestions for specific ways to save money. But its tone was consistent with recent speeches by President Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president in 2006 and has said repeatedly that Cuba cannot keep spending so much to keep its citizens healthy and educated. Castro said in an Easter Sunday address in April that perhaps 1 million government employees were superfluous, and five months later, his government announced it would lay off 500,000 state workers while loosening controls on self-employment and small business, in hopes of growing the private sector enough to absorb many of those out of a job.

The announcement has sent shock waves through a country where at least 84 per cent of people work for the state. The Granma article also referenced Cuba’s so-called “special period” of the 1990s, when the disbanding of the Soviet Union cost the island billions of dollars in annual subsidies and trade and brought the economy to the brink of collapse. The story noted that in 1993, perhaps the darkest year of a very dark economic decade, deficits climbed to 30 per cent of gross domestic product.

Cuba is nowhere near that today, with a slashing of spending on foreign food and other costly imports, as well as scores of other belt-tightening measures, helping to reduce its official deficit from 5.6 per cent of GDP to 4.9 per cent of GDP over the course of last year. Cuba counts state spending on all social programs when calculating annual economic growth, a unique brand of accounting that makes it difficult to determine its GDP under standard definitions. Still, by contrast, the White House is estimating that the U.S. budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. An August report by The Office of Management and Budget put America’s deficit at 10 per cent of GDP in 2010 and 9.2 per cent of GDP next year.

Solvision – Guantanamo.- The main dams in Guantanamo province show a remarkable recovery at accumulating some 25, 7 millions of cubic meters due to the heavy rains of the last days. The easternmost territory of Cuba storages about 264 millions of cubic meters of water whic represents the 76, 2 per cent of the maximum capacity of its reservoirs, one of the highest levels in the whole country.

This recovery guarantees more than six months of stablitiy in the water delivery to the 208 thousand residents of Guantanamo city where there are established the main health and educational institutions in the province as well as the food producer industries. In spite of this situation that benefits almost the whole territory, rain has not been so great in Baracoa, the most humid place in Cuba, where the rain storage for the nine first months of the year is some 30 per cent.

Havana, Cuba – (ACN) – Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes visited this Tuesday the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM by its Spanish acronym) and said he was greatly impressed and thankful by the school’s contribution to his country and the rest of the Americas. Funes had visited the school before taking office in his country, but from his new position “I can understand better its importance” he declared.

School official Maritza Gonzalez told Funes that after six graduations, over 8,500 doctors have come out of this school, including 508 Salvadorians, a fact Funes dubbed as of “indescribable importance” and added that those graduates will use, in their future profession, all the Cuban experience in the field. The Salvadorian president met with students from his country and the press and thanked Cuba once more for its solidarity. One Salvadorian doctor-to-be, Mario Serna, said Cuba had given them the opportunity to train and graduate as “workers of science and conscience”. He presented his President with a stethoscope and the “The Strategic Victory”, a book by Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro.

Funes spoke to the students of the meeting he had with Cuban president Raul Castro the day before when he said that it had been a “historical sin” that the two countries had not shared diplomatic relations for over 50 years. He added he had thanked Raul as well for the aid to his country in difficult times and had propose to extend the bilateral bonds in the economic and social sectors. He also told Raul to forward Fidel Castro his best wishes and his respect and admiration.

NY Times – HAVANA — During a break in Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s rehearsals in Havana, Julio Rigal and some fellow Cuban trumpeters clustered around Wynton Marsalis’s Monette trumpet, posing with it for photographs and each taking a quick toot. So, 23-year old Mr. Rigal was more that a little thrilled when he had the chance to lend Mr. Marsalis his trumpet to play for a throng of diplomats and Cuban artists at the splendid residence of Jonathan D. Farrar, chief of the United States Interests Section.

Mr. Marsalis had just finished a seven-and-a-half-hour rehearsal as part of a six-day series of concerts and workshops in Havana. But he coyly accepted the trumpet and began picking his way through “Little Girl Blue,” stopping to tune the horn and smiling behind the trumpet as Danae Blanco, a Cuban singer, belted out the lyrics in heavily-accented English. Then Chucho Valdés, the Cuban pianist who is teaming up with the Lincoln Center ensemble this week, settled his huge frame onto the piano stool and he and Mr. Marsalis eased into “Embraceable You.”

“That was just the max, the best thing imaginable,” Mr. Rigal said, patting his trumpet case after Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Chucho finished their brief performance. “For us, Marsalis is untouchable. So to get to meet him and play with him – it’s incredibly inspiring,” he added, referring to a concert-turned-jam-session at which Cuban musicians were joined by members of the jazz orchestra. There is nothing unusual about young musicians idolizing Mr. Marsalis, but Mr. Rigal, who has played with the popular singer Kelvis Ochoa, among others, summed up the hunger among Cuban jazz players starved of opportunities to see great American musicians at work.

During the administration of George W. Bush, licenses for artists to travel to Cuba under the economic embargo all but dried up. Under President Barack Obama, they are finally flowing once more, helping link artists here with their counterparts to the North. Several high-profile singers, like Silvio Rodríguez, have travelled to the United States this year after decades of absence. As for Mr. Marsalis, he is used to people fawning over his trumpet.  “People do it all the time,” he said. “They have to put their vibe on it.”  He said other musician’s saliva didn’t really bother him.  “Yeah, you just wipe it off,” he said. “I’m 49 years old and I haven’t caught anything yet.”

The Crimson White – Alabama – An upcoming photography exhibit will give UA students and staff a rare look at Cuba, a country not many are familiar with. The exhibit, set to open in the Grand Gallery of Smith Hall, will feature the work of UA photographer Chip Cooper and Cuban photographer Nestor Marti, a duo who began collaborating in 2008. “This is the first time that an American and Cuban have shot the same subject, had a show in both countries, then produced a book of their collaborative work,” Cooper said. “It’s the most amazing place I’ve ever photographed.”

The photographers met through the University’s Alabama-Cuba Initiative, a program headed by Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  “In addition to a semester-abroad program for the UA undergraduate students, this progressive partnership has captured the creative potential and intellectual spirit of our two cultures with one common goal – to promote change in our respective communities through uniting our talent,” Olin said in a press release. The show, called ‘Side by Side,’ was originally presented in Cuba in 2009. Since that time, the photographers have added new photographs to the collection.

“We had more than 400 people as well as CNN and NBC, Havana TV and radio covered it, but best of all we had a peacock walking around,” Cooper said about the 2009 show. “Dean Olin brought UA musicians down for entertainment. It was absolutely over the top.” Cooper said he experienced many career firsts while working on the exhibit. “Shooting with another photographer is a first for me, all my other books and shows have been just me,” he said. “The experience of street photography in an urban area is another first, since a lot of my work has been the landscape. I had the time of my life and made many lifelong friends.”

Marti is a graduate of the University of Havana and a photographer in the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana. Cooper was director of photography at UA for 33 years. He now teaches in the College of Arts and Sciences and is an artist in residence in the Honors College. The University’s Alabama-Cuba Initiative is now in its eighth year. It provides students with a rare opportunity to research and study abroad in Cuba.

HAVANA – (IPS/IFEJ) – The cultivation in several Cuban provinces of genetically modified maize, obtained by the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, endangers biodiversity and contradicts the government’s own agricultural production plan, warns Cuban agro-ecologist Fernando Funes-Monzote. In September, Funes-Monzote coordinated a meeting of experts concerned about transgenics with board and staff members from the National Centre for Biological Security and the Office of Environmental Regulation, one of the institutions entrusted with licensing genetically modified (GM) crops.

The experts issued a statement calling for a moratorium on GM crops until more information is available and society has a chance to debate their environmental and health effects. The meeting was seen as the first official space open to a segment of Cuba’s scientific community’s concerns about the release of GM organisms into the agricultural system of this Caribbean island nation.

Q: Cultivation of this genetically modified variety, FR-Btl, began in 2008, but opinions against it predate that. Why has it taken until now to ask for a moratorium in order to analyse the advantages and disadvantages?

A: The issue was silenced, but in 2008 the alarm was sounded when this maize was planted as a test crop: one hectare that would give way to the planting of 50 hectares, as a prelude to the expansion of the crop in 2009 to 6,000 hectares across several provinces. Until that moment, it was thought that the work with GM organisms would be kept in the laboratories until there was proof that they would not harm the environment or human health.

We now believe that a moratorium would provide the time necessary to make better-informed decisions and to reflect on the matter, with the participation of the public. Those who think this is a problem exclusive to science and that those in power have the last word are mistaken.

Q: Do you think standards and regulations have been violated?

A: The precautionary principle is being violated. That is, there is no visible, public information that allows us to know that all precautions were taken. We are starting from the fact that those who made the decision could have made mistakes.

This year is a crucial time for reconsidering the expansion and maintenance of this crop because the permit granted by the Office of Regulation expires. But we have been told that it is not in their power to issue a moratorium and that the decision to release this variety of maize had a technical component as well as a political component.

Q: Is it possible to halt a process that appears to be quite advanced already?

A: A moratorium would allow for a process of public consultation and debate. There is a political decision as well as a political risk, because Cuba is being seen as a promoter of transgenics that the progressive world opposes.

And it is not only opposed because of the control of the transnational corporations, but also because of the technology’s impacts on agriculture, which can have adverse effects for the population and threatens the fragile biological balance.

Q: How much has been planted of this variety of maize, which is resistant to the armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and to herbicides? In what conditions has it been cultivated?

A: They haven’t reported this year’s total. According to the permit, they can cultivate the FR-Btl variety in fields from Havana to Camagüey (534 kilometres away). Pinar del Río in the west and the eastern region are excluded, but who can assure us that the seeds have not crossed provincial borders?

We don’t know the results or how many areas were planted in total. There was a meeting at the National Centre for Biological Security to report on the results of the first year of planting, but there is no written record. Undoubtedly there has been a lack of transparency in this process, which is a matter for all society.

Q: But have you and other experts been able to directly observe in the countryside how this GM maize is developing?

A: From what I saw in Sancti Spíritus (a central province), I can affirm that the biological security guidelines are not being taken into account. In other words, the technology is not being applied as it was originally conceived, which threatens the traditional maize varieties and, as its promoters affirm, leads to “the death of the technology.”

Not all farmers are following the technological instructions, nor did they receive adequate training or technical assistance. We have seen some farmers giving the seeds to others, planting it without any precautions and unaware of the conditions clearly defined by the National Centre for Biological Security.

Q: What are the principal risks of applying transgenic technology under the conditions existing in Cuba?

A: The fundamental risk in the opinion of the agro-ecological movement, which is 20 years old in this country, is the expansion of a technology that threatens biodiversity and reduces the ability of native varieties to adapt, for example, to climate change, drought or changes in temperature. Maize production in Cuba, as does all agricultural production, faces many other challenges, and it is a mistake to think that GM crops alone will increase yields.

As for potential harm to human health, it is necessary to conduct tests that prove this transgenic maize can really be consumed without danger in Cuban households. If such tests have been done, then they should be made available.

*This story is part of a series of features on biodiversity by Inter Press Service (IPS), CGIAR/Biodiversity International, International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), and the United Nations Environment Program/Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP/CBD) — all members of the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development ( www.complusalliance.org ).

The Christian Science Monitor – Cuba’s tacit admission that its communist economy is failing marks the end of an era. It follows the eclipse of similarly stultified economies in three other lands of lingering communist persuasion – China, Vietnam, and North Korea. All have either moved, or appear to be moving, to free, market-based economies while retaining a communist structure to continue harsh political control.

Cuba may be no exception. It recently announced plans to dump hundreds of thousands of government workers into a suddenly ­authorized private sector. That doesn’t mean democracy is right around the corner. Though the brothers Castro, Fidel and Raúl, may soon be passé, some Cuba-watchers expect their successor may be a tough, but as yet unidentified, general from the powerful military who will use the Communist Party structure to maintain authoritarian rule. So while some international critics, like the delusional Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, continue to rant against capitalism and America, aging communist regimes seek the fruits of capitalism’s prospering systems while retaining power with communism’s political infrastructure. It is an intriguing period in history.

During Fidel’s long absence for health reasons, his empowered brother Raúl has hinted at modest reforms. He has ordered the release of a number of political prisoners. He has expressed impatience with the inefficiency of the labor market and sent Cuban delegations to Russia, China, and Vietnam to study their departure from communist economic models. In August he declared in public: “We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working.” This was a reference to the fact that most of the population is employed by the state, and with the low wages they are paid – on average $20 a month – many people do not work very hard.

There is large-scale moonlighting, dabbling in the black market, and reliance on money sent from abroad by Cuban exiles. Now Raúl is setting free about 10 percent of the state’s workforce, encouraged to launch small businesses or otherwise fend for themselves. Meanwhile Fidel, in a interview with an Atlantic Monthly reporter, let slip his view that the Cuban economic model has failed, hastily but not credibly claiming later that he had been misunderstood.

What the brothers Castro learned from studying Russia, China, and Vietnam is that all have supplanted the old communist economic systems with consumerism, free markets, and privatization in varying degrees, while China and Vietnam have kept the state in firm control. Even North Korea, whose communist-run economy has left many of its citizens hungry and despairing, has rehabilitated a former prime minister who was fired three years ago for promoting market-oriented reforms. Pak Pong-ju re-surfaced from obscurity in August, with restored party status, stirring speculation that economic reforms and pragmatism are in store.

This suggested policy shift comes at a time when Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, is engineering the political succession from himself to one of his sons, the 20-something Kim Jong-un. Vietnam, while under strict Communist Party political control, has been steadily transforming from a centrally planned economy to a ­ market-oriented one, with rapid growth stimulated by the traditional entrepreneurship of its people.

And despite the Communist Party’s tight hold on the reins of political power, China’s free-market economy has become the second largest in the world, exceeding even Japan’s. Its populace of industrious millions has built roads and high-speed railway networks and factories and whole manufacturing cities, turning out cars – and now electric cars – and electronics, machinery, and consumer goods for export and to meet the demands of its own increasingly affluent citizens. All this freeing up of centralized economies that have proved inept is of course a step on the road to the inevitable: namely, the political freedoms that the respective regimes fear, and – ultimately – democracy. We must hope that such progress will come sooner, rather than later.

Tank Storage Magazine – The Cuban port of Cienfuegos is to be home to three additional loading docks and a terminal large enough to accommodate modern supertankers by 2014 under a rehabilitation and modernisation plan. Cuba and Venezuelan plan to expand capacity there to 150,000 barrels refined per day and the new berths and terminal will ensure tankers carrying more oil can come and go more freely, says Luis Medina, director of Cuba’s national port authority.

Cuba independently operates its largest oil field, the Varadero field discovered by Russian scientists in 1971, but the communist government relies on energy companies from Canada, Spain, Norway, India, Malaysia and China for other drilling operations. The government has laid out zones in the Gulf of Mexico where private energy companies, mostly from Canada and Europe, have said they could one day drill deep-water test wells searching for crude.

Prensa Latina – MOSCOW — Cuban Vice President of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin to review and reinvigorate Cuba-Russia economic cooperation. Attending the meeting were Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Serguei Riabkov and Cuban Ambassador to Russia Juan Valdés Figueroa.  Cabrisas and Sechin, co-chairing Cuba-Russia Intergovernmental Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation, spoke about issues of mutual interest concerning economy, trade, science and technology, culture, education and tourism.

Items on the meeting’s agenda included oil exploration agreements with the Russian Oil Company Zarubezhneft, as well as ongoing projects to boost Cuba’s electricity generation, transportation, construction and agriculture sectors by providing infrastructure, spare parts and equipment. The also spoke about joint programs being implemented to streamline rail and maritime transport systems and civil aviation in Cuba.

Cuba News – During an animated conversation both parties ratified the excellent state of bilateral relations between both nations. For his part, Sechin sent greetings to Cuban President Raul Castro and the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro on behalf of the Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A number of business associations are planning a lobbying blitz during the lame-duck session to repeal the U.S. travel ban to Cuba.

The bill ran into trouble last week when Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, postponed a markup of the legislation. An analysis by The Hill found Berman did not have the votes to move the bill through the panel and onto the House floor for a vote. Despite the setback, lobbyists for business and farm groups say that this Congress may be their best opportunity to see the bill passed and signed into law. Republicans are expected to make big gains in the midterm elections and are seen as less likely to vote for a bill that loosens restrictions on Cuba.

“It will make it more difficult for sure,” said Chandler Goule, vice president of government relations for the National Farmers Union. “This is our best opportunity to pass it through the House. At least that would give us a precedent for the next Congress, a leg up.” A GOP takeover of the House could put Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in charge of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Ros-Lehtinen, the panel’s current ranking member, is a firm opponent of repealing the travel ban.

Goule’s group and others, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and the National Pork Producers Council, plan to lobby lawmakers to take up the bill again during the lame-duck session.  “A vote by the committee that has jurisdiction over the travel provision of the bill would send a strong signal,” said Jake Colvin, a vice president at NFTC. “We have always thought the committee vote would be tougher than the floor vote. If you can get it out of committee, you can win on the floor.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), has gained co-sponsors throughout the year since being introduced in February. It now has 81 supporters. The travel ban to Cuba was eased slightly last year. In March, President Obama signed an omnibus bill with a provision that allows Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives on the island and send them money. Trade associations and farm groups have lent their support to Berman’s full repeal of the travel ban because it would open up more trade with Cuba. Specifically, the legislation would loosen financial restrictions on transactions between Cuban and American banks, potentially boosting U.S. farm exports to Cuba. In addition, it would lift a travel ban to Cuba — a potential boon for tourism and travel companies.

But political action committees for Cuban-American groups are opposed to the bill. In postponing the markup last week, Berman said in a statement that he wanted more time to have a “robust and uninterrupted debate” on the bill, which he expected would happen “soon.” No decision, however, has been made as of yet on when the bill will be marked up. While some fret about the bill’s chances next Congress, others argue that the progress made on the travel-ban repeal this Congress will not disappear during its next session. The legislation did move through the House Agriculture Committee on a 25-20 vote in its favor.

Patrick Kilbride, who works on Latin America policy for the Chamber, said the business group will pick up where it left off with the bill if it is not passed this Congress.  “The progress that has been made is not the kind of progress that will be lost by the end of a session of Congress. We will be picking up the ball where we left off last time,” Kilbride said.

Cuba News – Cuba’s basic industries ministries is seeking bids to convert one generating unit of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes thermoelectric plant to natural gas, Granma reported. The ministry plans to convert Block 3 of the Soviet-era power plant in Cienfuegos from fuel oil to natural gas. The 30-year old unit had been overhauled as recently as September 2008. The conversion should be completed by 2012, according to power plant director José González Rodríguez. In the long term, the generator will be fueled with domestically produced gas, González said, according to a local TV station.

For now, the natural gas will be shipped from Venezuela in liquid shape via tankers to the southern port and re-gasified at a plant that is currently under construction near the power plant. Early last year, Japan’s Hitachi Thermo and Hydro Power Systems completed the $40 million renovation of Block 4, a fuel oil-powered generator at the 158-mw power plant in Cienfuegos.

Escambray – Workers and officials from Marina Marlin in Cayo Guillermo, Ciego de Avila, northern central Cuba, are getting the conditions for the 1st International Fishing Tournament “Jardines del Rey.”

The 1st International Fishing Tournament will be named “Jardines del Rey.”

The event is scheduled from October 18 and 22 with the attendance of professional and amateur fishermen from several countries. The capture area will comprise up to 3 miles north-northeast, between Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Coco. White, blue and other kinds of swordfish are among the most representative varieties in the zone during this time of the year. The tournament will count on specialized crews with more than 15 years of experience in the area.
Cayo Guillermo is a place with an extension of 5 square miles, forming part of the Cuban tourist destination Jardines del Rey, surrounded by the sea with a very well preserved environment, connected with Cayo Coco since the beginning of the 90′s and counts on more than 1,100 rooms in the hotels Meliá Cayo Guillermo, Sol Cayo Guillermo, Iberostar Daiquirí and Villa Cojímar.

HAVANA — Fidel Castro has gone from Cuba’s commander in chief to its de facto “blogger in chief,” posting constant opinion columns online, singing the praises of the Internet age, even hailing Wikileaks and sites like it as the common man’s tool to greater worldwide transparency. Now, if only his fellow Cubans could get in on the cyber-party.

Less than 3 per cent of islanders used the Internet at least once over the past year and only about 6 per cent used email, according to a nationwide survey released Thursday by the state-run National Office of Statistics.

Cuba has long published annual statistics on its Internet and cellphone users. But the level of detail contained in this survey had not been made public before — and it revealed a country astoundingly behind the technological times. Just 2.9 per cent of survey responders said they had used the Internet in the past 12 months, and the majority of those did so at work or school — not from home. Cuba only legalized the sale of computers to the general public in 2008, though they were, and still are, widely available on the black market.

The tally paints a far bleaker picture than the statistics office’s annual report on connectivity, which found that Cuba had 1.6 million Internet users last year. But even that is far below Internet access in any other country in Latin America, according to international surveys. Statistics officials based their study on interviews with 38,000 households across the island from February to April. The office did not say whether the survey was done in person or over the phone, and it listed the margin of error only as less than five percentage points.

It was not clear how many Cubans themselves would see the statistics, however, since they were posted on the agency’s website. The communist government severely limits Web access, but says it has no choice given that Washington’s 48-year-old embargo doesn’t allow Cuba to access U.S. service providers located close by. Instead, the island must rely on slow and costly Internet via satellite from Europe and other faraway locales. Meanwhile, authorities block blogs that are critical of the government as well as other pages containing content that is considered counter to Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has promised to lay a fiber-optic cable from his country to Cuba to improve connectivity here, but those plans have been stalled for years.

Of those surveyed by the National Office of Statistics, only 5.8 per cent said they use email. The survey did not say how often. Ordinary Cubans can join an islandwide network that allows them to send and receive international email, but lines are long at youth clubs, post offices and the few Internet cafes that provide access. The survey also found that just 2.6 per cent of respondents regularly use cellphones, despite the government’s dramatic lifting of bans on them two years ago. That was slightly higher than the 2.5 per cent who said they own cellphones or have been issued them for work — meaning some are using phones that belong to relatives, friends or neighbours.

Those percentages are substantially lower than previously released figures, with the state-controlled telecommunications monopoly reporting in July that more than 1 million cellphone lines were in use nationwide. Cuba has a population of 11.2 million people. Mobile phones in Cuba had been prohibited for all but tourists and foreigners, some government employees, business officials and academics. But in April 2008, just two months after he succeeded his brother as president, Raul Castro authorized their sale to all who could afford them.

HAVANA – (AP) — Cuba’s communist leaders mapped out a brave new world of free enterprise, approving a laundry list of small-time businesses, allowing islanders to take on employees and even promising credit to burgeoning entrepreneurs. The reforms — laid out in a three-page spread in the Communist Party-daily Granma — seem sure to create a society of haves and have-nots in a land that has spent half a century striving for an egalitarian utopia.

They follow the announcement that the government will lay off 500,000 workers by the end of March — or one-tenth of the country’s workforce — the biggest change in Cuba’s economic system since the early 1990s. For the first time, Cubans in 83 private activities will be allowed to employ people other than their relatives, and they will be able to sell their services to the state as private contractors. Accountants, currently only permitted to work for the state, can set out on their own, keeping the books for the new businesses. Cubans who want to rent their homes to travelers will no longer have to live on the premises and can hire staff. Even islanders authorized to live overseas — though apparently not exiles — can take part in the economic changes by renting out the cars and homes they leave behind.

And the Central Bank is studying ways to grant small-business loans that are crucial to any free-market system, but which would have been unthinkable in Cuba just weeks ago. “The decision to loosen the rules on private employment is one of the steps the country has taken in the redesign of its economic policies to increase production levels and efficiency,” Granma reported, citing Economy Minister Marino Murillo Jorge and a vice-minister of labor and social security, Admi Valhuerdi Cepero. In an acknowledgment that the Cuban economy lacks the raw materials to support many private enterprises, Valhuerdi said some activities that rely on hard-to-get items like marble, paint for cars or soap will continue to be restricted. Eventually, the country hopes to create a system of wholesalers, but it will take several years.

Granma is the voice of the Communist Party and one of the principal ways the government communicates plans with the people. The paper promised more details in coming days, saying that the expanded private enterprise would be “another opportunity, under the watchful eye of the state” to “improve the quality of life of Cubans.” Many will welcome the changes in a country where young people have been clamoring for more opportunities for years, but they will also create tension and upheaval. Whether the reforms will work depends on the reaction of Cubans who have seen past openings fizzle, and on the cash-strapped state’s ability to draw fresh tax revenues from the new businesses.

Granma said private businesses would not only pay personal income tax, but also sales and payroll taxes — as well as contribute to social security. A vibrant, untaxed black market already exists in Cuba offering many of the services the government hopes to legitimize. Uva de Aragon, a Cuba expert at Florida International University in Miami, said those hoping to enter the legitimate market would be faced with a system that is totally alien to them. “Cubans have no capital, no credit, no experience at management — and the government is talking about imposing a new tax system, for which there is no culture,” she said. “The process is positive. My concern is how it will function.”

On the streets of Havana, some said they hoped to take advantage of the openings, but many expressed skepticism. “I think people want to live better and have better services,” said Marilis Bador, a 32-year-old housewife. “I hope this isn’t just a one day flash in the pan, but rather something that will allow the country to develop.” Others, like Marley Martinez, said they were already thinking of joining the new private workforce. The 22-year-old is a state-trained accountant but is studying to become a hair dresser and hopes to open her own shop. “It’s not really a dream, but it’s something I want to do and feel I need to do,” she said during a stroll through a crowded Havana shopping center. “What the people need are more economic freedoms, the ability to work for themselves.”

Currently, the state dominates nearly every aspect of the Cuban economy, employing at least 84 percent of the work force and paying an average of $20 a month. In return, islanders are guaranteed free education and health care, as well as nearly free housing, transportation and basic food. President Raul Castro has said the government can no longer afford such generous subsidies and that he wants to modernize Cuba’s economy without abandoning socialism. The article tries to allay any fears that the country is embracing free-market capitalism, saying that the changes will always be “faithful to the socialist principles our constitution demands.”

In all, some 178 private activities will be allowed and expanded, though only seven of those are entirely new — including accountants, bathroom attendants, tutors and fruit vendors. The full-page list of allowed jobs includes floral wreath arrangers, animal trainers and interior decorators. The reforms, which are set to go into effect next month, will also allow a great expansion of private restaurants — called paladares — which will be able to serve up to 20 people and expand their menus to include higher-priced items like beef and lobster.

Previously, government rules limited them to 12 seats and banned some menu offerings, though most establishments blatantly violated the rules. Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York who has studied Cuba’s policy toward the private sector, said the list shows the government is still interested in maintaining control rather than just allowing any form of private enterprise. “It’s still socialism,” he said. “But it is a different kind of socialism.”

Bloomberg – Nokia Oyj, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are urging the U.S. government to ease rules that keep them from operating in Cuba even after President Barack Obama loosened telecommunications regulations last year to promote democracy on the communist island. Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile-phone maker, is urging the U.S. to ease its 47-year-old trade embargo so it can sell handsets to Cuba. AT&T and Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless providers, urged regulators to make it easier for U.S. companies to directly connect calls to and from Cuba.

The companies’ pleas come after Obama said in April 2009 that greater contact with the outside world would reduce Cubans’ dependency on President Raul Castro’s regime. Still, other regulations prevent companies with U.S. operations from entering the market, according to a July report by the Washington-based Cuba Study Group, which advocates for an open economy. “We don’t understand why the regulations stopped where they did,” Jose Martinez, head of government relations for Latin America at Nokia, said in an interview from Miami. “There doesn’t seem to be a desire at the bureaucratic level to change the rules to allow cell phones.”

Cuba has the lowest mobile-phone penetration in Latin America. As recently as 2008, about 20,000 to 30,000 people, mostly foreign diplomats and senior officials, owned mobile devices. That number has grown to 800,000 since Castro lifted a ban on most people owning them, the Cuba Study Group says. AT&T and Verizon may be interested in setting up roaming service for U.S. customers who visit the island as a first step into Cuba, said Jose Magana, a senior analyst at Pyramid Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The country of 11.4 million people could become the largest telecom market in the Caribbean, topping Puerto Rico’s $1.6 billion market, Magana said. If the market remains mostly closed, annual revenue could still reach $400 million by 2013 from the current $80 million, he said. Magana said roaming service in Cuba wouldn’t have a measurable effect on earnings for AT&T or Verizon.

Obama, in an April 13, 2009, memorandum lifting travel restrictions to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, directed the U.S. government to allow companies to provide communications services to the island, saying it would “decrease dependency of the Cuban people on the Castro regime.” In practice, little has changed, as companies wishing to operate in Cuba risk violating sanctions still in place, said Christopher Sabatini, policy director of the New York-based Council of the Americas business group. These include the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act that prohibits investment in Cuba’s telecommunications network. “It’s so self-defeating,” said Sabatini, who helped prepare the Cuba Study Group report. “It’s like we just sent them a toy cell phone and said, ‘This will be great. Use this.’” Cuba’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

AT&T and New York-based Verizon wrote to the Federal Communications Commission this year urging it to grant an April request by TeleCuba, a Miami-based company that sells calling cards, for the FCC to waive rules that fix a maximum rate a U.S. provider can pay the Cuban government for connecting calls. The wireless providers’ letters may be aimed at supporting their interest in setting up roaming service in Cuba without taking sides in a politically delicate issue, said Christopher King, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Baltimore who covers Verizon and Dallas-based AT&T.  Establishing a foothold in Cuba could be lucrative because mobile phone penetration may increase to 80 percent of the population in four years, from 10 percent to 25 percent now, should providers be allowed to invest in the market, King said.

AT&T has no specific commercial plan associated with the letter, spokesman Michael Balmoris said. Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson, and John Taylor, a spokesman for Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint Nextel Corp., declined to comment on whether their companies were seeking a roaming agreement for Cuba. The branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that enforces trade sanctions allows U.S. providers to pay Cuba for services including roaming, said a Treasury official who declined to be identified, citing agency policy.

Still, under current FCC rules, U.S. providers can only offer direct calls to Cuba and roaming service if they pay the Castro government a fee no higher than 19 cents per call, said an FCC official. That prevents U.S. operators from offering these services because Cuba demands 84 cents a call, according to the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. The FCC is considering whether to waive the rate cap, the FCC official said. U.S. rules also keep Nokia from selling handsets in Cuba, even though it is based in Espoo, Finland, because the unit that exports to Latin America is based in Miami, Martinez said. “There is an enormous amount of frustration that the rules weren’t clear enough,” said Judith O’Neill, a telecom lawyer at Nakhota LLC consulting firm in New York.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the Obama administration, declined to comment, as did State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. While the entry of U.S. companies also hinges on the willingness of Castro’s government to let them in, the Cubans would probably be open to the idea because they want the inflow of cash amid an economic slump, Sabatini said. Cuban state phone company Etesca, based in Havana, has a monopoly on all fixed-line and mobile services. Milan-based Telecom Italia SpA has a 27 percent stake in the company. “The rules are so unclear,” Ralph de la Vega, AT&T’s chief of wireless, said in an interview. ‘Until there’s real change there’s not much we can do about it.”

Havana – DTC – Cuba is developing congress and incentive tourism based on the infrastructure created in the country to boost that tourist modality. Cuba ranks ninth in Latin America in the organization of all kinds of forums, according to the International Association of Congresses and Conventions. Every year, Cuba hosts about 300 international meetings, whose participants spend up to six times more than regular tourists. The island nation offers skilled personnel, competitive prices and the country’s natural, historic and cultural attractions, among other options. The actions taken to develop congress tourism include holding more meetings, fostering commercialization and increasing Cuba’s participation in major international fairs on incentive travels.

Miami Herald – Hoping to lure in golf-playing tourists to Cuba — and eventually even U.S. golfers — the government will allow foreign investors to lease state lands for 99 years instead of the previous limit of 50 years. The extension is expected to make Cuba a more attractive place for foreign developers who already have detailed plans for at least four golf resorts with seven courses — including a $1 billion project. Some foreign investors have been reluctant to commit to the projects because the 50-year limit was too short and risky, said Antonio Zamora, a Miami lawyer who researches Cuban real estate issues.  “I think most of them will be OK with the 99-year leases, although others have told me they will not do it” unless they can have full ownership rights to the properties, Zamora added.

Cuba’s communist government has kept tight controls on foreign investments, but a withering economic crisis is forcing it to seek new financing abroad and expand its tourism industry, one of its sources of revenue. The Official Gazette last week published Decree Law 273, signed by Raúl Castro on July 19, allowing 99-year leases on properties for foreign investors though the government continues to own the land. The previous limit set in 1987 was 50 years, though renewals were allowed. Still unclear are many issues such as the right to sell or inherit the properties built on the leased state lands.

The Cuban government owns the overwhelming majority of the land on the island, though some Cubans who owned small properties before the Castro revolution in 1959 have been allowed to keep them. But the decision by Castro, who also has been allowing small but growing doses of private enterprise by Cubans in hopes of improving the economy, could give a quick boost to tourism development plans. The U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would lift the ban on tourism travel to Cuba, and the Obama administration is expected to allow a growing number of educational and cultural trips to the island.

Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced in August that the government had approved the creation of 16 golf resorts, ringed by thousands of condos and villas to be sold only to foreigners. Cuba has only one 18-hole course and one nine-hole course, while the Dominican Republic has two dozen. Foreign developers are already well along on proposals for four golf resorts on Cuba’s north coast, including the estimated $1 billion La Altura mega-project in Bahia Honda west of Havana. The project, proposed by British and Spanish developers, calls for three golf courses surrounded by about 3,000 housing units and a marina with 200 slips, according to documents obtained by El Nuevo Herald. Another group that includes some Native Americans from Canada is proposing two golf courses with about 2,000 housing units in the Guardalavaca beach area in eastern Holguín province.

In the Varadero beach resort 100 miles east of Havana, British groups are proposing one development with a single golf course and about 900 housing units, with some villas costing up to $1 million. The Bellomonte project on Guanabo beach, just east of Havana, calls for about 800 units ringing one golf course, plus a small marina. Cuba recorded 2.4 million foreign tourists last year, a slight increase over 2008, although revenues have been falling as the Euro and British pound lost value and the growing number of visiting Cuban exiles chose to stay with relatives. The government first allowed foreigners to invest in an estimated 17 luxury condominium developments in Havana in 1995, but then-President Fidel Castro later halted the building program amid several complaints.

Contracts for the developments in effect allowed third parties to profit improperly, and made no provisions for companion agreements to develop housing for Cubans, who face a crushing housing shortage. The four new golf resorts where the planning is most advanced would all be located in remote locations.

AP – HAVANA — Cuba has begun allowing foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years, a step toward a future that could be filled with golf courses ringed by luxury villas, beachfront timeshares and vacation homes for well-heeled tourists. But while overseas developers are cheering, some caution that the communist island has been down this road before, embracing foreign ownership with an eye toward bolstering tourism revenues — only to scrap those reforms when the economy improved and profit margins no longer seemed as important as maintaining state control of commerce.

A decree that was published as law loosened property laws enough to allow 99-year leases for foreigners. A measure appearing the following day expanded self-employment, letting Cubans grow and sell small amounts of farm products out of their homes or special kiosks. Large agricultural holdings are state-controlled, but small farmers were already allowed to work their own land. The law will allow more Cubans to do so and let them sell what they produce, but will also make them pay taxes on their profits. The moves are significant as President Raul Castro promises to scale back the state’s near-total dominance of the economy while attempting to generate new revenue for a government short on cash.

Optimistic was Robin Conners, president and CEO of Vancover-based Leisure Canada, which wants to build hotels, villas and two golf courses on a stretch of beach in Jibacoa, 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Havana. “We see the times are changing, so to speak,” Conners said. Cuba already allowed leases of state land for up to 50 years with the option to extend them for an additional 25, but foreign investors had long pressed tourism officials to endorse 99-year lease deals to provide additional peace of mind to investors.

The longer leases also mean lower interest rates on international banking mortgages, Conners said. “I think this is huge,” he said by phone while vacationing in Paris. Conners’ company hopes to begin construction on a luxury hotel in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar next year — with the project at Jibacoa and another plan for development on Cayo Largo, a cay off Cuba’s southern coast, “not far off.” Investors in Canada, Europe and Asia have been waiting to crack the market for long-term tourism in Cuba, built on visitors who could live part-time on the island instead of just hitting the beach for a few days. The U.S. bars its companies from doing business with Cuba. The change may also help Cuba embrace golf. Investment firms have for decades proposed building lavish 18-hole courses with luxury housing for foreigners.

Despite years of grand plans, however, Cuba has just two golf courses and has yet to approve construction of any new ones — though the tourism Ministry says it would like to build 10 more. Andrew Macdonald, CEO of Britain’s Esencia Hotels and Resorts, said his company had planned to start construction last year on the Carbonera Country Club, a $300 million development outside the resort of Varadero, but is still waiting for government approval. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, Macdonald’s plan calls for 800 luxury apartments and 100 villas. “It’s exceedingly good news,” Macdonald said of the new rule. “It’s been a long road. But having said that, it’s very important for the country that they get each step right, and this is a very big step for them.”

The new law makes it clear Cuba is looking to boost profits, saying the step is necessary “for the sustainable development of the country and the international economy.” While the longer-term leases could reshape international investment in Cuba, meanwhile, allowing more production and sales of agriculture products will likely have far greater impact on ordinary Cubans. The law marks the first major expansion of self-employment since Castro said in an address to parliament Aug. 1 that his government would reduce state controls on small businesses and private enterprise — a big deal in a country where about 95 percent of people work for the state.

Cubans already sell fruit, pork, cheese and other items on the sides of highways across the country, fleeing whenever the police happen past. The new measure legalizes such practices by letting Cubans grow whatever they wish and sell it, while bolstering state coffers with new taxes on their earnings. Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became a dissident anti-communist and was jailed for his political beliefs in 2003 before being paroled for health reasons, called the decree “an intelligent move.” “It’s good, though still something very limited,” Espinosa Chepe said.

The China Post – HAVANA — Cuba has issued a pair of surprising free-market decrees, allowing foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years — potentially touching off a golf-course building boom — and loosening state controls on commerce to let islanders grow and sell their own fruit and vegetables. The moves, published into law in the Official Gazette on Thursday and Friday and effective immediately, are significant steps as President Raul Castro promises to scale back the communist state’s control of the economy while attempting to generate new revenue for a government short on cash.

“These are part of the opening that the government wants to make given the country’s situation,” said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who is now an anti-communist dissident. Cuba said it was modifying its property laws “with the aim of amplifying and facilitating” foreign investment in tourism, and that doing so would provide “better security and guarantees to the foreign investor.” A small army of investors in Canada, Europe and Asia have been waiting to crack the market for long-term tourism in Cuba, built on drawing well-heeled visitors who could live part-time on the island instead of just hitting the beach for a few days.

It may also help the country embrace golf tourism. Investment firms have for decades proposed building lavish 18-hole courses ringed by luxury housing under long-term government leases. Cuba currently has just two golf courses nationwide, but the Tourism Ministry has said it wants to build at least 10 more. Endorsing 99-year property agreements might be a first step toward making some golf developments a reality, but also makes it easy to imagine a Cuban coastline dotted with timeshares, luxury villas and other hideaways that could serve as second homes.

Cuba has allowed leases of state land for up to 50 years with the option to extend them for an additional 25, but foreign investors had long pressed tourism officials to endorse 99-year deals to provide additional peace of mind to investors. The longer leases also mean lower interest rates on international banking mortgages. John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York, said Mexico has used similar leaseholds to encourage foreign investment despite restrictions on non-Mexicans owning coastal property — but that the similarities end there.

But developers cheered the move, including Andrew Macdonald, CEO of Britain’s Esencia Hotels and Resorts, which is awaiting Cuban government approval to start construction on the Carbonera Country Club, a US$300 million beach development outside the resort of Varadero. “It’s exceedingly good news,” Macdonald said. “It’s been a long road. But having said that, it’s very important for the country that they get each step right and this is a very big step for them.” After so many setbacks in green-lighting the project once and for all, Macdonald said he has stopped predicting when construction will begin, but “we hope the approval process will happen very quickly now.”

The island’s ever-weak economy has been rocked by the global financial crisis and a sustained drop in prices of the country’s chief natural resources. Cuban officials have tried before to balance their drive for an egalitarian society with an appeal to foreigners seeking to own a piece of paradise. Scrambling for revenue in the late 1990s, the government authorized private foreign ownership of posh apartments in Havana and even signed a US$250 million deal for beachfront apartments and timeshares with a Canadian company. Many of those projects stalled, however, failing to draw enough foreign investment. Meanwhile, some overseas businessmen bought Havana apartments but allowed Cubans to live in them — violating rules barring islanders from doing so. The government eventually bought out most of the residences it had hoped would be owned by foreigners.

The decree allowing expanded sale of farm products, meanwhile, could have far greater impact on ordinary Cubans. It authorizes them to produce their own agricultural goods — from melons to milk — and sell them from home or in kiosks. They must pay taxes on any earnings. The decree is the first major expansion of self-employment rules since Castro said in an address before parliament Aug. 1 that the government would reduce state controls on small businesses — a big deal in a country where about 95 percent of people work for the state. Cubans already sell fruits, pork, cheese and other items on the sides of highways, fleeing into the bushes when the police happen past. Friday’s measure would legalize such practices, while ensuring the state takes a cut of the profits.

The new rules are consistent with other efforts by Castro’s government, which has allowed minor free-market openings while also seeking to eliminate black-market income. In an effort to “expand and facilitate the participation of foreign investment in international tourism,” the Council of State published a much-expected decree that provides a legal framework for residential construction by foreign investors, granting leases on state land for up to 99 years. Cuba, which offers only two golf courses, hopes to broaden its tourism base with the move, attracting a wealthy clientele.

Decree-law 273, published in the Gaceta Oficial No. 33 on Aug. 26, reverts a decade-old de facto freeze on foreign residential construction after a short-lived experiment with condominium projects in Havana. The new law is expected to trigger golf and marina condominium construction far away from urban centers. At least four projects have been on the drawing boards of foreign investor groups for months and, in some cases, for years. “I think this action is very significant for several reasons,” says Antonio Zamora, a Miami lawyer who has researched foreign real estate investment in Cuba for more than 10 years. “First and foremost, it happened. It signals that the Raúl government is moving to open up the economy towards the Vietnam model. Fidel and his group are not opposed or cannot stop the moves.”

The government will begin negotiations with foreign investors about construction of up to 16 golf courses and condominium communities in January, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced on Aug. 1. The 16 projects “have already been approved by the Council of Ministers, are in the process of implementation, and it’s being concluded,” Marrero said in early August. Foreigners interested in development projects on the island must go through three stages — identifying a Cuban partner, obtaining approval from the foreign investment and tourism ministries, and finally getting the go-ahead from the Council of State. According to Marrero, negotiations on four golf course projects are “very advanced.” They include one in the eastern province of Holguín, one in western Pinar del Río, and two located between Havana and the beach resort of Varadero. The new regulations could spawn an unprecedented construction boom of as many as 7,000 golf course condominium units, estimates Antonio Zamora.

The government designated about 80 sites as suitable for golf course development, according to Zamora. The new regulations will also open up opportunities for construction of marina-only condominium projects, Zamora suggests, adding that the government is pondering as many as six residential developments connected to marinas. This could add another 4,000 units, he believes. Many details remain foggy; a body of regulations surrounding foreign condo communities has yet to be published. The government hasn’t said how often or quickly owners might be allowed to sell. No regulations exist regarding owners being able to lease their properties. And there is no information yet as to what kind of taxes and fees the government would charge.

Also, Cuba has yet to announce whether it will relax sticky regulations such as how long and under what conditions foreigners are allowed to stay in the country at a time, and under what conditions foreign part-time residents will be allowed to bring, sell or re-export personal property such as appliances, furniture and automobiles. Currently, foreigners are allowed to stay up to six months at a time. Finally, the probably most controversial issue is the potentially large influx of Cuban American property buyers.

Due to U.S. restrictions, Cuban Americans cannot legally buy property in Cuba, but observers expect wealthy Cubans living abroad to be the largest potential group of buyers. Says Zamora: “Real estate sales, golf and marinas can’t work well without Americans. Perhaps there is also a role for Cuban Americans in this effort.”

While Cuban officials steadfastly deny to be following any foreign model, the experiences of Vietnam and China provide a glimpse as to what should be expected from Cuban real estate regulations for foreigners. Vietnam grants considerable freedom to foreign developers, but foreign apartment buyers are fairly restricted. As in Cuba, ownership in Vietnam is technically a long-term lease from the state. Foreign apartment owners are allowed to own only one piece of property at a time, and can’t sell before one year. Non-resident owners in Vietnam cannot lease their property. China is even more restrictive when it comes to foreign real estate buying. Only foreigners who have worked or studied in China for more than one year can buy homes or apartments. Foreigners cannot lease their properties. However, exempted from lease restrictions are Chinese citizens living overseas.

Cuba’s decree-law 273, aiming to provide “greater security and guarantee to the foreign investor in the real estate business,” is based on the legal concept of “usufructo.” The concept allows foreigners to buy, mortgage and sell properties, or pass them on as an inheritance during the life of the lease. Cuba’s usufructo approach isn’t novel. Mexico, whose constitution until recently prohibited foreign ownership of land near the coast and borders, introduced a similar land use concept for foreigners in the 1990s.

Decree-law 273 modifies articles 221 and 222 of the 1987 Surface Law in Cuba’s civil code. Article 221 now stipulates that the state must issue a “surface right” title for each property subject to usufructo, including information about the property’s limits, conditions of use, and the time period, structure, nature and destination of the buildings or the specific activity planned for the property. Article 222 specifies that state-owned land can be leased for up to 99 years; stipulates that, in case the land is leased for a shorter period, the contract can be extended to up to 99 years; and states that the state can sell properties to Cuban companies planning to build tourism-related homes or apartments on the land.

The foreign investment law of 1995 specifically allows the sale of real estate to foreigners for tourism purposes and offices. However, the government has been struggling for years to establish the ground rules for foreign real estate ownership, a delicate topic in Cuba’s egalitarian political system. Cuba aborted a first run on foreign condominium construction in the late 1990s. In 2000, the government poured cold water over a mini-boom in Havana, when it stopped all sales of newly built condos and bought out its foreign partners. According to Zamora, the problem in 1998-99 was that the government failed to put any provision against flipping in the contracts. Because the buildings were located in the middle of Havana, many Cuban friends and family of the owners ended up living in the new condos, which in turn caused resentment among fellow Cubans living in dire housing conditions.

Even so, some 400 new units in Havana were sold in a five-year span; most of them continue to be in the hands of foreigners. The new generation of projects is different, because they are in remote locations outside the big cities. This, in turn, might spawn another side business, Zamora suggests: The construction of workforce housing nearby. The most public of the four most advanced investor groups has been Esencia Hotels & Resorts. The British company announced in late 2008 it wants to build a golf course community, the $400 million Carbonera Country Club Resort in Varadero. Carbonera is planned for 730 units, around an 18-hole golf course and marina.

Meanwhile, a British-Spanish group hired Foster + Partners, the company around renowned architect Sir Norman Foster, to design a 2,000-unit community near Bahia Honda in western Pinar del Río province, around three golf courses and a 200-slip marina. Vancouver-based Leisure Canada is redesigning its master plan for a three-course golf resort with marina village at Jibacoa, 50 miles east of Havana, according to President and CEO Robin Conners. A later stage of the project will include cottages, Conners says. Also, a privately owned Vietnamese company, Housing & Urban Development Corp. (HUD), reportedly is planning to build at least one golf course community, including one inland, just west of Havana.

Havana – DTC – Cayo Guillermo, an islet in the Jardines del Rey (King’s Gardens) archipelago, has a huge tourist potential in Cuba. The islet has an area of 13.2 square kilometers, 30 percent of which are beaches, including the one called Pilar. Nature enthusiasts can watch colonies of flamingoes and the highest dunes in the Caribbean, which can be up to 15 meters high. Tourism on Cayo Largo is complimented by a marina for 40 boats and modern hotels. The local fauna consists of 150 species, including 20 endemic species. Cayo Guillermo is close to Cayo Coco and Cayo Paredón.

Financial Times – Preparations for full-scale oil exploration are gaining momentum in Cuba’s Gulf of Mexico waters just 50 miles from the US, testing the limits of the trade embargo on the Caribbean nation. Cubapetroleo, the state oil monopoly, says seven exploration wells are scheduled for the Cuban waters up to the end of 2012. A new Chinese deep-water rig, owned by Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni SpA, is scheduled to leave its shipyard by the end of 2010 for the two-month trek to Cuba. The rig was built to get around the 10 per cent limit on US technology demanded under the US trade embargo of Cuba.

Preparatory work is moving ahead at Mariel, a port west of Havana, the staging area for drilling operations, diplomatic and industry sources said, and some companies have opened bidding for well casing. “It is ridiculous that Repsol, a Spanish oil company, is paying an Italian firm to build an oil rig in China that will be used next year to explore for oil 50 miles from Florida,” Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said. Ms Stephens, whose Washington-based organisation opposes US sanctions, led the first US energy-related fact-finding mission by congressional staff and experts to Havana in July. They concluded Cuba was determined to sink wells and with them the embargo.

Embargo opponents in Washington are backing legislation that would allow US groups to participate in Cuba’s offshore oil development, while proponents plan legislation that would impose sanctions on the foreign groups that do. Florida politicians, who have banned drilling off their coast, and Cuban-American lawmakers, have raised fears of an accident such as the one on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig. According to industry and diplomatic sources, companies from Spain, India, Norway and perhaps Malaysia – all US allies – have already contracted the rig, while others, from Vietnam, Venezuela and Brazil are not far behind.

Russian and Chinese companies are negotiating to obtain offshore blocks or partner with the other companies. Repsol drilled the only offshore well in Cuba’s waters in 2004. It said at the time that it had found hydrocarbons, but not in a commercially viable amount. Since then, according to Manuel Marrero Faz, oil adviser to Cuba’s Ministry of Basic Industry, extensive seismic work has revealed 15 sites with a high probability of oil. Mr Marrero estimates Cuba has up to 20bn barrels of oil in its offshore areas, while the US Geological Survey puts the figure at a more modest 4.6bn barrels and 10,000bn cu feet of gas.

Cuba currently produces about 60,000 barrels of oil per day, all from onshore wells. It imports about 115,000 b/d from ally Venezuela on favourable terms. The Obama administration has refrained from denouncing Cuba’s drilling plans and appears to favour limited co-operation. The administration recently said it would allow US companies that handle and clean up oil spills to operate in Cuban waters should the need arise and granted approval for executives from the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors to visit Cuba last week. Lee Hunt, association president, told the Financial Times he was impressed by Cuba’s preparations and regulatory regime, which included measures his group had proposed to the Obama administration after the BP disaster.

He added: “There is one Gulf shared by three countries. We are promoting co-operation between their industries to insure the unfortunate events that occurred in Mexico and more recently in the United States do not happen here”. Jorge Piñon, a visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute of the Florida International University, said more should be done to wean Cuba from energy dependence on Venezuela and insure safety. “The United States should enable oil companies working in Cuba access to equipment and technology that would allow the monetisation of Cuba’s hydrocarbon resources in a safe and responsible manner,” Mr Pinon added.

CP – HAVANA — A program that provided state-subsidized smokes to Cuban seniors is headed for the ash heap. The communist government announced it is cutting cigarettes from its monthly ration books, the latest in a series of small steps toward fully eliminating subsidies for food and other basic items that impoverished islanders depend on. Cubans 55 and older had been eligible to receive three packs of “strong” cigarettes and a pack of milds — 80 cigarettes altogether per month — for 6.50 pesos, or the equivalent of about 30 cents, using their ration books at state-run distribution centres.

The island’s lowest-quality cigarettes, the only kinds subsidized, normally cost 7 pesos, or about 33 cents, per pack, while imported or topflight domestic brands can go for $3 or more apiece. Until the 1990s, all Cubans 18 and older received a monthly allotment of cigarettes, but the loss of billions of dollars in annual subsidies from the collapsed Soviet Union forced officials to scale back subsidized smoking. Now even older smokers are out of luck. “I’m insulted because it’s another thing they are taking away from us,” said Angela Jimenez, a 64-year-old retiree who lives on a monthly pension of 200 pesos, or about $10.40. Jimenez first took up smoking at 17 but says she will now have to quit because she won’t be able to afford them. “I don’t know how far they’re going to go with this,” she said of the subsidy cuts.

The government’s announcement made no mention of the health benefits of quitting smoking, saying only that the move was “part of the steps gradually being applied to eliminate subsidies.” Cigarettes are just the latest item to be scrapped from the ration book: Peas and potatoes were dumped last November. In an additional cost-cutting measure this summer, the government shuttered scores of workplace cafeterias that had fed state employees for virtually nothing, instead giving qualifying Cubans stipends to buy their own food. So far, nearly 250,000 people have seen their government lunches disappear — and officials say further cuts are coming.

Under the existing subsidy system, even nonsmokers accepted cigarette rations, which they then sold on the black market, charging at least 2½ times the subsidized price per pack. Others traded them for rationed items such as salt, sugar, beans, meat, rice, eggs or bread. Jesus Casanova, a 58-year-old security guard, described the quality of the rationed cigarettes as “awful” — but he collected them every month anyway to feed his elderly neighbour’s smoking habit. “He is a very poor man and he doesn’t have the money to smoke anything else,” Casanova said. “But now even that’s over. I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Casanova prefers cigars, generally finishing one slender stogie during his 12-hour shift. The island’s world-famous cigars were never provided as part of the ration program, however. Fidel Castro, once the most famous cigar smoker in Cuba — if not the world — famously gave them up under doctors’ orders in 1985, and has sporadically urged his fellow islanders to quit. President Raul Castro’s government is trying to cut the weight of subsidies for Cuba’s cash-poor economy, a plan that could eventually mean eliminating the entire ration book.

Critics argue the moves break with what had been a sacred covenant of the Castro brothers’ 1959 revolution: that socialism would not make people rich, but would provide all Cubans with at least the basics. Authorities say their goal is to encourage more productivity and free the state from a crushing economic burden. Even with the changes, the state still pays for or heavily subsidizes nearly everything including education, health care, housing and transportation. Then again, in a country where almost everyone works for the state, the government only pays salaries of about $20 per month.

The ration program began in 1962 as a temporary way to guarantee basic food for all Cubans in the face of Washington’s then-new embargo. It is designed to tide people over, providing a few weeks of food, as well as other occasional staples such as laundry soap and toothpaste.

The Freeport News – NASSAU – The Bahamas and the Republic of Cuba officially resumed technical discussions on the delimitation of the maritime boundary between the two countries. Already, two rounds of talks have been held; the first round of preliminary discussions, which established the framework for future meetings, was held in Nassau in 2005. This was followed up by a technical meeting, which took place in Havana, Cuba on June 12, 2009, when the Bahamian delegation comprised of senior Bahamian officials with technical expertise in the area of law of the sea and maritime affairs, met with Cuban officials.

As was the case at the previous technical meeting, the Bahamian delegation, which participated in this third round of discussions included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of the Environment, the Department of Marine Resources, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Bahamas National Geographic Information Systems Centre, as well as other senior government officials with expertise and experience in relevant fields. “The resumption of discussions between The Bahamas and Cuba in order to delimit the maritime boundary between the countries, as required by the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, is a matter of priority,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The official archipelagic baselines of The Bahamas, which are used to determine the country’s maritime zones, including its boundary with Cuba, were submitted to the United Nations by the Government of The Bahamas on December 11, 2008. “However, these technical meetings with Cuba are necessary to achieve formal agreement on the maritime boundary that is in compliance with the international laws that govern this process,” the Ministry said. The Ministry explained that an agreed boundary is vital for the effective management of The Bahamas’ maritime resources and the protection and preservation of the marine environment. “Furthermore, from a national security point of view, reaching an agreement on the maritime boundary will facilitate the ability of The Bahamas’ security forces to effectively patrol and protect the maritime borders of The Bahamas,” the Ministry said.

Cattle Network – The Amarillo Globe-News reports if a trade embargo with Cuba is ended, the result could be booming business for the cattle industry. U.S. House Resolution 4645, currently pending in Congress, would open trade of agricultural goods to Cuba and boost cattle business in the Texas Panhandle and elsewhere. The resolution has drawn support from the American Farm Bureau Federation. Texas A&M economists and farm bureau experts predict opening trade with Cuba could create up to 6,000 agriculture-related jobs in the U.S.

Most of the jobs created would be tied to the cattle-producing industry. There are a few issues to be resolved before HR 4645 is passed. If trade is reopened with Cuba, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon would like Cuba to give something back. Thornberry said he has human rights concerns that Cuba must answer before it becomes a full trading partner.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban drug HEBERPROT-P, used to treat diabetic food ulcers, will be presented at the International Congress on Biotechnology Havana-2010. According to experts, HEBERPROT-P has already benefited 10,000 Cuban patients, as well as others in Argentina, Venezuela and Algeria. HEBERPROT-P contains the recombinant human growth factor, which speeds up the cure of lesions and prevents amputations. Created by experts from the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center (CIGB), HEBERPROT-P is administered in a dozen countries and in Cuba. Diabetic food ulcers are a major cause of complication in Cuba and the world.

Havana – DTC – Authorities from the central Cuban province of Cienfuegos expect production of plastic bags to increase to 94 million this year. The Cienfuegos-based Empresa Química will produce that amount of plastic bags to meet the demand from the health and tourism sectors. The company also makes blankets of high-density polyethylene, and re-bottles chemical reagents used in clinical laboratories, thus saving money by concept of imports and transportation costs from other countries. The plastic bags come in different sizes to meet the clients’ demand for such a product, which is highly demanded on the domestic market.

Escambray – World leaders in the field of biotechnology will share their experiences with Cuban experts during an international forum to be held in this capital from October 20th through the 22nd. The Congress will include two symposiums among its main activities. Dr. Luis Herrera, president of the Organizing Committee of the HAVANA 2010 Biotechnology Congress, announced that the meeting will focus its attention on the comprehensive treatment of patients suffering from diabetic foot ulcers with the Cuban medicament HEBERPROT-P, the only one of its kind in the world.

Since its registration in Cuba in 2006, it has shown its effectiveness and safety by way of studies based on evidence, in stages 1, 2 and 3 of clinical trials, and later on by way of clinical experiences in the country and in nations like Venezuela, Algeria and Argentina. This novel medicament has benefited more than 10,000 patients. It´s a product based on the recombinant human growth factor. It makes it possible to heal lesions and reduce amputations in most cases, thus saving extremities that were condemned to mutilation. Developed by Havana´s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), HEBERPROT-P is used in a dozen countries and it´s an essential part of the basic group of medicaments for the treatment of Cuban patients, specified the specialist.

The expansion of its use was one of the island´s outstanding scientific results in 2009 in the field of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Over 300 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide, and diabetic foot ulcers are among the complications with the worst medical progress and diseases causing the largest amount of expenses in health systems, asserted Dr. Herrera, director of the CIGB. The Congress will include two symposiums, one on molecular biotechnology of the epidermal growth factor and its pharmagenomic, and another one aimed at reflecting the current situation of the comprehensive treatment of patients with diabetic foot ulcers.

Keysnet – By next summer, a huge semi-submersible oil rig is expected to be stationed about 40 to 50 miles from Key West for deepwater drilling to explore for oil in the Straits of Florida. The rig is part of a vast international business operation. The vessel was made in China, it’s owned by the Italian oil company Eni SpA, and it will be operated by Repsol, Spain’s oil and natural gas firm, which is also leasing the area known as the Jaguey from Cuba to look for oil.

The Scarabeo 9 rig, with a crew of about 220 people, will be drilling about 6,500 feet below the surface, more than a thousand feet deeper than the Macondo Prospect well — more commonly known as the DeepWater Horizon, for the drilling rig stationed in the Gulf of Mexico before it exploded and sank in April. Over the spring and summer, the Macondo well became the site of the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Great Britain, home of the company in charge of the Macondo well, British Petroleum, enjoys good diplomatic relations with the United States. Cuba, in contrast, has had a 50-year trade embargo imposed by the United States.

In the DeepWater Horizon disaster, bureaucratic red tape is at least partially to blame for the delay in cleaning up the nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil that gushed from the well before it was capped in July. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba would prevent U.S. companies, in most cases, from helping with cleanup efforts in the event of an accident on the Scarabeo 9 rig. Even if exceptions were granted, there would at least be significant delays in aide coming from the United States, according to Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a Texas-based trade group. He said help would have to come from countries farther away.

The trade embargo also prevents Cuba from using technologies made in the United States, used here and in other countries, that are designed to stop or minimize blowouts like the DeepWater Horizon disaster, Hunt said. “If there was a blowout in the Jagüey, there would be significant delays in getting a rig shipped in here from Asia or Europe, under the current embargo situation,” Hunt said. “One impact of the embargo is it prevents companies from buying publicly available parts and supplies that are critical to the operation of equipment like blowout preventers.”

The Scarabeo 9 rig has some parts made in the United States, but because they make up less than 10 percent, the rig can circumvent at least three pieces of federal legislation dealing with the embargo, said Jorge Piñon, a visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. Hunt recently returned from a visit to Cuba, where he invited the country’s state-run oil company, Cubapetroleo, or CUPET, to join the IADC. He is hopeful the State Department will give the organization an exception to the law that bans countries under U.S. sanctions from joining U.S. trade groups. The National Iranian Oil Company received an exception to join the drilling association, Hunt said.

Hunt is also hopeful that the inevitability of Cuba’s offshore drilling program will ease some restrictive aspects of the U.S. embargo. He said that the more the U.S. government and oil industry cooperate with Cuba on its drilling and exploration aspirations, the safer environmentally the Gulf of Mexico will be. “Our goal is for all countries to operate safely in one Gulf. We don’t want to see the Jagüey become another Macondo or Ixtoc,” Hunt said, referring to the two worst environmental disasters to affect the Gulf of Mexico. The Ixtoc spill in 1979 gushed 3 million barrels of oil that fouled the lower Texas coast.

Piñon said that ultimately, U.S. company Cameron Products will make the blowout preventers for the Scarabeo 9. Manufacturers in other counties make the same equipment, but Cameron’s location and prices for goods and services make it more appealing than international competitors. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control would have to approve the agreement because of the embargo, Piñon said. “Folks are looking at blowout preventers made in the U.S. but with foreign steel [and other materials], but again when the time comes we believe the U.S. will allow the sale,” Piñon said.

The amount of oil in the Jagüey and 17 additional blocks Cuba plans to lease for exploration depends on who you ask. The Cuban government and Repsol officials think there are 20 billion barrels of oil within the country’s offshore economic zone. But the U.S. Geological Survey puts the number at a much lower 4 billion barrels. “I’ll leave that to those guys to argue over. That’s not my area of expertise,” Hunt said.

Repsol found non-commercial crude off the Cuban coast in 2004, which was enough for the company to continue its business relationship with the Cuban government.

In the United States, drilling off the coasts has been a contentious issue for decades, and it became even more hairier politically since the DeepWater Horizon disaster. The Obama administration placed a moratorium on all deepwater drilling in U.S. waters in the spill’s aftermath. Some want the ban to continue, while others, including the oil industry and several Gulf state politicians, are urging President Obama to lift the suspension, saying it’s hurting employment in their states.

But Hunt and Piñon said much of the debate over whether the United States should open more of its coastline for oil and natural-gas exploration will change once drilling operations begin in nearby Cuba, especially if those explorations bear significant finds.  “Cuba is a sovereign country whether we like it or not, and can conduct oil exploration within its exclusive economic zone,” Piñon said.  Cuba, he said, has little choice but to look for oil, especially since it depends mostly on imports from Venezuela, which Piñon called “unstable.” While Cuba’s CUPET is ill-equipped to carry out drilling operations, many of the companies seeking to lease blocks off Cuba are veterans of offshore drilling, Piñon said. He added that the DeepWater Horizon incident was a game-changer in terms of following safety procedures.

Other companies planning to follow Repsol’s lead are Statoil of Norway, ONGC of India, Petrôleus of Venezuela, Brazil’s Petrobras, Russia’s Gazprom and Petronas of Malaysia, according to several media reports. “Cuba’s national oil company does not have the experience and/or technology for deepwater exploration,” Piñon said in an e-mail. “But I believe that the foreign operators operating in Cuba will now conduct business by the strictest rules in the book. From this point of view, the Deepwater Horizon incident helped us. [Repsol] can not risk the reputation and cost of another catastrophic incident.” Hunt said he’s also heard from people concerned that the rig may be unsafe because it was made in China. “One thing I’d like to respond to is the horrific response to the Chinese deep drilling. There are five rigs in the Gulf of Mexico right now that were made in China. The Chinese are not novices at this,” he said.

Havana – DTC – Investments were made in the eastern Cuban province of Ciego de Avila to improve food supplies to the domestic market. One of the projects is a meat-processing plant funded by the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). The five-million-dollar equipment installed in the plant will increase the region’s capacity to slaughter pigs and cattle. The plant has reported a yield of 28.5 percent and has contributed to increasing supplies of processed meat in the form of sausage and mince. The increase in supplies of high-quality food has also contributed to reducing imports.

(Reuters) – Cuba’s oil industry wants to work with its counterparts in the United States and Mexico to promote safe drilling practices and avoid the kind of well blowout and spill seen recently in the Gulf of Mexico, a leading drilling industry expert said. Lee Hunt, President of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors, told Reuters during a visit to Havana he would like to see Cuba’s state oil company join the organization to be able to exchange information with its neighbors on drilling techniques, safety and regulation.

“Cubapetroleo (CUPET) is interested in joining and we have an interest in them being a member of the international drilling community,” Hunt said in an interview, after two days of talks in Cuba with local industry officials and regulators. The association officials, making their first visit to communist-ruled Cuba, said they were told the island was planning the drilling of seven test wells in 2011 and 2012 in Cuba’s offshore Gulf of Mexico acreage, confirming earlier reports of this development plan. Spain’s Repsol YPF (REP.MC) has announced that its consortium with Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL) and ONGC Videsh Ltd (ONGC.BO), a unit of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp, will drill at least one well early next year using a Chinese built rig owned by Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni SpA.

The three consortium companies and Saipem are all associates of the drilling contractors’ group, Hunt said. “We are promoting the concept that there is one Gulf, shared by the United States, Mexico and Cuba and want a trilateral industry dialogue on safe practices to ensure unfortunate events such as have occurred in Mexico and more recently in the United States do not happen off the shores of Cuba,” Hunt said. Due to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the Houston-based Association of Drilling Contractors, representing 90 percent of the world’s drilling companies, will need approval from U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration for CUPET to actively join it as a member.

But exceptions for states under U.S. sanctions have been granted in the past, for example, to Iran’s oil company. “It is in the interest of everyone to promote communications that will prevent blowouts, spills and fires,” Hunt said. “A good relationship with the Cuban oil industry is very much in the interest of the American public as it will be drilling within 40 miles of Key West next year,” he added. Florida politicians have raised fears that Cuban drilling could lead to an accident like the BP (BP.L) (BP.N) oil spill, the world’s worst offshore oil accident, off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Obama administration has said it would allow U.S. companies that handle and clean up accidental oil spills to operate in Cuban waters should the need arise. Hunt said safety recommendations made by his organization to the U.S. administration in the wake of the BP spill were already in place in Cuba. “The Cuban oil industry has put a lot of research, study and thought into what will be required to safely drill … they are very knowledgeable of international industry practices and have incorporated many of these principles into their safety and regulatory planning and requirements,” he said.

CUPET estimates it has up to 20 billion barrels of oil in its offshore areas, but the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 4.6 billion barrels and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas. Cuba currently produces about 60,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), all from onshore wells. It receives about 115,000 bpd from ally Venezuela on favorable terms. The China-built drilling rig is expected to arrive in Cuban waters early next year and companies have begun preparations to drill once the Scarabeo 9 rig gets to the island. Cuba has divided its share of the Gulf into 59 blocks, 21 of which are already under lease to seven companies.

Diplomats in Havana have said Malaysia’s Petronas (PETR.KL) is also planning to use the China-built rig. Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA has said it plans to sink its first exploratory well in Cuba’s offshore next year. Other companies with blocks there are Vietnam state oil and gas group Petrovietnam and Brazil’s Petrobras (PETR4.SA), while firms from Russia, China and Angola are in the process of negotiating exploration rights.

Cuba Standard – A rig about to be completed in a Chinese shipyard is booked for seven exploratory drills in Cuban waters, beginning in early 2011, a trade association official told Reuters in Havana. The seven projects are slated to begin in early 2011 and end in 2012, Lee Hunt, President of the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) was told by Cuban officials during a visit to Havana. The first drill will be for a consortium led by Spain’s Repsol YPF, but neither Cuba nor the owner of the rig have said whether any other oil companies will contract the drilling platform.

The drilling of the Scarabeo-9 rig, owned by Saipem, a subsidiary of Italian oil company ENI SpA, would be the by far biggest concerted effort ever to tap oil in Cuban waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Only two offshore test drills have been performed in Cuban waters so far; in 2006, a drill by Repsol found high-quality oil, but not in commercial quantities.

Seven drills planned in Cuba: Saipem’s Scarabeo-9

According to Reuters, Hunt also said that Cuban state oil company CubaPetróleo (Cupet) is interested in joining IADC as a member. A delegation of the Houston-based trade association is currently on the island, on invitation by the Cuban government which wants to be briefed on international security standards in offshore drilling. IADC is an international organization, but the U.S. government would require a special permit to allow financial transactions with a Cuban entity. The Iranian state oil company is a member. The arrival of the drilling rig seems to have sped up contracting and partnering in the Cuban offshore scene. Chinese state oil company CNPC is in negotiations with

Cupet over contracting four blocks on the western fringe of Cuban waters, Miami oil consultant Jorge Piñón told Cuba Standard. Chinese drilling on the Cuban side of the Gulf is a politically explosive issue in Washington.

Also, Angolan state oil company Sonangol, according to Piñón, is negotiating with Cuba contracting four blocks near the U.S. marine boundary relinquished by Sherritt International Corp. Sonangol has helped Cupet in an investment in onshore drilling in Angola last year and is a partner with Cupet in Venezuela’s Orinoco basin. Finally, the oil subsidiary of Russian gas giant Gazprom is in talks to become a junior partner of India’s ONGC Videsh, which contracted two blocks. Gazprom Neft recently agreed with Petronas to become a junior partner on four blocks contracted by the Malaysian state company.

Map courtesy Jorge Piñón

Onshore activity in Cuba. Map courtesy Jorge Piñón

Havana – DTC – The central Cuban province of Cienfuegos has increased production of natural fiber to meet the demand from the domestic market. One of those fibers is henequen, which is used to make sacks for the agricultural and sugarcane sectors. Cienfuegos has produced 145 tons of henequen fiber so far this year, and production is expected to increase, after the plants are harvested. The development plan until 2015 includes the renovation of the over-80-year-old industry.  Henequen is also produced and processed in western Matanzas and eastern Holguín provinces.

Havana – DTC – The recording house Estudios Siboney, attached to Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM), has 30 years’ experience in promoting Cuban musical culture. Based in eastern Santiago de Cuba province, Estudios Siboney has a large archive of recordings, including traditional and folkloric music, as well as “son”. The first record produced by Estudios Siboney was a 45-rpm record containing the songs “La Lupe” on one side and “A Santiago” on the other side. Both tracks were performed by Orquesta de Música Moderna. Estudios Siboney’s catalog includes recordings by the orchestras Rumbavana and Aliamén, and singers Fernando Alvarez, Lino Borges, Gina León and Pacho Alonso. The recording house is producing a CD by the orchestra Son 14, featuring singers Adalberto Alvarez, Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa, among others.

Radio Cadena Agramonte – Nuevitas, Camagüey – After a successful 72-hour testing period, the third battery of a power mini-generators setting in the municipality of Nuevitas, near the Diez de Octubre thermal power plant, is ready to join the national power grid (SEN), as the first and second units previously did.  Project director Eladio Ávalos Rosales stated that this step will allow Cuban and foreign specialists and technical staffers to focus on the works to put into action the fourth battery, after having completed 95 percent of its mechanical assembly, while they have finished 75 per cent of the automatic one. Aside from being the largest setting of this kind installed in Camagüey with a generation capacity of 40 Megawatts, it also features other distinctive qualities.

This 36 million dollars investment, the greatest carried out by the Unión Electrica in Camagüey and the only one indoor gives additional protection and creates better working conditions for the employees. Conceived under new principles that the works should be inaugurated not only when they are finished, but after having shown its operational capacities, the setting has gradually incorporated 17 895 MW.h to the SEN. The fourth and last unity must be finished in December; and after that an oil pipeline heading to Nuevitas’ thermal power plant, roads, street lights and a building that will provide space for the office staff should also be completed.

As told by engineer Juan Crespo Salas, General Manager of the “Diez de Octubre” power station, the installation of this oil pipeline and the proximity to the plant will make possible a substantial fuel saving, given that no tank trucks will be necessary and will allow, in case of natural disasters, to put into gear the thermal power plant regardless the weather condition. As part of the energy-saving revolution, Cuba has undertaken works like this one near other major power stations like Mariel, Guiteras, Renté and Felton. The erection of those brand-new fuel oil power mini-generators should not be seen as a bad omen for the old Camagüey-based powerhouse, but as a backup. When the whole project gets set, Nuevitas will ratify its generation potentials which will be reaching 475 MW.

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Cuban News Digest – Aug. 9, 2010

Financial Times – “Seeing is believing,” said Diana, as she stared at the television set in her Havana living room. There was the commandante, who turns 84 on August 13, back from the dead in his olive-green military fatigues as he spoke from a podium to the National Assembly. Fidel Castro’s appearance on Saturday before parliamentary deputies, the diplomatic corps and foreign journalists marked the first time Cubans had been offered a glimpse of the bearded, iconic figure since he underwent surgery in July 2006 and then suffered complications. His speech lasted 11 minutes, not hours, and Mr. Castro walked slowly, bent over and with the help of aides. After an hour of back and forth with deputies he tired and the special session was ended.

Mr. Castro used the expected publicity he would garner to deliver a message that was hardly reassuring to those, like Diana, who consider him a prophet. The most recent UN sanctions on Iran would trigger a nuclear holocaust if the US inspected the country’s ships come September, as called for in the June resolution. Only world pressure on US President Barack Obama could avert the conflagration that would bring all leading economies to a stand still, he warned. The leader of Cuba’s revolution, who retains his parliamentary seat and the post of first secretary of the Communist party, emerged in July from four years of seclusion, preaching his apocalyptic views to small gatherings of Cuban economists, diplomats, war veterans, intellectuals and artists, his recorded activities repeatedly broadcast by state-run media.

Before July, Mr. Castro occasionally met guests at his home, wrote essays mainly on international affairs and appeared only sporadically in photographs and video clips. “Does anyone believe the powerful empire will back away from the sanctions’ demand that Iranian merchant vessels be inspected,” Mr. Castro asked rhetorically on Saturday, as he defended his doomsday forecast that has raised eyebrows at home and abroad. “Does anyone think the Iranians, a people with a culture of thousands of years and which is much more intertwined with death than ours, will lack the courage we have shown in resisting the demands of the United States,” he continued, predicting Iran would respond by sinking the US fleet and events would then spiral out of control.

“I doubt Fidel believes what he is saying. He is being dramatic, trying to stay relevant,” a European diplomat quipped. “The question we all have is what this means in terms of Cuba’s domestic politics,” he added. Indeed, ever since Mr. Castro became ill and resigned the presidency in favour of his brother Raul, there has been speculation over who is really calling the shots in Havana and whether the slow progress of Raul Castro’s efforts to reform the state-dominated economy signals his brother’s opposition. Mr. Castro’s sudden reappearance and the leadership’s penchant for secrecy have added to the fog.

“Raul’s legitimacy as president will now be increasingly in doubt even if Fidel remains fixated solely on these truly eccentric themes,” said Brian Latell, former Cuba analyst at the CIA. “What we are witnessing is unbridled narcissism,” he said. But, it has been 18 months since Fidel Castro strayed from international issues and uttered or wrote a word about Cuba’s domestic situation, an indication some believe that the brothers are working together and have divided up turf. “It seems that Fidel is looking to cut the figure of statesman, but not head of state. Raul set forth his domestic agenda at the National Assembly a week ago and by all accounts is governing at every turn,” said Julia Sweig, senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations and author of the recently released Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. “The big issues of international affairs have always riveted Fidel. What he didn’t say – a word about domestic matters – is as revealing as what he did address – heady matters of war and peace, hardly those his brother has made a priority other than as they relate to Cuba.”

HAVANA – (Reuters) – A Chinese-built drilling rig is expected to arrive in Cuban waters in early 2011, likely opening the way for full-scale exploration of the island’s untapped offshore fields. Companies with contracts to search for oil and gas in Cuba’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico have already begun preparations to drill once the Scarabeo 9 rig gets to the communist-led island. An official with Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni SpA ENI.M told Reuters the massive semi-submersible rig should be completed at the Yantai Raffles YRSL.NFF shipyard in Yantai, China by the end of this year. The journey to Cuba will take two months, and once it arrives it will be put into operation almost immediately, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

It will be used first as an exploratory well for a consortium led by Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF (REP.MC) (REP.N), which drilled the only offshore well in Cuba in 2004 and said at the time it had found hydrocarbons. Cuba has said it may have 20 billion barrels of oil in its offshore, but the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest 4.6 billion barrels and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas. Repsol has been mostly silent on the long delay in drilling more wells, but it is widely assumed in the oil industry it was due to the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The embargo limits the amount of U.S. technology that can be used, which complicates finding equipment because U.S. companies have long dominated the offshore oil business. Construction of the Scarabeo 9 was begun by Norwegian firm Frigstad Discoverer Invest Limited in 2006, but the company was purchased by Saipem in 2007. The rig was due to be completed by September 2009, but has been delayed because of modifications requested by Saipem, the Saipem official said. The official said it was also slowed because the shipyard “had taken on too much work” with other projects.

Repsol is said to be planning at least one exploration well and possibly another. The rig will then be passed to other companies with contracts to drill in Cuban waters. Cuba’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico has been divided into 59 blocks, of which 17 have been contracted to companies including Repsol, Malaysia’s Petronas PETR.UL, Brazil’s Petrobras (PETR4.SA) (PBR.N), Venezuela’s PDVSA and PetroVietnam. Repsol is partnering with Norway’s Statoil STL.OL) (STO.N and ONGC Videsh Limited, a unit of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.BO). Diplomats in Havana have said Malaysia’s Petronas will get the rig next, after Repsol completes its drilling. Petronas, which has four exploration blocks, has conducted seismic work and built offices for a battery of employees who will come to Cuba for the project, sources said.

It also is talking to a possible partner in Gazprom Neft (SIBN.MM) the oil arm of Russian energy company Gazprom (GAZP.MM), whose chief told shareholders last month the company wants to join Petronas in the Cuba project. ONGC Videsh, which has two blocks of its own, separate from its consortium with Repsol and Statoil, has already solicited bids for equipment including sub-sea wellheads and casing pipes for its planned exploration.

Russian oil firm Zarubezhneft has two near shore blocks it said it plans to drill next year, but also has an agreement with Petrovietnam to participate in exploration of its three offshore blocks. Zarubezhneft opened an office in Havana in June, according to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti. A number of international oil service companies have solicited information about Cuban regulations on issues ranging from safety equipment to finance and taxes, diplomats said.

Cuba’s state-owned oil company Cupet has been silent about the offshore activity and rejected requests for interviews. A government official said the requests were denied because Cupet did not want to speak during the BP oil spill in the Gulf. The spill has never reached Cuba, but it has heightened safety concerns both in the government and among oil companies with offshore blocks, sources said. The prospect of drilling in Cuban waters has also raised pollution fears in Florida, which is just 50 miles (80 km) away from the island’s maritime boundary

The Saipem official said the Scarabeo 9, which is capable of operating in water depths up to 3,600 meters (11,811 feet), is built to Norwegian standards, meaning it has extra equipment to shut off blown-out wells not required in the United States. Due to the U.S. trade embargo, U.S. oil companies are not allowed to operate in Cuba. Later this month a group from the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors is scheduled to visit Cuba. The group has said it wants to discuss offshore safety issues with Cuban officials and get an overview of deepwater prospects.

Despite five decades of hostile relations, Cuba has said it would welcome the involvement of U.S. companies in developing its offshore fields. Oil expert Jorge Pinon at Florida International University in Miami said U.S. oil service companies would like to enter the Cuban market because it is a new market close to home. “For the U.S. offshore oil industry, Cuba is basically an extension of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not like Angola — they can provide service from Houston or Freeport or Mobile.”

People’s Daily Online – In a significant easing of state-control over nearly all facets of Cuban economy, Cuban leader Raul Castro has announced that his government will alleviate or scale back its controls on small businesses, lay off unnecessary workers, and allow more self-employment. In his summary address to the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventh National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) at Havana’s Convention Center, Raul Castro, President of the Cuban Council of State and President (or Premier) of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, said that the role of the state would be reduced in some areas.

Raul made it clear that his government will do away with half-a-century invariable secured employment and urgent measures will be taken to cut the “overloaded” state payroll. Among other measures, he said, the Cuban government is to reduce staff of the state-owned institutions, to ease or alleviate its control in service sectors, to encouraging self-employment, to allow certain commodities trading, and to open up the labor service market.

Meanwhile, President Raul Castro reiterated that Cuban will adjust and further improve its socialist economic growth mode in strict compliance with its set policy and its economic setup optimization will neither be done rashly or in haste nor given in to pressure from outside. According to figures Cuba has released, the state-owned sector accounts for the majority of the national economy and its able-bodied population has amounted to 4.9 million, some 20 percent of which are those redundant staff members in government departments. Currently, there are up to 1.3 million staffers hired in the most developed public education and health sectors, who currently consume 60 percent of the Cuban budget. And there are also acute labor shortages in the construction and agriculture sectors.

In contrast of the situation 14 years ago, noted Vice-President Jose Ramon Fernandez Alvarez of the Cuban Council of Ministers, the ranks of teachers in Cuban rose by 117,000, whereas the students body has trimmed by 1.1 million, and there is an imbalance or an unsymmetrical phenomena between the establishments and actual needs. Hence, the government would cancel tens of thousands of faculty jobs in the education sector as of September. Noting that the secured employment and rigid job management has resulted in the overstaffing and a low efficiency, Raul pledged that Cuba will not take an indulgent attitude so that the Cuban people will have, through their honorable work, “sufficient resources for a decent life.”

In order to make adequate, appropriate arrangements for those lay-off employees from the state-owned departments, the Cuban government has approved the specific self-employment tax system. This system, President Raul Castro added, will “provide a new way out” for the workers to re-employ in the future. Speaking to reporters before Raul Castro’s speech, Minister of Economy and Planning Marino Alberto Murillo Jorge said that while the state would reduce its role in small business, the Cuban government will continue to direct a centralized economy. “We are studying an updating of the Cuban economic model in which the economic priorities will be at the forefront, not the market,” he said.

A scheme launched in April this year under which some hairdressers are to work for themselves is likely to be extended to many other areas, according to BBC’s Michael Voss, in Havana. Regardless of what required adjustment measures the government has resorted to, they will never alter the nature of the Cuban economy, Minister Murillo explained, and these adjustments will only optimize its socialist nature instead of changing the attribution of the public ownership since the Cuban government has only “let loose hands and feet” appropriately in some aspects. In another development, after half a century of icy bilateral relations between the two countries, Cuba and the United States had resumed direct talks on migration and on re-establishing direct mail service in 2009.

On the subject of Cuban-US bilateral ties, President Raul Castro harshly denounced the policy of the U.S. government toward Cuba although he acknowledged that both sides have been conducted dialogues on certain “limited” topics. Fundamentally speaking, he said the U.S.-Cuban relations have not undergone any change. Moreover, he underscored that the Cuban government and people are now united as one, and said this kind of unity has “led us to arrive today from the past and proceed to go on building and further improving socialism in the future.”

The National Assembly of the People’s Power, or ANPP, is the highest form of state power in Cuba; it convenes two regular meetings every year. And a series of economic structural adjustment programs determined at the current plenum of the General Assembly is of great practical significance of extricating Cuba from its current economic predicament as soon as possible and successfully opening up fresh and brand-new prospects for the nation’s economic development.

Havana – DTC – The preservation of Cuban beaches is a top priority by local experts, in order to preserve the country’s natural beauty for tourism. Eastern Holguín province is one of the regions where measures have been taken to stop the negative effects of erosion on beaches. As part of the project, some 5,000 cubic meters of sand were poured on the zone of Don Lino, in addition to 40,000 cubic meters poured on Pesquero Viejo, as a result of which some 14,000 square meters of beach were recovered. The sand is taken from submarine sources using dredgers and it is later poured on the coast. Similar projects are underway regularly in Varadero beach, Cuba’s major coastal resort.

Guantánamo – (Solvisión) – Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla received in Havana his Chinese Yang Jiechi counterpart, who arrived in Cuba on an official invitation. We recognize in you a lifelong friend of Cuba and your visit give us great pleasure in this year that marks the 50th anniversary of relations between our two countries, said Rodriguez Parrilla upon receiving the visitor at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry. He recalled his visit last year to Beijing and dubbed it as fruitful, and the current progress of the ties between both nations as excellent. Yang Jiechi said that Cuba was an important nation in the Caribbean and also in the Latin American continent, which is playing a positive role in achieving peace, stability and development.

He stressed that his visit is part of the purpose of his Government to promote further cooperation with Cuba. “China is willing to continue helping Cuba in its social and economic development”. He spoke of the decision to strengthen the high-level exchanges, strengthen bilateral economic and trade cooperation, increase cultural exchanges and advance common interests of the Third World. After the official talks between the two foreign ministers, Chinese ambassador to Cuba Yuqin Liu and Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment first deputy Minister Orlando Hernández Guillén signed an agreement for the economic and technical cooperation between both states.

Havana – DTC – The company Happy Cruises is preparing its return to the Cuban market during the peak tourist season, when the ship Gemini will dock in the port of Havana. The cruise program “Treasures of the Caribbean” will take place from November 13 to May 2011, with weekly departures from Havana. The program includes stopovers in Cozumel (Mexico), Grand Cayman, Paraíso Island (Cuba) and back to Havana, where the ship will dock for two nights. Passengers can board the ship on Saturdays in Havana and on Mondays in Cozumel. They can also extend their stay for another week in any of those two destinations. The program also includes flights from Madrid (Spain) and transfers from the airport to the port and vice versa.

Bloomberg – President Barack Obama may ease travel restrictions on Cuba, allowing more Americans to visit the island on educational and cultural trips, said a U.S. official who declined to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak on the subject. Obama first loosened travel rules on Cuba last year, making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to relatives on the Caribbean island in a bid to help “promote the freer flow of information,” according to a White House statement. The official didn’t give additional details on what the changes would be. Current rules allow Americans to travel to Cuba on educational and cultural trips if they are students or employees at qualifying universities and meet a set of additional requirements, such as doing research toward a graduate degree. All Cuba travel must be approved by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The broader travel ban is designed to isolate the Castro regime and keep hard currency out of the country. Asked if the administration is considering easing the travel rules, Michael Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in an e-mail: “We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their country’s future.” A move to allow increased educational travel may encourage lawmakers to repeal a wider ban forbidding American travel to Cuba if Obama signals his support for the measure, said Ted Piccone, a Latin American specialist at the Brookings Institution, a policy research organization in Washington. Co- sponsors of bills in both houses of Congress to end the 47-year ban have said legislation may pass this year. “The Democrats need cover from the White House,” said Piccone. “If they can’t do it now they’re never going to do it.”

If Obama remains silent on whether he would welcome such legislation, lawmakers may not be willing to take the political risk to pass a bill repealing the travel ban, Piccone said.

Travel and trade restrictions on Cuba have been adjusted by nearly every U.S. administration since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower established trade limits in 1960, following Fidel Castro’s revolution against the U.S.-backed Batista regime. Former President George W. Bush banned some educational exchanges not directly related to academic coursework in 2003, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Fidel Castro, 83, handed formal power to his brother Raul, 79, in 2008.

The move to ease educational travel restrictions would help groups such as Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based organization that arranges trips for Americans to visit countries including Cuba. Global Exchange took fewer than 400 people to Cuba last year, compared with the more than 2,000 a year it took before Bush tightened regulations in 2003, said Pam Montanaro, who runs the group’s Cuba programs. That’s because few Americans can meet the requirements enforced by the Treasury Department, she said. “It’s extremely difficult to qualify,” Montanaro said. “We have a lot of people who call and they just don’t apply.” Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said in a March 25 interview that 1 million U.S. tourists may visit the island annually if the ban on travel is ended.

The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill in June that would end the travel ban and simplify rules governing cash transactions with Cuba. Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said in an interview today that a bill he is co-sponsoring with Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi to repeal the travel ban may move to the Senate floor by next month or after the November elections. “We’re confident we can get it passed,” Dorgan said in a telephone interview today. “Restricting the right of Americans to travel to Cuba means you are punishing the American people for transgressions of the Cuban government. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Obama’s move to expand contact with Cuba at this level would be in keeping with his administration’s overall approach to foreign policy, even with countries with which the U.S. has poor relations, said Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has emphasized the importance of “people to people” exchanges in meetings with leaders from Pakistan to Georgia, promoting study-abroad programs and taking business delegations to the Middle East.

“It’s a way of expanding opportunities for outreach and possible dialogue, even with those seen as hostile to the U.S.,” said DeShazo. The U.S. exported $532 million worth of goods to Cuba last year, most of it wheat, corn, meat and other farm goods. That total could be higher if rules governing cash payments were made simpler, U.S. farm groups say. Groups such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based organization of companies and trade associations, have called for a repeal of the ban.

Dorgan and Enzi’s bill on the travel ban is S. 428.

Guantánamo – Rainfalls during July so far favored the increasing of water level in Guantanamo dams, storing 230 million cubic meters (m3) of water.  According to the Water Resources Branch reports in Guantánamo, recent rainfalls raised by nearly seven million cubic meters (m3) the overall volume of these installations. Consequently, the two largest reservoirs in the regions of Guantanamo, Yaya and Jaibo, store together 200 million m3 and is at 70 percent of its capacity. As important is the increased level of these large dams, it is La Esperanza reservoir, which supplies water to this populous city, and now has water for the next quarter.

Also the water transfer from Jaibo to Camarones continues, with the operation of new pumping stations in various parts of the city. Juan Carlos González of Water Resources explained that favorable rainfalls propitiated the recovery of the main supply sources, except Maisi, the archipelago´s easternmost extreme. Although July rainfalls are closer to the historical average, so far this year exceed the usual average, its distribution has not been leveled, he added. He also explained that relative humidity has been absent in the southern fringe were they are located, including Maisi, Imías and San Antonio del Sur and other oasis of the unique Cuban semi-desert.

Havana – DTC – The Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport, in the western Cuban province of Matanzas, provides high-qualities services and is one of the best terminals in the country. The airport, which handles passengers en route to Varadero beach, reported an average stay of 17 minutes per passenger during the first semester of 2010. Airport executives pointed out that this achievement resulted from the interaction of several agencies responsible for checking luggage, migration, ground operations and pilots, among others. In that regard, they recalled that when travelers arrive at the airport, they want to leave quickly to rest after a long flight. The airport, the second largest terminal in Cuba, will undergo remodeling works to meet the growing demand from travelers. Designed to handle all airplanes operating in the world, the airport will benefit from investments to upgrade technology and double its capacity.

The Miami Herald – Democratic Senate frontrunner Jeff Greene is backtracking on his claim that he had visited Cuba as part of a Jewish humanitarian trip, and a former deckhand says he’s still not telling the truth. Greene spokesman Luis Vizcaino said that the real estate mogul’s 145-foot yacht Summerwind docked for two days in Havana’s Hemingway Marina in 2007 while awaiting repairs. In a debate against Democratic rival Kendrick Meek, Greene said he went to Cuba on a Jewish mission.

“During the debate, Jeff misspoke,” Vizcaino said after receiving media inquiries about the trip. “What he meant to say was that in 2007, he went on the boat from Honduras to the Bahamas, and en route the boat had a hydraulic problem…The captain said we could wait for the part at Hemingway Marina.”  But a deckhand on that trip tells a different story. John Walenczyk said the boat traveled from Fort Lauderdale directly to Cuba and docked for about one week. “It was their total intention to go to Cuba,” he said Tuesday. “We never went to Honduras, not even close. I figure it was the glamour of wanting to go to a banned country.”

Travel to Cuba is an explosive issue in Miami’s Cuban-American community, where some exiles view visiting the repressive regime as tantamount to treason. This marked the second time that Greene tried to clarify the trip since a St. Petersburg Times story quoted former deckhands recounting a lot of partying aboard the yacht. When Meek grilled him about the incident during the debate televised in St. Petersburg, Greene insisted he had not personally taken the yacht to Cuba in five years. After the debate, though, Greene acknowledged he may have gone in 2007. He said the Jewish Federation had obtained a visa for him to visit Cuba and that he and other members of the federation visited a synagogue. “There’s still a Jewish community there, I don’t know if you know that,” he said. “There’s still two synagogues. But there was no partying going on. Who would you party with?

Vizcaino said of the Jewish Federation visa, “again, he misspoke.” Vizcaino said the captain cleared everyone aboard the yacht through Cuban customs officials. Greene went to visit a synagogue while he was there because he had heard about a Jewish humanitarian mission. “He didn’t meet up with them,” Vizcaino said. “He wanted to observe . . . What he came away with was firsthand knowledge of the plight of the country.”

Under U.S. law, Americans are not allowed to freely travel to Cuba unless they receive permission from the federal authorities. Last month, the Herald/Times reported that Greene’s yacht had severely damaged a valuable coral reef off the coast of Belize during a trip five years ago. Greene wasn’t aboard the boat and told the Herald/Times that the incident had never happened despite eyewitness accounts and scientific surveys.

Guantánamo – (Solvisión) – Cuban Minister of the Basic Industry Yadira Garcia Vera said that Cuban oil industry performed well in terms of production in the first six months of the current year. Garcia Vera spoke to the deputies of the Committee on Energy and Environment of the Cuban Parliament on the efficient use of resources and human capital are the main weapons that that industry has today. She explained that they are working in conjunction with other entities and agencies to ensure the protection and care of the environment. Raúl Pérez de Prado, director of the CUPET oil enterprise, said that they are working in exploration, drilling and exploitation of new wells, with technologies used in developed countries. Perez de Prado highlighted that they are that paving the way for making better use of domestic products, which used to be wasted, based on the use of secondary recovery techniques.

Havana – DTC – The Ultra-Microanalytical System (SUMA), created at the Cuban Immune-Essay Center, has allowed performing some 60 million tests since the early 1980s. According to experts, that technology has allowed testing about three million pregnant women to detect congenital malformations between 1982 and 2009. In addition, the SUMA technology has contributed to testing patients for congenital hypothyroidism to diagnose the disease in an early stage. A network of 267 laboratories allows detecting 19 diseases included in the list of top priorities of the Ministry of Public Health. Experts at the Immune-Essay Center are also working on the early diagnosis of kidney disorders, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, diabetes and prostrate cancer.

The Miami Herald – U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell 35 percent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2009, largely because of the island’s shortage of hard currency, according to a recent report. The report by a New York-based group that monitors bilateral trade, showed U.S. sales to Cuba from January to May of this year hit $182 million, compared with $278 million for the same period last year. U.S. exports to Cuba already had seen a 24 percent drop in 2009 — $528 million, compared with 2008, when they hit a record of $710 million, according to the report.

Cuba imports an estimated 60 to 80 percent of all the food its 11 million people consume, but its U.S. purchases must be paid in cash because U.S. laws bar giving credit to the island. The main reason for the drop-off was the island’s shortage of the hard currency it needs to pay for the imports. Cuba faces an economic crisis sparked by a steep drop in the price of nickel, its key export and hard-currency earner, damage caused by three hurricanes in 2008 and the higher food prices and sagging incomes from tourism and remittances caused by the global economic crisis.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would provide Cuba with a gusher of U.S. tourism dollars by ending all restrictions on travel to the island. It would also ease some of the limitations on U.S. exports to Cuba. The bill was approved by the House Agricultural Committee, with strong backing from farm and business lobbies. It must still be approved by the full House and then the Senate, where Cuban-American Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has vowed to block it.

Havana – DTC – The refinery of Cabaiguán, in central Cuba, supplied 3,315 tons of liquid asphalt to repair the country’s roads. Liquid asphalt is used as a raw material to produce asphalt, which is used to pave roads. Production exceeded this year’s plan, and another 2,500 tons will be produced in 2010. Plant executives pointed out that the increase in production resulted from a steady supply of crude oil from fields in Varadero. The refinery also produces dielectric oil, which is used in transformers.

HAVANA – Cuba says its budget deficit came in far below forecasts in the first half of 2010, evidence that tax increases and deep spending cuts on food imports may be helping the communist government weather a severe economic crunch. Cuba reported a deficit of nearly $410 million for the six-month period, less than a quarter of the $1.7 billion that central planners originally predicted. Lina Pedraza, minister of finances and prices, said Cuba generated a bit more than $21.2 billion. Over the same period, it spent $21.6 billion — creating the smaller-than-expected shortfall. The figures were made public in the Communist-party newspaper Granma. They were approved by the nation’s Economic Affairs Commission, a slate of lawmakers that huddled prior to a full session of parliament.

Cuba has slashed imports to deal with its economic problems, particularly in the areas of food and agriculture. But Pedraza attributed the lower deficit to higher taxes and improved collection methods, as well as a new law that pushed back the retirement age from state jobs while upping the amount government employees contribute to, and receive from, state pension funds. The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and pays employees about $20 per month, but also provides free education through college and health care. Subsidies also are provided for housing, transportation and some food through monthly ration books.

The outlook remained unexpectedly rosy, according to Pedraza, despite a roughly $198 million deficit created by ordinary Cubans, who have fallen behind on payment plans to reimburse the state for refrigerators, air conditioning units and other appliances authorities have distributed in homes. The government provided them as part of an effort to save energy and relieve strain on the island’s creaking electric grid, but requires that Cubans pay back the costs of the appliances over time. But many consumers have been unable to keep up with their payments, pushing state budgets further into the red.

Sales also were weak for Cuba’s world-famous cigars and the domestic consumption of industrial goods, beer and eggs.

Cuba and Venezuela signed 139 bilateral cooperation agreements in northeastern Cuba. The agreements were signed during a meeting between Cuban leader Raul Castro and Venezuelan Vice President Rafael Ramirez in Cayo Santa Maria, 350 km east of the Cuban capital of Havana, the official news channel NNTV said. The cooperation projects, which focus on food, energy, mining, healthcare and light industries, will be launched immediately.

Xinhua – Trade between Venezuela and Cuba reached 3.138 million U.S. dollars in 2009, according to Cuban figures. Caracas supplies Havana with 100,000 barrels of oil daily, while receiving services from about 30,000 Cuban doctors and specialists in other branches. Castro and Ramirez also attended a ceremony in Santa Clara, commemorating the assault led by former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. The date marked the beginning of the armed struggle against the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Ramirez was representing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the meeting with Raul Castro. Chavez canceled his planned trip to Cuba because of a diplomatic spat with neighboring Colombia. Venezuela broke off relations with Colombia after Bogota accused Caracas of supporting 1,500 Colombian guerrillas in its territory, a claim rejected by Venezuela.

Havana – DTC – The packing company El Miño, also known by the commercial name Oro Rojo, has increased supplies of sausage, and fresh and frozen food to the domestic market. Experts from the firm pointed out that Oro Rojo supplies special beef and pork cuts, ham, mortadella, sausage, salami and blood sausage. The company also supplies mince of different quality and pork hamburgers. Oro Rojo’s major clients are hard-currency shops and tourist resorts, as well as Cubana de Aviación. Oro Rojo is one of few Cuban companies that has implemented the System for the Analysis of Dangers and Critical Control Issues on exclusive standards for the reliability and harmlessness of products.

The Wall Street Journal – American Ballet Theater announced that it will travel to Cuba to dance in the International Ballet Festival of Havana in November. The company last visited Cuba in 1960, at which time ABT was celebrating its 20th anniversary. The upcoming festival is in honor of the Cuban-born dancer Alicia Alonso, the director of the National Ballet of Cuba, who danced with ABT in the 1940s. Ms. Alonso visited New York this spring to celebrate her 90th birthday with ABT, which held a tribute performance during its 2010 spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. The company’s invitation to the Havana festival came from Ms. Alonso.

“ABT has for many years seen itself as a cultural ambassador, bringing American ballet to the world,” executive director Rachel Moore said. “Alicia is part of our past, and remains part of our family. There is a special tie with the National Ballet of Cuba.

The New York dance community has made consistent efforts to strengthen ties with Cuba. This will be a return trip for ABT’s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, who traveled to Cuba in 1986. Since the mid-1970s, dancers from ABT, New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have made visits to the country. In 1998, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now known as Ailey II) traveled to Cuba for the Havana festival. Ex-NYCB dancers Damian Woetzel and Lourdes Lopez hold leadership positions with the Cuban Artists Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that fosters exchange programs.

When Ailey II attended the festival, the dancers were invited to take class with Ms. Alonso’s company. “All of the festival people were there taking class,” said Ailey II’s director, Sylvia Waters, who traveled with the company.  “We did a piece by Lar Lubovitch, called ‘Marimba,’ with a score by Steve Reich,” she recalled. “People would come up after and say, ‘What was that music?’ I’m not sure how much they could express, but they would come up after, like it was their secret.” “The Cuban people need to be able to have contacts with the outside world,” said Francisco Jose Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, adding that travel to Cuba that offers “help, support or cultural relations is welcome and necessary. The isolation of the Cuba people imposed by the Castro regime needs to be changed.”

Dance is effective in that way, said Andrea Snyder, executive director of Dance/USA, a professional-service organization: “Because dance is a nonverbal art form, it carries a unique and precious ability to break down barriers and promote shared experiences.”

To that end, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs teamed up with the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year to create DanceMotion USA. The program sent three companies to tour countries within separate regions: South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. “The feedback was off the charts,” said BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins. “The idea of this kind of diplomacy is to connect with people on an emotional level.”

The State Department is not funding or involved with ABT’s trip. The costs will be covered by the company’s touring budget. In order for the tour to take place, ABT must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which monitors and enforces U.S. trade sanctions. Special consideration is given to arts and athletic groups.  The company is currently in talks to determine what activities it will engage in while in Cuba Nov. 3-6. Given the short duration and the demands of performance, the visit’s value may be highest in its symbolism, said Margaret Ayers, president of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, which studies and funds arts-based international exchange.

“While a four-day tour is unlikely to forge the deep links characteristic of longer engagements, the symbolic impact of American Ballet Theater’s participation in the upcoming International Ballet Festival of Havana cannot be overstated,” she said. During the festival, ABT will dance George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas” and Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” Dancers will also participate in two gala performances. Ms. Moore said the company will focus on ballet, not politics: “We’re trying to stay out of the political area and have it be a dialogue between artists.”

Havana – DTC – Apiculture in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus is expected to grow over the next few months. Local authorities are working on the efficient handling of beehives to benefit from the flowering period and compensate for the decrease in honey production during the first few months of the year. According to experts, 76 percent of the production plan has been fulfilled, considering that production began to increase in April. Private producers, cooperative farms and state-own organizations supply honey to a processing plant in Sancti Spiritus. As part of actions to increase production, some 5,000 beehives were moved to coastal areas to benefit from the flowering period of mangroves. Moreover, mango crops are expected to contribute to increasing honey production in July.

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – The National Assembly of People”s Power (Parliament) has approved changes to the political/administrative division law in effect since July 1976, including one that creates the provinces of Mayabeque and Artemisa out of the former La Habana province. The changes were approved on Sunday, August 1, during the fifth session period of Parliament’s seventh legislature. Artemisa province includes the municipalities of Caimito, Guanajay, Mariel, San Antonio de los Baños, Güira de Melena, Alquízar and Bauta, along with those of Bahía Honda, Candelaria and San Cristóbal, which were part of Pinar del Rio province until now. Artemisa’s provincial capital will be the city with the same name.

Mayabeque’s capital will be the city of San José de las Lajas, and the province includes the municipalities of Santa Cruz del Norte, Jaruco, Madruga, Nueva Paz, San Nicolás, Güines, Melena del Sur, Batabanó, Quivicán and Bejucal. Like Artemisa, Mayabeque will work to produce food to meet its own demand and help to meet Havana’s. These changes allow the national capital, which is its own province to recover its historic name — Havana — and under the changes, it acquires the east side of the Cacahual plateau, where independence hero General Antonio Maceo is buried. Also, Varadero will no longer be a municipality in Matanzas province. Instead, it is now merged with Cardenas municipality, and the Hicacos Peninsula comes under the direct administration of the Council of Ministers, given its importance to the nation’s economic development.

Lastly, in Guantanamo province, the municipality of Manuel Tames absorbs parts of the neighboring municipalities of Guantánamo and Yateras, and its new municipal capital is the locality of Jamaica. These changes are aimed to meet the needs of the country’s social and economic development, and were approved after a broad process of consultation in the Provincial and Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, with representatives of state agencies, mass organizations, and residents of the areas involved. Cuba is now divided into 15 provinces and 168 municipalities, including the special municipality of the Isle of Youth. Its provinces are: Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Mayabeque, La Habana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. Parliament is also debating new traffic bill. The law goes into effect as soon as it is published in the official legal publication, “Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba.”

Cienfuegos, Cuba – (Prensa Latina) – The University of Medical Science in Cienfuegos graduated about 800 specialists, including 104 young people from 22 Latin American and African countries. With the 787 graduates of the twenty-eighth graduation of the institution, more than 7,500 professionals have been trained over three decades of work, said Dr. Roberto Baños, rector of the institution. On behalf of the foreign graduates, Paraguayan doctor Arnaldo Barrios, selected as the best student of this group, thanked the Cuban people and its leader Fidel Castro “the ideologue of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) project”.

Of the 208 physician who received their diplomas, 20 Cubans did their final year’s teaching practice in Venezuelan hospitals as members of the contingent Mario Munoz Monroy. One of them, Maikel Espinosa, was the best in his class and also set the record of 6.31 academic points. Baños told Prensa Latina that eight of the graduates, during the last semester, completed a diploma in intensive care and within weeks they will go to Venezuela to perform in this clinical area.

Havana – DTC – The city of Santa Clara, in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, is hosting an Exhibition of Textile Handicrafts. The pieces on display are made of cotton fabric and are decorated with lace and ribbons. The exhibition is held every summer to promote the creative work of local artisans.  On this occasion, 25 experts, including several award winners at national cultural projects, are participating in the exhibition. The exhibition is marked by the use of white in the clothes and traditional elements such as openwork, tucks and geometric patches.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Vice Admiral Pedro Pérez Betancourt, head of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR), said that that entity implements measures to strengthen the performance of their agents. These measures aim at maintaining control at the border, which translates into a tighter national security, to continue thwarting smuggle, said Perez Betancourt during the third day of work for Members of Parliament, in the current legislature, meeting in the Havana´s Convention Palace. He added that they have prevented the entering of subversive material, drugs and hard currency, as well as the illegal export of medicines and items to make fake Cuban cigars abroad. He said that Customs continued developing its software for trading activities and to reduce the time people spend at the airport terminals, one indicator of quality of services that travellers demand. The measures implemented include the presence of a customs supervisor, which started at the Jose Marti International Airport Terminal Two, an experience generalized to other facilities and it has improved the work at the airport.

Havana – DTC – The Casa de la Trova (Singersong Writer’s House) in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín has promoted the development of music in the region over the past 35 years. The institution was inaugurated in 1975, in a ceremony attended by Cuban lyric singer Blanquita Becerra and Faustino Oramas, popularly known as El Guayabero. According to experts, the greatest achievement by Casa de la Trova is the defense of Cuban traditional music and the promotion of artists. The center also promotes exchanges between singer songwriters from different generations. Casa de la Trova is one of the places of reference in the province’s cultural programs, due to the musical history, popularity and high-quality services.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Cuban deputies in the parliamentarian commission on Energy and Environment described as complex the situation of the soils in the island due to the current vulnerability of ecosystems. The earth is the natural resource with the highest damage in Cuba, with 77 percent of the agricultural surface declared as poorly productive and water as the most threatened. Dagoberto Rodriguez, general director of the Soil Institute, announced a national program that will mitigate the incidence of climate change, erosion, acidity, compaction and low fertility, among other degrading processes.

Rodriguez explained that the project requires an increase in the national production of technical minerals, bio-fertilizers and bio-stimulants, as well as the incorporation of green fertilizers. Rodriguez said the deterioration must be faced with comprehensive solutions covering both forest development and the protection of water resources. On the other hand, Water Basins Office Director Jorge Mario Garcia said almost 600 million cubic meters of water are lost in the canals, and 58 percent of the water pumped in aqueducts leaks away.  Jose Miyar, minister of Science, Technology and Environment reaffirmed the government’s will to guarantee, from a systemic point of view, the sustainability and preservation of the natural heritage.

Havana – DTC – Experts from the company Suchel-Fragancia are developing new fragrances for perfumes for the domestic market and for export. The work is being done at the company’s applied research laboratories, as part of a strategy to increase cosmetics production in the country. The firm has an inventory of more than 100 fragrances to make the necessary combinations for detergent, toilet soap, perfumes, etc. Suchel-Fragancia has signed agreements with China, from where it imports the raw materials.

American Statesman – EGYPT, Texas — Tributes to Fidel Castro, statues of Che Guevara and photographs of Elian Gonzalez might not line the streets of this rice-growing town, but make no mistake about it: The farmers here are pro-Cuba. Texas rice farmers have been watching intently as Congress ponders a bill that would lift restrictions of a decades-old trade embargo and allow tourists to travel to Cuba. Passage of the bill also would open the communist island country’s market to U.S. agriculture. Farmers in and around Egypt, a tiny agricultural community near Houston , generally describe themselves as conservative (with a few exceptions), but they are more than willing to speak favorably about opening up trade to a communist country. “Farmers are bottom line-oriented,” said Thomas Wynn, an economist and rice farmer from Egypt.

Members of Wynn’s family have been working their land in Egypt since the 1800s. They are solid Texas A&M Aggies , and they’re glad to pepper conversations with jokes about the University of Texas Longhorns. These days, one of the big topics of discussion in the Wynn household — and throughout rice-growing country in the southeast part of the state — has been the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2010, a bill in Congress that would lift the travel ban and allow the sale of more American goods to Cuba. Wynn said the bill could be a key to sustaining the Texas rice farming business, which has been hit lately with diving prices and rising production costs. “The impacts would be enough to ensure the survival of a significant percentage of Texas agriculture,” Wynn said. He added that family operations in the Southern states with easy access to the Gulf of Mexico could benefit, in particular, if the bill becomes law.

Members of Congress recently passed the Cuba bill out of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee. Similar efforts have failed in previous Congresses, but this just might be the year farmers have been waiting for, said Parr Rosson, a professor and economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M’s Texas AgriLife Extension. A weak U.S. economy, a new presidential administration and heavy lobbying pressure from the Texas Farm Bureau and other organizations give the bill a reasonable shot at passing. “This is the best chance in the last several years,” he said.

A travel and trade embargo was established in the early 1960s as U.S. relations with the new communist country and its leader, Fidel Castro, deteriorated. Cuba had been a primary market for Texas rice, but after the embargo, the tiny nation was forced to begin buying rice from places as far away as Vietnam. Dwight Roberts, president and CEO of the U.S. Rice Producers Association, said the bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee could be a step toward restoring Texas’ place as a main supplier of rice to Cuba. “It just makes so much sense,” he said. About 10 years ago, some U.S. trade was permitted with Cuba, but there was a thorny twist: All payments had to be passed through a third country, which added cost and complication.

If the bill lifts the cumbersome restrictions, agricultural exports from Texas to Cuba would jump by $18.4 million annually — nearly doubling Texas’ 2009 figure of $20.6 million, according to a report Rosson co-wrote for AgriLife Research, which conducts studies that support the state’s agricultural and natural resource industries. Trade with Cuba would represent a small piece of Texas’ agricultural business, but exports to Cuba would generate $16 million in new business activity and 320 jobs in Texas, according to AgriLife. On the national level, a policy change would lead to $365 million more a year in U.S. exports, which would come with $1.1 billion in new business activity and 6,000 new jobs, Rosson said. “At a time when we are struggling to create jobs, this is a bill that would help solve at least part of the problem,” he said. Texas rice farmers, like the Wynns, are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of a policy change that would open up Cuba.

Some Texas rice farmers are barely profitable now, and they have said that trade with Cuba would allow for periods of consistent solvency. For the past several years, many people in Texas rice country have been complaining about how difficult it has been to make any money. They said they see Cuba as a way to increase profits and allow them to continue growing rice for people in the U.S. and around the world. Wynn said Cuba’s hunger for rice is so great that the country could take every single grain of rice that Texas produces in its two harvests each year. Texas produces about 475,000 tons of rice a year, and Cubans eat an estimated 800,000 tons of the white grain every year. Rice is one of the staples in Cubans’ diet, making the country the biggest consumer of rice in the Caribbean region.

Dan Gertson, a neighbor by country standards of the Wynns’, has been one of the area’s most vocal proponents of trade with Cuba. Such trade would help farmers maintain or increase the amount of rice-growing acres in Texas, Gertson said from his office in the shadows of his towering grain bins. There are now about 170,000 acres of rice farms in the state, and expanded trade with Cuba could lead to as much as 200,000 productive acres, he said. Conversely, if Cuban trade remains limited, then the industry will continue to suffer and shrink as farmers close down their operations, Wynn said.

John Wynn, Thomas’ father and a former college president with gray hair and a professorial tone, said his family’s business is well-diversified with cattle and other crops, so he would be OK if the Cuba bill does not pass. “Without Cuba, we will probably keep muddling along,” he said. “With Cuba, our noses will be a little higher above water.”

Farmers with only rice paddies might have a harder time, he said. The rice industry wouldn’t be the only segment to see a pop with freer trade with Cuba. Corn growers and people in other parts of the agriculture community would also thrive, Wynn said. But as with most things in Washington, politics can be a hurdle. The possibility of upsetting politically active Cuban Americans in Florida has contributed to upholding the embargo in past years. And that fear very well might have been an issue for former President George W. Bush, who narrowly beat Democrat Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 presidential race. Stephen Pringle, a legislative director at the Texas Farm Bureau, said the current administration appears to be more willing to trade with Cuba, compared with the Bush administration.

As for members of Congress who represent Austinites, the support for the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2010 is mixed. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said that lifting restrictions with Cuba should be considered only “after Cuba institutes concrete reforms that limit the significant human rights abuses that occur in that country.” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said in a statement that he supports the measure passed by the Agriculture Committee. And Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, took a position somewhere in between. He said he’s open to lifting U.S. agricultural restrictions with Cuba but believes the travel ban should remain in place.

Until Congress passes a measure to help the farmers in Egypt, the maroon Chevy Suburban parked at John Wynn’s house will continue to display an argument for keeping the rice business alive and well. “Eat Rice,” a sticker reads. “Potatoes make your butt look big.”

Luanda – Angola – The association of the former students in Cuba, “los Caimaneros”, said that it intends to set up a museum in the facilities of ex-secondary school  nº 42, on the Island of Youth, which hosted for many years thousands of Angolan students and from other nationalities. The institution’s chairperson, Alberto Jerónimo said so Sunday while speaking to the press at Luanda’s “4 de Fevereiro” International Airport, where the ex-director of the school Rodi Figueredo and the mathematic lecturer António Sorzano have landed.

The implementation of the project will enable the preservation of all history related to life experience in Island of Youth and also to thank Cuba for its contribution. Created in 1977, the school nº 42 was among four school units based on the Island of Youth and which accommodated foreign students including the Chief of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), Francisco Pereira Furtado, the Secretary of Cabinet Council, Frederico dos Santos Cardoso and Secretary of State of Construction, Joanes André.

HAVANA – (Itar-Tass) – Russian air company Transaero has resumed flights from Moscow to Varadero in Cuba, the Cuban media reported.  The flights will be made twice a week on the Boeing-767 planes from August to October. A more spacious Boeing-777 will go into operation in November. Aeroflot is another Russian air carrier that makes regular flights to Cuba.  According to official reports, 22,900 Russians visited Cuba in the first six months of 2010, which is 24.9% up compared to the same period last year. Russia has outdone Argentina by the number of tourists to Cuba and is second only to Mexico (33,200 tourists). Tourism is one of the main sources of revenues for the Cuban budget apart from exports of nickel ore and biotechnological products.  More than 300,000 Cubans work in the tourist sphere. A record number of foreign tourists (2.42 million) visited Cuba last year. However, revenues from tourism have dwindled by 11%.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Cuban Parliament passed the draft of the new Road Safety Code, in its third version, after consulting deputies, drivers, lawyers and specialists in branches such as medicine, metrology and traffic. Cuban Transportation Minister Cesar Ignacio Arocha, explained that traffic accidents are the fifth leading cause of deaths in Cuba, making it necessary to update the existing regulations in order to reduce mortality and other consequences in such events. He cited among other priorities for this purpose, the improving of the road conditions throughout the country and the technical condition of vehicles, as well as to increase education campaigns and measures against those who drive under the influence of alcohol.

With this project we intend to mobilize the whole society on a different concept of road safety, to preserve the lives of drivers and pedestrians, particularly children and youth, said the Minister. President of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs Jose Luis explained that the imposition of fines resulting from traffic violations, and the system of points earned by the offenders, was the issue that generated more opinions on citizenship because of deficiencies or irregularities in its implementation. “Although there are provisions to make by some agencies, we believe that the law must begin to take effect with all its rules already issued” Toledo said, stressing that it will be in force180 days from its publication in the Official Gazette of the Republic. Deputy Manuel Caceres Fernandez from Pinar del Rio province proposed tougher measures against those who drive under the influence of alcohol and other harmful substances, and to spread the new Road Safety Code, to which the Transportation Minister said that both suggestions are to be implemented immediately.

The Independent – UK – An antiques dealer who planned to sell a stolen copy of a rare first collection of Shakespeare’s plays was jailed for eight years. Raymond Scott, 53, took the 387-year-old book, which was stolen from Durham University in 1988, to the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC where he asked to have it verified and valued, claiming he had found it in Cuba. The book had been damaged in an apparent attempt to make it look like a different copy than the one that had been taken from Durham. But staff at the library recognised the book and notified the FBI, the British Embassy and British police.

Last month a jury at Newcastle Crown Court found Scott guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain. He was acquitted of stealing the book from Durham University. Passing sentence, Judge Richard Lowden said Scott – who drove a Ferrari and posed as an international playboy, despite being £90,000 in debt – was a “fantasist” and had attempted to make money from the book in order to fund a lavish lifestyle to impress a woman he had met in Cuba. The judge said the harm to the first folio, of which only 228 still exist, amounted to the “cultural vandalisation” of a “quintessentially English treasure”. He said that Scott, an alcoholic who has 25 previous convictions, had either deliberately damaged the book or was party to the damage.

The judge also spoke about Scott’s attempt to fool the experts in Washington. He added: “This was an attempt by you to take on the world’s experts at their own expertise. You were confident that that balance had been achieved. You were, however, over-confident.”

During the trial the court heard that Scott was unemployed and living with his mother in Washington, Tyne and Wear, at the time of his arrest. But previously he had met Heidy Garcia Rios, a 21-year-old dancer, while in Cuba. He showered her with gifts and at one point even had his elderly mother, Hannah, send the girl’s family £10,000 to repair a roof. It was while he was at a party with Ms Rios and another friend, Odieny “Denny” Perez Leon, that he came up with the plan to split the proceeds of the sale of the first folio, which contained 36 Shakespeare plays. Copies of the book in mint condition are worth about £3m. But when he took it to the Folger library, minus its front and back board and some pages, the head librarian became instantly suspicious.

The first folio is one of the most-catalogued books in the history of publishing and each individual copy has every blemish, typographical error and stain recorded. When independent expert Stephen Massey examined the book he confirmed that, mainly due to its measurements, he was sure that it was the stolen Durham copy. Mr Massey said the book, even in its damaged state, was worth about £1m. Scott did not give evidence at the trial, but the jury was told of his denials in an interview with the police. He told officers: “Do you seriously think I’m going to walk into the foremost Shakespeare library in the world and, using my own name and address, with my fingerprints all over it, hand them a copy knowing and believing that it’s got a doubtful provenance?”

Chris Enzor, Durham chief crown prosecutor, welcomed the sentence, saying: “Raymond Scott is a dishonest conman and serial thief who found himself in possession of a national treasure. Even after being caught with the folio he continued to deny knowing it was the copy stolen from Durham University 12 years ago. “The priceless folio was mutilated in a bid to remove anything that might identify it as the Durham copy, pages and the binding was removed. The sentence reflects the seriousness of his crime, handling a book recognised across the world as one of the most important literary works ever published and removing it from the UK with a view to selling it.”

Havana – DTC – Cuba reported a 1-percent increase in tourist arrivals during the first semester of 2010. According to the National Statistics Office, 1,389,712 foreign tourists visited Cuba from January to June 2010, accounting for an increase of 13,519 foreign vacationers, compared to the same period last year. However, 163,967 travelers arrived in the country in June, a 0.6-percent drop in contrast to the same month in 2009. According to statistics, 2.4 million foreign vacationers visited Cuba in 2009, an increase of 3.5 percent compared to 2008. In that regard, analysts recalled that Cuba ranks ninth among tourists destinations in the American continent.

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Nov. 9, 2009

Havana – DTC – The First Sol Meliá Cuba Golf Cup concluded with a call to hold the second event in October next year. The Spanish hotel group Sol Meliá is the sponsor of the competition, which is held at the Meliá Las Américas Hotel in Varadero beach. The meeting was attended by 99 players from 13 countries, including Panama, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, Japan, Mexico, Cuba, France, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Canada and Colombia. In the men’s contest, Canada’s Pierre Le Sieur won the prizes to the best male player and closest to the pin, while Argentina’s Antonio Fernández won the best gross prize. In the women’s competition, Colombia’s Jacqueline Berger was the best female player, while Canada’s Lynn Crete and Marlin Price won the gross and closest to the pin prizes, respectively.

NOTE: The Second Annual Montecristo Cup and Esencia Cup for 2010 will be held April 23rd and 24th, at the Varadero Golf Club in Varadero, Cuba. The exciting two-day event will include:

• Friday April 23rd:

- The Montecristo Cup event – a Pro-Am competition

• Saturday April 24th:

- The Esencia Cup event – a Team-play Competition

- Spanish golfer Alvaro Quiros is scheduled to appear at both events and play an exhibition match against another world class golfer

- Closing event – a Saturday evening gala prize giving dinner at the DuPont family Mansion, Xanadu

The event is being hosted by the Varadero Golf Club and Palmares SA in association with Esencia Hotels and Resorts. The Montecristo Cup is being sponsored by Habanos, the purveyors of the world´s finest cigars. Additional information and regular updates are available at http://www.themontecristocup.com

The Georgia Straight – Vancouver – Cuban music can sometimes seem mired in its own illustrious history, but Cuba’s music is unabashedly innovative—so long as it’s Alex Cuba we’re talking about. The Smithers, B.C., resident is steeped in the rhythmic lore of the Caribbean island where he was born, but he’s also got major electric-guitar abilities and some serious pop smarts, too—as he demonstrated by co-writing a good chunk of Nelly Furtado’s Mi Plan. Cuba releases his own third solo effort, the eponymous Alex Cuba, at the Biltmore in Vancouver on Tuesday (November 10), and it’s a good chance to discover that there’s more to Latin rock than that old hippy Carlos Santana.

The Victoria Times Colonist – What with co-writing most of pop star Nelly Furtado’s new album, one might think Alex Cuba would be, well … rich. Furtado’s Spanish-language album, titled Mi Plan, has done well. On the phone, Cuba rattled off its chart-topping trajectory. It was No. 1 for five straight weeks on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks chart. “And it hit No. 1 in Germany, in Italy, top five in Spain, No. 1 in Venezuela, Colombia, Chile. You name it,” he added. Successful indeed. So, has Cuba acquired a new Bentley and an Armani suit? “I’m not a hip-hop artist,” he said, laughing. “We’ve been very successful. Let’s just put it that way.”

Born Alexis Puentes in Cuba, the Juno-winning singer-songwriter lived in Victoria before moving to Smithers. He has just released his own eponymous solo album, a genre-hopping effort that — while rooted in the music of his homeland — also dips into funk, rock and soul. Perhaps the biggest surprise on Alex Cuba is the song If You Give Me Love. A retro-sounding slice of pop-funk peppered with horn shots, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tower of Power record. It’s the sole English language track on the disc, and the first song Cuba has ever recorded in English. The decision wasn’t made lightly. Cuba, who moved to Canada in 1995, said he wanted to get a better handle on the language before writing and singing lyrics in English. “Time has to go by before you can totally get poetry happening, you know,” he said.

Most of the album was recorded in Victoria with producer Joby Baker, who also played drums and keyboards. Cuba said he loves working with Baker. It’s partly his speedy and efficient approach — he recalled Baker mixing tunes as Cuba was playing them. As well, the pair are musical soul-mates, able to communicate often with a mere exchange of glances. “We share the same passion for music,” Cuba said. “We have the same heroes. We feel music pretty much the same way.” Making the album was especially challenging because of Cuba’s chock-a-block schedule. While it took only five weeks to record, this was broken into three sessions scattered throughout 2009. Cuba said he found it tough to regain his focus after leaving the project.

The recording schedule was chopped up partly because of Cuba’s songwriting collaboration with Furtado. The pair met through a mutual musician friend. Furtado enjoyed Cuba’s contributions so much, she kept asking him to do additional sessions. He ended up co-writing seven of the nine songs on Mi Plan. “My experience with her was beautiful,” he said. “We realized right away the chemistry was natural between us.”

Cuba was particularly impressed to see Furtado’s enthusiasm for music-making. If the pair hit on a winning melody or song concept, she was thrilled — and didn’t mind showing it. “She’d be jumping up and down. She’s managed to stay with it all these years. To see someone so excited by music and so driven by it, that is very inspiring.” Furtado and Cuba will continue to make beautiful music together in 2010. “She wants to take me on the road to open for her when she starts touring next year. That’ll be lovely to do a few shows, eh?”

Havana – DTC – The attractions of Varadero beach, Cuba’s major coastal resort, are complimented by facilities to play golf.  The Varadero Golf Club, which has an excellent 18-hole course, can host high-level international competitions. It is near the hotels Sol Palmeras, Las Américas and Meliá Varadero, which are run by the Spanish chain Sol Meliá. Some 35,000 rounds of golf have been played there over the past year, a record in the history of the club, where more than 250,000 rounds have been played since it was founded a decade ago. According to experts, the Varadero Golf Club has been visited by world-known figures from political, social, sports and cultural sectors. The Varadero Golf Club is a major attraction for visitors, who can practice that sport while on vacation in Cuba.

HAVANA, Cuba – (ACN) – Companies from Cuba and Spain penned, within the framework of Havana’s 27th International Trade Fair, a letter of intent to improve the quality of the sanitation products made at the Ironwork Plant in Havana. The accord was signed by José Tomas Vázquez García, director of the island’s Industrial Ironwork Enterprise and Teodoro Bastida, president of the Miesa Enterprise. Vazquez told ACN that the agreement will guarantee the necessary capital for the construction of a modern line for the superficial nickel-chrome treatment of products. The accord also includes the building of a plant for sewage disposal, which will contribute to environmental protection. Investment is estimated at 1.4 million dollars and its execution has been scheduled for the first semester of 2010. The Ironwork Plant produces iron fittings for bathroom, carpentry and locksmith works; economic and luxury bathrooms fixtures; and constructs and repairs ornamental pieces.

MinnPost – HAVANA, Cuba — The sharks, sea turtles and other miscellaneous underwater creatures that roam the Gulf of Mexico could care less about the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, or the island’s one-party communist state. So why should such terrestrial concerns get in the way of marine research? That appears to be the logic behind a growing partnership between scientists in the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico working on a multinational plan to protect the gulf’s underwater ecosystems. This week, a delegation of about 30 U.S. researchers and ocean advocates have been in Havana for meetings with their Cuban and Mexican counterparts, and trip organizers said they’re aiming to create a regional protection strategy that all three countries would enforce.

Similar collaborations exist between the U.S. and Cuba for hurricane tracking and research, but participants said this was the most significant marine science partnership between the countries to date. The effort is another small but significant example of improving ties between the U.S. and Cuba on matters of mutual concern — in this case a single, shared marine ecosystem. “We know our countries have different administrations and points of view, but there’s only one atmosphere and one ocean,” said Alberto Vazquez de la Cerda, an oceanographer and retired vice admiral of the Mexican Navy, who hosted two previous meetings for U.S. and Cuba scientists in Mexico. “Mother nature doesn’t care about borders or politics,” he said.

The meetings have identified several priorities for the three countries, including research and conservation of coral reefs, sharks, sea turtles and dolphins, as well as the better management of fisheries. Unlike other parts of the globe where large stretches of open international waters can make enforcement difficult, the Gulf of Mexico is divided almost entirely among the three countries, improving the chances for protection, scientists said.

Politics remain an obstacle to the partnership. Cuban authorities have traditionally been wary of U.S. scientists seeking to visit remote areas of the island for research purposes out of concern over espionage. And the U.S. government has routinely denied visas for Cuban marine researchers seeking to travel to the U.S., though the Obama administration has shown more flexibility lately in granting academic and research visas, according to conference participants. “Because of the political relationship between our countries, it takes some stamina to work here,” said David Guggenheim, the marine scientist who led the U.S. delegation, speaking at Cuba’s National Aquarium in Havana, where the meetings were held.

A comprehensive effort to study marine ecosystems in the gulf and advocate for their protection is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, Guggenheim said. “Eventually this is going to require the support of governments, and multiple government agencies.” One factor potentially complicating such a partnership is that Cuba is looking to develop deep water petroleum reserves in its portion of the gulf, having signed exploration deals with nearly a dozen foreign oil companies in recent years. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated Cuba’s potential oil deposits at 5 billion barrels — on par with some of the region’s biggest suppliers — while Cuban officials claim up to 20 billion barrels lie beneath the ocean floor.

No offshore drilling operations are currently underway, but if Cuba and its partners do strike oil, it would present a serious new environmental hazard for the region. Prevailing currents would likely push an oil spill into the Florida Keys and up the U.S. eastern seaboard, scientists say, but they recognize Cuba is too pressed for cash to forgo lucrative energy development in favor of strict environmental protection. That’s a reason U.S. scientists say they want to form partnerships now — to advocate for the safest and most sensitive drilling practices.

American scientists also said they’re eager to explore Cuba’s marine ecosystems, which include some of the region’s most extensive and intact coral reefs. Cuba has excellent scientists, U.S. researchers said, but the country has lacked the financial resources to gather much data in recent years. “Cuba is the least known corner of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Guggenheim, director of the Washington-based advocacy group 1planet1ocean.org. “For marine researchers in Flordia, Cuba is a very romantic place,” said Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at MOTE Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. “We’ve often looked south to Cuba from the shores of the Florida Keys and thought ‘why can’t we go there to extend our studies?’”

Hueter said the species he studies travel back and forth between the U.S. and Cuba, and that shark populations in the region have declined 50 to 75 percent since industrial fishing for the animals began 30 years ago. For some species, the decline is more than 90 percent. That underlines the need for multinational protection, said Hueter. While he recognizes there are political reasons that make closer cooperation difficult, “from a scientific basis, it just doesn’t make sense for us to treat this area of the ocean as if it doesn’t exist.”

Examiner.com – Iran has agreed to increase its existing line of credit to Cuba from 200 million euros to 500 euros, the equivalent of a $445 million increase, said Iran’s minister of Industries and Mines Ali-Akbar Mehrabian. According to PressTV, the additional credit is meant to finance quick-return projects. The Memorandum of Understanding that detailed the credit extension was signed between Cuban and Iranian officials at the end of their 14th joint economic cooperation committee meeting in Havana. Mehrabian says the line of credit will also provide Cuba with facilities for buying Iranian goods and engineering services. He says Tehran is ready to expand its economic ties with Havana.

Cuba’s economy is in even more dire straits than usual, due to the global economic crisis. The island’s government recently reported its exports had declined by 36 percent in the last year. Cuba has also been denied credit by several countries and international organizations like the World Bank because of its historical inability to repay loans. Economic cooperation between Cuba and Iran has been growing steadily in the last few years, adding to the fears of observers who are concerned over Iran’s growing footprint in the Western Hemisphere.

Many others believe Cuba—and other countries in the region with ties to Iran—should be free to engage in agreements with any country in the world, free of international criticism. Media reports did not indicate what kinds of Iranian goods Cuba might buy with the credit. Engineering services would likely take the form of assistance in repairing Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure. Reports also did not say what the terms of repayment would be.

Havana – DTC – The Cuba division of the Spanish hotel chain Sol Meliá has offered tourists the possibility of visiting the keys of the Cuban archipelago. The company provides information about the Caribbean island’s keys on the website CubaKeys.com. The website, available in Spanish and English, provides details about Sol Meliá’s products on the keys, where the group runs more than 3,000 rooms in ten five- and four-star hotels. Web surfers can search hotels by destinations (Cayo Largo del Sur, Cayo Santa María, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Coco), brands (Meliá, Sol and Tryp) and travel interests (family, weddings, honeymoons, incentive, spa and adults only). The website also offers online reservations, availability and confirmation in real time, in addition to reservations for domestic flights to the keys.

Latin America Herald Tribune – HAVANA – The Russian and Cuban governments have signed four agreements for oil exploration and production on the Caribbean island, official media reported. Under the accords, Russian state energy firm Zarubezhneft has been given permission to operate for 25 years in blocks located in the Cuban provinces of Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila, Cuban state television said. Cuban Basic Industry Minister Yadira Garcia and Russian Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Ivan Materov attended the signing ceremony, which took place at Russia’s pavilion at the International Trade Fair in Havana, which got underway on Monday.

The deal represents the countries’ first bilateral oil agreement since the demise of the Soviet Union, which subsidized the Cuban economy for decades. Spain’s Repsol-YPF, Norway’s Norsk Hydro, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Malaysia’s Petronas, Venezuela’s PDVSA, Vietnam’s PetroVietnam and Brazil’s Petrobras all have signed oil-exploration deals with Cuba’s communist government. Cuban state oil firm Cuba Petroleo said last November that about 20 billion barrels could lie in the island’s offshore fields, while the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest total of between 4.6 billion and 9.3 billion barrels of recoverable crude. Cuba currently imports from close ally Venezuela more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude oil – or about half the island’s needs – under preferential terms that allow the country to pay with medical, educational and sports services.

Havana – DTC – The company Ibercruceros will include Bilbao, Vigo and Cádiz as main ports for its operations next year, as part of a strategy to grow on the Spanish market. Plans also include the enlargement of the company’s fleet and new routes. Ibercruceros is already present in Barcelona and Málaga. Starting in May 2010, the ship Grand Holiday, which is similar to the Grand Celebration, will join Ibercruceros’s fleet. In addition, the company will operate eight voyages to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina between November 2010 and March 2011. The ships will visit the cities of Natal, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Itajai, Buzios, Vitoria, Maceio, Ilheus, Copacabana, Ilhabela, Angra dos Reis in Brazil, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Montevideo in Uruguay.

BU Today – Boston – Perhaps it’s easier to make nice with far-flung enemies than with next-door adversaries, which would explain why the United States has normalized relations and developed large trading partnerships with Russia, China, and Vietnam, but not so Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of Florida. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, when Fidel Castro took power, nationalized American business interests, sent many Cubans into exile, and transformed the nation into a Communist state.

An embargo against all trade and traffic between the nations was instituted by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, intended to strangle the Castro-led government. It remains in effect, codified by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which forces another round of congressional legislation and presidential signature before the ban can be lifted. President Barack Obama has moved, albeit with small steps, to thaw relations between the United States and Cuba. But the president who campaigned on a willingness to speak with adversaries is not ready to lift the embargo or to chat with Raul Castro, who became Cuba’s president when his old and ailing brother stepped down last year.

In a nod toward the delicate diplomatic dance around Cuba, Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future is hosting the conference Whither U.S.-Cuba Policy? A Dialogue Among Policy Makers and Scholars tomorrow, with panel discussions involving academic experts and policy makers, and an address by U.S. Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. Susan Eckstein, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of sociology and international relations and author of several books on Cuba, will participate in one of the conference panel discussions.

BU Today: The Obama administration seems to be warming toward Cuba. What moves has the president made? One thing that has happened publicly is that he removed restrictions on the rights of Cuban-Americans to send remittances and visit their families. That is up to presidential discretion and has varied between the Clinton and Bush administrations. Things got pretty drastic in 2004 under Bush, when Cuban-Americans could visit their families only once every three years. Your mother could be dying, and you couldn’t go see her. Talks have resumed between high-level people in Washington, D.C., and Cuba on issues like immigration, but have not led to a specific public policy change.

For example, I think there may be some readiness to remove Cuba from the list of terrorist countries. Relations with China and Russia, current and former Communist countries, have improved. Why do you think it’s taken so long for the U.S. position on next-door neighbor Cuba to change?

It cannot be explained as an anti-Communist policy, because we’ve resumed relations with Vietnam as well as with China. The explanation is really about domestic policy. A large percentage of Cuban-Americans live in the country’s largest swing state, Florida. They account for about 8 percent of Florida’s electorate. The political contributions made by the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee have also been important. It’s been documented that in Washington, there’s a relationship between receiving money from this PAC and how congressmen vote on legislation. There have been a couple serious tightenings of the embargo since the Cold War ended. In 1992 and 1996, the Cuban-American lobbyists were fundamental to that.

What is the Obama administration’s goal in reaching out to Cuba?

The goal would probably be to resume diplomatic and economic relations. But that’s not going to happen overnight. I think the United States would only do that if either Cuba gets perceived to be so economically important to this country — for example, if there were major oil finds — or there’s a regime change.

How are Cubans responding to this? And how are Cuban-Americans in Miami responding?

I don’t think Cuba is a cohesive force, that there’s a Cuban view. I think some people are wary or distrustful of the United States. There’s unfortunately an almost adolescent relationship between Cuba and the United States. If one country wants something, the other therefore postures that it doesn’t want it. Any shifts get scrutinized and questioned for ulterior motives. Miami is split. There are some who are still hard-line on Cuba. There’s also a new generation of Cuban-Americans that has two parts to it. One group is children of the early émigrés, the next generation, born in this country. They tend to be more flexible. They’re not only the children of their parents, but they are a product of the American school system, the American media.

You also have the newest Cuban-American immigrants, who’ve come in the post-Soviet period. Many of them didn’t know prerevolutionary Cuba. They didn’t lose anything. They didn’t lose their property. They have a very pragmatic view of life, not an ideologically driven one. They’re like classic immigrants from any country. What they want to do is earn money, share it with their families back home. They want to see their families. The early Cuban-Americans don’t send money to family still in Cuba, and they don’t want other Cuban-Americans to send it. They refuse to visit. They want to kind of pressure-cook Cuba, squish it to the point of collapse.

Havana – DTC – The company RENSOL, based in the eastern Cuban province of Ciego de Avila, opened a plant to make solar heaters. The facility is equipped with Chinese-made technology, which contributes to saving fuel, power and financial resources. The factory’s plan this year is 5,000 heaters of 90-200 liters of water. Production will save 1,200 dollars per each imported water heater, which are used in hotels, hospitals and health centers. RENSOL has also exported more than 5,000 heat-exchange batteries to Italy.

AP – Cuba has cut two staple foods from the monthly ration books that most islanders depend on, edging closer to a risky full elimination of the decades-old subsidies. Potatoes and peas were dropped from the list of rationed foods this week, meaning Cubans can buy as much of the products as they want — as long as they are willing to pay as much as 20 times more than they used to. The move comes amid efforts by Raul Castro’s government to scale back Cuba’s subsidy-rich, cash-poor economy. Nearly free lunches were eliminated from some state-cafeterias in September. In October, the Communist Party’s Granma newspaper published a full-page editorial saying the time had come to do away with the ration books altogether.

Authorities say their goal is to encourage more productivity and free the state from a crushing economic burden. Critics — including some on the streets of Havana — argue that the moves break with what had been a sacred covenant of the revolution Fidel Castro led in 1959: that socialism would not make people rich, but would provide all Cubans with at least the basics. Even with the changes, the state pays for or heavily subsidizes nearly everything, from education to health care, housing to transportation. But many Cubans see the ration book — or “libreta” in Spanish– as a flawed but fundamental right, and shoppers on Friday bristled at the new changes

“This is crazy. They should be adding products to the ration book, not taking away from it,” said Roberto Rodriguez, a 55-year-old delivery man buying rice, sugar and coffee at an official store in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. “If they don’t produce enough, people will start to hoard products and things will get even worse.” He said he worried that Cubans with access to money sent by relatives abroad would buy up all the potatoes and peas they could, leaving ordinary people in the lurch if there are shortages.

Previously, Cubans were entitled to buy up to four pounds of potatoes and 10 ounces of peas a month, with the price set at about a penny per pound for potatoes and just under a penny per pound for peas. Both were available only in state-owned ration stores or on the black market. Now, official buying limits are gone, but Cubans must pay 5 cents a pound for potatoes and 17 cents a pound for peas at the same ration shops. That may not sound like much, but it’s significant in a country where the average salary is about $20 a month.

“I would prefer that the ration system continue. It assures people that they will have food,” said retiree Juana Rodriguez, 78, who was also shopping at the Vedado shop but was no relation of Roberto. “There are many poor people who simply can’t afford to buy food on the open market.” Cuba’s ration system began in 1962 as a temporary way to guarantee basic food in the face of Washington’s new embargo. Today, however, Cuba spends more than $2 billion on imported food, nearly all of which goes to the ration system, assuring subsidized rice, legumes, bread, eggs and tiny amounts of meat. The government estimates the ration provides a third of what the average Cuban consumes.

Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Washington-area think tank the Lexington Institute, said the move is part of a well-publicized if slow-moving effort to overhaul Cuba’s economy. “They’ve been very clear that they want to move away from the libreta and from subsidies in general,” he said. “They are doing it piecemeal.” Peters said the government is also trying to dramatically increase the amount it pays farmers for their crops in an effort to spur more productivity. As a result, it must cut or reduce the subsidies to consumers. He said dropping the subsidy on potatoes and peas was a good way to test the waters before making a more aggressive move because neither is central to the Cuban diet. “If they did it with rice and beans and the supplies disappeared,” he said, “people would go crazy.”

HAVANA TIMES – The Committee on Foreign Affairs of the US House of Representatives has called a hearing for November 18 on the subject: “Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba? Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman, (D-Calif) announced today that the hearing is open and will take place at 10:00 a.m. at Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Two of the most outspoken representatives in favor of ending the decades old prohibition are on the 47-member Foreign Affairs Committee:  Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, as well as Democrat Barbara Lee of California, who recently met in Havana with President Raul Castro.

Back in February, only two weeks after Barack Obama took office, Rep. Delahunt introduced legislation (HR 874) that would lift the travel ban on US citizens wanting to visit Cuba.   The bill now has 180 co-sponsors. Also on the Committee is the fervent anti-Castro, Cuban-American, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who would like to see the travel ban on US citizens, and blockade against Cuba, continue without change. President Obama has not said whether he would sign HR 874 if it passes the full house or squash the bill by threatening a veto as did George W. Bush during his two terms in office.

The Film Stage – Another derivation of legendary author Ernest Hemingway’s illustrious life will receive big screen treatment with the help of a familial descendant. Andy Garcia teamed up with Hemingway’s granddaughter Hilary Hemingway to write a script for the drama, Hemingway and Fuentes. Garcia will also direct. The film depicts the 20 years that the author and his best pal Gregorio Fuentes spent fishing in Cuba. Hemingway’s experiences significantly influenced his subsequent 1952 novella, The Old Man and the Sea. Sir Anthony Hopkins is an inspired choice for the part of Hemingway, while Annette Bening will play his third wife Mary Welsh Hemingway and Garcia will play Fuentes, Michael Fleming of Variety reports. Those who have read The Old Man and the Sea can concur that telling this story-behind-the-story is likely a much more fruitful excursion than adapting the visually stagnant (albeit rich in literary subtext) novella.

Havana – DTC – The Empresa de Bebidas y Refrescos (EMBER), based in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus, is producing mineral water under the brand Santa María. The water, which comes from springs in the municipality of Yaguajay, is being sold in hard-currency shops in 5- and 19-liter bottles. The water, whose quality has been certified by Villa Clara’s territorial laboratory, contains bicarbonate, sodium chloride, calcium sulfate and magnesium. In order to start up production, the spring was protected and a 2.7-kilometer pipe was built to carry the water to the bottling line. The spring supplies an average of 0.33 liters per second. Before being bottled, the water is ozonized.

Guantanamo – (CMKS) – The 15 Turkish companies making up the pavilion of that European country, participate in the Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV 2009) with the aim to enhance the exchange between both nations. Omer Giray, general coordinator of the Turkish representation at the fair, said that in the last five years regarding business between the two countries are growing each year, which has been affected in this 2009 due to the impact of global economic crisis. Giray he said that next 2010 the economic exchange between both nations will have a boost with the recent visit to the Isle of Cemil Cicek, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State.

The chairman of CEO of Databank consultancy argued that his country attaches value to exchanges with the Cuban biotechnology industry, with which they have signed several agreements. We are already negotiating with other institutions like Heber-Biotec, Finlay Institute and some Farmacuba units, he said. He stressed that the charcoal and biotechnology are the main products imported from Cuba for next year; in addition he expected to sign new agreements during the Fair.

The China Post – HAVANA – Cuba opened its annual international trade fair with the news its foreign trade was down 36 percent this year as the communist-ruled island battles the effects of the global economic recession.

// Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca told diplomats and business people at the ExpoCuba exhibition center in suburban Havana that most of the decline was due to decreased imports, reflecting Cuba’s attempts to tighten its financial belt. “Statistics show that at the close of the third quarter of 2009, the trade of goods was down 36 percent in relation to the same period the year before,” he said. Total trade for the first nine months was “around $10 billion,” Malmierca said.

Cuba’s economy has been battered by the global recession, damaging hurricanes in late 2008 and productivity problems that President Raul Castro is trying to fix by cutting government handouts and giving financial incentives for harder work. Cuba’s trade deficit soared to $11.4 billion in 2008 as rising import costs and lower prices for Cuban exports depleted cash reserves. In response, Cuba took several measures, including stopping payments to many foreign suppliers. Malmierca said Cuba planned to pay up eventually. “I can assure you that we have the greatest willingness for dialogue with our economic partners and that Cuba will continue to be a reliable partner,” he said.

The Cuban government said 54 countries were participating in the fair, with large, prominent pavilions filled by allies such as Venezuela, China and Brazil. Far in the back of the sprawling exposition center were booths for about 35 U.S. businesses and organizations that included delegations from states including Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland. The Americans said they looked forward to the day the United States and Cuba, just 90 miles apart but ideological foes since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, resume normal trading relations. The United States has had a trade embargo against Cuba for 47 years, but sales of agricultural products and medicine are allowed. “This is not just about business,” said Paul Johnson, president of Chicago Foods International. “I want to help bridge the gap between the United States and Cuba.” “People who want to normalize trade feel like our embargo is hypocritical,” said Terry Coleman, Georgia’s deputy agricultural commissioner.

Havana – DTC – The beauty and quality of Cuban marble and construction materials was promoted at a meeting between Cuban and Italian businesspeople. The meeting, held in central Sancti Spiritus province, was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba and the company Mármoles Cubanos, which is attached to the group Materiales de la Construcción (GEICON). As part of the event, experts visited the Cariblanca quarry to learn about the extraction and processing of ornamental rocks. The Italian experts were also briefed about the current situation and prospects of Cuba’s construction sector. At the same time, Cuban executives learned about the latest technologies used in Italy to extract marble blocks and process ornamental rocks. The latter consists of sawing, covering, polishing and calibrating the rock to use it in construction works.

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – As part of the innovations of the 27th edition of Havana International Fair, FIHAV 2009, the joint enterprise between French company Pernod Ricard and Cuban enterprise Havana Rum and Liquors, Havana Club International proposed to launch Chivas Regal 18 Year Old Scotch Whisky in Cuba. This iconic brand grants Cuban tourism a touch of elegance to please those travelers with a discerning palate visiting this country, mainly those coming from Europe. Chivas 18 Year Old, an ultra-premium blended Scotch whisky, is the latest expression in the world, specially made to please the most discerning palates, recognized by some experts as one of the most important brands of blended scotch. Havana Club International, besides commercializing world and nationwide the best Cuban rum, in its joint enterprise of CubaRon and the French Company Pernod Ricard (since 1993), can afford to commercialize this brand in Cuba in view of a growing tourist industry in the future.

Havana – DTC – The eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas will increase production of high-quality alcohol to meet the demand from the domestic market. In order to achieve that goal, a new distillation system will be installed in the Antonio Guiteras agri-industrial complex to produce 240 hectoliters a day to make rum. Alcohol will also be supplied to the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, and to other Cuban provinces. The quality of rums such as Bucanero, Corsario and Delicias, made in Las Tunas, will improve after the distillery starts up operation.  The Antonio Guiteras agri-industrial complex also produces 1,000 hectoliters of alcohol a day from local raw materials.

Havana, Cuba – (CNN) – Richard Waltzer has a pitch for Cuba: Miller beer and Häagen-Dazs ice cream. If he has his way, those products soon will be available at supermarkets and beach resorts on the communist island. “This is one of the things people are going to pay premium for,” Waltzer said, “especially the tourists that have the dollars. It’s going to be a phenomenal product.” Last week, dozens of Americans were in Havana, peddling their wares at an international trade fair: apples, pears, grapes, raisins, nuts out of California. U.S.-Cuba relations appear to be thawing. In Havana, billboards depicting the U.S. president as Adolf Hitler have disappeared. In Washington, President Obama has lifted restrictions on Cuban-American travel and money transfers. The new political climate has prompted companies such as Chicago Foods to come to Havana’s trade fair for the first time. They’re hoping to break into the little-known market and go home with a contract.

Despite a trade embargo imposed against Cuba in 1962, the United States is the No. 1 supplier of food to that country and has been for more than five years. A law passed in 2000 allows the United States to export agricultural products and medicine. But this year, the global economic crisis is taking its toll. “Cuba has not been an exception,” said Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, minister of foreign trade and investment. “At the end of the third quarter in 2009, our trade fell by 36 percent.”

The country is slashing imports of U.S. food by one-third, which means some vendors will go home empty-handed. But vendors are betting U.S.-Cuba relations will only get better. They said they’re also hoping the next step could be bills in the U.S. Congress that would eliminate restrictions on all Americans traveling to Cuba. “We’re in this for the long haul as well,” said Paul Johnson of Chicago Foods. “Like I said before, we’re thinking about today as well as tomorrow.” …..a tomorrow that would have U.S. tourists sipping American beer on Cuban beaches.

The Post – Canada has announced it will open a Canadian Commercial Corporation office in Havana to take care of the rest of the Caribbean region. And Canadian Ambassador to Cuba Jean Pierre Juneau has said Canadians account for 40 per cent of tourists to Cuba. Addressing journalists at the Canadian pavilion at the ongoing 27th Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV), Canada Commercial Corporation (CCC) president Marc Whittingham said Canada’s international contracting agency would open its offices in Havana next year. “It could take six months to do everything but by the trade fair next year the office will be operational,” Whittingham said.

He said the CCC was a federal Crown corporation mandated to promote and facilitate international trade on behalf of Canadian industry particularly within government markets. Established in 1946, the CCC two business lines are structured to support Canadian companies contracting into the defence sector primarily with the United States and Canadian exporters contracting into emerging and developing country markets. When a foreign buyer enters into a Procurement Service agreement (PSA) with CCC, the corporation will act as a Canadian procurement agent under a government-to-government arrangement.

Whittingham said despite the global economic crisis Canada would continue to work on strengthening its links with Cuba. He said while the CCC did not provide the cheapest product the consumer would be getting value for money, knowledge transfer and corporate social responsibility second to none. Whittingham said Canada and Cuba had a certain connectivity adding that international commerce was about relations. “It is a difficult time for both Cuba and Canada’s economy,” he said. “For Canada, we have come out of the recession with a firm banking sector but credit is still extremely difficult to obtain right now in Canada.”

Whittingham said CCC would open the office in Havana to consolidate its business.
He said given the stability and good working relationship with Cuba, the CCC office in Havana would be in charge of the entire Caribbean region. And Ambassador Juneau said Canada’s pavilion at the FIHAV was the second largest after that of Spain. He said Canada is among the top three investors in Cuba. Ambassador Juneau said Canada one of the lead importers of Cuban products and contributed to the island’s foreign exchange through operations in Nickel, oil operations and tourism. He said so far some 800,000 Canadian tourists had visited Cuba. “Weather has something to do with it and also the characteristic friendship of Cubans,” Ambassador Juneau said.

He observed that on overall Cuban exports had decreased by 25 per cent this year while that of Canada by 10 per cent. Ambassador Juneau said the global crisis had brought about financial pressure for many companies. Cuban foreign trade and investment deputy minister Antonio Luis Carricarte agreed that the Canada was the largest tourist emitting market to the island. Carricarte said Canada was also fourth in import-export activities. However, Carricarte said there had been a decrease in the bilateral commerce. He said it was a temporary problem caused by the global economic crisis. “This trade fair can contribute to finding alternatives from which both countries can profit,” said Carricarte. “Canada can cooperate in fields like agriculture and its industrialization, investments in tourism and in the development of mining and oil exploitation.”

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Business meetings between entrepreneurs, the signing of contracts, national days of some countries, the promotion of products and services, and professional visits, characterize Havana’s 27th International Fair –FIHAV 2009- at the Expocuba Complex. Expocuba’s 24 pavilions were swarming with participants, in which time doesn’t seem to be enough to enjoy its attractions in terms of exhibitions and commercialization. The food and health sectors are the most represented among the 111 Cuban entities or firms exhibiting their products and services. In this regard, we find the stands of Labiofam, Geocuba, those of institutions at Havana’s scientific area, Havana Club International, Molinos de Regla and Union Suchel.

The vice-president of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Odalis Seijo, said that in each contact, visit or identification of possible areas for exchange, Cuban businessmen make emphasis on export, the replacement of imports or the search for investments that guarantee both market and technology. The Cuban official told ACN that “this fair is characterized by a significant participation of experts from 54 nations. In addition, 46 chambers of commerce from Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia are represented at the Fair besides the bilateral meetings we’re having.”

Seijo added that at Havana’s Expocuba Complex, there are business meetings between the Cuban and Venezuelan parties, and that similar contacts took place with South Africa, the German region of Bavaria and Russia. FIHAV 2009 opened its doors last Monday with the presence of 1,230 companies from 54 countries, being Spain, Canada, China, Russia and Venezuela the most represented. Italy, Germany, Mexico and Brazil also have an important participation, according to the Organizing Committee.

HAVANA – (Xinhua) – Chinese enterprises are attracting great attention at the 27th International Fair of Havana (FIHAV-2009), the largest trade fair in Cuba. The FIHAV-2009, which ran until Nov. 7, attracted 2,500 businessmen representing 1,230 companies from 54 countries. China is the third largest participant in the fair, coming right after Spain and Canada. The Chinese pavilion includes about 15 companies, which are organized by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT).

“Haier,” a Chinese electrical appliance company, is presenting its liquid screens, DVS players, washing machines and solar heaters here. Li Dandan, Haier’s representative, told Xinhua that “the Fair is an excellent opportunity to promote Chinese products.” Meanwhile, another Chinese appliance company, “Konka,” is putting its latest television sets and audio equipment on display. The home appliance company “AUX,” which specializes in air conditioners, is also popular among visitors. Other Chinese companies represented at the fair included car makers, pharmaceutical and food processing companies. With a yearly trade volume of 2.3 billion U.S. dollars, China is Cuba’s second largest commercial partner, coming only after Venezuela. China is Cuba’s biggest Asian supplier of capital and consumer goods ranging from busses and machinery to electrical appliances.

Havana – DTC – Cuban judo will have a Black Belt College (Judan-Shakai), as part of actions to promote that sport in the Caribbean Island. According to promoters of the initiative, the president of the organization will be Dayma Beltrán, who has won several Olympic and world medals in the +78-kg division. The club will bring together all Cuban black belt judokas and will contribute to their technical and professional upgrading. It will also establish collaboration relations with social and cultural institutions to improve Cuban judo. Organizers expect the Black Belt College will contribute to promoting judo in both Cuba and abroad.

CP – OTTAWA — Tourists headed to sunny Cuba this winter may want to think twice about visiting the Canadian embassy in Havana – a new audit slams the operation for basic security problems. The overcrowded, crumbling offices have failed to provide basic privacy or security, resulting in at least one assault. “The Consular Program continues to operate without a booth to provide privacy and security when conducting interviews of clients,” says the newly released audit, completed in June. “This situation has already resulted in one known incident of assault on a consular staff member.”

The lax security dates from at least 1997 when a previous inspection noted the same problems, which were not fixed for 12 years. “Most of these issues have now been resolved,” said Rodney Moore, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department. “The safety and security of Canadians visiting the embassy in Cuba is not a concern.” About 900,000 Canadians travel to Cuba each year, making it No. 5 on the list of holiday destinations for winter-weary Canucks. The embassy’s 15 Canadian-based staff process about 2,500 passport, citizenship and other legal applications each year, assisted by about 54 local Cuban employees. The offices are also required to help Australian and Israeli citizens under agreements with those countries. “There is no privacy for clients who must discuss private or sensitive matters,” says the audit, with key passages censored.

Moore acknowledged that the section of the embassy that provides consular services is a scene of regular confrontations. “There are incidents of verbal abuse and, at a lower frequency, physical intimidation every year in our present set-up,” he said in an email. “Renovations to this section, including construction of a privacy booth, are being completed.” The first phase of the $3 million in renovations is expected to be completed in March, he added. The auditors noted that because Cuba is a cash-based society, embassy employees must regularly transfer large numbers of bank notes to and from the local bank. “The risk to staff who must transport and assume responsibility for large amounts of cash is also of concern,” says the audit. The bank run “is common knowledge.”

The embassy’s 80 guards are paid with cash-stuffed envelopes, all of which are given to the head guard to distribute. “This practice not only places the head guard at risk but also places him in a position of power over his colleagues.” The report suggested mission staff simply do not take security seriously. “The mission faces a range of security threats, yet it has an inactive committee on security. A number of recommendations of a previous security review remain unaddressed.” The auditors also found there was no mass evacuation plan should Canadian citizens need to be quickly removed from Cuba because of a “civil emergency or rapidly deteriorating security situation.” Moore said the security committee has since been reactivated and an evacuation plan drawn up.

Canada leased the embassy building from the Cuban government in 1962. The white-washed, two-storey structure, about 80 years old, is surrounded by palm trees and a tall wire fence. The building is readily identified by large satellite dishes sprouting from the flat-topped roof. One bright spot in the audit is the official residence of the ambassador, currently Jean-Pierre Juneau. The report says it is in good condition, thanks in part to the services of a senior servant, maid, cook and gardener, along with several guards.

Havana – DTC – Cuban companies and artisans are making sports equipment, as part of initiatives to foster sports practice in the country. Central Villa Clara province is producing inputs and equipment to promote mass sports practice in communities and schools. Artisans are also using timber to make baseball bats of different sizes and balls to train children. Local industries are making ping-pong tables and paddles, batons for relay races and clubs for rhythmic gymnastics, among other equipment. Artisans are also making baseball gloves, volleyball nets, uniforms and shoes for athletics, boxing, wrestling, soccer, cycling and basketball.

Radio Havana Cuba – Cuba will host, for the first time ever, the World Congress of the International Council of Organizations for Folklore Festivals and Folk Art (CIOFF), the 39th event of which is set for November 8th through the 15th at Havana’s Convention Centre. Guillermo Artiles, President of the event’s Organizing Committee, told the press that participants will gather in several commissions and working groups to outline new strategies, policies and activities, aimed at promoting folk art.

The new Council’s presidency will also be elected and approved. Artiles added that 160 delegates from 49 countries have already confirmed their attendance, while Cuba will be represented by 60 delegates. The congress is being organized by the Cuban National Section and supported by the National Council for “Casas de Cultura”, the Ministry of Culture and other government and non-government institutions, and sponsored by the UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Cuban News Agency – The Suchel-Fragancia Company’s laboratories of applied research are developing new scents and perfumes to please Cuban customers and abroad. Jorge Luis Rodriguez, a specialist in this company which is located in Havana, told ACN that their main objective is to substitute imports. Rodriguez said they have all the human and technological resources to come up with new fragrances to enable them to face domestic demands.

He highlighted that at the moment they have a wide commercial deal with China, where they are buying essences and other products with similar qualities to the ones sold in Europe and with guaranteed payment, which lowers production costs. Suchel-Fragancia has held the ISO 9000 quality certificate for the past eight years, and they are also working on the implementation of environmental norms and technological upgrading. This entity is in charge of supplying the Casa del Perfume (House of Perfume), a joint project involving the Habaguanex company and the Havana City Historian’s Office.

In this institution, located in Havana’s Historical Center, there is an exhibition of objects
related to perfume production and they offer customized perfumes as well as generic ones, depending on the client’s tastes. They also sell special perfume editions like the Camerata series. As in every year, the company is participating in the Havana International Trade Fair, in order to show off their products and to settle deals with companies and producers from all over the world.

HAVANA – (Reuters) – A popular website of classified ads that has given Cubans a taste of the free market has been blocked on the communist-run island, Internet users said. Cubans trying to access Revolico.com, which says it has more than 1.5 million page views a month, are being diverted to the search engine Google.com. “If I type the address and press ‘enter,’ I get redirected. If I Google it and click, I get redirected. What is going on?” asked Sandra a 30-year-old government employee who, like several others interviewed, did not give their full names.

Cuban computer experts say an Internet content filter is preventing access to the Craigslist-like site, which has emerged as a booming virtual free market in the socialist nation with a tightly controlled economy where consumer goods tend to be scarce and expensive. On Revolico.com, Cubans with access to the Internet can buy and sell anything from computer memory sticks to a 1950 Plymouth. “There you can find all the things the government sells you at brutal prices and freely pick exactly what you want,” said Alberto, who recently used Revolico.com to buy a computer that was not available in the stores.

The Internet in Cuba is controlled by the state monopoly ETECSA, a joint venture between the Cuban government and Telecom Italia. Whether the state was blocking the site was unknown but Cuban authorities have in the past reportedly prohibited access to pages they consider “counter-revolutionary,” including blogs critical of the socialist system. “Apparently someone doesn’t like people buying and selling stuff. But there is always a way,” said Luis, a computer aficionado who has been circulating an e-mail giving directions on how to bypass the filter.

It is not clear where Revolico.com is based but it is hosted out of servers in the United States. An administrator contacted by Reuters outside of Cuba said the site is aware of the filter problem and working to resolve it. The use of content filters is growing around the world, according to The OpenNet Initiative (opennet.net), an academic program monitoring online censorship. “We have just finished our testing in 71 countries and have found evidence of content filtering in close to 40 countries,” said Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and co-founder of The OpenNet Initiative.

Countries like China or Iran use filters to prevent access to sites viewed as politically challenging. Some Western democracies say they use them to block websites with child pornography. Official statistics show that 13 percent of Cuba’s 11 million people have access to the Internet and most of those only to e-mail and a local intranet of approved sites. Cuba blames the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the island for its limited access. The filters on Revolico.com come after Cuba recently blocked the use of the free call service Skype.com in what industry sources said was a purely commercial decision to keep Skype from cutting into revenues for long-distance calls through the phone system.

Internet service providers in other countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates and even the United States have taken similar steps in the past. The U.S. trade embargo, imposed since 1962 to undermine the Cuban government, also has caused U.S. companies such as Microsoft Corp and Google Inc to not provide instant messaging services in Cuba because they say U.S. regulations prohibit required downloads. The Obama administration now is saying it wants the companies to resume the service because they foster communications and democracy.

Jaunted – Starting from last Sunday, Toronto travelers in search of warmth have had two new options courtesy of Canadian low cost carrier WestJet. Last week the airline announced they were launching nonstops to Varadero, Cuba and St Maarten, and the first flights duly took off over the weekend. The company issued separate press releases for the St Maarten and Cuba routes, each identical except for the obviously made up location-specific quotes from Hugh Dunleavy, WestJet Executive Vice-President of Strategy and Planning. That doesn’t make WestJet’s announcement any less exciting. It just kind of made us giggle.

Both new routes have flights three times per week, and both last only until April 29, 2010. Presumably that’s the date they expect Toronto to thaw, with all the consequences for demand that would portend. It’s probably worth mentioning that we first heard about the new routes last week @WestJet which also confirmed that the first airplanes on the routes were in the air.

Havana – DTC – A museum of archeology, dedicated to the lifestyle of primitive communities, will be inaugurated in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. The museum, located in the Guanahacabibes peninsula, will allow visitors to learn about the customs of the first inhabitants of that region. The institution will be inaugurated in the San Juan Valley, where archeologists have found several artifacts that belonged to aboriginal people. Experts took into consideration the existence of 145 archeological sites in the region and its surroundings, as a key element that confirms the presence of indigenous people in the Guanahacabibes peninsula. The Museum of Guanahacabibes will be the second museum of archeology in Cuba. The first one is located in Chorro de Maíta, in eastern Holguín province.

Hour.ca – Havana hip-hop duo Obsesión talk about Afro-Cuban culture, hip-hop and Montreal. Cuban hip-hop ensemble Obsesión recently visited Montreal for a series of community concerts hosted by Nomadic Massive. As a group that celebrate their Afro-Cuban identity, the Havana-based rappers are both supportive and critical of the revolutionary Cuban government, and mix contemporary hip-hop with traditional Cuban musical traditions. They tackle key issues facing Cuban society today using Spanish lyrics. During Obsesión’s last visit to Montreal, Hour had the opportunity to speak with Obsesión’s Magia Lopez and Alexey Rodriguez for the Cultural Crossroads interview series.

When we think of Cuban music, we think of celebrated groups like Buena Vista Social Club. But Obsesión represents an underground sound in Havana’s vibrant hip-hop scene. Can you talk about the hip-hop scene in Cuba today and its relationship to Cuban music generally?  Alexey Rodriguez Today, there isn’t one Cuban identity. Cuban youth express themselves in countless ways in Havana. Around the world today people listen to classic Cuban music like salsa or son, but there are alternative cultural currents happening in Cuba, including hip-hop culture, underground rock music and punk, all of which incorporate a social message into the music. Trova Cubana, another Cuban music, also presents a deeper message and deserves more attention outside Cuba.

Personally, I never really learned about traditional Cuban dances or music. I regret this, but it reflects on my upbringing and my family. I actually listened to American music, to funk music – groups like The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire. These influenced me so much and inspired me to adopt hip-hop as my passion. Of course, it is impossible to completely disconnect from Cuban music traditions, and these are also a part of Obsesión. Our Cuban influence brings something unique to our sound.

Magia Lopez Obsesión’s music will not fit into a particular model or sound that pre-exists; this is what makes our sound unique in Cuba. Also our lyrics and words are more personal. They tell our stories and struggles as Cubans today. Trova Cubana music is also about reality, and address[es] issues often ignored in our society in song. [Songs are] about the difficult neighbourhoods in Cuba, issues you will not hear in a commercial song. It is important for people to understand the magnitude of Cuban music today, and its growing diversity. Salsa is made for dancing, for example, while hip-hop addresses social and political realities. In the 1990s, hip-hop emerged in Cuba, adding another layer to alternative musical expression in Cuba.

Hour – Can you describe your sound in Obsesión? Rodriguez Obsesión will not impose limits on our music – we mix all different styles into hip-hop. We have very political tracks, or songs about simple things in our life. Certainly a focal point to our music and to our sound is the Négritude movement. This is about expressing our pride as Afro-Cubans.

Hour – Why is this important? Can you explain how the Afro-Cuban identity is woven into your music? Rodriguez Both of us in Obsesión went through a process of rediscovering our identity as Afro-Cubans. During a large part of our lives, we rejected our identity as Afro-Cubans, which is not uncommon. Hip-hop allowed us to discover our own history as Afro-Cubans, opening up a whole spectrum of knowledge that wasn’t accessible at school or on TV. Writing songs has now gone beyond the music; we research and discover different sides of Cuban and global history that relate to our identity as Afro-Cubans, and we incorporate this new knowledge into our music.

Hour – Can you give an example of an Obsesión track that manifests this process of discovery about your Afro-Cuban history? Rodriguez One song is Pelo, which is about hair, because in Cuba there is a social obsession with a certain type of hair which isn’t black hair. Also there is Drume negrita, meaning “sleep little black girl,” based on a song often sung as a nursery rhyme, made popular by legendary Cuban pianist Bola de Nieve. It was originally a lullaby, but we adapted it and Obsesión’s version of Drume negrita expresses a declaration of principles to live by as Afro-Cubans: to respect oneself and our history.  Through our music we are trying to transmit knowledge. Actually, we hope that everything we learn in the songwriting process is passed on to the listener, particularly black consciousness and pride for all Afro-Cubans.

Hour – What is the relationship between Afro-Cuban culture and the Cuban revolution? Obsesión supports the Cuban revolution, but we also create a space for self-criticism in Cuba and to bring something new to the revolutionary process in Cuba. There is an important relationship between the black community in Cuba and the revolution. Cuba’s 1959 revolution led to black people accessing many things in Cuban society that were denied to them, including education and representation in the political process. Afro-Cubans have generally benefited from the revolution, but we still need to struggle. Revolution in Cuba is not static and Obsesión tries to move this process forward through hip-hop. We want to contribute to the revolutionary process in Cuba [by formulating and singing] constructive critiques about Cuban society today.

Hour – Rap has taken hold in all corners of the world. As celebrated hip-hop artists from Cuba who regularly visit Montreal and other countries around the world, can you offer your reflections on global hip-hop culture?

Lopez Hip-hop’s origins in the Bronx wasn’t only an Afro-American expression, many Latin Americans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans also thrived in the Bronx and certainly influenced hip-hop’s origins. In a way, hip-hop’s global reach today actually reflects the [diversity of the] neighbourhood where hip-hop started. Rodriguez Hip-hop is really a universal language. Music is universal, but hip-hop brings people together in a conscious way that is unique.

Hour – As hip-hop artists from Havana who regularly perform in Montreal, what draws you to the city? First we travelled to Montreal on an invitation from Nomadic Massive. Montreal has a strong feeling of community and Nomadic Massive share a similar outlook on hip-hop culture and community as we do in Havana. Coming to Montreal isn’t only about the concerts but also about building ties between the hip-hop community in Havana and in Montreal.

Montreal’s hip-hop community is really exciting, groups like Nomadic Massive or Kalmunity have inspired us to find collective ways to make music in Havana. In Montreal, we have always stayed in Côte-des-Neiges, so this introduced us to Montreal as a multicultural city. We live the experience every time we visit. We have had the chance to travel and perform across the world – to Mexico, England, France, New York City, Venezuela, but our experiences in Montreal have been the most fruitful and inspiring for us artistically. For more info on Obsesión, visit http://www.myspace.com/obsesioncuba

Havana – DTC – The Cuban capital will host the 10th Exhibition and Colloquium on Digital Art, which has become an instrument to promote that artistic expression. According to sources from the organizing committee, the meeting is aimed at showing the confluence of digital art with other artistic expressions such as engraving, photography and graphic design. During the meeting, organizers will announce the winners of this year’s contest, and a retrospective of previous award-winning works and mentions will be held at the Cinematographic Cultural Center of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). Participants in the colloquium will debate issues related to virtual communities in culture, digital resource and new approaches to the art of young creators. Parallel to the colloquium, exhibitions to honor Cuban artists José Gómez Fresquet (Fremez) and Luis Miguel Valdés, as well as Katia Hernández and Enrique Smith, Alicia Candíani (Argentina), Pedro Meyer (Mexico) and Proyecto Siamés, will be held.

El Nuevo Herald – Two Czech tourists arrested in March after they shouted insulting remarks about Fidel and Raúl Castro during a scuffle at Havana’s international airport will be tried next week, diplomatic sources confirmed. Zdenek Tovara, 25, and Jaroslav Jirik, 32, were charged with public disorder, damages and resisting arrest after a scuffle that involved employees at the air terminal and required the intervention of police forces on March 22 of this year. “The two Czech citizens have been under arrest since March and, according to information from their lawyers, the trial will be held Nov. 11,” reported from Havana a diplomatic source who requested anonymity.

The case came to light in late October, when a relative of Tovara’s told a version of the events to the Czech radio station Frekvence 1. According to the relative’s testimony broadcast by Czech radio, the arrest was related to the homosexual behavior of both individuals before their departure from Cuba, where they spent a two-week vacation. However, the accounts from Havana point to other reasons. Apparently, the men arrived at the airport inebriated and continued to drink until an argument began between the two. The information gathered by El Nuevo Herald from two eyewitnesses — a Cuban employee and a Czech tourist — coincides in that the men engaged in an argument that mobilized the employees of several nearby shops who tried to calm them down.

“But everything got worse, because one of the Czechs is a martial-arts expert and he began to strike blows and destroy property. Then, all the personnel from the shops fell on top of him and the police had to take action,” said the airport employee, who asked to remain nameless for fear of reprisals. The police intervention provoked the Czechs into shouting obscene words against Fidel Castro, President Raúl Castro and Cuba’s communist leadership, wrote Svetlana Vitka, a Czech tourist who witnessed the event, in a e-mail to El Nuevo Herald. “The two men offered resistance, but ended up beaten up and unconscious,” Vitka wrote.

The prosecution filed the charges on June 23. If found guilty, the defendants could receive up to five years’ imprisonment. It is not clear if the criminal charges will also include contempt, because of the insults and obscene gestures directed at the Cuban leaders. The diplomatic source added that both defendants stay in regular contact with officials of the Czech Embassy in Havana but declined to offer more details about the incident. The Czech tabloid Aha! recently reported that Tovara asked for aid to the successful Cuban couturier Osmany Laffita, who lives in Prague. Laffita told the tabloid that he had taken up the issue with the Cuban Embassy in Prague.

Havana – DTC – The International Son (Cuban popular music) Festival of Mayarí, in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín, will be dedicated to Mexico this year.  On this occasion, the Mexican delegation will be headed by Aquino and his band. During the festival, awards will be granted to Radio Progreso on its 80th anniversary, and to 20 founders of the festival, first held in 1989. Prominent Cuban orchestras such as Bamboleo, Havana de Primera, Adalberto Alvarez y su Son, Original de Manzanillo, and David Alvarez and Juego de Manos, among others, will perform during the festival. The local orchestras Hermanos Avilés and Taínos de Mayarí will also play. Parallel to the festival, theoretical workshops and practical classes will be held, and CDs and books on this Cuban musical genre will be sold.

AP – HAVANA – Cuban purchases of U.S. food will fall by at least a third this year as the island slashes imports to stabilize an ever-weak economy further hammered by the global economic crisis, a top trade official said. Igor Montero, head of the state import company Alimport, calculated that the communist government would spend less than $590 million on American food in 2009 once banking, shipping and other transaction costs are included. That’s down at least 32 percent from last year’s $870 million. Montero blamed the economic crisis, but also took a swipe at Washington’s 47-year-old trade embargo, even though it exempts food, arguing that America should begin buying Cuban products and allowing its citizens to visit the island as tourists.

“If we aren’t given more possibility to generate revenue through Cuban exports to the United States, or an exchange of visitors, it’s going to be very difficult to continue to reach the levels of trade we’ve grown accustomed to,” Montero said. He said 2009 will mark the first year American food imports to Cuba have not increased since the U.S. Congress authorized direct sale of agricultural products to Cuba in 2000. Because of a dispute over financing, Cuba refused to import even a single grain of rice until a hurricane caused food shortages in November 2001. After that, the United States quickly became Cuba’s top source of food and will still retain that title in 2009.

Cuban officials have begun a campaign to increase domestic food production as falling imports have squeezed product supplies at the country’s farmers and supermarkets. But so far, those efforts have led to little increased output. Last year Cuba spent a record of more than $710 million for U.S. agricultural products of all kinds — a figure lower than the one Montero gave because it does not include transaction costs — according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. That was 61 percent more than in 2007, the council reported. The spike came as Cuba stockpiled food in the face of rising commodity prices, a strategy that backfired when three hurricanes hit the island, damaging many of the warehouses where perishable items were stored.

Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca said foreign imports as a whole were down 36 percent to about $10 billion so far this year, and about 80 percent of that was food. Some 51 percent of imports come from the United States, he said, though Cuba’s top trading partner remains Venezuela, led by socialist ally Hugo Chávez, followed by China, Russia, Spain and Brazil.

In a speech kicking off a foreign trade fair, Malmierca said “complex economic factors” have forced Cuba to delay payments to many of its foreign suppliers. But he said that the island “is ready to hold dialogues to fix that.” Thirty-five U.S. businesses, most of them food, agriculture or shipping companies, brought about 200 representatives to Cuba for the fair. Among those here were state agriculture officials from Maryland, Virginia and Georgia, Montero said. Terry Coleman, Georgia’s deputy commission of agriculture, said the White House should push to modify banking regulations so that Cuba can transfer payments from its banks to American ones without having to go through financial institutions in third countries. “We are hoping and praying for a real approach to trade,” he said. “Normal trade is direct. You buy, you send the products to the ships and there’s no middle man.”

HAVANA TIMES – Brazilian companies began transporting heavy machinery to Cuba, where they will work in the reconstruction of the port of Mariel, to the west of the island’s capital, announced Brazilian Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade Miguel Jorge. The estimated cost of the work is US $600 million, half of which will be contributed by the South American nation, reported IPS.

Nuevitas – (RN) – A total of 134 applications of delivery of land in usufruct, under the protection of the decree-law 259 were concluded and notified in this city, as part of the alternatives applied by the Cuban Government to increase the production and food marketing. In relation to the area in hands of the producers, more than 282 hectares are destined to the development of several cultivations and 655 to the breeding of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, what will allow the delivering of a great quantity of agriculture products to the social consumption and of the family in Nuevitas.

The main difficulties that the process of delivery of lands in usufruct goes through in this territory are related with the strengthen of the Cooperative of Credit and Service “Onelio López”, to offer better attention to the producers, bigger support of the Company of Several Cultivations of Camalote and more agility in the certification of the property to the solicitors. With the objective of propitiating a quicker development of this important program to diminish the areas infested of weeds in our fields and peripheries of the city and to rescue these lands for the production of foods, the head of the Communist Party in Nuevitas carried out an integral valuation and it will maintain a systematic control of the deficiencies.

Radio Nuevitas – The Brazilian Minister for Development, Industry and Trade, Miguel Jorge announced new investments in Cuba, and said in a statement to the press accredited to FIHAV 2009 that relations with the island have reached a peak and will continue on the path to success. As part of the cooperation between both nations, plans are in place to build a plate glass manufacturing plant on the island starting mid-December that will use silica sand provided by Cuba.

The building of a can factory (for beer, soft drinks and juices) as well as modernizing another similar facility are part of a strategy aimed at substituting imports in this branch, currently accounting for 96%. Meanwhile, Cuban pharmaceutical companies have signed agreements with their Brazilian counterparts. The installation of a Brazil-based pharmaceutical factory with Cuban technology has also been planned. The Brazilian minister spoke of the joint efforts being made to build a harbor near Mariel, a western municipality of Havana, which is in its initial stage.

Brazil’s Petrobras is carrying out seismic tests out in the block it acquired last October to develop oil resources, which is located in the exclusive economic zone of Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico. Vietnam’s national day was celebrated last Wednesday at FIHAV. To mark the occasion a letter of intent was signed outlining the agreement on the assembly and marketing of trucks, buses, and light vehicles. This includes a test assembly of the first 200 units. The CIMEX S.A Corporation also signed an export agreement with the Vietnamese What Thang Co. LTD, to trade Cubita coffee, Varadero and Caney Cuban Rums, canned fruits, and other products of great demand in Vietnam.

Camagüey – Adelante Online – Experienced cooks from all over the province gathered in Florida City to interchange about new culinary recipes, which was their way of celebrating the Day of Cuban Cuisine, an event established since 1984. In October of that very same year, a Cuban delegation won gold medal in the first culinary Olympics, held in Frankfurt, West Germany. For the fourth time, Florida City was elected as the location for the celebration, Florida and Vertientes municipalities were awarded with the category of Integral meanwhile Esmeralda Municipality was regarded as Outstanding.

At the Casa de la Cultura (Culture Center) where the event took place, many of the neighbors gathered to appreciate either the attractive dishes elaborated in specialized restaurants or the modest but very tasty made in some other gastronomic centers since the goal was to improve cooking skills and enhance the presentation of dishes. According to the report presented by the Culinary Association of Camagüey, 32 courses about useful matters on Cuban cuisine, lunch and bakery were imparted, out of which graduated a total of 694 associates.

Another important issue was the advisory work, which was provided to 25 restaurants and 104 community markets, where food is delivered at very cheap prices to low income people and pregnant women who suffer from low weight. A very special award for those who work as cooks was also granted: the Plaque for Culinary Merit, given to Mártires Méndez Torres, Osmani Fernández Torres, Orlando Montejo Betancourt, Carlos Villarreal Gil, Enrique Cossío González, Benigno Fuentes Zayas, Esperanza Vidal Barzán, Luis Figueroa Campanioni, Alfredo López Pereira and Ana Echevarria Mesa.

The Plaque of Culinary Friendship was given to Yudeini Pérez Mauriño and Annia Arredondo Agüero, for their contribution to the development of the Cuisine in Camagüey. Workshops will be granted during the months of November and December to incorporate new kind of dishes among the provincial gastronomic network.

Camagüey – Radio Florida – The production of powdered sugar in the municipality of Florida, western Camaguey, approaches 80 000 tons in the current cane-cutting season, a figure in which Ignacio Agramonte Sugarcane Processing Plant, leading the raw sugar manufacturing in the current harvesting season has much to do. “Ignacio Agramonte” Plant, that is also a refinery producing confectioners’ sugar, has made a pause these days and will resume its functioning in the beginnings of November. This move will allow the factory to increase its output this year.

On the other hand, “Argentina” Sugar Cane Mill which stopped its activities as a refinery when it reached 33 000 tons, now undergoes an important repair program in order to prepare conditions to make higher volumes of white sugar next year. Thanks to the production of confectioners’ sugar in these two factories, the country saves important amounts of hard currency, for it has not to buy the food in the world mark.

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Nov. 1, 2009

NOTE: I have not mentioned for some time a great Cuban magazine… with a fantastic set of web pages detailing some of the latest theatre events and other happenings in Cuba…   go to their web site…

Cuba Absolutely


London – DTC – The British company Thomson Cruises included Cuba in its 2010-2011 schedule. That way, the company will be able to offer its clients the cultural and historic attractions of the Cuban capital. The company will also include Santa Marta (Colombia) and Roatán (Honduras). The three voyages, called Caribbean Experience, Classic Caribbean and Cuban Adventure, will last 15 days and will include Central American and Caribbean destinations such as Aruba, Curacao, Grand Caiman and Cozumel. The program will be complimented by Thomson Airways’ direct flights between Great Britain and Havana, Barbados and Jamaica.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – The 27th International Fair of Havana (FIHAV 2009) will be inaugurated Monday at the Expo Cuba Exhibition Center with the participation of businesspeople, firms and companies from 51 countries. Abraham Maciques, president of the Organizing Committee of the event, said that this ample foreign presence shows their confidence in Cuba’s capacity to go ahead amidst the current world financial crisis. He noted that the fair has consolidated its role as a means to increase relations with other countries and to undermine the US economic blockade of the Caribbean nation.

The event will be attended by 652 foreign companies, which means that more than 1,500 foreign exhibitors will be present as each company is represented, at least, by two or three businesspeople, Maciques explained. As in previous occasions, Spain will be the foreign country with more participants although countries such as Canada, China, Russia, Venezuela, Italy, Mexico and Brazil will also be represented by several companies. Meanwhile, Pedro Alvarez, President of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, announced that the participation of companies in the Cuban pavilion also increases this time with the largest representation in the food and health sectors. He added that emphasis will be put on the promotion of new products and services, their export and the substitution of imports.

AP – HAVANA – The habanero peppers, oranges and peanuts cost more at Cuba’s free-market “agros” – farmers markets where vendors, not the government, set prices. But food stalls overflow with abundance not seen elsewhere on the shortage-plagued island. So when the Communist Party served notice that it plans to impose price controls at those agros – ending one of Cuba’s few capitalist experiments – angry shoppers fearing yet more shortages turned on state inspectors in an unprecedented public rage.

Police were called to one farmers market this month when customers shouted and chanted at state workers conducting a routine inspection. Two Associated Press reporters were escorted out of the same market Tuesday after their questions about the changes caused another shouting match.  “It’s going to be a mess. There will be less merchandise,” said Antonio Gutierrez, whose farm cooperative outside the capital sells vegetables to vendors at Havana’s 42nd Avenue and 19th Street agro, where the disturbances occurred.

Price controls would end one of the country’s few private business initiatives just as Cubans hoped the economy would loosen up under Raul Castro, who took power from his ailing brother, Fidel, in February 2008. “Control is now what the Cuban government is trying to lock up more than ever,” said Bill Messina, an agricultural economist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The free-market agros, where the state allows vendors to set prices based on supply and demand, have been very successful in getting food into people’s hands, Messina said. “But it does reduce government control of food,” he added.

With the proposed change, shoppers accustomed to tables piled high with lettuce, spinach, grapes and green peppers fear either the empty shelves or unbearable lines that are routine at government-controlled produce markets. At one such market this week, a chalkboard read “there are potatoes,” meaning spuds could be purchased with Cubans’ monthly ration cards. Besides that, a single produce stand sold only plantains, taro root and onions. “They want to make all the markets like this. Sad,” the lone vendor said. Producers, sellers and customers said they heard from party officials that new price controls were set to begin Nov. 1 – but were postponed until January after a public outcry unheard of under the totalitarian government.

The government has not commented. But a member of Havana’s municipal parliament confirmed the change had been scheduled to take effect next week. The official requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to international media. He said authorities did not take enough steps to implement the changes by Nov. 1. The would-be takeover is part of President Raul Castro’s overall crackdown on corruption – in this case on farmers who are required to meet government quotas but instead sell to free-market vendors through unlicensed truckers because they make more money. By law, small producers and cooperatives can sell leftover fruits and vegetables at their own prices after they meet production quotas – usually around 70 percent of everything they grow.

But the state often takes more than six months to pay farmers, while the truckers offer cash on the spot, said Ismael, a cabbage vendor who only gave his first name because he admitted flouting the law. “We are bandits,” he said. “But without us, none of this works.” Bringing trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables into Havana without permission is illegal, but Ismael said, “we’ve got the police more or less paid off.” The agros first appeared in the 1980, when food shortages forced a reluctant Fidel Castro to allow farmers to sell produce at prices driven, at least in part, by the free market. Castro shuttered them six years later to improve foundering state agricultural production. “They closed them for some of the same things we are talking about now: the black market, middle men making all kinds of money, the government unable to control the market, the food supply,” Messina said.

But the small dose of capitalism returned in 1994, when Cuba was again forced to allow more free-market enterprise to keep its people from starving after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which gave Cuba billions in annual subsidies. More than 300 farmers markets now operate nationwide. But over the years, most have shifted from market-based pricing back to state hands as the government worked to prevent prices from climbing too high and sellers from becoming too rich.

After Hurricanes Gustav and Ike ravaged the island last year, the state froze prices on produce at all farmers markets and restricted sales to prevent hoarding. Free-market agros virtually shutdown because vendors preferred to stay home rather than operate at a loss. Permanent price controls could ruin fruit and vegetable vendors such as Pablo Miguel Saldivar, a 12-year veteran of the 42nd and 19th market who stacked green bunches of small bananas on a rusty metal tray. Fellow vendor Maria Elena, who didn’t want to give her last name and be identified criticizing the government, is an agricultural engineer who makes more money selling papaya. “I’m 51 years old. Where will I go?” she said.

When state officials arrived three weeks ago to close this market for inspection, rumors swirled that they were imposing new prices. Shoppers mutinied, yelling until the police arrived. “There was a misunderstanding, and the people reacted,” Saldivar said. But the air at the markets remains tense. Retired beer factory worker Nancy Alfonso triggered bedlam Tuesday when she defended the proposed changes, saying, “the state doesn’t rob, it’s all of these people who do.” Screaming on both sides got so intense, officials removed reporters asking questions. “Don’t you know this is foreign press!” a market administrator angrily admonished Alfonso and other shouting customers as he ushered the AP out of the market.

Havana – DTC – The exhibition hall PABEXPO, attached to Havana’s Convention Center, has done an excellent work as organizer of exhibitions and events of all kinds. Founded more than two decades ago, PABEXPO covers an area of 20,000 square meters and offers three exhibition halls that total 6,000 square meters altogether. PABEXPO can host more than one event at a time, considering that its halls can be divided. In addition, PABEXPO offers a wide range of services, including stand design, furniture, offices, electricity, communications and security. PABEXPO’s work is part of Cuban authorities’ efforts to boost congress tourism.

UNITED NATIONS – Cuba is willing to hold talks with the United States “on any level,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in conciliatory remarks aimed at the Obama administration. Rodriguez said in an interview with The Associated Press the island nation was waiting for a response from Washington to Cuba’s offer to broaden discussions. His comments came despite a testy exchange between the top Cuban diplomat and a senior U.S. official just before the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn America’s 47-year trade embargo.

This year’s U.N. vote was 187-3 in opposition to the embargo, up from 185-3 last year, with only Israel and the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau supporting the United States. Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained both years. It was the 18th year in a row that the General Assembly has taken up the symbolic measure, and the first since President Barack Obama took office in January, promising to extend a hand of friendship to Washington’s traditional enemies. That change in approach has been noticed by Havana, Rodriguez said.

“We are prepared to have a dialogue with the government of the United States at any level,” the foreign minister told AP after the vote, adding that such talks must be held on the basis of mutual respect and sovereignty. He reiterated that Cuba formally offered in July to hold expanded talks with the United States to cooperate in combatting terrorism and drug trafficking, and to work together to fight natural disasters, among other things. “We are waiting for the North American response,” Rodriguez said. He also said Cuba has been pleased by progress of ongoing talks on migration and re-establishing direct mail service. He called those discussions “productive and respectful.”

Rodriguez’s tone in the interview was markedly different from that in his speech before the General Assembly, in which he claimed the embargo — which the Cubans refer to as a blockade — had cost the island’s fragile economy tens of billions of dollars over the years and prevented Cuban children from getting needed medical care. “The blockade is an uncultured act of arrogance,” Rodriguez said. He likened the policy to “an act of genocide” that is “ethically unacceptable.” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice reacted strongly, calling the Cuban diplomat’s statements “hostile” and “straight out of the Cold War era.” “Here we go again,” she said of Rodriguez’s speech. “I suppose old habits die hard.”

Still, Rice said the Obama administration was committed to writing “a new chapter to this old story” by engaging with the Cuban government, and she used the bulk of her speech to highlight the steps Washington had already taken to improve ties. In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the General Assembly vote on the embargo ignored U.S. efforts to help Cubans. “This yearly exercise at the U.N. obscures the facts that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba,” Kelly said. “In 2008, the United States exported $717 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine, wood and humanitarian items to Cuba.”

Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Cuba, reacted to the U.N. vote by saying Obama has an opportunity to earn the Nobel Peace Prize he was recently selected to receive by lifting the embargo. “Obama, earn the prize. It’s also a good opportunity to go down in history,” Chavez said, adding that it would be a shame if Obama “wastes the opportunity.”  Rodriguez told AP he was “a little bit surprised” by the vehemence of Rice’s initial comments, saying he knew and respected her and held her in high esteem.  “She is an articulate person, a decent and well-meaning person, like president Obama,” he said. “And we respect both of them for that.”

He added that Cuba recognizes there may be opportunities for talks with the Obama administration that were not possible with the administration of former President George W. Bush.  The Obama administration has loosened financial and travel restrictions on Americans with relatives in Cuba, and started talks aimed at restoring direct mail links. It sent a senior diplomat to Havana in September for unannounced meetings with Cuban officials that were believed to be the highest-level talks between the two countries in decades.  Still, the U.S. has made clear it is not prepared to lift the embargo until Cuba accepts some political, economic and financial changes.  That position met a chilly reception during Wednesday’s vote.

One after another, global representatives stood to speak in opposition to the embargo, calling it a cruel anachronism that ran counter to international law and which had only succeeded in hurting ordinary Cubans.  “The time to end this embargo is long overdue,” said South African U.N. ambassador Baso Sangqu, adding that the embargo had “caused untold suffering” to Cuba’s people.  Even America’s traditional regional and global allies were blunt in their criticism, with the European Union countries coming out unanimously against Washington’s policy.

Havana – DTC – Jardines del Rey (King’s Garden), in eastern Cuba, will have its infrastructure ready for the upcoming peak tourism season. Generally, tourist arrivals in Cuba increases during the second half of November, and Jardines del Rey offers 3,900 rooms. Twelve hotels and extra hotel facilities are ready to meet the demands from tourists. Experts predicted a 3-percent increase in tourist arrivals in 2009, compared to last year, when Jardines del Rey welcomed 240,000 vacationers. Since its inauguration in late 1993 to date, Jardines del Rey has received 2.5 million tourists from 30 countries.

Nuevitas – (RN) – More than 62 thousand plants of fruit and wood trees have been sowed this year in the areas destined to the program of reforestation of this city, figure that shows a considerable advance. The entities with better results in the preparation of the land and the plantation are the Forest Company, the Entity of Flora and Fauna, Communal, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), Education and the MINFAR. In the present month of October the workers seek to carry out the reinstatement of the plants that dried off and the workers of Flora and Fauna have planned to sow four hectares in the mouth of the river Saramaguacán. With the purpose of reaching the objectives in the plan of forest repopulation in Nuevitas, it is necessary to maintain a systematic work in the control of this activity, purpose that the delegation of the Ministry of Agriculture in this territory keeps in effect. (Santiago Remedios Clara)

CP – Sherritt International Corp. (S-T) said lower commodity prices and the loss of an oilfield in Cuba sent its third-quarter profit down 58 per cent to $55.9-million. The diversified resource company said its profit amounted to 19 cents per share in the third quarter, down from $133.1-million or 45 cents per share a year earlier. Sherritt’s revenue fell to $389.6-million from $478.3-million in the third quarter of 2008. The earnings report helped send Sherritt’s shares tumbling 34 cents or 4.7 per cent to $6.91 in morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

As of the end of September, Sherritt’s long-term debt was $3.4-billion, of which about $2.1-billion was related to the troubled Ambatovy nickel project in Madagascar. The company said total capital expenditures were $397.0-million in the quarter, of which 84 per cent or $330.9-million related to Ambatovy. Total project expenditures were $3.1-billion (U.S.) as of Sept. 30. Sherritt said construction activities at the project are ongoing and are scheduled to be completed by “the latter part of 2010.” The company has been struggling with ballooning costs and legal difficulties at Ambatovy as it struggles to get the project up and running.

In the summer, reports said the new president of the poor island country off the east coast of Africa has hired a French law firm to press for changes to the mining act and an Ambatovy agreement signed earlier with the project partners. Sherritt, the project operator, owns 40 per cent of Ambatovy, and Sumitomo and Korea Resources each have a 27.5 per cent stake. The project’s engineering contractor, Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group (SNC-T44.501.683.92%) , has a 5-per-cent interest. Although the final cost of developing the project hasn’t yet been determined, it is estimated to be approximately $4.52-billion. Ambatovy is expected to product 60,000 tonnes of nickel and 5,600 tonnes of cobalt annually.

Sherritt said nickel sales of 9.8 million pounds were similar to a year earlier, while cobalt sales of 1.0 million pounds were up 7 per cent, reflecting increased cobalt production. The average nickel reference price was down 7 per cent to 62 cents per pound in the quarter, while the average cobalt reference price was down 47 per cent to $15.24 per pound due to weak demand. Sherritt sold 8.9 million tonnes of coal from its prairie operations, up three per cent from a year earlier, while sales from its mountain coal operations were 600,000 tonnes, up 20 per cent. Realized prices for coal from the company’s prairie operations were down 9 per cent to $1.47 per tonne while prices for coal from the mountain operations were down 20 per cent to $17.13 per tonne.

Oil production in the quarter was 12,875 barrels of oil equivalent per day, down 23 per cent from the year earlier period, reflecting the loss of Block 7 in Cuba due to the Cuban government’s termination of a production-sharing contract earlier in the year.

Electricity sold was up slightly to 588 gigawatt hours compared to 577 gigawatt hours a year earlier due to higher gas availability. For the full year, Sherritt said it expects to produce 33,500 tonnes of nickel, 3,700 tonnes of cobalt, 39.3 million tonnes of coal, 12,600 barrels of oil equivalent per day and 2,100 gigawatt hours of electricity. The Toronto-headquartered company is active in a number of resource-oriented businesses, including nickel, coal and oil and gas production in several countries including Canada and Cuba.

Havana – DTC – Cuban authorities expect tourism to grow 2-3 percent in 2009, despite the global financial crisis. Experts estimated that Cuba would receive 2.4 million foreign vacationers, compared to 2,348,000 tourists in 2008. Cuba’s major tourist-sending market is Canada, with 818,246 travelers last year, followed by Great Britain (193,932), Italy (126,042) and Spain (121,166). Construction works are under way to build 1,200-1,500 rooms a year to meet the growing demand from tourists. If the United States lifted its ban on travels to Cuba, 1.7 to five million US tourists would travel to the Caribbean Island every year.

BBC News – Havana – Dr Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization, was granted an audience with Mr Castro this week. Mr Castro has not been seen in public for more than three years, since a series of major intestinal operations. The only updates on his health come from visiting dignitaries who have been able to meet him. Exactly what he suffers from, and where he is recuperating, remain state secrets.  Dr Chan spent more than two-and-a-half hours with Mr Castro, when she had a “long talk” with him. “He walked me out of the house, that’s quite a distance, so pretty strong. And don’t forget, I’m younger than him,” she said, without discussing specific health issues.

Topics ranged from swine flu preparations to the possible health impact of climate change. Speaking at a news conference in Havana, Dr Chan said that Cuba’s 83-year-old former leader remained well informed and as demanding as ever.  “I have to say Mr Fidel Castro’s understanding of the importance of health, particularly public health, is impressive. “Any one of you, especially the doctors, if you don’t know your subject well, don’t talk to him. He knows more about the subject than you do.”

Excelencias Gourmet – The potentials for making high-quality Cuban rum can exceed six million cases of nine-liters a year, as informed to the press by Cuba-Ron company’s vice president Juan Gonzalez. During a meeting at the Havana Club Rum Museum in Havana, the executive assured there are right now eight certified brands of high-quality Cuban rum for the international market, in addition to the famous Havana Club brand. In this portfolio, he mentioned Varadero and Caney (Cimex), Mulata and Santero (Tecnoazúcar), Legendario and Arecha (Beverages and Refreshments League) and Santiago and Cubay (Santiago de Cuba).

He also remembered that Cuba is being hit hard by the U.S. economic and commercial blockade laws since the island nation cannot sell its products in world’s leading spirit market, which accounts for 40 percent of all global sales. Cuba sold last year 3.5 million cases of Havana Club rum in the remaining 60 percent of the market. Washington’s 50-plus-year-old commercial restrictions on Havana mean that at least 2 million cases are not sold in the U.S. every year, an annual loss of $ 95 million.

Mr. Gonzalez pointed out if the American market opened to this kind of product, the country could sell all necessary amounts without making a dent on its traditional markets, although he still sees this possibility quite uncertain. Today, Cuban rums are on all markets around the world and are putting good numbers on the board in Asia –especially in Japan and China- as well as in Russia.

Nuevitas – The workers of the factory of noodles “Ángel Gutiérrez Núñez”, of this city, work to over-fulfill the economic technical plan of October, a goal that will allow it to guarantee the distribution of the product in all the state units of the municipality. At the moment the men and women of the entity keep a daily production of one ton of noodles, and for next week they seek to increase the production, with the purpose of conquering the tasks planned by the provincial headship, fundamentally in the production of foods.

In these moments, the factory has the container and the necessary raw material to assure its productions, which are carried out with less energy consumption, thanks to the measures adopted by the administration to contribute with the saving of combustible. To support the anti- bacterial campaign that the sector of hygiene carries out in the territory, the labor organization of the center develops every Sunday voluntary work, aimed to the cleaning and sanitation of the areas to eliminate the proliferation of the mosquito Aedes Aegypti.

Xinhua – Trade and investment relations between South Africa and Cuba will be strengthened during the Havana International Trade Fair, the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said. “The fair will provide an opportunity for deputy minister Thandi Tobias-Pokolo and her Cuban counterpart to discuss issues on the bilateral agenda, with particular focus on trade and investment,” the South African Press Association cited the spokesman Sidwell Medupe as saying in a statement. Tobias-Pokolo would lead a 40-member government and business delegation to Cuba for the Havana International Trade Fair, from November 2 to 7. In 2008 South Africa exported goods to Cuba worth R81,979,457.

Cuba’s exports amounted to R15,741,495 during the corresponding period. Thirty-four South African companies would present their technological and industrial capabilities at the fair. Targeted sectors included agro-processing, biotechnology, automotives, construction, pharmaceuticals, capital equipment (including mining equipment), chemicals and engineering services. The companies included emerging, well established and women-owned ones. The DTI participated in the fair since 2004, with the exception of 2005. Tobias-Pokolo said Cuba has the potential to emerge as a significant oil producer, with opportunities arising in this area. In addition, it has a growing tourism sector, and South Africa is well-placed to supply the necessary products to that market.

Havana – DTC – Cuba is promoting advanced medical treatments, including the use of stem cells to treat bone affections. The methods, which is on a trial phase, has been used to treat diseases that affect the muscular and bone systems, including the aseptic necrosis of the hip, degeneration of the inter-vertebral disks, and degenerative diseases of the lumbar spine and knees. In Cuba, several institutions are using stem cells for medical treatments and there are good prospects in that regard. Experts said that achievements have been made in treating chronic arterial diseases with stem cells.

Cienfuegos – Camaguey Endedans Contemporary Ballet Company presented its most recent coreographies at the Teatro Tomas Terry in Cienfuegos, almost a year after its previous performance here. In this occasion, Camaguey Endedans presented a small format, characterized by transmitting a visual world full of symbolism linking the plastic art and the image, which was welcomed with great pleasure and excitement by the audience.

Among Camaguey Endedans’ most important successes is the prize won at the Iberoamerican Choreography Contest, where it was awarded for its work “A los confines de la Tierra”. This presentation took place a few days after Camaguey Endedans’ return from Venezuela, where the troupe attended the event ““Danza Solidaria, Encuentro de Países Bolivarianos y del Caribe”. This event brings together leading companies that performe their works in poor and remote communities of Maracaibo, capital of Zulia.

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – The Second Forum on Latin American and Caribbean Friendship with China is beginning in Cuba, aimed at strengthening the existing links between this region and the Asian nation. The event at the National Hotel in this capital is also targeted at making the development achieved by the Chinese people in the last 60 years known. China celebrated on October 1st 60 years of the new State shaping and that it is currently showing excellent results in the social and economic fields, despite the world financial crisis. The Taganana Hall, at the hotel above, hosted the opening of the Caledoscopio de China Reflections of modern Chinese way of life photographic exhibition.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s health system has opened a Hot Line against breast cancer, as part of actions to fight the disease. The initiative is aimed at providing information to women suffering from breast cancer or those concerned about a positive diagnosis. According to experts, volunteers who have undergone surgery against that kind of cancer will provide the service. In that regard, they recalled that Cuba has reported an increase in breast cancer, with an average of 2,000-2,500 new cases a year. The experts noted the importance of regular self-examinations, even for women who have just turned 25 years old and have undergone any changes in their body.

Camagüey – In order to increase the production of food, the farmers in Camagüey have the serious commitment to carry out an effective winter sowing campaign and reach 90 million liters of milk to be delivered to the industry. At the moment, 75 farms -joined to the suburban agriculture movement- are in full capacity of production, which will have an important impact in the supply of ground provisions, vegetables, grains and fruits to the city of Camaguey in the next months.

For then, the feed plant for the local Pig- breeding Company should be completed in its second stage; plus other veterinarian establishments, the Apodaca Clinic and the productive complex located in Santa Cruz del Sur will be rendering their services. To these productive tasks or others destined to improve the agriculture and the animal husbandry in Camaguey, more than 63 000 workers of this sector will combine efforts to improve the conditions of life and to apply the advances of science and technology. (Raysa Mestril Gutiérrez/ Translated by Gualveris Rosales Sanchez/Radio Cadena Agramonte).

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – The Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE) executive secretary, Carlos A. Florez, and the Minister of Basic Industry, Yadira Garcia, chaired the opening of the energy efficiency exhibit in this capital. The exhibition shows experiences of Cuba, Argentina and other countries in the area in the development of an awareness and culture about necessity of saving energy sources. This exhibit is part of the IV Forum of Regional Energy Integration (FIER), opened in the Hotel National and represents one of the events combined to the XL Meeting of Ministers of OLADE, which will be effected next Friday in order to identify and spread efficient technologies that could be apply in the 26 countries member of that entity.

There will be analyzed proposal, recommendations and conclusions of collateral meetings made this week. It will be also discussed normative and structural aspects which guarantee the success of efficiency programmes in the area. The Cuban Minister of Basic Industry, welcomed the participating in the IV Forum, and spoke about Energetic Revolution advances in the island, such as the replacement of electrical appliances for other more efficient. The Executive Secretary of OLADE exposed a masterly conference about global and regional energy and stressed the importance of Latin American integration in the sphere. There were also exhibits of OLADE experts from Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico, which exposed experiences and policies in their countries. The IV Forum participating, divided in four groups, will do a trip in order to know the island work in generation, transmission and efficient distribution of energy.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban company, Astilleros del Sur (ASTISUR), based in central Cienfuegos province, is betting on foreign markets. The company completed the construction of 400 plastic boats ordered by Angola. The four-meter-long boats were built last year using fiberglass-reinforced plastic.  ASTISUR will also build three fishing boats for the Cuban company PESCACUBA, and will repair ten boats from the local shrimp-fishing fleet. The company, located on the banks of the Hanabanilla lake, also builds waste-processing plants.

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – Students of the San Antonio de los Baños International Film and Television School (EICTV) are recording here the first episode of a soap opera which title is Daggers to the Heart, responds to the terms of true melodrama. The adventure is in charge of third-year students of EICTV, who use for their purposes the Television Study named after the deceased Spanish filmmaker Pilar Miro. The group counts with the consultancy of prestigious media specialists, professional actresses and actors, an art director, graphic designers for the presentation curtains and headstocks.

The story related in Daggers to the Heart, even though only one episode will be recorded by now, has all the genre ingredients: perturbed passions, murders and mistery. It takes place at the Olimpus Circus, where the illusionist Katchan and his sister Vilma go to, to find job and stay there. From that moment the plot of unrequited love, the suspicious death of the circus owner in the middle of an illusionism act and the corresponding police investigation in a tense atmosphere, which is intensified by the complications that generates a second murder, is triggered. It is supposed that the students would have fun with this exercise full of melodrama and detective touches, which objective responds to the initial purposes of the EICTV founders, among them the Argentinean Fernando Birri, which is to form filmmakers and television makers who enrich the Latin American production with their talents and technical skills.

Europe News – Madrid – Several European Union countries have asked Spain to clarify what kind of policy it will pursue in relation to Cuba during its EU presidency in the first half of 2010, government sources. Countries including Germany, the Czech Republic and Lithuania had asked for a clarification, the sources said. Spain would like to modify the EU’s 1996 ‘common position’ on Cuba, which links relations to democracy and respect for human rights on the Caribbean island, the sources explained.

Spain will seek a bilateral agreement similar to the ones the EU has with countries such as China and Russia, under which Havana would no longer be subjected to a ‘constant scrutiny.’ Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has come under criticism for not meeting dissidents during his visit to Havana. Moratinos said the Spanish government had an ‘enormous respect’ for Cuban dissidents, with whom it was in constant contact, adding that it was not ‘compulsory’ for him to meet them during his visit.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s agricultural authorities are fostering the use of natural fertilizers to increase production without damaging the environment and to reduce imports. In eastern Ciego de Avila province, some 80,000 tons of organic nutrients were used during the first nine months of 2009. The amount of natural fertilizers used in local crops was similar to 800 tons of industrial fertilizers and contributed to saving six million dollars. The province produced the biofertilizer Rhizobium, which contributed to increasing production of beans. Ciego de Avila is expected to produce 105,000 tons of biofertilizers, worm humus and crop wastes to meet the demand from the agricultural sector.

Havana – (Prensa Latina) – The presentation of the Cuban version of the play “Endgame”, by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, interpreted by Argos Teatro Company, will take place in Havana, as part of the activities of Havana International Theater Festival. Critics say this version of the play, directed by Carlos Celdran, is faithful to the original. Endgame is a one-act play with four characters and was published in 1957. It is commonly considered, along with work as his most famous “Waiting for Godot” to be among Beckett’s most important works.

Beckett was awarded with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969 “for his “writing, which, in new forms for the novel and drama, in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.”  Argos Teatro Company will join other 29 companies of the island, which will also participate during the 13th edition of Havana International Theater Festival on Oct. 29 to Nov. 8. Some other 30 theater groups from Latin America, Europe and US will also participate during the event, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of making Theater in the Cuban Revolution.

Havana – DTC – Science is a fundamental element in Cuban agriculture to increase production. As part of those efforts, farmers in eastern Ciego de Avila province planted 1.3 hectares of pineapple of the MD-2 variety, which is expected to increase yield. Unlike the Spanish Red variety, MD-2 has shorter leaves, fewer thorns and is smaller, making it easier for farmers to attend to the crops. It also has a shorter cycle and higher content of sugar, in addition to being more expensive on the international market.  A hectare planted with MD-2 pineapple can produce 80-120 tons, while the yield of one hectare of Spanish Red pineapple is 30-40 tons.

WCVB TV – Boston - Copies of about 3,000 letters and documents from the Ernest Hemingway archives at the Cuban National Ministry of Culture have been made available at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Kennedy library officials said the Cuban government is sharing copies of the letters and documents written by and to Hemingway while the Nobel Prize winner lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1960. They include corrected proofs of the novel “The Old Man and the Sea,” the final version of a movie script based on that book, and an alternate ending to “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The documents had only been available to researchers who traveled to Cuba. The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library contains 90 percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials.

(Bloomberg) – The Treasury Department says it wants companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. to resume instant messaging services in countries including Cuba and Iran that remain under U.S. trade sanctions. Microsoft and Google cut off the use of instant messages by citizens of Iran, Syria, Cuba and Sudan, saying U.S. regulations prohibit the required downloads. Now the Treasury Department is saying the online communications foster democracy and should be restored. “Ensuring the flow and access to information available through the Internet and similar public sources is consistent with the policy interests of the United States.”

The company-imposed blackouts show how U.S. trade restrictions can conflict with diplomatic goals, said James Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We want people to be able to communicate,” Lewis, who administered U.S. export control rules in the 1990s, said in an interview. “But in the normal course of business this stuff is on autopilot. The sanctions system rolls on and generates an answer that is no.” The U.S. began an “interagency effort” to make sure electronic communication is available in nations facing sanctions “to the extent permitted by current U.S. law,” Szubin said in the letter to Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas.

The conflict is over how to interpret laws that limit trade with countries whose policies the U.S. opposes. In addition to imposing general sanctions, the U.S. restricts exports of civilian technology that could have military applications. Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, ended access to Windows Live Messenger, its instant-messaging application, last year to meet its “obligations to not do business with markets on the U.S. sanctions list,” spokeswoman Kate McGillem said in an e-mail. The company lets citizens of those nations use its Hotmail e-mail and Live Spaces, a blogging service. Those don’t require downloaded software.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, doesn’t permit the download of Google Talk, its instant messaging and voice chat service, or of Google Earth, Google Desktop and other services. It has a “longstanding practice” of using a filtering system to block access to those services from portals in Iran and the other nations under sanctions, spokesman Scott Rubin said in an e-mail. The prohibitions on access in sanctioned nations remain in effect, according to the companies. Marti Adams, a Treasury spokesman, wouldn’t comment, and declined to grant an interview with Szubin. The Obama administration said in April that it was easing sanctions on Cuba, partly by letting companies such as AT&T Inc. get licenses to operate television, mobile-phone or satellite- radio services in the island nation. “With that in mind, we are deeply concerned that instant messaging services for Cubans and persons living on other countries under sanctions by the U.S. have been discontinued,” Stephens of the Center for Democracy wrote in a May 29 letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Web sites, blogs and online services such as Twitter have been used by anti-government groups to promote their causes and organize protests. China and Iran sought to block Internet access during unrest this year. After the disputed presidential election in Iran on June 12, opposition organizers used Twitter Inc.’s messaging to organize street protests. The State Department intervened to dissuade Twitter from shutting down for a planned upgrade, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We called and said, ‘Please don’t shut down,’ because this is a major communications loop for people on the streets,” Clinton said in a forum at George Washington University in Washington on Oct. 6.

Closely held Twitter is a social networking site that lets users send “tweets,” messages of no more than 140 characters that are open to the public unless the writer limits readers to selected “followers.” Jenna Sampson, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Twitter, didn’t respond to e-mailed questions. Instant messaging, e-mail and other private communications tools are more effective than Twitter alone for democratic activists in countries such as Iran, said Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington. “When you do have an event like in Iran you want all the channels in place, so that people can communicate quickly,” Morozov, who is writing a book about the impact of the Internet on global politics, said in an interview. The risk to companies that they will run afoul of U.S. sanctions is real, said Morozov. Doing business in Iran or Syria “is loss-making, so why should they bother?” he said.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s exports are subject to protective measures based on the demands from major international markets. According to experts, the National Standardization Office (NSO) has taken measures to protect a number of Cuban exports, including nickel and byproducts, crude and refined sugar, lobster, shrimp, cigars, processed fruit and vegetables, cocoa and rum, among others. The NSO is also working on the design of standards for imports of dairy products, cosmetics, sanitary furniture, lamps, electrical wires, refrigerators, tires, oil, paint and varnish, and medical equipment. Those tools benefit Cuba’s foreign trade, as they design the strategies based on other countries’ demands. The implementation of quality standards in Cuban companies is under way, as a need to improve the efficiency and efficacy of Cuba’s economy.

Passenger Terminal Today.com – Broward County, Florida, officials will ask the federal government to let passenger planes fly between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and Cuba, and to let boat passengers travel to Port Everglades. Broward County commissioners approved an item allowing the county to petition the US Department of Treasury to designate Broward’s airport and seaport as official points of entry. Because of the economic embargo imposed in the early 1960s, only three airports can host international travel between the US and Cuba – Miami, LAX and JFK. In April the US government announced it was easing travel restrictions to Cuba to allow those who have relatives there to visit more often.

Spokesman Greg Meyer says the Broward County Aviation Department has been approached by airlines looking to operate Cuba flights at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. One of those, Miramar-based Spirit Airlines, has to fly to Cuba from Miami even though it operates almost exclusively from FLL in South Florida. Meyer noted that there are an estimated 100,000 people of Cuban descent living in Broward and Palm Beach counties, FLL’s service area. The Broward airport also serves parts of Miami-Dade County, where more Cubans live. It’s unknown how long the process will take to determine if FLL’s request will be approved. If everyone gets approval, flights could start the next day.

HAVANA – (IPS) – Three new international cooperation agreements channeled through the United Nations system in Cuba are aimed at strengthening food security, especially in the poorest parts of the country. “Thanks to the joint work of the international community, the United Nations and the Cuban government, we have been able to provide more assistance in such important areas as food,” the United Nations resident coordinator in Cuba, Susan McDade, told IPS. “Four years ago it would have been difficult to imagine this kind of collaboration,” achieved by means of “better coordination” among U.N. agencies, which has made it possible to mobilise resources towards sectors of development identified as priorities by Cuban officials, she said.

McDade, who is from Canada, said the three agreements involve a total of 35 million dollars for projects that will have an impact throughout the country, but with an emphasis on the easternmost provinces that cover one-third of the island. That part of the country, which includes the cities of Las Tunas (662 km east of Havana), Holguín (743 km), Granma (744 km), Santiago de Cuba (861 km) and Guantánamo (905 km), is the least developed part of the island, and the consensus is that it must be given top priority in development aid plans.

Many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted by the international community at the U.N. general assembly in 2000, have been achieved in Cuba, while others are on the way to being met, said McDade, who is also the resident representative of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP). But “some eastern provinces and municipalities are not making the same progress,” she pointed out.  A study by the National Statistics Office (ONE) on progress towards the MDGs in eastern Cuba made it possible for U.N. agencies and local authorities to identify which areas should be especially targeted in development efforts, including maternal health programmes, promoting greater access to food, and defence of the environment.

Some of the problems in eastern Cuba are caused by the lack of a habit of eating vegetables rich in micronutrients and iron, shortages in protein, especially among the lowest-income sectors, and a higher teen pregnancy rate. Studies show there is no “chronic hunger” in Cuba, although there are certain levels of anemia and scarcity of micronutrients in some segments of the population, especially children under two, young mothers, nursing mothers and people with chronic health problems. The eight MDGs set a 2015 deadline for halving extreme poverty and hunger rates from 1990 levels, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and maternal health, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

The first of the programmes mentioned by McDade, which will involve 8.5 million dollars in aid, is focused on “support for the fight against anemia in disadvantaged groups in Cuba,” which will directly benefit the 24 poorest municipalities in the five eastern provinces and the western province of Pinar del Río. That initiative will provide financing for a dairy company in Pinar del Río to expand production in order to make an iron-fortified porridge which includes milk, to be provided to children between the ages of six months and five years, pregnant women, and other people facing a risk of anemia.

The second project, called “support for new decentralisation initiatives and production stimulation in Cuba,” will include seven million dollars in aid to bolster the participation of the small private sector as a dynamic agent in local development. Individual producers and cooperatives from five municipalities in five different provinces will be the beneficiaries. “This programme is aimed at promoting decentralisation in agriculture, in line with the government’s new policy of promoting economic activities that contribute to import substitution,” said McDade, who added that small farmers involved in the programme will be provided with tools, credits and facilities for repairing tractors, among other services. Both initiatives will be partly financed by the MDG Achievement Fund (MDG-F), whose main donor is Spain.

The MDG-F is a U.N. instrument that backs up national efforts to meet the MDGs, fight inequality and increase active participation by civil society in social and economic development. The third agreement mentioned by the U.N. resident coordinator will involve 20 million dollars in aid from the European Commission, channeled through the UNDP, up to Sept. 30, 2011, with the aim of diversifying agriculture. The plan is to strengthen local food production capacity, while improving farm management and the availability of local produce in 27 selected municipalities. In addition, efforts will be made to improve quality and quantity of skilled farmers in another 10 municipalities.

The government of Raúl Castro has made the recovery and increased efficiency of the agriculture sector, whose difficulties were aggravated by the damages caused by three hurricanes last year, one of the top priorities of his government. The total economic losses caused by the hurricanes were estimated at 10 billion dollars. The U.N. system worked hard to mobilise international humanitarian support to help this Caribbean island nation get back on its feet in the wake of the hurricanes. McDade, however, whose nearly four- year stint in Havana is coming to an end, says this is one of the pending challenges. “Although we all hope that Cuba will never again be whipped by three hurricanes in one month, we can imagine that it will continue to be vulnerable to such disasters. Looking towards the future, the United Nations has to perfect its capacity to mobilise more swiftly on such occasions,” she said.

Cuba as well as other nations in the region “are facing tremendous challenges caused by climate change and its effects,” said McDade. “In my four years here, we have had equally serious problems of flooding and drought in the eastern region; I saw both extremes.” She said the main climate change-related challenge facing Cuba is designing an adaptation plan, which involves rational, sustainable use and management of resources and the inclusion of environmental considerations in economic planning, among other aspects. “The key question here and in any country is that the plans are drawn up at a national level, but the implementation takes place at a local level, which means close coordination between central and local bodies is required. I believe Cuba has the capacity to do this, but it is an area where the U.N. system would like to work more in the future,” the U.N. official said. U.N. cooperation in Cuba covers programmes and projects in areas of local human development, natural disasters and risks, the environment and energy, health and food security, all of which are in line with priorities identified by the government. This year McDade will finish her mission in Havana, where she was posted in February 2006, and will travel to Uruguay to head the U.N. system in that South American country.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban company DESOFT, based in eastern Ciego de Avila province, has produced software for the domestic market. Some 50 Cuban firms have installed DESOFT’s software, including Avilalink (computer management), Aviladoc (document management) and Avilakid (complaint and incident management). From January to September, the company contributed 1.6 million pesos to Cuba’s economy from a series of projects in domestic sectors and firms. DESOFT executives pointed out that experts are working in Brazil, Venezuela, Norway and Spain, adding that exports of Aviladoc have reported revenues of 500,000 dollars.

Cinco de Septiembre – The International Son Rhythm Festival of Mayari, a city located in eastern Holguin province, will dedicate its 20th edition, slated for November 5-8, to the Mexican city of Cozumel. The president of the Organizing Committee, Jorge Cabrejas, told ACN that representing Mexico this time will be the group Aquino and his band. With the main objective of strengthening the sense of belonging of Holguin residents in terms of popular and traditional culture, the event will award Radio Progreso radio station on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of its founding, as well as 20 of the founders of this Festival created in 1989.

Cabrejas, who is also a percussionist and a composer, also announced that the 35 years of artistic life of singer, composer, and band leader Adalberto Alvarez, known as The Gentleman of Son Rhythm, will also be celebrated. For four days, dancers will enjoy the music of the groups Bamboleo, Havana de primera, Adalberto Alvarez y su Son, Original de Manzanillo and David Alvarez y Juego de manos, among others, which will share the stage with bands from the territory like the legendary Hermanos Aviles and the host group, Tainos de Mayari.

The Festival’s main venues will be the city’s square, the local museum, and the municipal office of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists, where a plastic art exhibition on son rhythm will be inaugurated. Ileana Aviles, a specialist with the Provincial Music Center, confirmed that the event will once again include theoretical workshops and practical classes, as well as sales of discs and books related to this Cuban music genre.

Havana – DTC – Cuban chess player Lelys Martínez joined the world elite, after the International Chess Federation granted him the title of Grand Master.  According to statistics, Cuba has 22 Grand Masters. The first Cuban player to win that category was Silvino García in 1975. In Martinez’s case, he won three norms from December 2008 to August 2009, and has an ELO score of 2,511 points. The 24-year-old player, who ranks 11th in Cuba, has made great achievements over the past seasons. Cuban player José Angel Guerra won the title of International Master and joined Aryam Abreu, Fidel Corrales, Luis Manuel Pérez and Yuri González, who won that title last year.

Courthouse News Service – SANTA ANA, Calif. – A scam artist was sentenced to 5 years in prison for selling phony travel packages to Jewish and Greek Orthodox senior citizens who wanted to go to Cuba for religious and cultural reasons. Ralph Adam Rendon told his victims that the Treasury Department canceled the trips and he kept their money to buy a Mercedes, pay his rent and hire a divorce lawyer, state prosecutors say. Rendon, 33, stole $154,000 from 41 people, including 20 old folks who responded to his travel agency ads in religious magazines; about half of his victims were Californians, Attorney General Jerry Brown said.

Some of the victims wanted to visit a Greek Orthodox church that Fidel Castro allowed to be built in Cuba, and hoped to offer humanitarian assistance to members of the community. Cuba is believed to have a few thousand Orthodox believers, only a few dozen of whom are Greek. The Jewish Americans’ trips were also for humanitarian purposes, to help the small Jewish community in Cuba. The victims paid up to $4,000 apiece, Brown says, then Rendon told them, “As soon as we receive word from the U.S. government that the freeze on religious programs in Cuba has been lifted, we will allow you to travel to Cuba at any date of your choosing.”

Rendon’s ads appeared in the “Orthodox Observer,” “Jewish Journal” and “Jewish Life.” A spokesperson for Brown’s office said, “We are not aware of any trips offered to the Catholic community.” Rendon was sentenced this week to 5 years in prison; as part of his plea agreement additional fraud charges related to a second scheme will not be pursued. While out on bail for the 2006 travel fraud, Rendon started a second company, London Exchange, which charged people $500 to apply for credit cards that didn’t exist, prosecutors said. Rendon pleaded guilty to grand theft.

Havana – DTC – The city of Cienfuegos, the capital of the central Cuban province of the same name, is hosting the 1st Anthological Exhibition of Handicraft, dedicated to artist Emilio López. The exhibition, pays tribute to the late artist, who was a founding member of the Association of Cuban Artist Artisans (ACAA) and excelled as a fashion designer, painter, ceramist and sculptor. Being held at the Boulevard Gallery, the exhibition shows several works on wood, metal and fabric, among other supports. As part of actions to promote Cuban culture, 87 local artists are participating in the exhibition, during which artisans Haydeé Villavicencio García and Juan Miguel Pérez Carvajal received the Hands Award, granted by the ACAA.

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Oct. 18, 2009

Havana – DTC – The airline Cubana de Aviación, Cuba’s flag carrier, celebrated 80 years of uninterrupted operations this month. According to experts, the company, which was founded in 1929, was among the pioneers in the era of commercial flights, and is a founding member of the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). Cubana de Aviación carries passengers, cargo and mail, among other services. The airline’s fleet has been renovated with modern Russian-made IL-96 and TU-204 aircrafts, as well as Brazilian-made Embraer and ATR-72 planes. Cubana de Aviación flies to destinations in Central, North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, in addition to operating 15 domestic routes.

Associated Press Writer – HAVANA – Cuba may soon be saying adios to ration books. The system that allows islanders to buy food at deeply subsidized prices each month has long been one of the central building blocks of the country’s socialist system, providing everyone from surgeons to street-sweepers the same allotment of basic foods like rice, beans and a bit of chicken. Now, state-run media are suggesting the “libreta” that Cubans have depended on since 1962 to put meager helpings of food on their tables has outlived its usefulness, and is hamstringing the government as it tries to reform the ever-struggling economy.

“The ration booklet was a necessity at one time, but it has become an impediment to the collective decisions the nation must take,” Lazaro Barredo Medina, editor of the Communist Party’s Granma newspaper, wrote in a full-page signed opinion. He said the government ought not do away with rations by decree, but suggested readers should start preparing for life without a system that people on this island both covet as a birthright and complain is woefully insufficient to meet even the most modest needs.

Barredo’s words carry no immediate policy weight, but such a lengthy and frankly worded editorial penned by the editor of Granma could very well presage major governmental changes down the road – though it is impossible to know exactly when. The thick brown ration booklet offers 11.2 million Cubans a diet including rice, salt, legumes, potatoes, bread, eggs, sugar and some meat. Many complain it only provides 10 to 15 days of food and that quotas have gotten stingier over the years. The idea of such a transcendental change in the Cuban experience made Barredo’s opinion piece the talk of the town, with strong opinions on both sides.

“I was born and raised under the revolution and I have no idea what would be available to buy on the free market,” said a skeptical Silvia Alvarez, 50. “It seems to me that in these critical times … we ought to keep it at least for a while longer.” Economists also had their doubts. Antonio Jorge, who once served as Cuba’s vice finance minister and now is a professor emeritus at Florida International University in Miami, said he “cannot imagine how this proposal could be implemented.” “This is the bare minimum of food, of nutrition,” Jorge said, especially for the half of the Cuban population that has no access to remittances – money sent from abroad, usually by relatives in the U.S. “How will they live? How will they fend for themselves?”

Cuban President Raul Castro has said several times that the ration book costs too much and provides too little. Since taking power from his brother Fidel in February 2008, he has been critical of Cuba’s paternalistic system, saying deep state subsidies don’t give people an incentive to work. Barredo called his column “He’s Paternalistic, You’re Paternalistic, I’m Paternalistic,” a swipe at the cradle-to-grave guarantees Cuba has always provided its citizens, and which now are losing favor. With the country’s economy hit hard by the global credit crunch and three disastrous hurricanes last year, Raul Castro has been looking at ways to cut state costs while imploring his countrymen to produce more.

While Cubans make low wages – about $20 a month – the state pays for or heavily subsidizes nearly everything, from education to health care, housing to transportation. Even honeymoon suites and children’s toys were doled out at sharp discounts in years past, though the government has phased out some of the most generous perks. Last month, the government announced plans to close almost-free cafeterias in state ministries and instead give employees a stipend to buy food. And Castro has suggested other big changes, like doing away with the nation’s dual currency economy, which puts many imported items outside the reach of most citizens. He has also promised to reform the country’s pay structure, allowing better workers to earn more, and he has made modest openings in the economy that have allowed for some limited free enterprise.

Scrapping the ration book – presumably in return for higher wages – would be a far more fundamental shift in the egalitarian communist system the Castro brothers have striven to build since shortly after their rebel force won power on New Year’s Day 1959. Jorge, the former finance minister now in Florida, said that if food subsidies evaporate, the government will struggle to hold down the price of basic staples, further squeezing already poverty stricken Cubans. “If you were to allow the market to determine the prices, they would skyrocket immediately,” he said. “Ideologically, the regime will see the free market as unthinkable. But, as an economist, I don’t see what else is possible.”

When it began in 1962 – shortly after the U.S. cut off trade with the island – rationing was characterized as a temporary program to guarantee a low-priced basket of basic foods. But as Cuba struggled to feed its people with help from the Soviet bloc, the program endured. Today, Cuba spends more than $1 billion a year on food subsidies. Despite those efforts, most Cubans find themselves forced to invent ways to stretch limited rations as far as possible, including bartering or selling on the black market some of the monthly food they don’t use as a means of obtaining more of the items they do depend on. Still, some believe it is time the government end the handouts and make citizens take more responsibility for their lives.

“If you don’t work, you won’t eat,” said Caridad, a 67-year-old retiree emerging from a government-subsidized shop in Havana’s historic district. Like many Cubans, she did not feel comfortable having her full name appear in the foreign press, but admitted that to supplement a pension of less than $10 a month, she had been forced to go back to work cleaning streets. “People need to understand that it is up to them to provide for their families, just like in the rest of the world,” she said. “Nothing falls from heaven except the rain.”

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s tourism industry has offered new options to attract more national and foreign vacationers. One of the new options is an excursion to Baracoa, the first village founded by the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba, where tourists arrive from Santiago de Cuba by plane. After enjoying the view of Baracoa’s landscape from the plane, travelers stop briefly at the hotel El Castillo, which affords a superb view of the city. The program also includes tours of Baracoa’s Historic Heart to learn about local cultural values such as the so-called Cruz de Parra, built by Admiral Christopher Columbus at the entrance of the Bay of Porto Santo in 1492. Tourists can also learn about the history of cocoa while walking the Socio-Cultural Trail on that crop, in the tourist farm of Duaba. They can also go sailing in the Toa River and have a typical Cuban lunch at El Rancho.

Travel to Cuba – Joan Brown Campbell, the church lady who befriended Elián González during his sojourn here a decade ago, has been to Cuba 37 times — except during the last Bush administration, when she could not get the required U.S. permission to visit the island for four straight years. She applied again this year now that Barack Obama is in the White House and got the license to travel straightaway. The U.S. State Department even opened doors for her to invite several Cuban academics to visit New York. Among those who attended a conference Brown organized last month: Ofelia Ortega, a member of the Cuban national assembly.

“The U.S. Interests Section in Havana said to me, `Give us the names of the people you are asking for; we will call them to come in for a visa,’ ” Brown said. “This was very unusual. In the past, people had to wait in a long line and wait three months before finding out whether the visa had been approved. I have been doing this for 35 years, and this was a shock to me.  “They didn’t turn anyone down.” Although Obama has not officially changed any rules regarding nonfamily trips to Cuba, State Department statistics show anecdotal evidence of a flow of visits.

From October 2008 to August 2009, 16,217 Cubans have visited the United States, up from 10,661 during the same period in 2007-08, the numbers show. Just recently, the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota announced that a delegation from Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment will make a rare visit to its headquarters this week. Experts say that although statistics have not been released regarding how many American academics, musicians and church groups have visited Cuba under Obama, the U.S. State Department has relaxed strict Bush-era interpretations of existing law.

More Americans are heading to Cuba in the “people to people” travel excursions. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently made the trip on a legal trade expedition, and actor Benicio Del Toro has gone at least twice since his movie Che opened last year. Cuba Education Tours offers American professionals tips on how to qualify for a general research license. They offer trips over Thanksgiving, Christmas and a “51st Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution Tour spanning New Years.” “Even though the administration hasn’t yet published changes allowing more cultural and educational exchanges to and from Cuba, anecdotal evidence suggests that such loosening has already taken place,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a critic of Obama’s Cuba policy. “We see ads informing college students and artistic groups of planned excursions to the island. So it looks like its back to the era of two-week college courses in Cuban culture taught on the beaches of Varadero.”

The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control declined repeated requests to release data showing how many Americans were authorized this year to travel to Cuba. The State Department acknowledges that the Bush administration narrowly interpreted existing law. “Actually, there has not been an official directive, and there certainly has not been a policy change,” said Bisa Williams, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. “There’s a flow up here and down there. We’re just saying we are going back to what’s on the books. There is still a full review of every application.”

In fact, the Cuban press reported this week that 30 American scientists were refused permission to attend a medical conference in eastern Cuba this month. The so-called “people to people” licenses date back to the Clinton administration, when special travel permission categories existed for academic and cultural visits. That meant some groups did not have to apply for a special visa every time they traveled, which gave rise to a cottage industry that specialized in taking special-interest groups to visit the hemisphere’s last communist regime. But Bush put a stop to the practice, which experts say was widely abused by tourists who visited Cuba’s beaches under the guise of academic or cultural enrichment. Advocates for increased relations between the two countries say the trips are necessary to break down barriers between the two long hostile nations.

“There was a general policy to obstruct all people to people contacts between Americans and Cuba,” said attorney Robert Muse, an expert on the U.S. trade embargo. “Virtually any application submitted was denied during that period. While there may be more travel going on now, what Obama has not done is return to licenses.” In 2007, the Bush administration authorized just seven Americans to go to Cuba for public performances or athletic competitions. The State Department now says they are permitting performances, but are looking at factors such as ticket prices.  Colombian rocker Juanes met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May to promote his idea for a “concert for peace” in Havana Sept. 20. Because the concert was free and open to the public, the State Department allowed American musicians to participate.

Obama also ended Bush’s practice of stonewalling Cuban academics traveling to the United States to attend conferences. “Cooperation in academia is very important, and so Cuban professors felt very limited before,” said Cuban political scientist Rafael Hernández, who got a visa to attend Brown Campbell’s conference, and will be a visiting professor this semester at the University of Texas. “Professors resented not being able go forward with that. It’s too soon to tell whether there’s been a real change,” Hernández said. He twice got visas under the Bush administration and was denied “various times.” He had last visited the United States in 2006.

Critics say the recent boom in travel demonstrates that Obama doesn’t need an official policy change offering special licenses. “The law permits all that without a change,” said pro-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone. “There is purposeful travel. The administration has been more lax in authorizing travel than the previous administration was, but that fits the pattern with Democrats.” But activists have urged Obama to do more by officially changing the rules, not just interpreting them differently.

“Obama is being very cautious,” said Silvia Wilhelm, who heads the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights. “I don’t know why they haven’t just said, `these are the new licenses.’ I think they want to be careful in this arena, and let’s face it, this arena is a minefield.” Since Obama has already offered Cuban Americans the right to travel freely and send money, he is probably waiting for the Castro government to make similar concessions before he allows more liberalized travel for all Americans, she said. “This is not a rumba. This is a danzón: very small steps,” Wilhelm said. “Now we have to see if our dance partner will also take small steps.”

Havana – DTC – Havana, Cuba’s major tourist destination, offers varied recreational options at night. One of them is the Cabaret Parisien, in the emblematic Hotel Nacional, which is considered one of the most attractive nightclubs in Cuba. The Parisien was inaugurated in the 1940s, when major international artists such as Frank Sinatra and Josephine Baker performed there. The cabaret has its own company to design the shows, which are the main attractions for both Cuba and foreign visitors. In addition, the company has performed in other countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Brazil.

CIÉNAGA DE ZAPATA, Cuba – (Tierramérica) – The Zapata wren (Ferminia cerverai) is known in Cuba as the “soprano of the forest” for its lovely song. But this tiny bird is very timid and, at the slightest sound, will hide in the vegetation in the Cienaga de Zapata – Zapata Swamp – 160 km south of Havana on the island’s south-central coast. To see and hear the little bird that is endemic to the swamp – the largest and best-preserved Caribbean island wetlands – is often a goal of visitors to this area, which so far is relatively unexplored by foreign tourists, who usually come for sun and beach vacations.

But tourism officials have decided to open the doors to travellers who are seeking something more than a good tan. “We have four well-appointed hotels for nature-loving tourists, interested in hiking, bird-watching, diving or sport fishing,” Estanislao Rodríguez, commercial director of the tourist outfitter Cubanacán in the Cienaga, told Tierramérica. This vast and sparsely populated municipality on the southern coast of Matanzas province is home to no less than 65 percent of Cuba’s bird species, 1,000 plant species and native amphibians, like the highly endangered Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), only found in the Cienaga and Cuba’s Isla (island) de la Juventud.

From late November to March, at the environmental station of Las Salinas it is possible to see 65 migratory bird species escaping the cold winter temperatures in Canada and the United States. The Cienaga, declared a biosphere reserve in 2000 and a protected wetland site under the international Ramsar convention in 2001, has a diversity of ecosystems, including swamps, rivers, lagoons, grasslands, mangroves, semi-deciduous, evergreen and sub-coastal forests, coral reefs and caves. The area is visited by 100,000 tourists a year. An advertising campaign is under way to bring in more visitors, primarily from Europe, which still has a strong demand for specialised travel.

The long-anticipated opening of travel from the United States, which is still subject to the 47-year-old embargo that prevents U.S. citizens from freely visiting Cuba, could drive up demand for ecotourism, and bring with it potentially dangerous impacts on the wetlands. As for that possibility, Cuba’s Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told Tierramérica that the bulk of tourists “have to go to the beaches.” The development of ecotourism to which Cuba aspires will be based on maximum numbers of visitors established for each site, he added.

It is increasingly necessary to diversify Cuba’s products, and nature tourism provides one such opportunity, but it will be done in a “sustainable” way, said Marrero at an international meeting aimed at promoting the Cienaga de Zapata as a travel destination. Pablo Bouza, director of the Cienaga de Zapata National Park, which extends over almost the wetlands area of 600,000 square km, also told Tierramérica that steps have been taken to ensure that tourism here “is not massive, but sustainable.”

“Since we decided to make public use of these protected areas, their capacity for nature tourism has been studied… There are instruments for measuring the effectiveness of management for each activity, with evaluations carried out twice a year,” he explained. By way of example, Bouza cited the case of hiking in the wetlands’ lagoon and cave system, where only three of a total of 90 flooded caverns will be open to visitors. Furthermore, on each visit, no more than seven people can enter, with a maximum of 15 people a day. Officials also have faith in the close relationship between the tourism industry and the government agencies for environmental protection.

Research studies propose the adoption of legislation to oversee compliance with existing regulations, better coordination of all sectors involved in tourism, and financial support to implement sustainable management and newer “green” technologies. Twenty-two percent of Cuban territory is under some category of environmental protection, based on the value of its biodiversity. Along with the Cienaga de Zapata, other standouts are the biosphere reserves in Guanahacabibes and Sierra del Rosario, in the western province of Pinar del Río.

There are also biosphere reserves in Buenavista, in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, off of central Cuba, and in Baconao and Cuchillas del Toa in the east. But despite Cuba’s great natural riches, the environmental component represents just four percent of the island’s tourism, which expects to bring in 2.36 million visitors this year.

Nuevitas – (RN) -The National Traffic Period is developed from October 4th-25th, with venue in this municipality until the day eleven, to open the way to the provincial traffic period. During the week the members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) with its specialists in traffic, exchange experiences with the students linked to the interest clubs, interested in training them to prevent possible accidents.  As part of the activities that the children of Nuevitas develop during the Traffic Period there are the revision of vehicles or documents, the behavior of the pedestrians in the sidewalks and the appropriate way of going by the public highway, for what they receive instructions after the student schedule. The program includes the participation of the students of this municipality of Camagüey in the competitions of plastic arts, for according to the rules they express in their works the indisciplines of the drivers and pedestrians, and learn fundamental aspects about the first woman that obtained the driver’s license in Cuba.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – AP – The mayor of New Orleans flew to Cuba Friday on a mission to study the island’s respected disaster preparedness methods in another sign of easing diplomatic relations. The visit comes a day after President Barack Obama promised New Orleans that the government would never repeat the “failure of government” seen after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the jazz city in 2005. Ray Nagin is the first US mayor to make a diplomatic visit to Cuba in 50 years, his office said. “We were victims of a tragedy. Now we want to be a model for response and preparedness,” said spokeswoman, Ceeon Quiett.

The State Department gave approval to the mission because Cuba has been recognized internationally as a leader in emergency management, Quiett said. New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina, which smashed levees and swamped 80 percent of the metropolitan area, leaving tens of thousands homeless. The delegation, which includes a top state legislator, will also be meeting with Cuba’s Ministry of Exterior Relations and the Ministry of Culture before returning. Obama has said he would like a more normal relationship with Cuba but has not set out a specific strategy for attaining that goal.

Since he took office, the United States has ended Bush-era sanctions to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their homeland whenever they want and send home unlimited remittances. In July, the two countries officially restarted a dialogue on migration issues which had been suspended since 2003 and talks are also underway aimed at restarting bilateral mail service which was cut off in 1963. But the Obama administration has said it will not, for now, seek to end the embargo, instead urging Havana to show progress on human rights.

Havana – DTC – Gastronomy is a major complement to tourism in Cuba, with offers for all kinds of tastes. In Havana, tourists can visit the Restaurant-Bar Emperador, run by the company Restaurantes de Lujo de Ciudad de La Habana. The 42-seat restaurant, which is decorated in red and gold, serves dishes from international cuisine. Founded in 1956, the restaurant has a neoclassic and eclectic decoration that is complemented by efficient services and personalized treatment. In addition to its gastronomic options, the Emperador offers its clients a humidor with Cuban cigars of the brands Cohíba, Partagás and Romeo y Julieta, among others, as well as select wines and Havana Club rum.

Camagüey – (AIN) – The 2nd Videoart International Festival, Camagüey 2009 will set a record among the cultural contests in this province, for more than 200 works from 23 countries will be taking part in this year’s edition. This connotation was corroborated by sources like Rigoberto Álvarez – who is the director of artistic spectacles at present- and who has been working almost half a century for the cultural sector. The event will be running from November 27 until December 1st, and its the only forum of its type in the island and with permanent venue in Camagüey. Artist Jorge Luis Santana, president of the contest, told press that including out of contest materials there are more than 300 videos.

Among the individuals participating in the Festival we can find works from Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, United States, Spain, France, Germany, South Africa, Israel and Cuba. The projections will carry out in areas like the Casino Campestre – the largest urban park of the country – and in three galleries. The program also inserts conferences to be given by foreigners and Cubans, and exhibitions of works that have competed in other contests held out of Cuba. The event is sponsored by the Provincial Delegation of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), and is being supported by entities such as the UNESCO. Another international event of the visual arts that is carried out in Camagüey is the “Amacén de la Imagen”, where authors younger than 35 years of age can participate.

Havana – DTC – The Company, Inversiones Pucará S.A., which commercializes wines, has operated in Cuba for eight years. According to firm executives, the company distributes 300 brands of high-quality wines in Cuba’s tourism market. Inversiones Pucará S.A. has a staff of sales experts in Havana, Varadero beach, Holguín and central Cuba. Eighty percent of the company’s turnover comes from the Chilean winery Concha y Toro. Inversiones Pucará S.A. also represents the Spanish wineries Rioja y Rivera del Duero, Matarromero y Enate, as well as firms from France, Italy, South Africa and Argentina.

Xinhua – Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong said China and Cuba should continue to strengthen win-win cooperation in science and technology so as to achieve common development. Liu made the remarks here when meeting with Fidel Castro Diaz, the scientific advisor to the State Council of Cuba. Liu spoke highly of the achievements and experience of Cuba’s socialist construction, and the friendly and cooperative relations as well as scientific and technology exchanges and cooperation between the two countries.

Since China and Cuba forged diplomatic ties 49 years ago, the two countries have maintained sound and substantial exchanges and cooperation in the field of science and technology, which reinforced scientific and technological strength of both countries, and promoted their social and economic development as well as the improvement of the living standards of the two peoples. The successful cooperation in the bio-pharmaceutical field between China and Cuba has become a role model for the scientific cooperation between the developing countries, Liu noted. Liu also asked Diaz to convey her sincere greetings to Fidel Castro, the founder of Cuba’s socialist cause.

Havana – DTC – Cuban authorities have taken actions to increase salt production to meet the domestic demand. According to executives from the entrepreneurial group GEOMINSAL, 250,000 tons of salt will be produced this year, 50 percent of which will be supplied by saltworks in eastern Guantánamo province. Guantánamo is the country’s major salt producer, which supplies three western provinces, in addition to eastern Santiago de Cuba and central Villa Clara and Cienfuegos. Last year’s hurricanes caused serious havoc in Cuban saltworks, forcing the country to import salt to meet the domestic demand. Investments have been made to recover the sector, increase production and improve efficiency to reduce costs.

NY Daily News – Editorial Commentary – Traveling to Cuba may soon become a reality for Americans. Hard as it may be to believe, the possibility is closer than ever. But nearly half a century of irrationality and nonsense in anything related to U.S.-Cuba relations have made many people – myself included – skeptics. We need to see to believe. Yet if the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act – supported by 68% of likely voters, according to a Zogby/Inter-American Dialogue poll – is finally approved, the Caribbean island could soon be swarming with U.S. tourists.

I repeat, if it is finally approved, because the bill has been stalled in the House Foreign Affairs Committee since it was introduced in February. The reason is not new: recalcitrant anti-Castro politicians and lobbyists. Nevertheless, a bipartisan coalition could pass the legislation this year. Once you know that Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government bans travel – and has done so for 46 years – you can appreciate the absurdity of such policy. Americans can visit North Korea and Iran, Vietnam and China, but Cuba, 90 miles from U.S. shores, is a no-no. Surrealism at its best.

When Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced the Freedom to Travel Act in the House, and Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) did the same in the Senate, they introduced a measure of sanity in our Cuba policy. Recently, the movement to repeal the travel ban has gained speed. Two weeks ago Delahunt and Flake announced that the number of committed co-sponsors for the bill climbed to 180, and that other lawmakers had promised to vote for the bill. Only 218 votes are needed to pass the legislation. “All of our goals – for U.S.-Cuba policy, for regional diplomacy, for boosting the U.S. economy and for advancing our values and remaking our nation’s image – are best served by replacing our policy of isolation with engagement, starting with travel for all,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

Thankfully, the obsessive hostility that permeated U.S.-Cuba policy during the previous administration left the nation’s capital along with George W. Bush. The Obama administration has already taken steps – tentative as they may be – toward improving relations with Havana. The White House has been allowing unlimited family travel and remittances, resuming migration talks and discussing direct-mail service with Cuba. Its support of a Havana peace concert by Colombian rock star Juanes and last month’s visit by a senior State Department official is another example.

The unannounced six-day visit to Cuba by Bisa Williams, an acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was significant. During her visit Williams held talks with Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez and met with several political dissidents. “I believe that the President has authorized these talks because he has a plan for bridging the chasm between Cuba and the U.S. that has existed for 50 years,” Stephens said. The President cannot do it alone, but he can work with Congress to revamp the obsolete U.S.-Cuba policy. Repealing the travel ban for all Americans should be the logical next step.

In a couple of weeks, in what has become a yearly ritual, the United Nations is expected to overwhelmingly vote to urge the U.S. – as it has done for 17 years – to scrap the embargo. Here is hoping that our Nobel Peace Prize President and Congress finally heed the world’s opinion.

The Hill – Washington – Two senators seeking to end the 46-year-old ban on U.S. travel to Cuba are finding it difficult to get their measure to the Senate floor. Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) have revived a bill they first introduced in March to lift the ban that was initially imposed by the Kennedy administration in February 1963. The bill has attracted 32 co-sponsors, including Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.  But Dorgan, a member of Democratic leadership as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, said he doesn’t know how to get the bill onto the Senate floor.

Quizzed about his strategy on Thursday, Dorgan said he is searching for a committee that can pass the legislation — or somehow take it straight to the floor. “We have not yet found a way,” Dorgan said in a recent floor speech. “When we do, I guarantee we will have sufficient votes on the floor of the Senate to offer the American people the freedom they should have had in the last 50 or 60 years, and that is freedom to travel. In this case … freedom has been taken from them and it is outrageous.”

Lifting the travel ban is opposed by most Republicans and many centrist Democrats expressed unease with the idea. At the same time, they acknowledge the present Cuban policy has been ineffective. “On the one hand, you don’t want to in some ways go easy on a regime that continues to be dictatorial and very brutal to their people,” said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). “On the other hand, we’ve pursued this policy for 50 years, and it hasn’t led to the kind of change that we want for the people of Cuba.” Foreign Relations Committee member Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) said instead of lifting the ban arbitrarily, the Senate should work with the Obama administration to develop a strategy.

“Cuba’s complicated,” Kaufman said. “The government down there still treats freedom of the press terribly; they’re terrible with regard to dissidents. I think it’s got to be part of an administration initiative to look at all the parts and figure out what to do.” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said the Cuban government has not done enough to end human-rights abuses. “I’ve been for the travel ban and like the previous administrations, I’ve always said if [Fidel] Castro would take a step toward us, we’d take a step toward them, including lifting the travel ban in whole or in part,” Lieberman said. “My first reaction, not having looked at the proposal, is that I’m against it.”

Only four of the bill’s 32 co-sponsors are Republicans.  “I support the embargo against Cuba — we do not need to be opening up trade or expanding travel to a country that doesn’t respect human rights, that doesn’t respect a minority party,” said Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.). “They don’t have freedom of the press. They have political prisoners. I don’t believe in backing down to the Cubans.“ Lifting the ban could also be complicated for the Obama administration. While President Barack Obama loosened the ban in April and has tried to better the U.S.-Cuba relationship, it’s unclear whether he’d support a complete lifting of the travel ban.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban company, CUBACONTROL S.A., which supervises trade operations, was certified with the 2008 NC-ISO 9001 quality standard. The company’s work is aimed at monitoring compliance with agreements signed by sellers and buyers to import and export goods to and from Cuba. CUBACONTROL S.A. also provides similar services to third parties in other countries. According to statistics, the company monitored some 20 million tons of goods and inspected nearly 1,000 ships from January to July 2009. CUBACONTROL S.A. has a branch in Venezuela, as well as offices in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, China and Vietnam.

HAVANA – AP – Cuba has quietly made it easier to obtain state permission to build or remodel homes even as it pledges to crack down like never before on unlicensed residential construction, including routine do-it-yourself projects. A decree enacted this week allows authorities to undo unauthorized home improvements, sometimes resorting to tearing down exterior walls and new balconies, or demolishing extra rooms and other additions. The new law simply clarifies regulations and punishments already widely enforced in Cuba and expressly directs that offenders not be evicted altogether. Still, the changes are sure to cause ripples in a country where decades of underdevelopment have forced Cubans to alter cramped homes to fit three and sometimes four generations under a single roof.

Cuba’s government controls nearly all building materials and housing-related matters. Permits are a must for exterior alterations, and even indoor improvements can require a series of approvals, usually including proof-of-purchase of building materials and proper licenses for all workers involved. Still, many Cubans build without the right paperwork. One Havana retiree who is remodeling her two-story home said the project was unlicensed — and would stay that way, no matter what the new decree says. “This is my house. I have lived here 70 years. I don’t need permission from anybody,” said Milagros, who only provided her first name so state inspectors wouldn’t find her. Her family is erecting a wall that will cut the marble-columned living room in two to accommodate her two grown sons, their families and a bedridden, 103-year-old cousin.

A pile of weather-beaten boards litter the front porch of elegant ceramic tiles. Milagros said a carpenter, who she is paying with money sent by relatives in the United States, bought the wood under-the-table, and she prefers not to ask from exactly where. The 77-year-old said more-detailed housing regulations will mean little more than more officials looking for bribes. “Those guys at the Housing Ministry are vultures,” Milagros said. In fact, the new building rules require housing inspectors to report illegal construction to their superiors right away, in an apparent effort to discourage bribe-taking, and places some of the onus for spotting potential construction problems on state contractors.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro took power, the communist government has not built enough new homes to keep up with a growing population. The problem became more acute when the Soviet Union collapsed — taking billions of dollars in annual subsidies and legions of engineers and architects with it. “Of all the problems Cuba faces, housing is one of the worst,” said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became an anti-communist dissident. “There is a lot of pressure on the population to find ways to resolve their housing issues, and that would likely create more violations, not fewer.” In addition to this week’s decree, a trio of housing programs enacted to little fanfare earlier this year aim to make it easier to obtain building licenses, Housing Ministry officials and state contractors said in interviews. Espinosa Chepe said he was unfamiliar with those reforms, but other Cubans said anecdotally that it has become somewhat easier to obtain repair or remodeling licenses.

A state building contractor who identified himself only as Wilfredo because he did not feel comfortable having his full name appear in the foreign press, said his office has noticed a spike in the number of remodeling projects approved recently, though he had no exact figures. In the meantime, this week’s law is designed get tough with unlicensed builders. “The objective is to organize and unify measures and halt certain indiscretions,” said Jardines Lugo, a housing ministry legal adviser in Havana’s Playa district, a leafy enclave of wide, if potholed, streets and gracefully decaying, pastel-colored mansions.

Lugo works out of a closet-sized, un-airconditioned second floor office decorated only with a painting of revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The ministry branch occupies a once stately home with high ceilings and wood shutters in an area where many houses were abandoned by wealthy families who fled after Castro took power. Lugo said the new law closes a loophole whereby thousands of Cubans made home improvements without permission, paid a fine, then finished the job without ever legalizing the process. He added, however, that it will give housing inspectors leeway to work with past offenders, helping them pay additional fines and obtain permits for already completed work — ensuring it usually won’t be necessary to bring in the bulldozers. “It’s making it easier to legalize everything,” Lugo said.

There are economic incentives for following the law. Those granted permission to build can buy timber, cement and other raw materials from government distributors at subsidized prices, and hire state contractors who are paid next-to nothing. Anyone building without permission must obtain all goods and pony up for unlicensed labor at steep black-market prices. Still, Espinosa Chepe, the dissident economist, said more detailed regulations may simply lead to more corruption as homeowners pay authorities to look the other way. “More inspections, more officials taking money … it could be all that happens,” said Espinosa Chepe, who was arrested in a 2003 roundup of 75 dissidents. He was later granted conditional freedom for health reasons.

Milagros said breaking building codes was inevitable. “Here, if you wake up and put your feet on the ground, you are committing a crime. If you have breakfast, that’s another crime. Lunch? That’s a crime too,” she said. Other Cubans looking to remodel or throw up new homes in abandoned buildings or unclaimed lots said they would rather pay higher prices and run higher risks than even try to obtain permission. In another part of Playa, a construction crew took a lunch break on the front porch of a Victorian-style home, accepting sandwiches and juice in chipped glasses from the family living inside. Bags of cement were piled haphazardly in the driveway and the beginnings of what could one day be a balcony rose from the roof. The owner of the house claimed to have her papers in order but would not produce them and declined to give her name. “I got permission years ago, it’s just that I’ve been building very slowly,” she said. “I don’t have much else to say.”

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s economic authorities have taken actions to make better use of renewable energy to boost the island’s development and save resources.  As part of those initiatives, the company Industria Mecánica Caribe (IMECA) has built 280 windmills to be used in agriculture and cattle raising farms. The windmills, which supply water to farms, have become a major economic alternative. In addition, experts are designing a new windmill that works better when the wind is mild. IMECA’s production is expected to increase in 2010, considering that several companies are interested in acquiring the windmills.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur – Havana – A one-third reduction of land devoted to tobacco cultivation should not lead to a large decrease in production of Cuba’s world famous cigars, the Cuban government said. ‘The Cuban tobacco farmers will meet their production goals in the 2009-10 season even though they have fewer areas at their disposal,’ Osvaldo Encarnacion, the vice president of the state tobacco company Grupo Tacuba, told the newspaper Trabajadores. The farmers would meet their export obligations and there would also be no reductions in production for cigars and cigarettes sold in Cuba.

The communist government had earlier said the land devoted to tobacco production would decrease to 19,800 hectares from 28,200 hectares because of ‘financial restrictions.’ The global financial crisis as well as a series of hurricanes that hit the Caribbean island last year had led to a decrease in available funds, Encarnacion said. A harvest of 22,500 tons was forecast, down from predictions of 28,200 tons. In 2008-09, Cuba produced 25,300 tons of tobacco leaves.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban beach volleyball teams have been successful at the North, Central American and Caribbean (NORCECA) circuit.  In the sixth phase of the tournament, held in the Mexican city of Manzanillo, Ion Canet and Milagros Crespo won the title in the women’s contest, while Yoandry Kindelán and Yunieski were the silver medalists among men. The Cuban female players won the gold-medal game against Mexico 1, made up of Diana Estrada and Martha Revueltas, in two sets with a similar 21-14 score. In the fifth phase, Canet and Crespo finished second, while the men’s duet won the bronze medal. The seventh phase will be held in Puerto Vallarta, where winners will qualify for the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in 2010.

NEW YORK – AP – A small Miami-based company said the U.S. government has given it permission to lay the first optical communications fiber from the U.S. to Cuba. That could drastically cut the cost of calling the island nation and make the Internet more accessible to Cubans. Treasury Department officials were unavailable to confirm that TeleCuba Communications Inc. has received approval, which is necessary even though the Obama administration eased long-standing restrictions on telecom links to Cuba in April. TeleCuba said that its cable will be operating by the middle of 2011. It still needs final permission from the Cuban government to land the cable. (Editor…Gee, I think maybe that might be important, don’t you?)

A government official in Cuba, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said Cuba has been waiting for the U.S. to approve a “group of companies” seeking to build telecommunications infrastructure. But the official could not confirm whether Cuba would ultimately give them permission to enter the market. Cuba is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere that is not linked to the outside world by fiber optics. Instead, it relies on slow, expensive satellite links. While the cable could make calling very cheap, it would be up to the Cuban government to set rates, and it could keep restrictions on Internet access as well.

The government of Venezuela, a Cuban ally, has announced that it is building a fiber to Cuba, which could beat TeleCuba by getting to the island next year. But construction hasn’t started, and TeleCuba has the advantage of a much shorter route: 110 miles, compared to 966 miles from Venezuela. “We might get into a little race there with them,” said Luis Coello, CEO of TeleCuba.

TeleCuba projects the costs of its fiber at $18 million, which will be financed by private investors, while Venezuela said this summer that it is planning to spend $70 million. TeleCuba’s fiber will follow the route of a defunct 1950s copper telephone cable from Key West to Cojimar, an eastern suburb of the Cuban capital, Havana. Apart from carrying communications, it will have scientific and weather sensors. The capacity of the cable will be 8 to 10 terabits per second, enough for more than 160 million simultaneous phone calls. The last operational copper cable from Florida to Cuba could carry 144 phone calls at the same time.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban company Tumba Francesa Pompadour-Santa Catalina de Ricci, from eastern Guantánamo province, will participate in an international forum on folklore. The group will perform at the 39th Congress of the International Council of Organizations of Festivals on Folklore and Traditional Arts (CIOFF), scheduled for November in Cuba. According to experts, the group’s performance is part of the program of the meeting, which will be attended by experts from all over the world. The forum, sponsored by the National Council of Houses of Culture and the UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, will be held at Havana’s Convention Center. The Tumba Francesa Pompadour-Santa Catalina de Ricci is Cuba’s first Masterpiece of Oral and Immaterial Heritage designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

NEW YORK – PRNewswire via COMTEX – Auditorium Enrique V. Iglesias Conference Center, 1330 New York Avenue – N W Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, DC 20577 RSVP: http://www.hitn.org/enlaceCuba/

On October 7, 2009, Jose Luis Rodriguez, President and CEO of Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, announced the preview and launch of a new HITN series; Enlace Cuba, a program series dedicated to artists living and working in Cuba.

“HITN is committed to developing programs that have far reaching impact on our society and provide an opportunity for exchange of ideas,” Rodriguez said. “I believe that Enlace Cuba will serve as educational experience for our vast national audience. It will be the catalyst for better understanding and the beginning of exchange of ideas between two cultures. The first of other series dedicated to the arts, culture and society of Cuba, future programs will continue to provide greater opportunities for cultural exchange. “Enlace Cuba is an on-going HITN series that explores and documents current Cuban culture and society. The first series of seven programs capture the essence of visual artists living and working in Cuba. Future programs will explore the regional cultural and social manifestations current and post the revolution. The program will present actual events and topics developed within a historical and contemporary context. The first broadcast is scheduled for Sunday, October 25th 2009 at 9 pm ET and continue every Sunday at the same time. Find Solutions for Enterprises, SMBs & Service Providers at the INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference and EXPO East, January 20-22, 2010. Miami, FL. //

Havana – DTC – The Lizt Alfonso Ballet will perform in Cuba over the next few weeks, as part of a tour to close its successful 2009 season. In late October, the Cuban company will participate in three galas at the García Lorca Hall of the Grand Theater of Havana. The company’s program also includes fragments of its anthological choreographies “Fuerza y Compás”, “Elementos” and “Vida”, in addition to performances in “La Corte del Faraón” (The Pharaoh’s Court), along with the National Lyric Theater of Cuba. The documentary “Vida y Danza Cuba” (Life and Cuba Dance), premiered at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema last year, will be screened at the Charles Chaplin Movie Theater. The Lizt Alfonso Ballet will also perform for the first time in western Pinar del Río province, where it will take a small-format show entitled “Tablao”

BBC News – Cuba’s dynamic emerging blogging community has recently been testing the limits of free expression with posts ranging from vivid accounts of everyday life to sometimes risky calls for political change in the Communist-run state. Bloggers – many of whom were born after the 1959 revolution – are trying to move debate away from the established official doctrine to exploring social and economic issues.  Most still avoid direct criticism of the government, for fear of provoking a crackdown on the country’s growing internet.  However, the government’s present tolerance could change, as an increasing number of bloggers are beginning to condemn the harassment of independent writers and are demanding structural reforms. The New-York based media watchdog Commitee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a report published in mid-September, welcomed the “surprisingly vibrant blogosphere” that has recently sprung to life in Cuba.

“The bloggers, mainly young adults from a variety of professions, have opened a new space for free expression, while offering a fresh glimmer of hope for the rebirth of independent ideas in the country’s closed system,” the CPJ said.  Manuel Vazquez Portal, a Cuba-based award-winning journalist and dissident, says he can see a “strong connection and notable differences” between the independent press movement of his generation and the new blogging community.  “The emerging Cuban blogosphere has established itself as distinct from both the government and the dissident movement,” Mr Portal told CPJ.

The emergence of independent bloggers is “evidence of a generation shift, a sign that even a country as isolated as Cuba is slowly moving into the 21st Century,” Daniel Erikson, an expert at the Washington-based organisation Inter-American Dialogue said recently on US-based thedialogue.org. Laritza Diversent, a lawyer from Havana, says she and her fellow bloggers were part of the post-revolutionary youth.  “We were brought up after the fall of Soviet socialism, a generation that is unbound by the political considerations of the past. For us, blogging is saying and writing what we think,” she has said in her blog, which is written in Spanish, Las Leyes de Laritza (Laritza’s Laws) .

Only about 2.1% of Cubans have regular access to the global internet and 11.5% to the Cuban intranet, according to the Washington-based democracy and human rights organisation Freedom House.  “Bloggers can go online at government-owned internet cafes, at universities and hotels,” it says.  In recent weeks, the Cuban authorities have authorised the Post Office to install internet connections in its branches, BBC Mundo’s Havana correspondent Fernando Ravsberg reports.  The cost of accessing the internet remains high for the majority of Cubans, he adds.

The majority of bloggers do not openly criticise the government, believing this is the best way to avoid surveillance and persecution.  Yoani Sanchez, whose Spanish-language blog Generation Y was named one of the 25 best blogs in the world in 2009 by Time magazine, said that openness can disarm government efforts at harassment.  “My friends think I am taking a huge risk with my blog. But I think this is my way of pushing back against the system, if only a little bit,” Ms Sanchez says.

But even using this strategy, Generation Y has been blocked on many occasions, and Ms Sanchez has been refused exit visas to both Germany and Spain to receive journalistic awards.  Over the last few months, the Cuban blogging community has become bolder in its attitude towards the state, demanding greater civil liberties and criticising government policies.  On the Octavo Cerco website, journalist Claudia Cadelo has been active in advocating radical political change, including the “resignation of the president of the Council of State and the entire National Assembly, multi-party elections and overhaul of the security forces”.

And Miriam Celaya, author of the Sin Evasion blog , has called the Communist Party’s Central Committee an “old machine” that cannot be fixed”, and said Cubans were experiencing “ideology fatigue”.  The Cuban government has shown little tolerance of critical opinion in the past. It still holds 22 people in prison for the “crime” of free expression.  So far however, the government has not clamped down on independent bloggers. Unlike China for example, Cuba has no sophisticated systems of internet control and censorship.

The reason for this, according to Daniel Erikson, is a lack of understanding of the blogging phenomenon.  “I suspect there is a generational disconnection between the activities of Raul Castro and Yoani Sanchez,” Mr Erikson says.  Moreover, “independent Cuban blogs are not being used as tools to mobilise people for political action”, he adds. But with the country in the middle of an economic recession, writing about food shortages, healthcare or publishing critical political views could test the limits of government tolerance. “If bloggers start opposing the government more directly, their risks will certainly increase,” Mr Erikson predicts.

Havana – DTC – Several cultural options are available for the residents in the Sierra Maestra Mountain Range, where Cuba’s highest hills are located. One of those options is the cultural center in the community Los Horneros, in Guisa municipality, in the eastern province of Granma. The institution, which has a library and a toy library, was founded in 1998 to promote recreation, literature and abilities among children, teenagers, youths and adults. The library offers some 1,300 books on different subjects and hosts workshops and collective reading meetings. The toy library offers table games and didactic materials aimed at promoting children’s intellectual development.

Orlando Sentinel – POINCIANA – Cuban refugees are dominating arrests in Florida’s indoor-marijuana trade in what investigators call a nearly punishment-free crime. Born decades after Fidel Castro took power, groups of young Cubans are turning to the lucrative business of raising ultra-potent pot worth up to $4,500 a pound without fear of deportation or lengthy prison sentences. Probation is a common sentence for anyone convicted in state court of running a grow house, drug agents say. And, unlike with other foreign-born felons, U.S. policy prevents the deportation of Cubans.

South Florida groups identified by law enforcement as Cuban Drug Trafficking Organizations now control hundreds of grow houses that have sprung up from Miami to Atlanta since 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, court records and interviews by the Orlando Sentinel with local and federal drug agents. “This takes me back to the old days of the mob,” Polk County sheriff’s Organized Crime Squad Sgt. Julio Lima said of strictly run Cuban pot rings. “This is organized crime at its best.” Statewide, records aren’t kept that specify the nationalities of those who run grow houses. However, Cuban influence has risen rapidly:

•South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area supervisors estimated that Cubans who arrived in the U.S. within the past five years represent 85 percent to 90 percent of the suspects arrested in Florida on grow-house-related charges. They based their estimate on arrests in South Florida — the center of the trade — and two statewide busts in 2008 and 2009 known as “D-Day” and “Eagle Claw.”

•In Poinciana, one of Central Florida’s hot spots for illegal cultivation, Cuban-born suspects represent about 85 percent of growers arrested on both sides of the Osceola-Polk county line in this community of 70,000.

Some of the best data in the state on this little known aspect of the drug trade are kept by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. A spreadsheet it keeps on every grow-house bust since 2005 shows that 142 of 172 suspects — 84 percent — caught tending marijuana grow houses have identified their place of birth as Cuba.

•Central Florida drug agents say in the past year Cuban-born suspects ran about 20 of 41 grow houses in Brevard County, nine of 12 grow houses in Orange County, 10 of 13 in Osceola County, nine of 11 in Lake County, none of seven in Seminole County, and 12 of 42 in Volusia County. In North Florida, drug agents say, the Cuban figure runs about 70 percent and higher.

“It used to be we’d find a couple of outdoor grows in the Ocala [National] Forest,” said Sgt. Donnie Winston of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Marion deputies have busted more than 60 grow houses since early 2007 in the rural county known for horse farms. “Now, everywhere we turn there seems to be another indoor Cuban grow.” The topic is sensitive in a state where the status of Cuban refugees was a badge of honor until tainted by a few thousand criminals in the 1980s Mariel boatlift.

“The last thing we want to do in law enforcement is crucify the Cuban-American community as a whole — they have made South Florida what it is today,” said Capt. Joe Mendez of the South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force. “That’s why we are saying these are Cuban refugees, recent arrivals. … They arrive here on a raft, and drug dealers give them a place to live and promise them they’ll own the [grow] house in a year or two.”

Cuban-American National Council President Guarione M. Diaz in Miami was unaware of the high percentage of young Cuban-born suspects arrested statewide in the pot trade. Told of the 348 grow-house-related arrests last year in Miami-Dade County, Diaz said, “Twenty thousand Cubans arrive in South Florida every year, so numerically 300 arrests would be a relatively small number, but I think even one is too many.” In the U.S. last year, 49,500 Cubans were granted legal-permanent-residency status, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Take the May 30 case of Lucio Lozano, 46, wife Iris Hernandez and their 23-year-old son Luisvan Lozano-Hernandez. The family was receiving food stamps and Medicaid as Cuban-born refugees when their grow house was busted in Port St. John. Their marijuana was in full bloom, according to Brevard County court records. Lucio Lozano, an electrician, told police he rewired the house and illegally tapped underground utilities, according to arrest records and court records. He also admitted he planned sell the pot for $3,000 a pound. Their punishment? Each was sentenced to 24 months’ probation, court records show. That’s a stark contrast to what can happen in cases in which 100 or more plants are found. The federal sentencing guideline is five years minimum, 40 years maximum.

Drug agents statewide said they think grow houses ship about 100 pounds every three months to Miami for distribution in the Northeastern U.S. at up to $8,000 a pound. All that money can come at high personal risk. Harvest rip-offs have led to five killings in Brevard since late 2007, when sheriff’s Sgt. Alex Herrera said Brevard’s first Cuban-run grow house was discovered. In one case, three young Cuban-born men, including 21-year-old Alejandro Valdes of Orlando, await trial on first-degree-murder charges for the Nov. 19, 2007, death of a suspected grower in Grant-Valkaria. Brevard County Assistant State Attorney Jim McMaster said the victim, Jose Corcho, who left Cuba in 2004, was hogtied in front of his family and kicked unconscious by robbers who announced what would happen next, court records show.

“This is the bullet I will kill your husband with,” one man told Corcho’s wife as he opened a revolver and pulled out a cartridge to show her, the records state. “The third Hispanic male loaded the revolver with the one bullet and … shot her husband in the back of the head.” Home invaders typically show up when the indoor-grown pot is dried, packaged and ready for shipment. So drug rings regularly send armed men to stand watch the last week until the leaves are picked and on the way to Miami, agents say. “The big perception is that marijuana is a mellow drug and everybody’s happy,” the DEA’s Trouville said. “But these people will kill each other as quickly as heroin and cocaine dealers.”

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – The blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba for nearly 50 years left economic loses for the Cuban transportation sector to the tune of more than 357 million dollars in the period from March 2008 to April 2009 alone. In statements to Granma newspaper, Deputy Transportation Minister Antonio Puentes said the blockade interferes in the import of parts for transportation means in the island. Puentes said that since the American unilateral sanctions do not allow Cuba to buy parts in that country, the Caribbean nation is forced to do it through third countries, which increases costs -especially shipment costs-, and the delivery deadline is not usually met. For these reasons, it is impossible to maintain a steady flow in the repairing and technical assistance, said Puentes.

This situation hits harder the railroad sector, where 80 of its locomotives were made in the United States between 30 and 50 years ago and the technical availability for those equipments is of 49,7 percent. The railroad technical systems and railways in Cuba, which were originally based on American norms, have had to be adapted to the European systems to allow the use of locomotives, wagons and cars made in that continent, Asia and the Arab countries.

Prensa Latina – UN: Cuba unveiled at United Nations Office in Geneva detailed information on how the US blockade against Cuba imposed almost half a century ago, have severely hit several sectors of the economy of the Caribbean island.  An official resolution from the Cuban Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva highlights the case of the Cuban Airline Cubana de Aviacion, which can not ask payment for the use of Cuban air space by US airlines.

The official document illustrates it recalling that the US Spirit Airlines was fined with 100,000 dollars for paying Cuba for the use of that space. It also reads that Cubana de Aviacion has no authorization to fly over US territory, as one more sanction the blockade imposes on Cuba, which brings losses estimated at 2, 400 000 dollars, for only 800 flights between Canada and Cuba. The official note, disclosed at UN, also mentions the case of the Swiss banks Credit Suisse Bank and UBS, which rejected to make transactions with Cuba, due to the extraterritorial imposition of the blockade.

The Caribbean island is also a victim of the restrictions imposed by US to have access to internet services. If it weren’t for the blockade Cuba could connect to the underwater fiber-optic cable that are near its territory, but US authorities do not allow it, the analysis says. On the other hand, Cuban Telecommunication Company lost 53.7 million dollars in 2008 due to the fact that it can not acquire equipments, spare parts and other necessary tools and items from the US market. On October 28, UN General Assembly will vote on a Cuban resolution calling on the “Need to end the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by US against Cuba”

HAVANA – (IPS) – While the Cuban government has intensified its protests against the U.S. embargo, typically hostile signals between the two nations have been mixed with hints of a more relaxed tone since U.S. President Barack Obama took office. According to Havana, in spite of the less hostile climate, Washington is still strictly implementing the nearly half-century old embargo and has not taken any action whatsoever to dismantle its complex web of laws and regulations.

But at the same time, the government of Cuban President Raúl Castro has described the conversations held in New York in July on migration issues, and on Sept. 17 in the Cuban capital on the eventual reinstatement of direct postal services, as respectful and useful. The meeting in Havana was attended by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Bisa Williams, who then stayed on for several days, met with Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodríguez and went to the Sept. 20 Peace Without Borders concert organised by Colombian pop star Juanes.

Williams, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades, also toured an area of Pinar del Río province, 160 km west of Havana, which was heavily damaged by the 2008 hurricanes, and met with several Cuban dissidents. On the same day that the U.S. State Department broke its silence about the scope of Williams’ visit, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana hosted a reception to introduce the new head of the public affairs section at the diplomatic mission, Gloria Berbena, and her deputy, Molly Koscina. Cuba and the United States do not have formal diplomatic relations or embassies in each other’s country, but maintain interests sections in their respective capitals for the purposes of diplomatic representation.

At the reception there were crowds of cultural figures on good terms with the Cuban government, but dissidents were notably absent – an unprecedented situation in recent times. The U.S. Interests Section has often been accused by Havana of promoting “subversion” because of its support for dissidents, who have consistently been invited to its events over the past decade.  According to some analysts, this was another sign of the Obama administration feeling its way toward easing tensions. The administration has also expanded financial and travel facilities for Cubans resident in the United States who want to keep in regular touch with their relatives on the island.

But other experts on bilateral relations reacted with scepticism and an absence of enthusiasm. “I would say that there is more form, or style, than content in all this. Besides, I don’t think the political and economic conditions Obama is facing will let him go any further,” a source who wished to remain anonymous told IPS. For instance, restrictions on academic exchanges are still in place, with constant denials of travel visas for scientists in both directions. “The refusals are based on U.S. law – in other words, the embargo,” the source said.

In the field of culture, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was forced to suspend a visit to Cuba planned for the end of October, because the U.S. Treasury Department refused travel permits for some 150 sponsors who wanted to accompany the tour, orchestra spokesman Eric Latzky said in a communiqué. The Cuban authorities estimate the direct and indirect costs of the U.S. blockade in effect since 1962 at a total of 96 billion dollars. Havana has once again brought a motion before the United Nations General Assembly demanding that the sanctions be lifted. Last year the Cuban motion was supported by 185 states, with only three countries voting against it. To secure a vote equal to or better than this on Oct. 28, Cuban diplomacy is going all out to denounce the costs of the embargo, as well as its negative effects on third countries.

Not even sports are safe from its impact. According to the report presented to the U.N., the embargo has prevented U.S. companies and their subsidiaries in other countries from selling Cuba equipment and materials needed for its anti-doping laboratory. Losses due to equipment being out of service because of the lack of spare parts amount to 781,000 dollars. In early October, agriculture, transport, science, technology, environment and sugar industry authorities reported separately to the foreign press on their losses owing to lack of access to the U.S. market, financial limitations and various kinds of prohibitions.

The farming sector experienced losses of 149 million dollars between April 2008 and March 2009, according to deputy agriculture minister Alcides López. The worst-hit sectors are tobacco, with losses of 93 million dollars, pig farming, which lost 28 million dollars, and poultry farming, with 24 million dollars in losses. Legislation adopted in Washington in 2000 allowed U.S. producers to sell food to Cuba, but the Cuban authorities complain in their report to the U.N. that regulations and red tape on these transactions drove up costs by nearly 155 million dollars in 2008. Cash-strapped Cuba could have used those funds to buy, in the U.S. market itself, 339,000 tonnes of wheat, 615,000 tonnes of maize, or 126,760 tonnes of chicken, says the report.

The sugar industry, for its part, estimates that during the same period it lost more than 127 million dollars. The reasons include being forced to buy inputs in much more distant markets, and the extra cost arising from not being able to use U.S. dollars for its transactions, nor any banks or firms associated with the United States. The lifting of the embargo will be the first item on Cuba’s agenda for eventual talks aimed at improving relations with the United States, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez told the U.N. on Sept. 28. In the meanwhile, diplomats are working for another condemnation of the embargo at the General Assembly.

It will be the 18th time that the government of this Caribbean island nation submits a draft resolution to the U.N. on the need to end the blockade, which Rodríguez described as “a failed and obsolete policy” and “ethically unacceptable.” College of Saint Benedict – Carlos Oliva Campos, professor at the University of Havana, will speak on “Cuba: Why Talk of Revolution 50 Years after the Fact” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, at Room 264, Quadrangle Building, Saint John’s University, Collegeville. The event is free and open to the public.

This year, Cubans and many people around the world are holding events to mark the anniversary of the 1959 Cuban revolution. But in Cuba and abroad, there are many contradictory opinions about its successes and failures. What are the main challenges in the present and for the future for Cuba and its people? Campos’ talk will combine historical analysis and his own personal accounts of five decades of revolution in Cuba. Campos is the executive director of the Association for Our America (AUNA) in Havana, Cuba, and former associate researcher of the Center for the Study of the United States at the University of Havana. He is an adjunct professor of history and philosophy at the University of Havana. The Latino/Latin American Studies Program and Global Awareness Lecture Series at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University are co-sponsoring the event.

The Heartland Institute – Texas – The Russian and Cuban governments have contracted for Russian energy companies to search for oil and natural gas deposits in the North Cuba Basin within 45 miles of the Florida Keys. Should Russian energy companies find and recover oil and natural gas in the basin, they would be drilling closer to Florida shores than U.S. companies are allowed to drill. As part of a deal signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Russia is given oil-and-gas exploration rights in Cuba’s economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, while Cuba receives a $150 million credit from Moscow for the purchase of agricultural equipment and construction materials.

“Whether the Russians ultimately drill in Cuban waters, a mere 45 miles from the Florida Keys or much farther away near the western tip of Cuba, it is indeed ironic that in all likelihood they will still be drilling closer to Florida’s shores than U.S. companies are allowed to do,” said Robert F. Sanchez, policy director of the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Florida. “Moreover, if the Russians do find significant amounts of oil and gas in Cuba’s territorial waters, it will only serve to strengthen the Kremlin’s ability to practice petro-diplomacy, using its plentiful supplies of oil and gas to exert pressure on the nations that are dependent on those supplies,” Sanchez explained.

Sanchez notes the huge potential reserves of oil and natural gas off Florida’s coasts could create jobs and increase state and federal tax revenues if U.S., rather than foreign, companies extract such resources. Said Sanchez, “Tapping into those resources in an environmentally safe manner not only would benefit the nation as a whole by decreasing its reliance on imported energy, but the lease fees and royalties would directly benefit Florida’s economy, which would also stand to benefit indirectly from the ancillary jobs created in support of the offshore activities.”

El Universal – Caracas, Venezuela – Cuba is expanding and streamlining its three major ports with the help of Venezuela and China. The Caribbean island is planning to receive ships of greater tonnage after the projected expansion of the Panama Canal. “These works have been carried out in the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, which operate 80 percent of Cuban imports, thanks to a loan agreement between China and Cuba,” said Miguel González, the Director General of the port company Empresa de Servicios Portuarios de Ciudad de La Habana. González also said that they are expecting a monetary contribution from the joint company Puertos del ALBA, established to promote the development and modernization of Venezuelan and Cuban ports.

He recalled that in the eighties, when Cuba and the Soviet Union had an alliance, Cuban ports shipped 12 million tons of merchandises, AFP reported. “This amount has declined to about 3 million. There are plenty of reasons, particularly the global economic crisis that is affecting us today. Therefore, the port capacity that existed at that time is not required nowadays,” he said. His Havana company, which can operate 1,200,000 tons per year, is currently operating 600,000 to 700,000 tons.”

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Oct. 5, 2009

Havana – DTC – Cuban moviemaker Lester Hamlet will start shooting the feature-length film “La Casa Vieja” (The Old House) this year. Mijail Rodríguez and Hamlet wrote the script of the motion picture, which is based on the play by Cuban playwright Abelardo Estorino.According to experts, the film pays tribute to late actress Raquel Revuelta, who played the character of Laura in “La Casa Vieja” in 1965. The film’s cast includes actress Broselianda Hernández, who will be accompanied by prominent actors such as Jorge Perugorría, Isabel Santos, Susana Tejera and Manuel Porto.The motion picture will be produced by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), in conjunction with the Hermanos Saíz Association and the Cuban Film Fund.

HAVANA – Cuba rapped the United States Saturday after the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was forced to cancel a tour due to the US embargo on the communist-ruled island. Insisting that the country’s doors would always be “open,” Cuban Institute of Music vice-president Alejandro Guma blamed Washington for the tour’s cancellation. “This shows that the US government is the only party responsible for the failure of this major cultural project,” he said on the official Cuban website Cubadebate. “This is a project, by the way, that was not conceived by Cuba, but by the American institution, and we imagine that at this point, the organization must be disappointed.”

The New York Philharmonic said Thursday that it had canceled a concert series scheduled to take place in Havana between October 30 and November 2, citing difficulties created by the US embargo on Cuba. The cancellation was forced by “existing US government restrictions on travel to Cuba which would affect project funders and supporters, without whose financial support the trip is not possible,” it said in a statement. The group has traveled around the world, and will give concerts in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Abu Dhabi this month alone.

The orchestra made headlines in February with an unprecedented set of performances in North Korea. Guma expressed “admiration and respect” for the New York Philharmonic and said Cuba “is keeping its doors open for the orchestra and its sponsor and organizers.” US-Cuban relations have thawed partially since President Barack Obama took office this year. In April, the Obama administration lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in the Caribbean nation. But it has said it will not, for now, seek to end the embargo, instead urging Havana to show progress on human rights.

Market News – Leisure Canada (LCN) – Leisure Canada recently closed a brokered private placement raising $18.22 million. This represents the largest equity financing in the Company’s history despite current market challenges. The proceeds will be allocated primarily to the Company’s accelerated development plan for its Monte Barreto project, a five-star Havana waterfront hotel development. The Monte Barreto project is located in the Miramar District and has the advantage of being the last waterfront hotel to be constructed in the area. The site is equivalent to two city blocks and will be adjacent to Havana’s new world class aquarium and across from the new Miramar Trade Centre.

The proposed three buildings will include 737 guest suites with significant office, convention and retail space. Furthermore, Leisure Canada is focusing on the continued progression of the respective master plans for both Jibacoa and Cayo Largo. Robin Conners, the Company’s President and CEO stated “the strength of the Cuban experience has resulted in the country being the only market in the world over the last 24-months where tourism has increased. Leisure Canada is committed to the advancement of all three projects and the Company is confident that it can be the gateway to immense opportunities on the Island.”

Telegraph – UK – Fidel Castro is renowned in Cuba for his verbosity and longevity. But, his long-suffering compatriots know little about another sphere where El Commandante has proved prolific – his private life. Discussing his womanising ways is strictly taboo on the Caribbean communist outpost, even on an island where the gossip grapevine flourishes in the absence of a free press. But a long-time Cuba-watcher has now revealed the scale of his philandering and the existence of at least 10 offspring. That is more than previously believed – but very possibly not the full tally.

When journalist Ann Louise Bardach asked Castro how many children he had during an interview with Vanity Fair in 1993, he smiled and answered “almost a tribe”.  During the research for Without Fidel, her new book chronicling the lives of Castro and his brother, Raul, to be published by Scribner, she discovered how true that observation was. Castro, now 83, was a dashing young man whose good looks and rebel swagger clearly leant him a strong sexual allure during the years before and after the 1959 revolution. Indeed, media reports describe female fans swooning after he arrived triumphantly in Havana and during early trips to the US.

He had one child, Fidelito (Little Fidel), with his first wife Myrta Diaz-Balart in 1949 and five boys between 1962 and 1974 with Dalia Soto del Valle, a little-seen companion whom he is said to have secretly married in 1980. Remarkably, she was first shown on Cuban television in 2003 – “so forbidden” was Castro’s personal domain, Ms Bardach observes. But there have been many more paramours and several other children along the way – most notably from the time when the 29-year-year old rebel leader celebrated his release from prison in 1955 for a failed uprising. For three Castro offspring were born to three women during 1956. Most famously, there was Natalia Revuelta, an aristocratic beauty who became a fierce defender of his revolution – she bore him a daughter, Alina Fernandez.

Ms Bardach, an investigative journalist and a member of the Cuba Study Group at the Brookings Institution think-tank, had previously reported the existence of another illegitimate 1956 child, Panchita Pupo. She was not even known to his other offspring and her mother remains unidentified. And in this book, she reveals the identity of the mother of Jorge Angel, the third Castro child of 1956 – Maria Laborde, an admirer who Castro met just after was he freed. She also discloses another apparent addition to the brood – a son known as Ciro, the early 1960s product of another brief fling. He was previously unknown outside the family inner circle, but a close relative of Celia Sanchez, Castro’s closest confidante and yet another rumoured lover, revealed his existence to the author.

Ciro, named after a revolutionary martyr and whose mother’s name is still secret, is said to have “movie star looks”, with green eyes and dark complexion. He went into sports medicine after studying physical education at college, married a minor party official and lives in a Havana suburb where nobody knows his provenance. And, if claims made earlier this year by a Cuban intelligence defector that he sired another son in 1970 are true, that would take the count to 11 children by seven women – and counting. Castro’s first name is derived from the Latin for “faithful”, but while he has remained true to his politics, the same cannot be said of the women in his life. His offspring have however largely adhered to their father’s instructions not to flaunt their privileged backgrounds and are rarely seen in public, His first son, Fidelito, has received the highest prominence. But when he mishandled the country’s nuclear power programme, his father ordered his dismissal. “He was fired for incompetence,” Castro said. “We don’t have a monarchy here.”

Many Cubans would, however, disagree with the last point – and with good reason. After the crippling intestinal disease of diverticulitis nearly killed him in 2006, Fidel’s brother Raul was anointed to replace him. The younger Castro was confirmed as president last year in a handover which appeared almost feudal. Ms Bardach predicts that the most likely member of the family’s next generation to emerge as a future leader is Raul’s son, Alejandro, 43, a colonel and rising star in the powerful interior ministry The book also discloses the explosive inside story of how Raul Castro purged two close lieutenants of his older brother. Carlos Lage, the economics czar, and Felipe Perez Roque, the foreign minister, had both been considered possible future leaders, but were ousted after a year-long surveillance operation.

In classic old communist style, the two men were forced to write mea culpas for political sins which are still unclear. Raul, the veteran defence minister, has moved allies from the armed forces into virtually all areas of government and the economy – apparently inspired by the commercial success of the People’s Liberation Army in China. And Ms Bardach reveals that Fidel Castro’s pride and obstinacy almost proved fatal when he rejected the recommended surgery in 2006 – a colostomy. Castro insisted on a much riskier operation as he did not want to suffer the perceived indignity of living with an attached bag. The bolder procedure failed and Castro was nearly killed by a peritonitis infection as a result. After a life-saving colostomy was finally performed, Ms Bardach reports that Castro was distraught. “Fidel was crying,” a source present in the hospital told her. “He cried several times that day. He was devastated.”

From her contacts within the Cuban medical system, she also learns that Castro was fed intravenously for five months after the surgery and lost 45 pounds. A Spanish doctor brought in to treat him feared he was “starving to death” and gradually restored solid foods to a highly restrictive diet. In his occasional photo shoots with visiting left-wing Latin American proteges, Castro has abandoned his old uniform of olive fatigues. Instead, he opts for garish track suits because they hide the hated colostomy bag – emblematic of his transformation from hirsute heart-throb to frail octogenarian.

Havana – DTC – The eastern Cuban province of Granma will host the National Festival on Concert Music for Small-Format Bands in early October. The Peruvian string quartet Ictus and groups from the provinces of Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba and Holguín will perform in the city of Bayamo, the provincial capital. The festival will pay tribute to the historic and cultural traditions of Bayamo, where the song La Bayamesa, considered Cuba’s number-one popular song, was composed. According to organizers, the festival is aimed at promoting concert formats, although jazz and traditional Cuban music will also be played during the meeting. The forum, called La-Mi-Si-Fa (A-E-B-F), in allusion to the strings of a concert double bass, is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC).

HAVANA – Cuba is ready to use just about everything at its disposal, from its well-oiled civil defense system to the soldiers of a totalitarian government, to keep swine flu cases to a minimum. Everything, but a vaccine. As the U.S. prepares an extensive health survey for side affects from its massive inoculation plans, Cuba’s No. 2 health official says relying on a shot to contain a world pandemic is risky as best — and demoralizing at worst. “Nobody knows if it would work,” Dr. Luis Estruch told The Associated Press in an interview. “How safe would it be?”

Cuba’s sophisticated public-monitoring system and geographic isolation as an island have kept swine flu cases to just 435 in a country of 11 million — and no deaths to date. That’s roughly one in 25,000 people, compared with one in 6,900 in the U.S. and one in 4,000 in Mexico. Swine flu plans for the new season involve all ministries, including the armed forces. If necessary, the government will isolate neighborhoods or entire villages, shut down highways and dispatch medical teams to communities affected by swine flu, Estruch said. Soldiers can go door-to-door to enforce mandatory quarantines and evacuations — and authorities think nothing of severing areas from all contact with the outside world.

“In a matter of hours, we can determine what resources to send,” Estruch said. “We’ve thought it out. … We’ve considered what to do if we have to paralyze a town, if we have to stop public transit, if we have to close the schools.” It works — but only at the cost of individual freedoms, said Jose Azel, an economy specialist at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

Cuba “certainly has advantages to do what it wants to do that we can’t — commanding people,” he said. Globally, the virus has caused at least 3,205 deaths since it first appeared in Mexico and the U.S. earlier this year, the World Health Organization says. More than a quarter-million cases worldwide have been confirmed, though most are mild and don’t require treatment. This fall, the U.S. government plans to track possible side effects as it attempts to vaccinate more than half of the 300 million population in just a few months.

It’s not that Cuba isn’t up to the task of developing a vaccine. Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology makes nearly 100 products, including more than three dozen drugs to fight infectious diseases. The island also has 12,000 registered scientists, impressive for a tiny and poor nation, reflecting the importance the government places on medicine and science. “If we had confidence in a vaccine, we would get it,” Estruch said. “Immediately.” But, he warned against promising a cure for a flu strain that can evolve at any time. And he cited the 1976 U.S. campaign to vaccinate millions against a swine flu epidemic that never happened. Hundreds of U.S. citizens blamed that vaccine for other illnesses, including Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that generally is reversible but can cause permanent paralysis and in some cases is fatal. Lawsuits cost the U.S. government almost $100 million.

Instead, Cuba has its civil defense system, which has proved invaluable in carrying out mass evacuations and saving lives during hurricanes that batter the Caribbean island nearly every year. Its disaster-response machine — overseen by President Raul Castro and the armed forces — is organized at the block level in every town, and the government collects health data daily from its extensive network of neighborhood clinics. “When it comes to hurricanes, there are people in each area who are responsible for keeping track of everyone — who will need assistance, pregnant women, the elderly, which buildings are vulnerable,” said Wayne Smith, a former top U.S. diplomat in Cuba who is now with the Center for International Policy in Washington. “It’s sort of the same thing with the health system.” That’s how the island detected its first swine flu cases.

For two weeks after Mexico reported the outbreak on April 24, Cuba’s health ministry monitored everyone who arrived from that country before instituting the month long travel ban with almost no advance notice on May 1. Ten days later, Cuba confirmed its first cases: three Mexican students who had recently arrived from Mexico and were studying in three different locations. “We detained them in a matter of hours,” Estruch said. The students were treated and allowed to stay in Cuba. Also working in Cuba’s favor is its health care system. Treatment is free at clinics in most neighborhoods, though the island’s brand of universal coverage faces unspecified cuts to stem what Raul Castro called “simply unsustainable spending” in an August speech.

“When a person goes to the neighborhood clinic with a cold he’s checked for the virus. And that’s how we’re going to confront the second wave,” Estruch said. “I’m not saying there isn’t an epidemic in Cuba. There is. But it’s limited.” What Cuba won’t do this time around is close its borders again. The May travel ban was “totally necessary at that time” because nobody knew what they were up against, Estruch said.

Today, passengers arriving at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport are still greeted by customs workers wearing face masks. They are asked if they have flulike symptoms and are subject to a thermal imaging scan. Airline pilots are required to report if any passengers were sick. Dr. Jarbas Barbosa of the Pan American Health Organization praised Cuba’s close collaboration with international health agencies. But he questioned the government’s methods of isolating people to stem the spread of the virus. “In general, we have no evidence that they work,” said Barbosa, who is chief of health surveillance and disease management. “And they can produce a profound social and economic impact.”

HAVANA — A senior US diplomat met with Cuban officials and dissidents in previously unannounced talks, in new signs the United States is toning down hostility toward communist Cuba, US and dissident sources said. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Bisa Williams, who leads the State Department’s Cuba office in Washington, took the step after a dialogue here last week on renewing bilateral postal service. Williams met with Cuban officials including deputy foreign minister Dagoberto Rodriguez and members of civil society “to assess the economic and political situation on the island,” the spokesman for the US Interests Section here said.

The United States broke off full diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1962 and has an economic embargo on Havana, the only one-party communist regime in the Americas. Williams, the highest-ranking US official to visit Cuba since 2002, also toured areas that were ravaged by hurricanes last year, the US spokesman said. Dissident Elizardo Sanchez told AFP that he and several other opponents of President Raul Castro’s government, including Marta Beatriz Roque, Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Vladimiro Roca, met at the US Interests Section September 21 with US officials including Williams. “They wanted to listen to us. They set themselves apart a bit from the European Union which only wants to talk with the government. But this official spoke with authorities, and spoke with” dissidents, Sanchez said.

Cuban authorities claim the dissidents are “mercenaries” in the pay of the US Interests Section. Williams led a delegation with the USPS that held talks here September 17 in a first round of talks aimed at restarting bilateral mail service, which was cut off in 1963. But her meetings with Rodriguez and other Cuban officials were not announced until now. US President Barack Obama has said he would like a more normal relationship with Cuba but has not set out a specific strategy for attaining that goal. Since he took office, the United States has ended Bush-era sanctions to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their homeland whenever they want and send home unlimited remittances.

In July, the two countries officially restarted a dialogue on migration issues which had been suspended since 2003. It is an important issue on which the sides are at odds as thousands of Cubans flee their country of 11.2 million every year for US shores. More than 1.2 million Cuban-Americans live in the United States, most in nearby Florida. The United States grants any Cuban who reaches land in the United States the right to stay. Havana argues that that encourages risky illegal emigration and human trafficking. The next round of migration talks is tentatively set for December, the State Department said.

Havana – DTC – Cuba will have its own exhibition area at the World Expo Shanghai 2010, after signing relevant agreements with organizers. Cuba will exhibit its products and services in an area of 500 square meters, 330 square meters of which will be dedicated to handicrafts, rum, cigars, culture and history. The Cuban pavilion’s motto will be “A City for All”, in line with the World Expo’s motto, “A Better City, A Better Life”. Experts from the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba will travel to China over the next few weeks to start assembling the island’s pavilion at the fair. According to the program, Cuba’s National Day will be July 26, and the 50th anniversary of relations between Cuba and China will be commemorated in September 2010.

(Bloomberg) – Legislation to end a ban on Americans traveling to Cuba has enough support in the U.S. House of Representatives to win approval by year-end, said Representative Sam Farr, a California Democrat. The bill to let U.S. citizens resume travel to the Caribbean island except in times of war or cases in which they face imminent danger has 181 votes in the House and needs 218 to pass, said Farr, a co-sponsor of the legislation. The plan is backed by travel groups such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the National Tour Association and human rights groups such as the Washington Office on Latin America and has been helped by President Barack Obama’s election, he said. “It is believed we can get to this before the end of the year,” Farr, 68, said in an interview in New York. “We haven’t had a policy about Cuba. We’ve had policies about getting votes in Florida and Obama changed that by getting those votes.”

The U.S. ended restrictions on Sept. 3 on Cuban-Americans travel and money transfers to relatives in Cuba. The new rules also allow U.S. telecommunications companies to provide service in Cuba for mobile telephone, satellite radio and television. Exceptions to the 1962 trade embargo on communist Cuba include $500 million per year in agricultural exports, Farr said.  “If you are a potato, you can get to Cuba very easily,” he said. “But if you are a person, you can’t, and that is our problem.” Obama is under pressure from Latin American leaders to end the trade embargo to help improve relations in the region.

Obama announced in April he would lift travel limits for Cuban-Americans visiting family in Cuba. At the same time, Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans, issued a statement that the president had made “unilateral concessions to the dictatorship” that would “embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro- democracy activists.”  Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro, who handed power to his brother Raul Castro last year, called on Obama to completely lift the trade embargo. White House officials have said there are no plans to lift the embargo. At the same time, the administration is undertaking a full review of policy toward Cuba with the goal of advancing “the cause of freedom” in the country less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the coast of Florida, Daniel Restrepo, a special assistant to Obama, said in April.

A group of House and Senate lawmakers proposed in March ending restrictions to allow all U.S. citizens and residents to travel to Cuba. Farr said the legislation, known as the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act,” also has enough votes to clear the Senate, where Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and Republican Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming introduced the legislation. “There’s a lot more openness in the Congress,” Geoff Thale, program director in the Washington Office on Latin America, said in an interview in New York. “Support is building. The travel industry and business community are not just formally in support but actively engaged. That’s why I think we’re going to see a difference.”

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is of Cuban descent and sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to fight the easing of travel restrictions. Philip Peters, a vice president and Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a public policy research group in Arlington, Virginia, said proponents of the bill may succeed in winning congressional approval as public opinion grows among Americans that U.S. rules on Cuba aren’t in line with much of the country’s foreign policy. “They’ve got a good shot,” Peters said in an interview. “Certainly right now they’re in striking distance and they’ve got plenty of time left in the session.”  Ending the travel ban may lead as many as 1 million Americans to visit the island every year, Lisa Simon, president of the National Tour Association, known as NTA, said in an interview. It would also help push forward talks on human rights issues, Thale said.

“We’ve had a policy for 50 years of isolating Cuba and it hasn’t done anything about the human rights situation,” Thale said. “I don’t think there is some magic solution. I don’t think ending the travel ban will cause Fidel to say let’s have elections, let’s release all the political prisoners tomorrow. What it will do is open the process of dialogue.” Obama’s administration has been showing a “gradual relaxation and diplomatic opening” toward Cuba, Thale said. He cited the government’s decision to reinitiate talks on migration and direct mail, and also to put down the billboard operated by the U.S. government outside its special interests section in Havana, which he said often displayed anti-Cuba messages.

Havana – DTC – The Empresa Oleohidráulica de Cienfuegos, in central Cuba, is supplying domestic clients with spare parts for equipment. The company makes cylinders and hoses for the ministries of Construction and Agriculture. Some 20,000 units of those inputs have been produced to repair tractors and cranes in several Cuban provinces. The company also replaced the imported eight-machine system to make blocks, which are used to build houses. The firm has also repaired specialized vehicles for the power company, thus saving resources by reducing imports of hydraulic engines and pumps.

Sporting News – Dennis McCroskey organizes baseball trips around the world and he has two coming up that are going to Cuba. If you are a baseball player, and would like to become a Baseball Ambassador, this is your chance. You can go and play baseball in the Republic of Cuba this winter in a country still unspoiled by western culture. These are legally licensed trips open to players and support staff only. You do not need to go through Mexico or Canada, this is a charter flight directly from Miami.

The Cuban players are mostly retired professionals, Olympic or others who play in local leagues in their 40-70′s.  Many of these people played in the US and many knew some of our baseball coaches and baseball heroes. The games are much like many of our local amateur leagues. The pitching is generally not too difficult, they are excellent fielders, fast of foot and usually all of them can hit well. They also know how to play the game.  The baseball in Cuba is tough competition though, with his teams’ results 3-51 for Cuba so far. The team often plays in their professional stadiums. Other fields are local parks or smaller local stadium. There are often special ceremonies, introductions and exchanges of gifts. There will be anywhere from a couple of dozen to several hundreds of people in attendance at the games, sometimes even broadcast on the radio. If you are interested in going on one of these baseball trips to Cuba, GO HERE

Havana – DTC – The central Cuban province of Cienfuegos will benefit from the installation of 2,000 telephone lines, as part of a strategy to improve communications in the country. Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) announced the installation of integral cabinets (small telephone plants) in several zones of the provinces. Local authorities pointed out that the three plants that will be installed in Cienfuegos will start up operations in November. The so-called integral cabinets can be installed in small areas and demand little resources for construction. They have batteries, so they can be operational for eight hours in case of power outages, and will be equipped with power generators as well.

AFP – HAVANA — President Raul Castro is taking a bold gamble to ease communist Cuba’s cash crunch by eliminating a costly government lunch program that feeds almost a third of the nation’s population every workday. The Americas’ only one-party communist government, held afloat largely by support from its key ally Venezuela, is desperate to improve its budget outlook; the global economy is slack, and Havana is very hard pressed to secure international financing. Raul Castro, 76, officially took over as Cuba’s president in February 2008 after his brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, stepped aside with health problems.

Though some wondered if Raul Castro would try to move Cuba’s centralized economy toward more market elements, so far he has sought to boost efficiency and cut corruption and waste without reshaping the economic system. And so far it has been an uphill battle, something akin to treading water. But now, Raul Castro has moved to set in motion what will likely be the biggest rollback of an entitlement since Cuba’s 1959 revolution — starting to put an end to the daily lunch program for state workers, as announced in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper.

In a country where workers earn the average of 17 dollars a month, and state subsidized monthly food baskets are not enough for families, more than 3.5 million Cuban government employees — out of a total population of 11.2 million — benefit from the nutritionally significant free meal. The price tag is a cool 350 million dollars a year, not counting energy costs or facilities maintenance, Granma said. But that will come to a halt in four ministries experimentally from October 1, Granma said. As workers stream to the 24,700 state lunchrooms, the government “is faced with extremely high state spending due to extremely high international market prices, infinite subsidies and freebies,” Granma explained.

Parallel to the cutback, workers will see their salaries boosted by 15 pesos a workday (.60 dollar US) to cover their lunch. It is a dramatic shift in Cuba, where the government workers’ lunchroom has been among the longest-standing subsidies, though even authorities have called it paternalistic. And more troubling, especially for authorities, is the fact that the lunchrooms’ kitchens have become a source of economic hemorrhaging, from which workers unabashedly make off with tonnes of rice, beans, chicken and cooking oil to make ends meet. The Castro government is keen to reduce the 2.5 billion dollars a year it spends on food imports, which it has to buy on the international market in hard currency.

“Nobody can go on indefinitely spending more than they earn. Two and two are four, never five. In our imperfect socialism, too often two plus two turn out to be three,” Raul Castro said in an August 1 address alluding to corruption problems. Some Cubans were aghast at the idea of losing a free lunch. “What am I going to buy with 15 pesos,” asked a bank worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I cannot even make anything, even something horrible, at home for that little.” But Roberto Reyes, a construction employee, said sometimes the state lunch is so bad, he would rather not eat it — and pocket the small monthly raise. The president has said health care and education were not cuts he would willingly make. But Cubans wonder how long it will be until the legendary monthly ration books with which Cubans receive limited basic food goods, such as rice and beans, for free, come under the budget axe.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban capital will host the 10th International Wine Festival to promote the island’s products in that field. The festival is from October 1-3 at the Hotel Nacional, Cuba’s flag hotel. Representatives from wineries, and wine producers and sellers from several countries have confirmed participation in the meeting. Experts, distributors, sellers and consumers from Chile, Cuba, Spain, France and Italy are expected to take part in the festival, where they will exchange experiences, taste wines and present new brands and wineries. Organizers noted the participation of Inversiones Pucara S.A., Juanita Mateo S.L. (Freixenet), Bodegas Torres, Bodegas Joan Sardá and Bodegas del Caribe.

Washington Post Foreign – CEIBA DEL AGUA, Cuba – Faced with the smothering inefficiencies of a state-run economy and unable to feed his people without massive imports of food, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has put his faith in compatriots like Esther Fuentes and his little farm out in the sticks. If Cuba is searching for its New New Man, then Fuentes might be him. The Cuban government, in its most dramatic reform since Castro took over for his ailing older brother Fidel three years ago, is offering private farmers such as Fuentes the use of fallow state lands to grow crops — for a profit. Capitalism comes to the communist isle? Not quite, but close. Raúl Castro prefers to call it “a new socialist model.” But Fuentes gets to pocket some extra cash.  “The harder you work, the better you do,” said Fuentes, who immediately understood the concept.

Castro’s government says it has lent 1.7 million acres of unused state land in the past year to 82,000 Cubans in an effort to cut imports, which currently make up 60 percent of the country’s food supply. The United States, which has maintained a diplomatic deep freeze and a punishing economic blockade against the island for almost 50 years, is the island nation’s largest supplier of food and agricultural products, selling it an average of $350 million worth of beans, rice and frozen chickens each year since 2001, when Congress created exceptions to the trade ban. At a major speech honoring the revolution in July, Castro smacked his hand on the podium and announced: “The land is there, and here are the Cubans! Let’s see if we can get to work or not, if we produce or not, if we keep our word. It is not a question of yelling ‘Fatherland or Death!’ or ‘Down with imperialism!’ or ‘The blockade hurts us!’ The land is there waiting for our sweat.”

In an August speech, Castro said that the Cuban economy, walloped by three hurricanes last year as well as global recession, grew just 0.8 percent in the first half of 2009. The hurricanes decimated crops and caused $10 billion in damage. Critics of Cuba’s communist-style collectivist agriculture system say that the country should be a virtual Eden, given its rich soil and abundant rain, and should not have to import tons of dried peas from the imperialist aggressor to the north. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of subsidies from Moscow and Eastern Europe, Cuba abandoned its huge farms devoted to sugar cane — and that land was quickly taken over by marabu, a tenacious, thorny weed that now covers vast tracts of Cuba the way kudzu blankets the American South. “If they really wanted to solve their problem, they could solve it in a minute, with the stroke of a pen,” by allowing private ownership and free markets, said José Alvarez, a professor emeritus and authority on Cuban agriculture at the University of Florida.

Although he has stepped out of his brother’s shadow since taking office, Raúl Castro told the Cuban National Assembly in August: “I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not destroy it. We are ready to talk about everything, but not to negotiate our political and social system.” Those who hope that Cuba will crumble after “the death of Fidel and all of us,” Castro said, “are doomed to failure.”  Brian Latell, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami and author of “After Fidel,” said: “This farm reform is one of Raúl’s highest priorities. He talks about it constantly. But the steps have been more reluctant, slower, more tentative than many Cubans would probably like.”

The 78-year-old former brigadier general has signaled that the paternalistic Cuban system may include a little more tough love and a bit more free enterprise. The government is in the process of eliminating subsidized beer for weddings, holidays for exemplary workers, hotel rooms for newlyweds and free chocolate cakes for Mother’s Day. In one of the most watched pilot programs, Cuba is beginning to shutter state-run cafeterias and instead give workers 15 pesos, or about 65 cents, to buy lunch from state-run cafes or private food stalls. The average monthly salary in Cuba is about $20.

Out in the countryside, Castro’s farm reform has set the villages buzzing. Chewing on an unlit cigar, Fuentes took a visitor on a tour of his new domain. Last year, he worked nine acres of land, mostly for self-consumption, “plus a little left over to sell.” This year he applied for and was quickly granted another 20 acres. The plot is his to farm for 10 years, and the only requirement is that he plant crops. Fuentes pointed to his new fields of sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cassava and beans. He’s also growing flowers to sell. Chickens were running around, and trees bore monster avocados. The future looks better. “This is big change,” he said. “Everyone wants in.”  His adult daughter Marta works for the local farm cooperative, where Fuentes and other private farmers sell their crops. The state still sets the price — but the more the farmers produce, the more they sell. They also try to grow better-quality produce, which fetches a higher price. They are paid in cash, which Fuentes appreciates, and they are not told what to plant. “Right now, there are shortages of everything,” Fuentes said, “so there is no risk of overproduction.”

Marta Fuentes said the local cooperative now has 44 farms as members, up from 31 a year ago. “And not only are there more farmers, the farms themselves, like ours, are bigger,” she said. There are more fresh fruits and vegetables available in local markets, she said, and a recent report from the Associated Press said that some commodities appear more abundant in Havana these days. So depressed is the Cuban economy that the government is pushing farmers to use oxen to plow the fields. “Let’s forget about tractors and fuels for this program, even if we had them,” Castro said. The Fuentes family uses a couple of oxen. “Not having any machinery might seem backward, but in some ways the oxen are better,” Fuentes said. He can borrow a tractor from the cooperative if he needs one. But the fuel costs are prohibitive.

One of the challenges facing private farmers is the lack of credit and investment. They can work their new farms, but they often don’t have enough fertilizer, seed or fuel. There’s not enough electricity to run water pumps, Fuentes said, and no one has pesticides. “This a big problem,” said Alvarez, the University of Florida professor. “The government gives the farmers some land, which is good, but they don’t give them any inputs. So they tell them, ‘Take your old machete and go and fight the sun and weather and save us.’ ” “It’s not much extra money, but believe me, every little bit helps us,” said Marta Bobadilla, a retired shop clerk who was given the use of 1.5 acres behind her house on the outskirts of Havana, which she has transformed into an urban garden filled with bananas, okra, sweet potatoes and leafy vegetables to feed her rabbits. Asked if the cute little white bunnies might be sold as pets, Bobadilla thought that funny. This is Cuba. “These are to eat,” she said.

Havana – DTC – Rehabilitation services in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara have treated 500,000 patients so far this year. The province has 40 rehabilitation wards where several ailments are treated, including sequels by cerebral-vascular accidents, orthopedic injuries, fractures, luxations and traumas. The wards are equipped with cutting-edge technology and are attached to the primary healthcare system. Patients suffering from medullary lesions, which can cause paralysis, have also benefited from rehabilitation services. Those patients receive special care by neurologists, physical therapists, psychologists and orthopedists.

WAYLAND – In baseball-mad Cuba, the game is the national sport. Cuban baseball teams have won three gold medals and two silvers in the past five Olympic Games. But they’ve never seen the gentlemen from Eastern Massachusetts. Next month, 60 local slow-pitch softball players from the Eastern Massachusetts Senior Softball Association head to Havana to play a series of exhibitions against Cuban opponents of roughly equal age and ability. The American players will range in age from 57 to 74, and include two women. “To get to go to Cuba and have softball as the vehicle is a double win,’’ said Bob Clifford of Hingham, a speedy 64-year-old outfielder and a retired school guidance adviser.

The trip is unusual, but not unprecedented. Ten years ago the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition in Havana. To get permission to go to Cuba, the softball league applied for a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, under the US Department of the Treasury. In 2008, 21 applications were approved for travel to Cuba for “public performances, athletic and other competitions,’’ one of several categories under which travel to the island may be allowed, said a Treasury spokeswoman. The 15-year-old Eastern Massachusetts league will send four travel teams of different skills and ages to the island. Cuban softball officials have offered to provide two teams for each of the American travel squads to play. The league’s players will each play seven games over the one-week trip, including some double-headers. The league has been planning the trip since the spring, said Stu Gray, a 60-something real estate lawyer from Chestnut Hill who is also the league’s commissioner. “This is serious ball for us,’’ said Gray.

The league has about 350 players, from age 50 to around 80, drawn from more than 100 communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, said Gray, who is a pitcher. The Cuba trip was open to any player in the league, at a price of about $3,000, he said. Third baseman Michael Eizenberg, 62, who first visited Cuba for academic research in 1998 as a Bentley College professor, originally suggested the Cuba softball trip, said Gray. Eizenberg and Gray were part of a small delegation from the league that visited Cuba in August to meet with Cuban softball officials. They discussed rules and the makeup of the teams and viewed several ballfields, Gray said.

At 57, outfielder David Brisson will be the league’s youngest athlete in Cuba. He’s a compact left-hander who still runs well. His parents honeymooned in Havana in 1951, before Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution. “I thought this was a great opportunity for a week of ball in an exotic place that has a mystique about it because of the revolution and the travel ban,’’ said Brisson, of Wayland, who runs a corporate communication business. “It’s a forbidden place, and a beautiful place from what I hear.’’ On Wednesday, a handful of the men planning to make the trip played in an inter-league scrimmage under the lights at Cochituate Field on West Plain Street. Though the atmosphere was light, the competition was serious.

The senior game is slower on the base paths, but there’s plenty of power at the plate. Batters launched screaming line drives all over the field, and a few moonshots to the deep recesses of the ball field. “A lot of these guys still hit the hell out of it,’’ said Clifford. Brisson grounded out and jogged back to the bench a little ticked off. “I topped the ball and pushed it out toward second,’’ he said. Like many of the players, Brisson works out regularly to stay in shape for softball season. He also plays football and basketball. “I play all the same sports now that I played when I was 10,’’ he said. He lacks the jumping ability and physical explosiveness of his youth, he said, but through regular training has maintained decent range in the outfield and a good throwing arm.

Players in the league work hard to stay competitive, Gray said. “A lot of them do elective surgeries to keep playing this game. We have people with hip replacements, knee replacements. Ten percent of the league has prostate cancer.’’ The men joke that when a player tries to stretch a double into a triple he’s running into “heart attack territory,’’ said Gray, who suffered a heart attack while running the bases during the season’s final tournament in 1998. He was back on the field for the next opening day. “It becomes a passion,’’ he said. “We’ve played all over the country. It’s such a thrill to compete at a high level at this age.’’

Winnipeg Free Press – Singer Amber Epp loves Latin rhythms so much, she’s going to Cuba to study them. Not that three months in Cuba in the winter isn’t appealing enough by itself. But first, the 22-year-old recent graduate of the jazz studies program at the University of Manitoba faculty of music will be performing the opening concert of the Jazz Under the Rooftop season on Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Expect Epp to perform “a lot of music with a Latin or Cuban vibe” but also some compositions of her own and “our very different arrangements” of some standards.

Epp chose Cuba for her warm-weather sabbatical “because so many Latin rhythms originated” there; rhythms that had “an influence on the Caribbean and Latin America.” “Cuba is the source of a lot of popular Latin rhythms” such as salsa and the cha-cha, she adds. Epp will study piano with private teachers on the island, switching course from her classical training. It may seem like a long musical journey from Steinbach to Latin America, but all it took was a stopover in Winnipeg. In the third year of her four-year bachelor’s degree, Epp took out a CD of Brazilian music performed by saxophonist Stan Getz from the music faculty library and caught a bug. Then she heard local musician Marco Castillo and guitarist and percussionist Rodrigo Muñoz and started going to Papa Mambo concerts. “I’m still not sure why the music grabbed me, but it did,” she explains.

Epp is studying Spanish and when she’s comfortable with it, she’ll start to learn Portuguese. “I seem to have a good ear for Spanish,” she says, and has sung in that language in her own performances and as a guest with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. She also has been writing her own compositions and testing audience response with an eye to recording a CD next summer. Epp performs mostly as a singer, but is working piano into her show. She studied jazz vocals and classical piano for her degree and is “working slowly on my piano skills; it’s a new language playing jazz.” But, she adds, “If I can have Will Bonness on a gig, I’d rather do that.” Pianist Bonness will perform with Epp at her WAG show on Saturday along with guitarist Keith Price, bassist Julian Bradford, drummer Curtis Nowosad and percussionist Scott Senior.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s health system is promoting the use of medications made from natural raw materials to improve medical care. In that regard, the fruit of the royal palm tree will be used to make a drug to treat the inflammation of the prostate gland. Experts from the Scientific Research Center (CENIC) have obtained the so-called D-004, an active ingredient extracted from the fruit of the royal palm tree. The substance has proved to be effective when tested on animals to treat prostatic hyperplasia. Clinical trials have been carried out in healthy human volunteers. Results in animals and in vitro are promising, so experts think the product has great prospects to prevent prostate cancer.

The Miami Herald – When it comes to crafting Cuba policy, Congress has been in the back seat of late. The sweeping new rules released last month that loosen the 49-year-old U.S. embargo against the island came from the executive branch and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Among those measures were rules that allow Cuban-Americans to make unlimited visits and send an unlimited amount of remittances. In addition, the regulations also give U.S. telecommunication companies the green light to offer fiber-optic cable, roaming cellular service, and satellite TV and radio in Cuba. But it’s up to Cuba to decide whether it wants to do business with the U.S. companies.

As deep as the changes are, free-trade advocates want more. There are a handful of bills that have been filed that propose completely dismantling the embargo — though few believe the measures have the political backing to pass. More realistic, perhaps, are a handful of bills designed to take strategic bites out of the embargo. Whether they will gain traction, only time will tell. Here are some of the proposals made during the current congressional session that could change the way business is done between the U.S. and Cuba: Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act Sponsor: Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.

Summary: This bill is one of several that propose making it legal for all U.S. citizens to visit Cuba. It also drops travel-related restrictions, including limits on baggage, living expenses and the purchase of personal-use goods on the island.

Impact: Analysts believe this bill, or the House version, which has 160 sponsors, could pass during this congressional session. Many travel experts believe that lifting the travel ban would nearly double the 2.3 million visitors the island receives per year. The promise of broader travel would also spark a rush of tour and cruise operators and revitalize the charter industry. By allowing executives from all industries to meet their counterparts on the island, it would deepen ties and could be a boon for exporters.

Western Hemisphere Energy Security Act of 2009 Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Summary: This House bill, along with a more extensive Senate bill, would allow U.S. companies to explore and drill for oil off the coast of Cuba. In particular, it would allow companies to export equipment necessary for exploration and extraction without a special license. Just as important, it would also make it legal to send the oil back to the United States.

Impact: The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are 4.6 billion barrels of untapped oil off northern Cuba. With some deposits just 50 miles off Florida’s coast, U.S. energy companies are eager to have a crack at them. Opening up the U.S. market to Cuban oil could also light a fire under some of the international firms that are already exploring in the region but have few local markets to supply.

Agricultural Export Facilitation Act of 2009 Sponsor: Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

Summary: This bill, along with other similar pieces of legislation, would allow Cuban financial institutions to make direct transfers to U.S. banks to pay for agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices.

Impact: U.S. farmers and pharmaceutical companies are currently allowed to export these items under existing carve-outs to the embargo. However, trade has been stifled by rules that require Cuba to pay for U.S. imports in advance and send the funds through third-country banks. This bill would streamline the process, strip away transaction costs and potentially boost U.S. exports.

Havana – DTC – New ambulances are operating in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín, as part of health authorities’ efforts to improve medical care in the country. Twelve ambulances are operating in faraway mountainous areas of the province to improve the response of the Integrated System of Medical Emergencies (SIUM). The UAZ vehicles underwent special technical adjustments to run on mountainous roads. Settlements such as Marcané, in Cueto municipality, Arroyo Seco, in Mayarí, Naranjo Agrio, in Sagua de Tánamo, or La Melba, in Moa, among other communities, will benefit from the new ambulances, which are equipped with the necessary technology to provide first aid care. Other ambulances will be adjusted to provide more complex medical care.

Periodico26 – Cuba was the first Latin American country to confirm attendance to the 2010 Shanghai World Fair, where elements representatives of its history, culture and economy will be on display at a 500-square meter pavilion. According to diplomatic sources quoted by Prensa Latina, those who visit the Cuban pavilion will be able to enjoy of Cuban rum, cigars, music and crafts. These sources also added that preparations will step up in November, with the arrival of the main architect and officials of Cuba’s Chamber of Commerce, who will take care of mounting the exhibit. On July 26, the Shanghai Fair will be devoted to Cuba and a cultural show will be presented to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which started on September 28, 1959. The Cuban pavilion is next to the Venezuelan, Chilean and Mexican exhibits.

Havana – DTC – Experts at the Centro Nacional de Biopreparados de Cuba (BIOCEN) are developing new pharmaceutical formulas to improve their clinical effects. One of the new projects includes the production of pills of the tonic Trofín, which is administered to fight anemia in pregnant women, children and other vulnerable groups. BIOCEN experts have been working for several years to improve the dehydrated formula of Neotrofín and Neotrofín C. The former has already hit the market. Actions are aimed at optimizing the procedure to reduce the period of hydrolization without damaging the product, and use the appropriate preservatives. Trofín is a natural tonic used at Cuban hospitals. It is also exported to Central America.

(Prensa Latina) – Nearly 70 Chinese students left for Cuba on Thursday for courses on different specialties, as part of collaboration programs between the two nations. Most of the students will do degree courses linked to medicine, tourism, pedagogy, and language, officials in charge of the project told Prensa Latina. Part of this group will have language lessons for a year. As many as 931 students will travel this month, the sources added, and recalled the program is in line with the Education Exchange Agreement for 2008-2011, signed in Havana in 2007. The collaboration aims at coping with the needs of the least developed Chinese regions, particularly youth in the west and central provinces.

The Post and Courier – MIAMI – It was a brief item in a newsletter that tracks U.S. government activities: U.S. Patent No. 7,556,726 was awarded on July 7 to the National Center for Scientific Investigations in Havana.  Yes, Havana, Cuba. Indeed, throughout 50 years of hostility across the Florida Straits, Havana has been obtaining U.S. patents — regularly, quietly and with little of the acrimony that has laced battles over trademarks such as Havana Club and Cohiba. Records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that since 1975 when PTO records went digital and could be searched by country of origin, Cubans have been awarded 74 patents, covering everything from harvest combines to pharmaceuticals and medical procedures.

That number is low compared with other countries — “just short of North Korea,” joked Werner Stemer, senior patent attorney with the Hollywood, Fla., firm of Lerner Greenberg Stemer. But Cuba’s filings have been on a “steep curve” up since 2000 as its biotech industry blossomed. Stemer said Cuba files for patents in Washington for a simple reason: Patents protect only inventors in the country where they are filed. So Cuba is wisely trying to protect its inventions, and its potential profits, in the world’s single largest market. There’s no way to figure out whether any of the patents have, in fact, produced profits, several patent experts said.

Currently, clinical trials are under way for nimotuzumab, a Cuban-developed drug designed to target cancer cells. In the past, other U.S. companies have received permission to test Cuban drugs, but this is the first time since the Cuban revolution that a trial has gone forward in the U.S. While the Cuban patents credit the individual inventors who worked on the developments, the rights to the patents are virtually always assigned to government entities. Patent 7,556,726 was assigned to the National Center for Scientific Investigations, an agency of the Ministry of Higher Education. Havana has retained the right to file for U.S. patents and trademarks because President John F. Kennedy exempted intellectual property when he tightened the trade embargo on Cuba in 1962.

That likely was because such property rights are protected by international treaties, said Marvin Feldman, a patent specialist and partner in the Lackenbach Siegel law firm in Scarsdale, N.Y. It has handled several Cuban cases. The exemption also allows Cuba to pay the U.S. law firms that handle the often-complicated applications — about $4,000 to $5,000 for simple products, $8,000 to $12,000 for more complex scientific products or procedures, according to four patent lawyers contacted by El Nuevo Herald. PTO records show the firm of Hoffmann & Baron in Syosset, N.Y., handled a large number of the Cuban cases.

Cuba’s patents cover a range of products and procedures from rotary engine improvements to a new process for the rotation of fetal heads during birth, a sugar cane harvester, surgical orthopedics and various vaccine and biotech developments. Many of its patents from the ’70s and ’80s covered agricultural advancements, but the majority of the later patents are for pharmaceuticals, medical procedures and biotechnology advances. Patent 7,556,726 covered “equipment used in electrophoresis,” defined as “the motion of dispersed particles relative to a fluid under the influence of a spatially uniform electric field.”  PTO records from 1790 to 1975 are available online as digital images searchable only by issue date, patent number and classification, not by country of origin.

U.S. and Cuban interests have clashed bitterly and often over some trademarks, especially for well-known products such as Havana Club rum and Cohiba cigars, produced by both Cuba and rivals that sell in the U.S. market. U.S. companies have registered 7,000 brands with the Cuban Office of Industrial Property in Havana, said Washington lawyer Robert Muse, an expert on Cuba embargo laws. A list of the registries runs from Dockers to Aunt Jemima, Velveeta and Goya, the Hispanic food products firm, and dates as far back as 1918.

Havana – DTC – The 2nd National Underwater Photography Championship was held in western Cuba, ratifying the country’s excellent conditions for tourism. According to the Cuban Federation of Underwater Activities, 17 photographers and 15 models from Havana, Matanzas, and eastern Santiago de Cuba attended the event. The winner of the championship was Carlos Otero, from Havana, who won three first places and was the absolute champion, followed by Héctor Sardiña (Havana) and Daniel Pérez (Matanzas). The aforementioned winners will make the Cuban team that will participate in the international meeting FOTOSUB COLONY 2010, scheduled for February 2010 in Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). Awards were granted in the following categories: Environment with Diver, Environment, Fish, Macro, Best Model, Absolute Champion and Most Popular Photo. These kinds of actions contribute to promoting Cuba’s sea bottoms for diving enthusiasts, who can dive in several facilities all over the country.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – The economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba has caused the island’s Iron and Steel Industry losses equivalent to over 38 million dollars. Some 140,000 refrigerators could have been purchased with that money, underlines the report that will be presented by Cuba before the UN General Assembly on October 28, when for the 18th time in a row the voting against that criminal policy will take place. The head of International Relations of the Cuban Iron and Steel Ministry (SIME), Irene Rodriguez, told ACN that, only in steel exports, the country lost some 400,000 dollars, due to the use of Euros in commercial transactions of products derived from that raw material.

There’s no possibility of receiving credits from US banks and international financial institutions, being it necessary to use commercial credits with high interests and without periods of grace as customary, stated the official. Rodriguez stressed that imports become more expensive because purchases are made mainly in Europe and Asia, with a more extended commercial cycle and, therefore, with higher interests. Recently, another SIME executive, Ever Ballar, warned that the transportation of steel has also become increasingly more difficult, because Cuba doesn’t have adequate ships and because the Torricelly Law establishes that vessels arriving in Cuba can’t call at US ports until six months later.

Havana – DTC – A new restaurant was inaugurated in the NH Parque Central Hotel, in Havana, Cuba’s major tourist destination. The El Paseo Restaurant serves dishes made of different kinds of meats and all possible combinations. The 82-seat restaurant also serves the best liquors commercialized in the country. Experts pointed out that the restaurant specializes in serving a clientele that includes business people and tourists. The restaurant also benefits the hotel, located in Old Havana, near prominent buildings such as the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Grand Theater of Havana.

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – Sept. 20, 2009

Havana – DTC – The city of Santiago de Cuba, the capital of the eastern province of the same name, will host the 6th Storytelling Biennial in September. The meeting, dedicated to actor Raúl Pomares, is sponsored by the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the Provincial Council of Performing Arts. The program will consist of performances by a score of Cuban actors and guests from Spain and Paraguay. It also includes night shows at the Martí Theater and the Macubá Coffee Theater, as well as at the UNEAC venue. Storytellers will also perform at Casa de las Tradiciones (Traditions’ House), in the neighborhood of El Tivolí, and the Serrano Park, on Enramada Street. The Symposium on Storytelling will be held parallel to the biennial to debate papers on issues related to that artistic expression.

Latinomineria – Cuba and Venezuela have embarked on a mission to carry out intensive studies of the mining concessions owned by CVG Minerven. Thus, the President of the Venezuelan government owned mining entity, Luis Herrera, explained that “in coming weeks we will be performing an analysis of all the concessions that the company holds and which cover some 48,000 hectares. The aim is to try to increase gold production to 11 million ounces, which is the amount that has already been certified.”

The company that will be in charge of the investigations is the Cuban company Geominsal, which will assess the natural resources that exist in the properties and how they can be managed in the future.  “The agreement for drilling and evaluation of reserves and the presence of minerals will be carried out with all the established regulations in place to preserve the environment, even though we believe that the process does not have any kind of effect,” he said. “The idea is to exceed the depth of our mines, which are running the 500 meters; we are confident that we have greater mineralization in El Callao, ended the President of the government owned company.

HAVANA – (Reuters) – One of the original leaders of the Cuban revolution and current vice president Juan Almeida has died of heart failure at the age of 82, state-run press reported on Saturday. Almeida was at the side of Fidel and Raul Castro from the earliest days of the revolution and was the only black commander in the leadership. Fidel Castro took power after the rebels toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959, and ruled until Raul Castro succeeded him as president last year.

Almeida, who had been in ill health in recent years, died late on Friday, Communist Party newspaper Granma said. Many of Cuba’s top leaders are about the same age as Almeida, which has raised questions about who will succeed the Castros. Raul Castro is 78, while Fidel Castro is 83. Almeida served in top positions from the beginning of the revolutionary government and at his death was one of several vice presidents in the Council of State under Raul Castro and a member of the powerful political bureau of the ruling Communist Party.

The construction worker from a humble Havana neighborhood participated in the ill-fated July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba that began the uprising. He and the Castros were imprisoned after the attack. Following a pardon by Batista in 1955, they were released and went to Mexico to regroup and train. He was on the yacht Granma when it carried the small rebel fighting force from Mexico to Cuba in late 1956 and he fought in the Sierra Maestra mountains that were the rebel base. Fidel Castro named him a commander, in charge of the third rebel front.

During an early encounter with government troops, he gained fame for running to the front of the outnumbered rebels and shouting, “Here, nobody surrenders.” A black and white photo from those days, published alongside the story of his death, showed a bearded and smiling Almeida, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. “Commander Almeida was always in the first line of combat with the Head of the Revolution, valiant, decisive and loyal to the ultimate consequences,” the political bureau said in a note published in Granma. He met Fidel Castro in 1952 and became an enduring admirer. “I’m honored to have met him personally in 1952 and since then to have shared with him all these years where I have seen him grow as the unchallenged leader,” Almeida wrote in his book “Absolved by History,” dedicated to Fidel.

Fidel Castro named him a “Hero of the Republic of Cuba” in 1998. Apart from his military and political accomplishments, Almeida was a writer of songs and books. His “Dame un traguito” (Give me a Sip) or “La Lupe” was for years a popular song on the island. The government declared Sunday a day of national mourning for Almeida. He was to be buried in the Sierra Maestra, the political bureau said. “The name of Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque will remain always in the hearts and minds of his compatriots,” it said.

Havana – DTC – The western Cuban province of Matanzas will host the 2009 edition of the meeting on tourism and nature. Tour operators and professionals from Latin America and Europe will participate in the meeting, scheduled from September 14-18 in the Zapata Swamp. In addition, people interested in ecological tourism are expected to participate in the meeting, where the Cuban tourist product will be promoted. Executives from the company Cubanacán Península de Zapata have confirmed that the National Park offers such options as cycling tourism, fishing, bird watching, recreational diving and other attractions. During the meeting, local facilities such as the Boca Guamá complex, the Treasure Lagoon, the Taino Village, the Fish Cave and the International Diving Center will be promoted as well.

New York Times – For those looking for a cultural taste of Havana, the Katonah Museum of Art, in Katonah, N.Y., is offering a week-long, art-themed package trip starting Jan. 17, 2010. Reservations are being accepted through Oct. 19. (The museum expects a maximum of 60 people.) Though the Obama administration has eased restrictions for American citizens with family members in Cuba, and some agencies offer package trips through Mexico or Canada, a visit to the island is still a difficult proposition for the average traveler.

The museum’s package, which was organized with the help of Project Services, an organization that coordinates humanitarian-based trips and has secured the visas for this program, costs $4,400 per person for a dual-occupancy room, and $4,600 for single-occupancy. A donation of $700 to the museum is included in that cost, as are entry visas, rooms at the Parque Central hotel and airfare from Miami to Havana (you’ll have to get yourself to Miami, though). Highlights of the trip include a walking tour of Old Havana, visits to the studios of local artists, and a side trip to the village of Cojimar, the location of Ernest Hemingway’s one-time estate, Finca Vigía.

Havana – DTC – Authorities in the eastern Cuban province of Guantánamo have designed a comprehensive program to improve recreational options during the summer season. The most popular option is El Yunque camping site in the municipality of Baracoa. The facility, the first of its kind built in the region, can accommodate hundreds of tourists interested in spending their vacations in direct contact with nature. The region’s diverse flora, where coconut and palm trees predominate, complements the attractions of El Yunque, where campers can take a swim in one of Cuba’s biggest rivers, the Duaba. Visitor can also enjoy other recreational activities including volleyball, dancing and bowling. Lodging conditions were improved in the camping site, from where campers can take guided tours to nearby natural sites such Charco de la Piña and the waterfall.

Miama Herald – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has an old idea that’s been tried before, which even its supporters say won’t work: Create a team of exiles to dialogue with the Cuban government. Richardson pitched the idea to top Cuban officials while on a recent trip to the island, and he’s already approached Cuban-American leaders who have agreed to participate, he told The Miami Herald in an interview. He won’t say whom. The Cubans here went for it. The ones on the island — not so much.

“They weren’t crazy about the idea,” Richardson said. “They didn’t reject it. They said, ‘We always have dialogue,’ but you can’t have dialogue without those who have the political clout.” Richardson, a former candidate for president, visited Cuba in late August on a trade mission. He returned advocating more legalized travel to the island, and saying that the Cuban government must do its part, too. His trip was met with eye-rolls in some sectors of Miami, where even the people who promote dialogue said the plan would probably flop.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s health system, whose main goal is to improve the quality of life of the people, prioritizes neonatal surgeries. The national average survival rate in cases of neonatal surgery is 85 percent, although some hospitals have reported up to 90 percent. In the case of eastern Holguín province, that service has contributed to reducing the infant mortality rate to 3.5 deaths per every 1,000 live births. Neonatal surgeries are performed at the Octavio de la Concepción Children’s Hospital, where complex cases from the eastern provinces are operated on. The most common pathologies that require neonatal surgery are intestinal and esophageal atresia, defects on the abdominal wall and diaphragmatic hernias.

HAVANA (AP) – Cubans in their multitudes flocked to sprawling Revolution Plaza on Sunday for a massive open-air “peace concert” headlined by Colombian rocker Juanes, an event criticized by some Cuban-Americans who say the performers are lending support to the island’s communist government simply by showing up. Organizers say they expect as many as half a million people to attend the four-hour concert under a broiling Havana sun. Even half that many would make the Colombian heartthrob’s visit the biggest by an outsider since Pope John Paul II’s 1998 tour.

Thousands of Cuban partygoers stood along Havana’s seaside Malecon boulevard before dawn Sunday, drinking, singing and staring out at the moonlit sea. Nearly all said they planned to attend. “I am singing to the Cubans, I am singing for you, Juanes,” crooned Elide Ramirez, a Juanes fan, as he strummed on a guitar just after 5 a.m. “Here are the Cubans, waiting for you like brothers.” And outside Revolution Plaza, many ignored government warnings not to turn up until noon. “We’ve been here since three in the morning waiting for everyone, waiting for Juanes and for (Puerto Rican singer) Olga Tanon,” said Luisa Maria Canales, an 18-year-old engineering student. “I’m a little tired, but I am more excited.”

That excitement does not extend to some across the Florida Straits, where Juanes has endured death threats, CD smashing protests and boycotts since his decision to hold the “Peace Without Borders” concert in Havana. Police in Key Biscayne, Florida, say they are keeping watch over the homes of both the rocker and his manager, Fernan Martinez Maecha. Still, the criticism from Florida is far from universal. Spanish-language stations are gearing up for coverage, and several exile groups have voiced support, describing the event as a rare chance for Cubans to get a glimpse of the outside world.

Some Cuban officials have used the event as an opportunity to deride U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, and the 47-year trade embargo in particular. But Juanes has insisted the concert is about music, not politics. “It is one more grain of sand for improving relations through art,” the singer said upon arriving in Havana late Friday. Of the threats from Miami, he said only: “It is a city that I love.” Juanes met recently with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the concert even prompted comment from President Barack Obama, who told the Spanish-language Univision network that the event probably wouldn’t have much effect on U.S.-Cuban relations. “My understanding is that he’s a terrific musician. He puts on a very good concert,” Obama said in the interview broadcast Sunday. “I certainly don’t think it hurts U.S./Cuban relations. These kinds of cultural exchanges—I wouldn’t overstate the degree that it helps.”

In addition to Juanes and Tanon, the concert features Cuban folk legend Silvio Rodriguez and salsa stars Los Van Van, as well as performers from Spain, Ecuador, Italy and elsewhere. The festivities are expected to get under way at about 2 p.m. at iconic Revolution Plaza, which features a giant likeness of revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the heavily guarded offices of Fidel and Raul Castro. Temperatures are forecast to rise into the 90s (30s), with Havana’s dripping humidity piled on top. The government has urged concertgoers to bring food and plenty of water, and to take precautions against the sun. Juanes, who has won 17 Latin Grammy awards, more than any other artist, is known for his social activism. His first “Peace Without Borders” concert in March 2008 drew tens of thousands to the border between Venezuela and Colombia when tensions were high over a Colombian commando raid into neighboring Ecuador that killed a leading rebel commander.

MIAMI – (UPI) – Travel by Cuban-Americans visiting relatives has increased dramatically since the Obama administration lifted restrictions, travel officials say. There are 30 to 35 charter flights a week from Miami International Airport, compared to 15 to 18 in the last year of the Bush administration, The Miami Herald reports. Officials say 55,000 people went to Cuba between April and June. Under President George W. Bush, family visits to Cuba were limited, sometimes to only one in three years. In April, President Barack Obama allowed unrestricted travel by exiles with relatives in Cuba.

The visitors spend an average of about $5,000 on their trips, most of it for clothes, medical supplies and other items for their relatives. Nildo Herrera, 75, of Hialeah, Fla., attracted notice when he checked in at the airport wearing five hats. “One is for my grandson, another for my son and the rest for other relatives,” he told Vivian Mannerud, a travel company executive. Mannerud, daughter of Fernando Fuentes Coba, who arranged the first charter flights in 1978, went into semi-retirement a few years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, she is back full tilt, arranging charters, the newspaper said.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban capital will host a series of concerts, as part of the cultural event called Baroque September. Organized by the baroque musical group Ars Longa, the concerts will be held in Old Havana. In addition to Ars Longa, other performers will be Ensemble Instrumental, made up of artists from the Higher Art Institute, the National Symphonic Orchestra and musicians from the Guillermo Tomás Music Conservatorium. Another performer will be the quintet Ventus Habana, which will play a Baroque Suite by several composers, and “Danzas Antiguas del Siglo XVII”, by Ferenc Farkas. The baroque musical group Exulten, which will perform in Havana for the first time, and the group Ars Nova, directed by Raúl Zaballa, will also participate in the concerts.

Denver Business Journal – The Western Union Co. will implement new federal rules that allow people to send more money to relatives in Cuba, the company said. The new guidelines, issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), became effective Sept. 3, Western Union officials said. The federal rules allow people in the United States to send remittances to “close relatives” who are Cuban nationals, including aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins. They also remove limits on how much money can be sent and how often.

The United States has maintained an economic embargo against Communist-run Cuba for nearly 50 years. The new rules don’t end the embargo. Douglas County-based global payments company Western Union (NYSE: WU) has provided money transfer services from the United State to Cuba since 1999. The company said in April that it planned to expand its network in Cuba, following a White House announcement that restrictions would be lifted on travel and money transfers to Cuba.

Havana – DTC – The eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas reported 3,981 births during the first eight months of 2009. That number, experts said, accounts for an increase of 324 births, compared to the same period last year. In addition, the province’s infant mortality rate during the said period was 4.27 deaths per every 1,000 live births, which is similar to that of the most developed countries. Las Tunas also holds Cuba’s highest life expectancy, which is over 78 years. The achievement is the result of improved medical care for pregnant women and newborns in all municipalities of the province, where there are 18 maternal homes.

AP – HAVANA — Cuba has authorized public Internet access at post offices across the country, though it has yet to apply what would be a landmark loosening of cyberspace rules in a nation where information is strictly controlled. A decree posted on the Web site of the government’s official gazette this week authorizes Empresa Correos de Cuba to “provide access to public Internet to all naturalized persons.” Many post offices already offer public computers, but they are linked to a national intranet — an extremely limited list of Cuba-only Web sites.

Cubans there can send and receive international e-mail, but direct access to the rest of the Web is blocked, limits far stricter than those imposed even in China or Saudi Arabia. Internet supervisors at two Havana post offices said Wednesday that while authorities are preparing to apply the law and have even installed new, faster PCs in some locations, they did not know when the new rules will go into effect. A spokesperson for the Cuban government was not immediately available for comment. Even use of the national intranet is costly for locals: $1.62 per hour in a country where state workers are paid about $20 a month. It’s not clear if full Internet access would cost more.

Few Cubans are able to pay the roughly $6.50 that an hour of Internet time costs at hotels meant for foreign tourists. More common — but still rare — are those with access to Internet-enabled computers owned by government officials, academics, Communist Party leaders and foreigners who work on the island. Even there, the government often blocks sites it considers hostile — especially those of Cuban bloggers who criticize the communist system. Sitting on a curb across from a post office amid the gracefully decaying colonial buildings of Havana’s historic district, Fidel Danilo Gomez said he expected to wait two hours for chance to use a computer linked to the intranet.

“We Cubans are crazy for waiting. If there’s no line in Cuba it’s because the place is closed,” said the 21-year-old university student majoring in French. But he said the idea of logging into the real Internet was appealing: “If I am going to wait for hours, checking a Hotmail or Yahoo account sounds better than using a Cuban account that’s good for nothing.” Gomez said that though expensive, Cuba’s internal Web is simple and runs quickly, helping to limit the time users have to be connected. The full Internet would run slowly and be even more costly, he said.

“It is very expensive even now, and most people can’t afford it,” said salsa singer Alexi Perez, who was chomping on an unlit cigar as he waited near Gomez to crowd inside the dimly lit post office and e-mail a friend in Croatia. Perez said he’d love to surf the Internet for information about music, but isn’t sure how to do that. “All I know how to do is sit down, write my letter and leave,” he said. “And I’m a very slow typist.” Another potential problem is bandwidth. Cuban officials say they limit Internet access largely because the U.S. embargo forces them to rely on expensive satellite link to the Web rather than tapping into nearby American fiber-optic lines.

The government of Venezuela says it is nearing completion of a fiber-optic link that will greatly increase Cuba’s Cyberspace capabilities. And the U.S. government recently relaxed restrictions on telecommunications cooperation with the island. Gomez said e-mailing his friend in Croatia provides a peak at an outside world he’s never seen. “Everybody in Cuba wants to go somewhere and see something of the world,” he said, “even if it were Guantanamo Bay.”

Havana – DTC – Cuban specialists are using stem cells to treat gum diseases. According to experts, Cuba is one of the first countries in the world to use that kind of treatment against periodontal problems. Clinical trials have shown improvements after stem cells were injected in the gums, contributing to curing bone lesions.  The treatment requires a previous stomatological procedure to prepare the affected area and does not imply any additional risks for patients. The therapy involves hematologists, angiologists, cardiologists and orthopedics. Adult stem cells are used to regenerate or rebuild cells that are different to them.

AP – HAVANA — Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro slammed Dutch multinational Philips as a “traitor” for not delivering spare parts for medical equipment due to the US economic embargo on Cuba. Castro, 83, and still head of the Cuban Communist Party, charged in an editorial in official media that Philips’ “backing down and betrayal of Cuba and Venezuela” stemmed from US pressure under former president George W. Bush, and has not changed much under President Barack Obama. The United States and Cuba do not have full diplomatic relations. Washington has had a full economic embargo on Cuba since 1962.

Oil-rich Venezuela is Cuba’s key regional ally, and keeps Havana’s deeply strained central economy just barely afloat. Hundreds of Cuban doctors in turn work in Venezuela’s national health system. While the United States has made enough loopholes in its own sanctions to become a leading supplier of food to Cuba, most US industrial and manufactured goods still cannot be sold directly to the Americas’ lone communist government. Castro said that in 2006, at the request of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba bought from Philips and Germany’s Siemens thousands of pieces of advanced medical equipment for the two countries.

The retired Cuban leader, who left power that year after almost 50 years at Cuba’s helm, said Siemens “kept its promises.” But Philips, despite a purchase of 3,553 pieces of equipment worth 72.8 million dollars, did not deliver spare parts due to what Castro said it called “brutal intransigence” on the part of unnamed US authorities. Only in June did Philips deliver the needed spare parts, Castro said, after it paid a 100,000-euro fine to the Obama government. “No one has compensated Cubans, or Venezuelan patients under the care of doctors, for the human suffering caused,” Castro wrote.

However, US law permits states to sell agricultural, medical and information technology products on a cash basis to Cuba. Since 2000, such sales have totaled more than three billion dollars. So Castro charged the United States with violating the loophole it made in its own sanctions. Castro said Venezuela “is more threatened than ever” by “imperialism” — usually Cuban shorthand for the United States, so the need for bilateral cooperation was stronger than ever. Just Thursday the US Treasury eased restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban-Americans five months after Obama announced the measures in a bid to improve ties with the communist island.

The move also allows US telecommunications network providers to link to Cuba with fiber-optic cables and satellite technology, permits US wireless telephone providers to enter roaming service agreements with Cuban firms, and allows US satellite broadcasts to the island. When it first announced planned changes in April, the White House said the move was intended to encourage expanding democratic and political rights in Cuba.

Havana – Sapa-dpa – Cuban scientists have found a fossil of a 10-metre-long crocodile that lived more than 20-million years ago. These are the first fossils found on the island of this reptile, which lived in the Miocene period, Alejandro Romero Emperador, a member of Cuba’s Speleological Society, told the local news agency Prensa Latina. The fossils were found in the spillway of Zaza dam, Cuba’s largest reservoir, in the central province of Sancti Spiritus. Romero Emperador said the remains were found along with those of aquatic mammals known as dugongs. They were exposed by the water’s erosion of the soil. The expert noted that other fossils of gigantic animals have also been found in the area, although the species to which they belong is yet to be determined.

Havana – DTC – Cuba has increased production of canned food as an alternative to increase food supplies and make better use of crops. In eastern Ciego de Avila province, six plants processed fruit, corn and vegetables. Several factories established additional work shifts to increase production. Ciego de Avila receives raw materials from other provinces to reduce losses and supply the domestic market. Cuba produced 20,000 tons of tomato sauce as a result of an increase in supplies from private and state producers.

MSN News – Cuba has withdrawn the licenses of the first two foreign banks authorized to operate on the communist-ruled island, saying they were not doing enough business. Central Bank president Ernesto Medina said ING Barings and Netherlands Caribbean Bank N.V. lost their permits because “they stopped conducting the business authorized by the license, and show no sign of resuming it in the future.” The banks were the first two foreign banks authorized to operate in Cuba in 1994 when the government opened the financial system to private foreign banks in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thirteen other foreign banks still have offices in Cuba, the central bank said.

Netherlands Caribbean Bank N.V is a mixed venture involving ING Barings (50 percent), Gilmar Project Finance (25 percent) and Cuba’s Banco Popular de Ahorro (25 percent). ING Barings is owned by ING Group, an international banking giant with 130 offices in 50 countries. They were authorized to make loans to banks and corporate clients, engage in commercial transactions, currency exchange and other transactions in the capital and money markets. Neither bank responded to requests for comment.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s industry has increased henequen crops to fulfill the plan to produce byproducts until 2015. So far this year, the Caribbean Island has produced 1,200 tons of henequen fiber, which is used to make ropes and other articles. Henequen fibers are quoted at 1,400 dollars per ton in the international market, thus the importance of increasing henequen production to reduce imports. This year’s plan is 2,500 tons of henequen fiber. In addition, Cuba will import equipment to improve technology in four plants in Matanzas, Holguín, Cienfuegos and Havana. Henequen was introduced in Cuba in 1822 from Mexico. The first fibers were produced in the island in 1827.

Florida Baptist Witness – CUBA – A warm wind ruffles the giant Royal Palm trees protecting the lush vegetation and peaceful silence at the Baptist Encampment in Cuba’s Yumuri Valley. For more than 50 years the camp has beckoned the young and old from the churches of the Western Cuba Baptist Convention to the valley nestled within mountain ridges in the Mantanzas province, located about 50 miles east from Havana. There, the Cuban saints can escape the harsh realities of their day-to-day lives to a place where the Lord can touch their hearts, nourish their spirits, and strengthen their resolve as the people of God.

The years have not been kind to the camp that so many Cuban Baptists treasure. Materials, supplies, and paint for the upkeep have been unavailable. Nor is money available for laborers. For the past decade, Florida Baptists have sent mission teams to the valley to renovate and construct new buildings and dorms, and provide equipment and furnishings at the retreat facility.  This past May, a band of believers from Eastpoint Fellowship Baptist Church in Orlando traveled to the Yumuri Valley camp to repair structures and be­gin construction of a new building for their Cuban brothers and sisters in Christ.

It was a labor intensive project as the group dug holes for concrete footers, mixed concrete, poured sidewalks, and carried concrete blocks to the roof­top to create a second floor for the new addition. With no construction equipment available, all the work was done by hand. Women in the group scraped and painted a welcoming entrance wall. In additional to the construction projects, on Sunday morning and eve­ning, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the Eastpoint members traveled away from the camp to local churches where they preached, lead worship and taught Bible studies.

“We were a great encouragement to the persons staffing the camp and the people in the churches,” said David Schorejas, associate pastor of Eastpoint Fellowship. He believes their efforts touched the lives of hundreds of Cuban Baptists who will be spiritually trained and renewed while attending seminars at the camp and the group was “a testimony to those in the community who are not Christians.” “They know we are Christians by our love and saw that we are Christ followers who are willing to make the trip there and take time away from work and family to serve their needs,” Schorejas continued. “That is an eternal investment.”

Schorejas said the group was motivated to go to Cuba by Acts 1:8. “We do a lot of mission work in our community and this gave us an opportunity to go to Samaria and the ends of earth.” Second generation Cubans, Solidad and Antonio Dominguez, said they felt God calling them and their son Alex, 16, to their family’s homeland to give back to others with their heritage. “We are very proud to be from Cuba,” said Solidad. As the men did manual labor—“sweat equity”—Solidad scraped and painted walls. Their efforts were well worth it, he said.

“There is a need for the Gospel on the island,” Sol­idad mused. “It is beautiful, but they need Christ, there is need for training at the camps and there is a need for hope.” Even with a struggling economy, the Dominguez family, who owns an Orlando construction company, found their fellow church members were willing to support their efforts on the mission trip—both through prayer and financially.

Florida Baptist have been in a 13 year partnership with their brothers and sisters in the Western Cuban Baptist Convention providing funds for a variety of ministries. These include a Baptist Seminary in Havana, which offers theological training for young pastors who lead churches; a retirement home for aging church lead­ers who had given their life to the cause of Christ; and the Baptist Encampment to train church leaders and instill a vision in their youth. Paul Thompson, pastor of Jensen Beach Baptist Church, serves as a coordinator for the Cuba partnership and accompanied the Eastpoint team to the Communist nation. He applauded the Orlando volunteers for seamlessly blending in with the church members who were involved in “establishing community and loving the people. “They planted great evangelistic seeds,” Thompson said.

The Jensen Beach pastor said the mission trips by Florida Baptists are vital to the Cuban Baptists because it strengthens the local Cuban churches and gives them a “boost” that can “fuel” the church’s growth and lift the pastors’ spirits for six to nine months. “We have so many in our congregations who have family connections with the people in Cuba that our work there is a natural bridge,” Thompson said. “The conditions that they minister under are touching. They have so many financial struggles. We provide a real spiritual lifeline to them.”

Havana – DTC – The Rey del Cauto winery, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma, has gained ground in the Caribbean Island over the past 18 years. Based in the city of Bayamo, the company offers 21 types of wine, mainly made from natural fruit. In addition, Rey del Cauto supplies four varieties of liqueurs and three kinds of creams, as well as dry wine. The company plans to increase exports, benefiting from the industry’s potentialities. The winery produces 50,000-100,000 liters of wine every 15 days, thus contributing to reduce imports of wines.

(Reuters) – In measures originally announced in April and implemented last week, U.S. President Barack Obama has relaxed aspects of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to provide services to the communist-ruled island. But the U.S. companies face major hurdles, from legal obstacles to tough foreign competition and the key question of whether wary Cuban authorities will be willing to open up this strategic area to operators from the country Havana has viewed as its ideological enemy for almost half a century.

Most analysts agree that the Cuban telecommunications market represents a major untapped potential because of the low penetration of fixed and mobile telephone and Internet services. Cuban data shows the island lagging far behind in the hemisphere in these services. Telecommunications data for 2008 released by Cuba’s National Statistics Office in June showed there were only 1.4 million telephones, fixed and mobile, in the country of 11.2 million inhabitants. This gave a total density of 12.6 telephones per 100 inhabitants, the lowest in the region, according to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union.

Computers were also very scarce at just 630,000 and most were believed to be in government offices, health facilities and schools. The Cuban statistics report said 13 percent of Cuba’s population had Internet access, but in most cases this was to a government Intranet. No data was available for access to the World Wide Web, but diplomats and residents say it is severely restricted by the communist authorities. President Raul Castro, who took over the Cuban presidency from his ailing older brother Fidel last year, introduced a reform allowing Cubans permission to freely buy and use cell phones — use had been previously tightly restricted. But they can only pay for them in hard currency equivalent convertible pesos, which are not available to all Cubans.

Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA) is the state-owned telecommunications provider of telephone, Internet and wireless services. Telecom Italia has a 27 percent stake in ETECSA, and the rest is owned by the Cuban government. Cubacel (Telefonos Celulares de Cuba SA) is a unit of ETECSA providing mobile phone services on the island. In the 1990s, in what was billed at the time as the first large-scale privatization in Cuba since the 1959 Revolution, foreign companies had obtained and held major stakes in the Cuban telecommunications sector. In 1994, Mexico’s Monterey-based Domos Group agreed to purchase a 49 percent stake in the Cuban national phone system, but then sold 25 percent of its interest to STET International Netherlands, a subsidiary of Italy’s state telecoms company. Domos relinquished its equity stake in 2005 because of the economic crisis in Mexico.

Established in 1991, Cubacel started as a joint venture between Mexico-based TIMSA and the Cuban government. In 1998, Canadian resources company Sherritt International Corp, the largest foreign investor in Cuba at the time, bought a 37.5 percent in Cubacel. In 2003, the Cuban government bought back Sherritt’s stake and that of a Mexican investor, taking 100 percent control of Cubacel.

Eight U.S. companies, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint Nextel, are licensed by U.S. authorities to provide long-distance phone services to Cuba through satellite or cable. But in the last few years, the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue that these U.S. companies share in phone revenues with Cuba have become the target of damages lawsuits filed by U.S. citizens, most of them Cuban Americans, in U.S. courts against the Cuban government for alleged wrongful deaths and other issues. Analysts say these kind of cases, and other claims by U.S. citizens targeting Cuban assets and properties, could pose a potential legal threat to future foreign investments in the Cuban telecoms sector.

A submarine telecommunications cable is mostly in place between Key West and Havana but has not been connected, because of restrictions under the existing U.S. embargo. Cuba’s left-wing ally Venezuela has formed a joint venture, Gran Caribe Telecommunications Company, to create a 1,000-mile (1,600-km) highway of underwater fiber-optics cable linking the two allies. Cuban officials say this will boost Internet capacity on the island and make it cheaper. Gran Caribe executives say the link could be up and running by the middle of 2010.

Analysts say future U.S. telecoms investors in Cuba could face tough competition from companies in Asia and Europe, a number of whom are already operating on the island. Spain’s Telefonica has shown interest in Cuba as a potential market, triggering rumors that it might buy Telecom Italia’s stake in ETECSA. Other companies with significant presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, such as America Movil and Digicel, are also likely eyeing Cuba as a potential market. Earlier this month, an agreement signed during a visit to Cuba by China’s parliamentary head Wu Bagguo provided a $300 million loan to help improve Cuba’s telecommunications network, according to media reports.

Another telecoms joint venture, Gran Caiman, involving a company called China Grand Dragon, has been producing switching equipment and other inputs. Other foreign companies from China, Europe and elsewhere, including Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, Ericsson and ZTE Corp are already involved in supplying equipment and technology to Cuba.

Nuevitas – (RN) -The necessity of the production of foods found a firm answer in the executives and workers of the Urban Farm of this municipality who have the commitment of keeping stable sales of vegetables and condiments to the population, with the objective of diminishing imports and to attenuate the effects of the world economic crisis. Vidal Valdés Torres, administrator of the units that made up the entity, assured that the recovery of the damages of the hurricanes of the last year allowed the over-fulfillment of the production plan in the first semester of the 2009, by means of a correct strategy of sowing and a good attention to the plantations.

As part of the planned development program, the semi-protected cultivation is applied in two hectares of the organic garden “El Rescate”, where there are 184 stonemasons for the crop of lettuce, radish, cucumbers, peppers, beans, tomato and other varieties that are favored now to diminish the intensity of the solar rays. “We will continue developing all the subprograms until reaching the excellence because that will be a positive answer to the convocation of the Cuban government to increase the commercialization of vegetable” -Vidal specified. The strategy is to harvest and the following day to sow, to have forever the areas at full, we already have guaranteed the seeds, the organic fertilizers and the implementation of the stonemasons filling, the administrator of the urban farm in the municipality of Nuevitas concluded.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban eastern province of Granma will improve telecommunications facilities after new equipment is installed. According to sources from the sector, new telephone plants will be installed in three municipalities, with a total capacity of 3,900 lines. The Chinese-made plants, which have a capacity of 240-1,000 telephone lines, will mainly benefit rural areas and residents in the outskirts of the cities. The civil works are scheduled for completion in October and the plants will be assembled later. In addition to be rapidly installed, the plants will be powered by batteries and generators in case of power outages.

Camagüey – Radio Cadena Agramonte – In virtue of agreements reached with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America  (ALBA), the agriculture sector in Camaguey should execute more than 10 investments, valued at 16 million pesos.
Among the investments projects are a grain processing plant for improving the quality of the seeds, and a program to develop ovine-caprine cattle in ten farms in the municipalities of Camagüey, Vertientes, Minas, Guáimaro, Céspedes, Esmeralda and Florida.

Also thanks to agreements signed with the ALBA, the farmers in this Cuban province have been developing fruit tree farms for the gradual growth of this branch of production, which also includes the manufacturing of tropical fruit compote. The development of the vegetable production through the use of mesh coverings is another project on which farmers here are working, also with the execution of five new areas where this system will be used

Havana – DTC – Cuban experts completed an oil well using a cutting-edge technology for horizontal drilling. Cuban workers from the oil company in western Matanzas province completed the largest work of that kind in the Caribbean Island. Drilling near Varadero beach reached a distance of 5,904 meters using large pipes. In addition, a state-of-the-art drilling machine, owned by the state-owned company Cubapetróleo, was used for the first time in Cuba, which produced 1.7 million tons of oil during the first semester of 2009. Four million tons of oil are expected to be produced this year.

Xinhua – The views that some countries have recovered from the global financial crisis are just castles in the air, Osvaldo Martinez, Director of the Center of World Economy Investigations of Cuba, said Monday. In an article issued by the official daily “Granma”, Martinez said some countries may experience worse crises by 2010, adding those, who think the economic crisis has been left behind, “can wake up with pain.” “This crisis is not like the previous ones and the capitalism of our day has a too heavy combination of exploitation, inequity, speculation and aggression to the environment, which make impossible a swift economic, social and environmental recovery,” said Martinez, also president of the Economic Issues Commission of the Cuban parliament.

“If we look at the U.S. economy, we can see the end of the recession is debatable, and the way ahead is full of obstacles and dangers, which by no means point to a vigorous recovery,” Martinez added. Martinez said the United States always prints dollars to compensate its deficits, but this practice raises the inflation, the interest rates and tends to abort the recovery.

Havana – DTC – Escaleras de Jaruco, a tourist site in the western Cuban province of Havana, has renovated its tourist attractions based on the region’s exuberant nature. The Escaleras de Jaruco Park offers recreational and gastronomic facilities in a breathtakingly beautiful natural environment. Tourist authorities have taken actions to improve conditions in the park’s lodging and recreational facilities to meet the growing demand from vacationers. The architectural style and construction of the park’s facilities are in harmony with the landscape. Jaruco is a protected area where visitors can find a great variety of plant and animal species, thus the interest in promoting nature tourism in the region.

Nuevitas – (RN) -The beginning of the sport academic year in this municipality of the county of Camagüey the coming day 18th will begin, in the elementary school “Victoria de Girón” with the protagonist role of the workers of the Municipal Sport Sector and students of the different schools. A total of 114 professors will be in charge of the teaching of the sport for the present academic year 2009-2010, who at the same time are distributed in more than 20 sport disciplines.

As a result of the work developed by the trainers of the INDER in Nuevitas, there is the contribution to the provincial educational centers, with 15 new students for the Initiation Sport School (EIDE) “Cerro Pelado” and six to the Superior School of Athletic Improvement (ESPA) “Inés Luaces” of Camagüey, where the Karate as specialty is the one that more contributes with seven athletes among both schools. A characteristic to highlight for the present educational period is the implementation of the groups related to the sport inside the educational system, with 19 classrooms in the primary education and two in the basic secondary education.

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Cuban Weekly News Digest – August 20, 2009

Havana – DTC – Air Italy is operating direct flights between Italy and Cuba, as part of the company’s actions to meet the growing demand from travelers to the Caribbean Island. The Boeing 767 plane that inaugurated the route officially arrived in Havana carrying more than 200 passengers, including media representatives. Previously, the airline had operated flights to Havana through third countries, mainly from Eastern European nations such as Poland. From now on, Air Italy will fly to Havana once a week, every Friday, departing from Rome and stopping over in Milan. Cuban authorities expect this new flight will contribute to increasing arrivals from Italy, considering that the European country is the third major tourist-sending market to Cuba.

HAVANA – Colombian rocker Juanes is feeling heat from Cuban exiles, who argue his planned “Peace Without Borders” concert in Havana is an endorsement of Cuba’s communist system. Event promoters insist the Sept. 20 concert will have no ideological overtones, even if it is being staged in Havana’s Revolution Plaza — with its famed, building-size homage to fallen revolutionary Ernest “Che” Guevara. “Nobody is coming to sing to the Cuban system.

Juanes isn’t a Communist, he isn’t a socialist,” folk singer Amaury Perez told The Associated Press. “I can assure you, because I’ve been involved in all of the preparations, that no political condition has been imposed.” The Grammy-winning Juanes is known for his social activism. His first “Peace Without Borders” concert in March 2008 drew tens of thousands to the border between Venezuela and Colombia when tensions were high over a Colombian commando raid into neighboring Ecuador that to killed a leading rebel commander.

Havana – DTC – Cuba will host the 7th International Meeting on Nature Tourism (TURNAT 2009) in September. Travel agents and tour operators specialized in that tourist modality will meet in Cuba, where they will learn about the products that the Caribbean Island will launch during the next tourist season. The meeting will take place at the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, in western Matanzas province, which is considered one of the largest swamps in the insular Caribbean region. Participants will go trekking and will enjoy the fauna and flora of the region, where several ecosystems coexist.  The Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is inhabited by more than 1,000 species of plants (130 of which are endemic of Cuba and five are autochthonous), 43 species of reptiles, 16 species of amphibians and 386 species of birds.

Bradenton Herald – A group called USA Youth Debates has been granted permission by the federal government to go to Cuba and will be selecting students from Sarasota County to make the trip. An official from the U.S. Treasury Department, which grants licenses for travel to Cuba, confirmed that it has issued a license allowing debaters to make the trip. “We’re over the first obstacle, and that was getting a license,” said John Tredway, the director of USA Youth Debates, based in Venice.

Tredway said 12-15 students will be selected to go and will probably spend a week in January in the communist country just 90 miles off Key West’s beach. Cuba has been off limits to U.S. travelers, with rare exceptions, due to an economic embargo imposed in 1962. “We are excited,” Tredway explained. “We think it’s a great opportunity to discuss issues common to Cuba and Florida,” he said. “For example, science cooperation is important not just in hurricane forecasting, which we do share to some degree, but also in terms of marine environments. We’re a common region,” he added. The purpose of the trip is to renew similar debates held in Cuba in 2000.

“When I was a teacher in Oregon, we traveled to Cuba under a license approved by the Clinton Administration, and for the last almost nine years, we haven’t been able to go,” he said. “And now, we have that opportunity.” The Cubans, he said, always want to debate the embargo. “They tend to feel that almost all their problems are caused by the embargo, which they’re not, but that’s their focal point,” explained Tredway. At least some of the students chosen for the trip must attend school in Sarasota County, due to the strict terms of the federal license, he said.

And since New College of Florida allows independent study and has a scheduled break in January, it’s likely that some of its students will be going, said Tredway. But he added that students from other schools might be selected as well. In November, he plans to spend a few days in the island country negotiating details of the trip. Application information will be posted on the group’s Web site, http://www.usayouthdebates.org. Meanwhile, another local group, the Sarasota Yacht Club, requested permission last spring for a Sarasota-Havana Regatta that it wanted to hold in May, but was unable to attain a license, said Don Payzant, fleet captain and chairman of the regatta task force.

The club has withdrawn its original application and hopes to re-submit a new one for a regatta that would take place in May, he said. “We hope to have it finalized and submitted next week,” Payzant said. “It’s a large project, and we’re very confident eventually we’ll be allowed to do this,” he added. “It will be an excellent annual event.” He noted that the Obama Administration had announced some easing of restrictions recently. “I think that, certainly, the whole attitude seems to be progressing in the right direction for easing of restrictions, if not the elimination of them,” Payzant said. “A bill in Congress would remove trade restrictions completely. but the wheels of government sometimes move slowly.”

The club already has a mailing list approaching 200, with four or five inquiries each day concerning the Sarasota-to-Havana regatta, Payzant said. “We’re very optimistic, and have a lot of interest in the event,” he added. The regatta’s mission would be to promote ethical behavior, build character and teamwork and foster goodwill among Cuban and U.S. sailors, according to the yacht club Web site, http://www.sarasotayachtclub.org.

Havana – DTC – The inauguration of the Playa Laguna Hotel in Varadero, Cuba’s major beach resort, will increase that region’s lodging capacity to 17,000 rooms. The 814-room hotel is located in the zone of the Mangón Lagoon and is owned by the Cuban group Gaviota. Built by Cuban workers from the Economic Association Arcos BB Internacional, at a cost of 78 million dollars, the establishment is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The Playa Laguna Hotel, which will be run by the Spanish consortium Iberostar, is part of a three-hotel complex that also includes the Las Salinas Hotel (1,044 rooms), built last year by Varadero’s Entrepreneurial Construction Group (GEC), and the 1,100-room Laguna Hotel, which is under construction. After the 3,000-room project is completed, it will be the largest hotel complex in Cuba.

Morning Star – A US-based church group that routinely breaks Washington’s blockade of Cuba to deliver humanitarian aid to the island has reported that former Cuban president Fidel Castro looked strong and animated during a meeting.  The Reverend Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace, which recently led a convoy bearing 130 tons of medical, food, construction, educational and other aid supplies through Mexico to Cuba, met Mr Castro for a couple of hours in Havana.  Pastors for Peace posted two photos of the meeting on its website to coincide with Mr Castro’s 83rd birthday.

Mr Walker said: “I hadn’t seen him for three or four years – he looked good, like he had gained weight, was sharp and articulate.”  The revolutionary leader stepped down from public office in February 2008 after he fell ill three years ago.  Mr Walker said that he and Mr Castro had touched on healthcare, the US group’s aid deliveries to Cuba and US-Cuba relations. He reported that Mr Castro “spoke of the respect and appreciation he has for the president of the United States and has a recognition of the many responsibilities being faced by the Obama administration right now.”

Havana – DTC – The company Turquino, which processes vegetables, reported sales of 500,000 convertible pesos during the first semester of 2009. The company contributed to reducing imports by supplying its products to the tourist sector and hard-currency shops. Turquino produces tomato sauce and puree, as well as mango compote and marmalade. Company executives pointed out that the firm can also process papaya, as the machine used in that process was repaired.  Turquino also produces mango pulp, which is supplied as raw material to other plants to make food for the family shopping basket.

VANCOUVER – /CNW/ – Leisure Canada Inc. (LCN-TSX-V) (the “Company”) announces that Ravensden Asset Management Inc., Dundee Corp.’s asset management company, has acquired on behalf of mutual funds or other client accounts managed by it, an aggregate of 10 million units of Leisure Canada Inc. at a price of 20 cents per unit pursuant to Leisure Canada’s previously announced brokered private placement. Each unit comprises one common share in the capital of Leisure Canada and one-half of one common share purchase warrant. Each warrant entitles the holder to purchase one common share at an exercise price of 25 cents per common share. This represents an approximate 6.91-per-cent interest on an undiluted basis or, assuming the conversion of all warrants held, an approximate 10.02-per-cent interest in Leisure Canada. In addition, Dundee owns 1.3 million common shares of Leisure Canada. Following this transaction, Dundee together with Ravensden, owns directly and indirectly, or has control and direction over, an aggregate of 11.3 million common shares and five million warrants of Leisure Canada, which represents an approximate 7.81-per-cent interest on an undiluted basis or an approximate 10.88-per-cent interest assuming the conversion of all warrants held.

The position in Leisure Canada was acquired for investment purposes and may be increased or decreased in the future as considered appropriate in light of investment criteria, market conditions and other factors and in accordance with the provisions of applicable securities legislation. Ravensden Asset Management Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dundee.

Leisure Canada Inc. has closed the brokered private placement previously announced on July 13, 2009, issuing 71,582,535 units of the company at a price of 20 cents per unit, raising total gross proceeds of $14,316,507, of which $5-million represents the bought portion of the offering and $9,316,507 represents the initial exercise of the option. The offering was brokered by a syndicate of underwriters co-led by Dundee Securities Corp. and Paradigm Capital Inc., and including Northern Securities. The underwriters have the option to place up to an additional 28,417,465 units for additional gross proceeds of up to $5,683,493, at the sole discretion of the underwriters, exercisable in whole or in part at any time up to Aug. 27, 2009.

Each unit comprises one common share and one-half of one common share purchase warrant of the company. Each warrant is exercisable to acquire one additional common share of the company at an exercise price of 25 cents until Dec. 31, 2010. The underwriters received a cash commission of $780,300. The underwriters were also issued 4,239,000 broker’s warrants. Each broker’s warrant will entitle the holder to acquire one unit of the company at an exercise price of 20 cents until Dec. 31, 2010. The unit shares, the warrants, the warrant shares and the securities comprising the broker units will be subject to a four-month hold period in Canada. Completion of the offering is subject to receipt by the company of all necessary regulatory approvals. The proceeds from the offering will be used for advancement of the company’s existing real estate development opportunities in Cuba and for general corporate purposes.

The company also announces the following changes to management which are expected to occur concurrent with the closing of the offering. Walter Berukoff has resigned as president and chief executive officer of the company. In his place, Robin Conners has been appointed as president and CEO. Mr. Conners joined the board of directors of the company on July 2, 2009. Mr. Berukoff will remain as executive chairman and will continue his involvement in the strategic management of the company.

Havana – DTC – Authorities in the central Cuban province of Cienfuegos have designed a series of activities at the dolphinarium during the summer season. The dolphinarium offers two shows a day and the possibility of swimming with dolphins, among other options. In addition, Cuban and foreign visitors can have photos of their interaction with the animals during the swim, and during the dolphins’ performance, which is one of the best in Caribbean Island. Every year, trainers renew the acrobatic repertoire and make changes in the program to guarantee repeated attendance. Inaugurated eight years ago, the dolphinarium is located on the road to the Pasacaballo Hotel. It is inhabited by seven specimens of Tursiups truncatus, also known as bottlenose dolphins.

VARADERO, Cuba – (Reuters) – Floating, cocktail drink in hand, in the pool of a five-star hotel in Cuba, Alexis basks in a holiday experience that for years was out of reach for him in his own homeland. The pastel-colored hotel buildings, the well-ordered gardens, the turquoise waters and the perpetually smiling waiters — all just 84 miles east of his home in Havana. So near, and yet for many years, so far away. Until last year, Cuba’s communist government prevented its citizens from entering hotels reserved for hard currency-paying foreign tourists. It argued that tourism was a strategic revenue sector and that widening access would create inequalities in a socialist society, where most earn inconvertible Cuban pesos.

The tourist hotels, whose services, shops and restaurants are a world away from the hardships and shortages experienced by most Cubans, remained largely out of bounds for ordinary citizens. This prohibition angered most Cubans, who considered it made them second-class citizens in their own homeland. But when President Raul Castro took over from his ailing older brother Fidel Castro last year, one of his first acts was to end the ban and open all facilities to Cubans. The change was widely popular even though most islanders still can not afford to stay at the tourist hotels. “Let me tell you, this is great,” said Alexis, an employee of a state-run Havana hard currency store who declined to give his full name, as his girlfriend returned from the bar with more “mojito” cocktails — a tropical mix of lime juice, Cuban rum, and mint leaves.

In the years immediately following the 1959 revolution, Cuban workers were allowed into the island’s premier resorts, yet the need to earn much-needed hard currency led to the development again of a more exclusive foreign tourism sector, especially over the last 15 years. But the global financial crisis has taken a big bite out of Cuba’s international tourism, so the Cuban travel industry, seeking to boost occupation in half-empty hotels, has begun offering reduced-price package deals to Cubans. At $70 a night for an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero, Cuba’s premier beach resort, prices are well below what foreigners pay, but still out of reach for most Cubans struggling to make ends meet on state salaries that average less than $20 a month.

According to Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero, Cubans have accounted for 10 percent of occupancy at Cuba’s high-end hotels this summer. The opening of a domestic market is giving more visibility to an emerging class of wealthier Cubans who have hard currency in their pockets and are eager to sport the colored wristbands of the fancy all-inclusive hotels. The new Cuban internal tourists are professionals, technicians working for foreign joint ventures and people receiving dollar remittances from relatives living abroad.

“Before a foreigner would ask us about Varadero and we did not know what to say,” recalls Roberto Garcia, a 43-year-old engineer who arrived from Havana with his family of six. “Now, if you have the money, you can do it.” Without precise official figures on revenue from internal Cuban tourism, it is difficult to gauge just how much of a boost this new access is giving to the cash-strapped economy. But to the extent that Cuban tourist spending increases the flow of dollars to the island — by, for example, family members in Miami financing a trip to Varadero for their Cuban relatives — it is helpful, said Cuba expert Paolo Spadoni.

“Financing from abroad might also play quite an important role,” said Spadoni, a post-doctoral fellow at Tulane University’s Center for Inter-American Policy and Research. Some Cubans interviewed on a recent trip to Varadero said expenses were paid by relatives visiting from the United States, a flow which is up 20 percent since U.S. President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions in April on Cuban-Americans visiting the island.

But Obama has made clear he will keep a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in place for the moment to press Cuban leaders to improve human rights and political freedoms. Havana, while agreeing to talks on migration and other issues, has said it will not make “concessions” for improved ties.  With the help of foreign investors, Cuba reluctantly developed its tourism industry in the mid-1990s in response to the deep economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, its chief benefactor and ally for decades.

“All the money made here is for the people,” proclaims a banner at the entrance to Varadero, a 12-mile-long peninsula of white-sand beaches lined with big hotels.  This slogan reflects the long-used government argument that tourism revenues are employed to benefit all of Cuba’s people by helping to pay for free health care and education.  Cuba has some 55,000 hotel rooms managed by the state, many in association with foreign hotel heavyweights such as Sol Melia of Spain, the French firm Accor or Jamaica’s Sandals Resorts.  Attracted by its beaches and enduring revolutionary mystique, 2.3 million foreign tourists, mostly from U.S. allies Canada and in Europe, visited Cuba last year, which brought the island $2.5 billion in revenues and made tourism one of Cuba’s main sources of hard currency.

President Raul Castro said in a speech earlier this month that the number of international tourists is up, but revenues are down compared to last year.  Both numbers are expected to grow if the U.S. Congress approves a proposed bill that would allow all Americans to freely visit Cuba, currently prohibited by the U.S. embargo against the island 90 miles from Key West, Florida.  But for now, Cuba is looking to Cubans to keep its hotels humming, and people like Alexis are happy to help.  “This is just fantasy. Real life starts again on Monday when we get back to Havana,” he said between sips of a last “mojito” as the sun set over Varadero.

Jamaica, W.I. – The Gleaner – If ever you want to paint the town red, there are more places to go out to in Havana than you can shake either a stick or a leg at. And Cuba’s capital city could do with a coat of paint – so no trouble there. One of the best is Las Canitas bar/disco at the Habana Libre Hotel. This is a fantastic high-rise hotel, modern in design (in a 1950s way) with a very high quality finish – though now a somewhat dog-eared. It has an immense lobby with a huge ceiling, dramatic polka-dotted sunroof over the spectacular fountain, marble floors in contrasting black and white and a floating staircase that takes you up to the easy-going club on the second floor.

The hotel was completed in 1958, just in time for Fidel Castro to claim it as his headquarters following the triumph of the revolution on January 1, 1959. Photos of Fidel and his dishevelled, army-booted rebels marching into the new, plush hotel and making themselves comfortable hang on the lobby wall. The end result of ‘American modern’ combined with ‘communist revolution’ brings a surreal ‘George Jetson meets Fidel Castro’ kind of feel to the place.

If you feel particularly prosperous and want to impress the pants off of your date (not literally, of course) go up to the Libre’s roof top to the very swanky El Turquino. It’s so classy that the bathrooms have toilet seats – a rarity in Havana. The club is too expensive for most, except for tourists with deep pockets – so don’t expect to see many Cubans. But the floor show under the stars is fantastic, with a great band and beautiful models showing off Cuban couture. The view is amazing as (like the prices of the drinks) the club is sky-high.

Casa de Musica is famous and something like Quad I suppose, if you stretch your imagination a bit – except with live salsa music. There is a big dance floor and lots of tables and chairs on a platform where you can watch the show in comfort. OK – maybe it’s nothing like Quad. Top bands like Los Van Van (think Cuba’s answer to Byron Lee and the Dragonaires) often play here.

For an outdoor party with a Frenchmen’s feel, travel to La Cecilia in exclusive Miramar – a really thumping place, especially if the very popular P.M.M. is playing. P.M.M. (pronounced pe -eme- eme) plays all over town bringing their music, dancers, models and even comedians. La Cecilia is packed with several hundred well-dressed-Cubans and (less well-dressed) tourists drinking and chatting, with a few dancing to the tunes of the video jockey. The show’s highlight is when brave male tourists from various nations are paired with beautiful Cubanas for some salsa dancing. Apart from the Cubanas, it’s not a pretty site. But it is quite humorous, especially when the unsuspecting tourists – not necessarily the finest of specimens – are called upon to lift and twirl their partners above their heads, a la Dirty Dancing.

Alternatively, head to the top-rate Rojo Salon at the rather sad-looking Hotel Capri, close to the famous Hotel Nacional. P.M.M. was playing when we went – and admission was a hefty CUC$30, or about J$3,000. The place was packed mainly with fashionably dressed Cubans – which just goes to show that they are much wealthier than we think. Ice-cold Heinekens were going like hot bread, as were room-temperature bottles of Chivas Regal. Watch out for Cubans who fancy your chica, though – not to mention the occasional transvestite who may prefer you.

Everywhere you go people are dancing and you can spot the tourists a mile off, even those with experience in the salsa discipline. So go ahead and dance the night away – there are enough of your ilk for you to get away with it. And perhaps your Jamaican sense of rhythm will be enough to make you shine against those from more northern climes.

HAVANA, Cuba – (acn) – Cuba and Ecuador signed an agreement in Quito that extends the one already in place on bilateral preferential customs  duties by choosing 400 items from each country which will incur no  duty. Cuban and Ecuadorian Deputy Foreign Trade Ministers Orlando Hernandez and Julio Coleas, respectively, where in charge of the signing of the agreement in the presence of the Cuban Ambassador to Ecuador Benigno Perez and their respective delegations.

This agreement fulfils the commitment made by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa during his visit to Havana last January, reported Prensa Latina news agency. On this occasion, both countries gave each other preferential customs duties and established the coordination mechanisms in order to assure their products have an entry to their respective destinations. The new agreement establishes facilities in the origin regime, along withother dispositions in the settlement of disputes and phytosanitary measures, all of which improves the conditions for commercial exchange. It also boosts the Administrative Commission of the agreement, in a way that can promote the reciprocal knowledge of the businessman in both countries.

Havana – DTC – Experts in the eastern province of Camagüey are administering a Cuban drug, Heberprot-P, to treat diabetic patients with lesions in their lower limbs. The drug, obtained through biotechnology, speeds up the cicatrization of ulcers caused by diabetic foot, which cannot be treated using traditional methods. Heberprot-P also reduces complications such as gangrene and the need for amputation, so it is a major achievement in medicine. The Cuban drug is injected in the lesion to guarantee a successful treatment. Nearly 12,000 diabetic patients in Cuba suffer from some kind of lesion, thus the importance of spreading the use of Heberprot-P in all hospitals.

St. Petersburg Times – AGUAS CLARAS, Cuba – Cuba’s leaders are counting on Alberto Romero’s eight cows to help turn around the island’s struggling socialist economy. Private farmers like Romero, who belongs to a 219-member cooperative near the eastern city of Holguin, were overshadowed for years by Cuba’s emphasis on large state farms. But the government recently began handing out idle state land to private farmers across the island in an effort to boost food production. “The government has put its faith in us, and we will show what we are capable of,” said Romero, whose 20-acre plot has been in his family for 103 years.

Cuba is hoping that private farmers can literally plow the island out of a huge $11 billion trade deficit this year caused by rising food import costs and falling exports. The policy marks a major shift away from inefficient state farms that once occupied the lion’s share of the island’s agricultural land. “The land is there! Here are the Cubans. Let’s see if we work or not, if we produce or not!” exclaimed President Rául Castro last month at a rally in Holguin. Castro has made raising food production a national security priority, noting that the area of cultivated land fell 33 percent from 1997 to 2008. He told the crowd in Holguin that Cuba’s poor agricultural output could not be blamed on the U.S. economic embargo alone. “It’s not a question of shouting, ‘Homeland or death, down with imperialism, the embargo hurts us.’ The land is there, waiting for our sweat.”

Despite being an agricultural nation with plentiful sun, soil and rain, Cuba produces barely 30 percent of the food it needs, due to an acute lack of resources and the inefficiency of its state farm sector. About 250,000 small family farms and 1,100 cooperatives till only about one-quarter of the land, yet still manage to outperform the state farms, producing almost 60 percent of crops and livestock, according to official figures. “The last 50 years have shown that private farmers are more socialist than the state. State farms are antisocialist. The only thing they socialized is loss-making,” said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a former state economic adviser who is now a vocal critic of the government.

Since the redistribution of farmland began last year, Cuba says 110,000 people have submitted applications and about 80 percent have been granted, totaling 1.7 million acres. But the new program has been slow to get going. Three devastating hurricanes last year wiped out vast swaths of productive farmland. Though milk production has risen significantly, overall agricultural production fell by 7.3 percent in the first quarter of 2009, and meat production fell by 14.7 percent. While it may be too early to judge the results of the program, analysts say it is running into familiar problems. “There is too much control and bureaucracy that hinders everything,” Espinosa Chepe said. “It’s impregnated with a 50-year-old operating method that is built on taking orders and is not used to decentralization. “There need to be more incentives,” he said.

Private farmers and cooperatives manage their own land but must sell part of their produce to the state at government prices, which are generally half the market value. Private farmers also lack direct access to equipment and tools, as well as fertilizer and pesticides, all controlled by the state. Opening the farm sector to more foreign capital would help Cuba acquire new technology and markets, analysts say. But Cuba complains that the U.S. embargo limits its access to foreign capital, as well as cheap pesticides and heavy farm equipment.

Javier Pérez, 40, a plantain grower near Guanabacoa, welcomes the state’s rekindled interest in private farmers. “We were a bit forgotten about in the past,” he said. He earns good money selling to farmers’ markets in Havana after he meets his government quota. In return, the state provides him with subsidized fertilizer and irrigation equipment. The adjacent land he recently obtained from the state will help him raise his production by 25 percent more. Less regulation would be better, he agrees. “The more independent you are, the more you push yourself,” he said. “Why work harder if you don’t get any benefit?”

Cuba’s state-run newspaper Granma recently added its weighty voice to the farm debate, highlighting the success of a 100-acre cooperative farm in Bejucal, about 25 miles south of Havana. “If the worker is not content in his job and you don’t pay him for his results, you don’t achieve anything,” cooperative president Lázaro Hernández told the paper, saying he paid his 20 employees 780 pesos a month ($32.50), more than twice the average national wage. Their wages, and share of produce, increase if they exceed production targets. “If the salary is fixed, the worker will just show up and do his day’s work, but he won’t be interested in getting the most out of it. If he has a percentage, it all changes,” he said.

Such quasi-free-market language wasn’t heard much in Cuba until recently. But Rául Castro has shown a pragmatic streak on economic matters, trying to improve state efficiency. In July 2008 he surprised many by advocating a shift away from the orthodox socialist concept of equal pay, arguing that those who were more productive should be paid more. Romero is optimistic. In eight years, his cooperative hopes to increase its milk output almost tenfold. But to do that, he cautioned, they need state help to buy expensive cereal feed, as well as seeds for better pasture. Artificial insemination would also improve their herds. “If we don’t achieve it, we will be really close,” Romero said, raising a glass of aliñao, a homemade liquor of sugarcane and fruit. “We have to keep the revolution moving forward. There is no turning back.”

HAVANA TIMES – Every few months toilet paper becomes scarce in the Cuban capital, where people are accustomed to cutting up old newspapers to fill the gap.  This deficit can last for weeks, until the centralized importation mechanism manages to make another purchase and the inflexible distribution chain supplies it to the stores. Several news publications, starting with USA Today, have run stories on the current shortage. When toilet paper finally appears again, lines will form at shopping centers and other stores for consumers to stock up. Everybody knows the routine. Why does this problem recur at least a few times a year? While such information is not made known to the public, it symbolizes the gaps between producers or importers, distributors, retailers and the bureaucrats signing the checks -virtually all State-owned companies and institutions.

The rigid specialization of each aspect of getting the product on store shelves means that if any rung in the ladder fails or somebody miscalculates, the public suffers the consequences, since the other rungs are not empowered to act on their own. Likewise, when making purchases on such a large scale it’s easy to make a mistake on the quantities or the distribution.  Since purchase plans often appear to be overly strict, any error is paid for by 11.2 million Cubans.  If anyone takes the time to complain they can expect the US blockade to inevitably be the catch-all excuse for the situation.

And while Cuba’s newspapers do the job when the TP is out, they too are scarce and don’t come close to meeting the demand. USA Today noted that Cuba imports TP and produces its own, but doesn’t have the raw materials to make it at this moment.  The government is short on cash, notes the newspaper, adding that during the current global economic crisis Cuba is spending more for imports and receiving less for its exports.

Havana – DTC – Cuban agricultural authorities are promoting the use of organic fertilizers to guarantee the necessary inputs to produce food. A center that produces organic fertilizers operates in central Sancti Spiritus province. The center prepares part of the organic matter used in the region, including worm humus, vegetal substrate and compost. Every year, the center produces 12,000 tons of compost, nearly 500,000 tons of vegetal nitrate and 200 tons of worm humus. The latter is an excellent organic fertilizer for vegetables, flowers, tobacco and fruit trees.

The Globe and Mail – Toronto – When I entered the bank at the upscale Havana hotel, there were dozens of people waiting for three tellers. There was no discernible queue, only locals clustered around, chatting amongst themselves – they clearly knew they had a long time to wait. I asked around in my heavily accented Spanish to see where I should stand in order to exchange my Canadian currency, until finally a short stocky man in a blue baseball cap stepped out from behind the crowd and said to me, “I’m the last one in line. I’m el ultimo.”

If you’ve ever been to Havana – or anywhere in Cuba, really – then you may know that Cubans have endless patience for waiting in line. This likely developed out of necessity: In Cuba it’s not unheard of to wait several hours to get to the front of the line at the bank, a supermarket or even an ice-cream parlour.  I’d imagine the system has its frustrations, especially if you’re standing in line somewhere like Coppelia – Havana’s famous ice-cream parlour, located in a park in the newer area of the city called Vedado. The line goes all the way around the park, and you can stand there all day if you’re a local – but if you’re a tourist and paying in convertible pesos (as opposed to the less-valued Cuban pesos) then you can butt right in front.

But Cubans are nothing if not inventive, and they’ve developed a system. It goes something like this: Walk into a shop/bank/pizza place and make your presence known by calling out the question, “El ultimo?” Meaning, “Who is the last one in line?” “Remember to scream it out loudly so everyone can hear. Someone will then respond “Yo” or “Yo soy el ultimo.” (“Me,” or “I’m the last one in line.”) Play the reverse role when the next person walks in, make a mental note of who’s in front of you and behind you. Then leave.  Here’s the tricky part: If you leave, you have to estimate how long it’ll take and be sure to get back before your turn comes up. If you miss it, there are no take-backs. Cubans have it down to an art, perhaps because the system has been around for eternity – or at least as far as many locals remember.

One man in his 30s told me it’s an idiosyncrasy that developed some time after the revolution, when things became scarce and queues became long. It makes perfect sense: If you want to hit the bank, supermarket and grab an ice cream all in one day, then you’d better multitask.  I, on the other hand, was not as adept at playing the system. At the bank where I was trying to exchange my Canadian currency, I went to take a breather and came back. But upon my return, I couldn’t find the man who was in front of me. I was panic-stricken. I didn’t know if he’d left, or worse, taken off the blue baseball cap that I had identified him by. Fortunately, the woman behind me remembered the two people ahead of her in line, both me and the man in front of me – who, indeed, had simply taken off his hat. Was it luck, or is it standard procedure to memorize two people ahead of you? More likely, she just realized I was a clueless turista.

Havana – DTC – Cuban agricultural authorities are promoting a new productive modality to increase food production for the domestic market. The initiative consists of plowing the land close to cities and towns, in a 2-10-kilometer radius, to bring food closer to the communities. Vegetables, organic fertilizers, biocontrols, seeds and containers, among other items, will be supplied locally to make a rational use of resources. The first steps in this strategy will be taken in 16 municipalities of the country. The initiative will be implemented later in the rest of the national territory. The program is part of the urban agriculture project, which is aimed at increasing production of vegetables and condiments.

The Examiner – Orbitz, the travel website based in Chicago, recorded its 70,000th signer late last month to a  petition calling on the Obama administration to overturn the roughly 50-year-old U.S. ban on travel by Americans to Cuba. Securing that number of petition signers occurred less than three months after the campaign began. Orbitz Worldwide spokesman Brian Hoyt said one aim of http://www.OpenCuba.org is to attract 100,000 signers.

Hoyt said Orbitz would then present the petitions to elected officials in Washington, D.C. in the fall. In starting the petition drive, Orbitz took a calculated risk since Cuba travel is controversial and big companies often prefer to steer clear of hot-button issues that can provoke protests, includling boycotts. But Orbitz’s feeling is that regardless of Americans’ stance on the Cuban regime — and viewpoints vary — it is wrong to restrict Americans’ basic freedom to travel. After all, there are no barriers on travel to China, also an authoritarian regime, for example.

In stepping out on its own on this issue, Orbitz has picked up some support in the travel industry. Supporters of the drive include Cuban-American organizations, as well as the National Tour Association, the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. The Cuban American Commission for Family Rights and the Cuban American Alliance are among the endorsers of the Orbitz effort.

But so far peers of Orbitz, including Travelocity, PriceIine and Expedia, and a broader swath of travel companies and associations haven’t followed Orbitz’s lead and stepped forward on this issue of such import to the rights of Americans and to the well-being of the travel industry. It would be in these companies’ own self-interest to get involved since Americans likely would flock to Cuba for vacation getaways and cruises once the U.S. government lifted the ban, authorized U.S. travel companies to book trips there, and the necessary infrastructure were in place. The Obama administration already took steps earlier this year to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba.

Some Americans are seeking to test the legality of the ban even as it remains in force. Erika Crenshaw returned to Los Angeles recently from a 10-day trip to Cuba with a message for authorities charged with enforcing a ban on travel to the communist-ruled island: Come and get me. With its petition drive, and accompanying travel promotion, Orbitz hopes to prod Congress and the Obama administration to ease the restrictions for all Americans.

Havana – DTC – Authorities in the eastern Cuban province of Ciego de Avila are promoting artificial fish raising for domestic consumption. The company CIEGOPLAST is supplying floating cages of polyethylene to increase fish production. According to experts, the first fish-raising farm produced 23 tons of tilapias in 270 days. The same amount is produced in 80 traditional cages. So far, 19 polyethylene cages have been made and there are plans to build more to boost the initiative. These kinds of cages allow farmers to follow up the productive process regarding the fish’s growth, health and food, thus making it easier for them to control the process, the experts added.

Cuba: Gardening its Way Out of Crisis – Sunlight brightens the paved streets and historic buildings of Havana, Cuba, bouncing off the tents of vendors and the tin drums of a street band. Once stricken by poverty and inequality, the city has slowly blossomed as a result of the bustling enterprise of urban agriculture. Between buildings and behind street walls, in every green space available, locals have cultivated crops, utilizing the techniques of sustainable urban farming. After years of isolation from the United States and the former Soviet Union, Cuba has independently fostered development of urban agriculture and now provides an environment of growth and structure for its economic, social and political policies.

Cuba is the only country in the world that has developed an extensive state-supported infrastructure to support urban food production. Functionally, this system was established in response to acute food shortages in the early 1990s, which occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the island was forced to find an alternative manner of cultivating crops. Havana has established and expanded on this innovative model since this time, and it continues to lead the island nation in its quest for self-sufficiency. The increasing prevalence of urban agriculture benefits the economy, environment, community and health of Cuban citizens.

Cuba turned to urban agriculture out of necessity. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the termination of trade with the Soviet-based Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), the industrial agriculture on which Cuba had relied since the 1970s disappeared. Almost overnight, diesel fuel, gasoline, trucks, agricultural machinery, spare parts for trucks and machinery, as well as petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides, became very scarce commodities. Like many large metropolitan centers, Havana was a food consumer city, completely dependent upon comestible imports from the Cuban countryside and abroad. Havana had no food production sector or infrastructure, and had little land dedicated to cultivate this vital industry. In light of the severe agricultural crisis, a shift to urban agriculture seemed an obvious and necessary solution. Urban production minimized transportation costs and smaller-scale operation decreased the need for machinery.

Urban agriculture necessitated production sites near highly populated areas, and at the same time avoided the use of toxic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, which were no longer available. Although Castro began installing organoponicos (rectangular-walled constructions containing a mixture of soil and compost) in military facilities in 1987, it was not until the end of 1991 that the first “civilian” organoponico began operation. This governmental experiment prepared at least some parts of the Cuban institutional structure for the impending food crisis. By 1994, an organization was created to oversee the systematic introduction of organoponicos along with intensive gardens into urban agriculture. Since the development of urban agriculture in Havana, production has increased exponentially, with the harvest of fresh herbs and vegetables jumping a thousand fold from 4,000 tons to 4.2 million tons between 1994 to 2005. The introduction of locally grown, organic agricultural products has significantly benefitted the typical Cuban diet.

The environment of Cuba’s cities has immensely profited in terms of both climate change and aesthetics. Plots that were previously eyesores and de facto garbage dumps have been transformed into productive land. The social and economic environment has enjoyed the creation of sizeable sources of urban employment as well as the robust incorporation of women and youth into the workforce. Although Havana constitutes only 0.67 percent of the total area of the island, 20 percent of Cuba’s population is concentrated in the capital. The immense agricultural production capable in this small area could be considerable. This production rate is largely due to the overarching organizational structure of Havana’s urban agricultural model. Clearly fundamental to the success of this paradigm is the coherent, central direction that the socialist government provides.

In spite of this collective approach, a certain amount of decentralization exists allowing citizens wide pathways to guide marketing and production. The central government offers support and an organizational backbone, while the decentralized arms furnished by the planning model permit decision-making to be made by producers and encourage local solutions to local problems. Thus, urban agriculture in Havana is a model of urban self-sufficiency worthy of imitation. By incorporating modern farming methods into its economy, Cuba has experienced considerable advancements that have allowed the country to address many of its structural as well as life-style shortcomings, particularly the security of its people, the environment and the economy. The former food-supply problem plunged the Cuban economy into a downward spiral of hunger and despair. However, by fostering agricultural awareness, the country was able to attain enhanced levels of food sovereignty and security. This increased allocation of edibles has contributed enormously to the opening of society.

Resources are now accessible and affordable to the general public and the creation of infrastructure accommodates more labor and increased wages. Thus, the changes Cuba has made have generated a positive interaction between the community and economy. Many worry whether Cuba’s budget and planning services will be able to maintain its commitment to urban agriculture and sustainable methods, as the country enters the global economy and faces pressures to restructure its economic and political system, especially as Washington nears a decision to lift the U.S.- Cuba trade embargo. As the economy opens, the tourism industry and multinational food corporations will compete for urban land and attempt to flood the Cuban market with cheap imported food products that could undermine the urban agricultural system. Havana must develop policies that will protect their growing agricultural sector, but also allow for international influence and trade to flourish.

Although the opening of trade relations threatens local food production, Cuba’s success in the agriculture industry makes it a substantial contender in the global market. Its products are competitively priced and thus, have the ability to generate a considerable profit for the island nation. Not only will increased participation in international trade boost revenue, but it could also promote social reform in the country. Cuba’s urban centers, once underdeveloped and filthy, are now encouraging progressive goals, targeting rising living standards and sanitation concerns, while promoting national initiatives that will support future improvements in the urban landscapes.

Cuba’s successful implementation of urban agriculture should serve as a model for other developing countries, particularly in Latin America. By embracing more modern and effective methods of farming, countries theoretically have the opportunity to transform their local markets, augmenting the labor force and cultivating capital and infrastructure. Introduction to the global market would allow a country like Cuba to become an important economic actor, ultimately expanding its profits through competitive transactions and trade. Considering the increasingly overbearing nature of contemporary power-house economies, as well as the improvements that would address many of the social and economic issues that plague struggling nations, Latin America, as well as other regions, should acknowledge the practicality of a low intensity urban approach to agriculture, if only as a supplement to other major approaches.

Agricultural urbanization is not only inevitable, but also may be the best available option in ensuring food sovereignty and security for increasing populations, and facilitating economic opportunities for the poor. The prospect of growth and development, as well as increased global cooperation and communication, should serve as incentive for industrializing countries to integrate and harmonize urban agriculture into their local communities. (This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associates Christina Conell and Tara Patel)

Havana – DTC – The refinery at the Julio Antonio Mella sugar factory, in eastern Santiago de Cuba province, benefited from technological improvement to increase production. Improvements include the installation of a conveyor to transport bulk sugar and guarantee production after the sugar harvest is over. The refinery produced 200,600 tons of refined sugar during the harvest, and there are plans to produce up to 7,000 tons by November. Sugar is transported by train and trucks to the refinery. Refined sugar is used to make rum, liqueurs and candies, among other products. The plant also produces electricity for the National Power System.

Havana – DTC – The Camagüey Ballet Company, based in the eastern province of the same name, is one of the best exponents of Cuban culture in that region. After performing in December 2007, it became the second major company of classic dance in Cuba. The company has staged more than 250 choreographies and has performed in several countries since the 1970s. The Camagüey Ballet Company’s excellent quality has been acknowledged in classic and modern choreographies such as “Giselle”, “Coppelia”, “La Fille Mal Gardée”, and the pas de deux of “Diana and Acteon”, “Don Quixote” and “Swan Lake”. In addition, several of its dancers have performed with world-renowned companies such as the Ballet of Fine Arts of Mexico, the Ballet of Monterrey, the Ballet of Trujillo and the Royal Ballet of Wallonie.

Havana – DTC – The Cuban capital will host the International Festival CIRCUBA in August. The contest will be held at the Cuban circus company’s venue at the Isla de Coco Amusement Park. Later, the award winners will perform at the Trompoloco Big Top and in theaters and squares in other Cuban cities. The jury, made up of Cuban and foreign experts, will grant awards in several categories, and the accredited press will grant the Critic’s Award. Jugglers, tightrope walkers, magicians, gymnasts, trapeze artists and clowns from Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Ghana, in addition to Cuba, have confirmed participation in the festival.

Havana – DTC – Cuba, a fast-growing tourist destination in the Caribbean, also offers its natural wealth, which complements traditional sun and beach options for national and foreign tourists. Health tourism is one of the most attractive tourist modalities in Cuba, where foreign vacationers come to improve their quality of life. Several hotels and health facilities are available for medical treatments, including medicinal waters. One of those places is San Diego de los Baños, in western Pinar del Río province. The place earned its fame in 1632, when a slave discovered the medicinal qualities of the region’s springs.

According to history, Taita Domingo, a slave freed by his masters because his skin was very sick, was wandering from village to village.  One day he found a spring called La Gallina, whose medicinal waters relieved his wounds and even cured them. That event marked the beginning of a new period in that western Cuban town. From then on, people suffering from skin diseases began to arrive in the small town to treat their wounds, thus promoting the attractions of Pinar del Río. Bath with waters with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties are combined with therapies with mud from the mouth of the San Diego river, and complemented with acupuncture. A building from the 1950s and some 20 pools to provide medical treatments are located some 50 meters away from the Mirador Hotel.

The hotel, inaugurated in 1948, was named after an old Spanish-colonial construction used as a lookout, from where the region’s pristine nature and local flora and fauna can be seen. San Diego de los Baños has been visited by prominent Cuban and foreign personages, including German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and Francescho Antomache, who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s personal doctor. Among the Cuban figures who visited San Diego de los Baños were author Cirilo Villaverde, who wrote a masterpiece in Cuban literature, “Cecilia Valdés”, and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who was the president of the Republic in Arms during the 1868 war of independence. In that context, rest is combined with miraculous waters from the region’s springs to create a one-of-a-kind option for those who need medical treatment and want to enjoy nature at the same time.

Havana – DTC – Cuban plastic artist Jorge Zaldívar will pay tribute to late singer and composer Benny Moré on his 90th birthday. Zaldívar will exhibit 17 artworks on the prominent Cuban musician. The exhibition will be held at the lobby of the Saint John’s Hotel, which belongs to the Cuban group Gran Caribe. Zaldívar used sawdust of precious timber to create his art, a technique that he has developed and that is unique in the world, in addition to being environmentally friendly. The program to honor Benny Moré will conclude in late August and includes a rumba party on Callejón de Hamel (Hamel’s Alley), in Havana.

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