Tag Archives: Cuban Marinas

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 – 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 – 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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Cuban News Digest – July 11, 2009

avana – DTC – The international airport on Cayo Coco, in Jardines del Rey (King’s Gardens), has improved access for thousands of foreign tourists who visit that region every year. Inaugurated in December 2002, the airport had handled 2.3 million passengers until May 2009, reporting an average stay of 17 minutes at the terminal. The airport’s runway, which has an international standard size, allows large planes to land and depart.  At present, the airport receives planes of the companies Cubana de Aviación, Sunwing, Thomas Cook, Airtransat, Canjet and Air Canada. Flights come from Toronto, Montreal, Manchester, London and Buenos Aires, and the airport handles an average of 13 international operations a week, with possibilities to receive up to ten flights a day during the peak tourist season.

Music News – Alex Cuba – “Caballo” – Canada’s rising nueva-nueva trova star provides Exclaim! with an exclusive track from his forthcoming album due in October. What the hell is nueva-nueva trova? Take out the first “nueva” and you’ve got a term applied to Cuban singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s who were highly influenced by Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Cuba is the nu-soul equivalent to this sound of yesteryear. Cuba, whose real last name is Puentes, is one of the very few exponents of this large but lesser-known influence on Cuban pop culture.

Residing in BC, his two albums and continuous touring have paid dividends since he began his solo career in earnest five years ago. He secured a top ten hit in the UK with “Lo Mismo Que Yo” from his first album and has been moving on up like his towering afro ever since. “Caballo” is firmly in line with the smooth and funky sound from his first two albums, which have made him a fan favourite due to extensive touring. Though his music doesn’t sound experimental per se, his intimate croon and stripped down, nearly percussion-free sound are a radical departure from the majority of mass-marketed Cuban sounds.

Latin American Herald Tribune – HAVANA – Cuba’s communist government announced new labor measures to “stimulate jobs,” enable employees to increase their income and allow most workers to have more than one job. The reforms seek “the rational use of human resources” and are included in a decree approved by President Raul Castro and the Council of State, according to a communique published in the official media.

“An important part of this ruling is linked to the rational use of human resources and hiring to ease the effects of an aging population, stimulate jobs throughout society as well as providing workers with the chance to increase their income,” the note said. “The comprehensive regulation particularly mentions the possibility of multiple employment that will allow workers, after fulfilling the duties of their main jobs, to accept other employment for the corresponding wage,” the communique said.

Cubans earn roughly $17 a month on average, though they also receive free, universal health care and education, as well as some subsidized food and basic products with their ration card. Banned from holding second jobs are health-care personnel, researchers, educators and auditors, “except for the exercise of teaching jobs, scientific research and other undertakings that are approved by the express decision of the authority or agency that designated or chose them.” There is also the new possibility that students of working age can work part-time and get paid on the basis of “results,” as long as it doesn’t interfere with their education and the fulfillment of their obligatory social service upon graduation.

The decree specifies the requirements and conditions for the awarding of monetary benefits for maternity and acknowledges the right of workers to receive compensation for economic and moral damages when he or she is found to have been unjustly fined or disciplined. The reforms seek to adapt labor regulations to current circumstances on the island, where chronic economic hardships are getting even worse and there is a severe lack of liquidity, the government said. According to the communique, the decree “ratifies” the government’s readiness to “stimulate productive forces and make possible an increase of income.”

The government reduced from 6 percent to 2.5 percent its 2009 growth forecast because of the effects on the island of the global financial crisis, the $10 billion in damages from three hurricanes in 2008, the drop in revenues from exports and services and the increase in the cost of imports. Gen. Raul Castro, 78, became Cuba’s head of state in February 2008. He initially served as interim president after older brother Fidel, now 82, was stricken with a severe intestinal illness in July 2006. Since taking the reins, Raul has pushed to institute performance-based pay, a major departure from the radical egalitarianism championed by Fidel.

Gen. Castro says that boosting productivity is the only way to improve Cubans’ living standards. Performance-linked pay is a feature of the “enterprise perfection” model that Raul, then serving as defense minister, established more than 20 years ago in the companies managed by Cuba’s armed forces. For a time during the 1990s, Gen. Castro was even sending military officers to European business schools to prepare them for running state enterprises. “Enterprise perfection” implies the introduction of efficient systems in the organization of work, accounting, internal controls, quality control, the awarding of contracts, innovation and the management of costs, prices and systems of payment.

Havana – DTC – The Gran Hotel, in the city of Camagüey, the capital of the eastern Cuban province of the same name, is a major attraction for both national and foreign tourists. The hotel, located in the city’s historic heart and built seven decades ago, is one of Camagüey’s architectural relics. The establishment is housed in a former three-story building from the Spanish-colonial period. It was re-modeled and turned into a four-story hotel in the early 20th century. The hotel offers 72 eclectic rooms including Spanish elements that are part of the architecture of the city, also known as Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe. The hotel’s inner patio is decorated with arches and the halls are veneered in a Spanish-colonial style.

HAVANA – (Reuters) – Brazil said it would give Cuba up to $300 million in credits to start rebuilding the island’s port of Mariel, better known as the site of a 1980 Cuban exodus to the United States. Brazilian Industry and Trade Minister Miguel Jorge said $110 million had been approved by his government and the rest would likely be, as Brazil strengthens its ties with communist-led Cuba. He said in a news conference that construction, to be led by a Brazilian company, would begin “very soon” with the building of infrastructure including highways and a railroad for the port about 30 miles (50 km) west of Havana.

Brazilian officials said Cuba expects the entire port project, which will be built in several phases, to cost up to $2 billion. The first phase is projected to take four or five years to complete and cost $600 million, they said. Mariel was the scene of the massive boatlift from April to October 1980 when a flotilla of vessels from the United States picked up 125,000 Cubans after the Cuban government said anyone wanting to leave the island could do so. Now Cuba wants Mariel to serve as logistics center for its still-nascent offshore oil industry and to be equipped to handle shipments from around the world, including the United States, just 90 miles (145 km) to the north of Cuba.

U.S.-Cuban trade is restricted by a U.S. trade embargo imposed in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro led a revolution to topple a U.S.-backed dictator. Jorge, who was on the second day of a two-day visit to Cuba, said Brazil’s state-owned oil giant Petrobras (PETR4.SA)PBR.SA, which last October was awarded a bloc for oil exploration in Cuban waters, would open an office in Havana on Tuesday. He said Petrobras was completing seismic studies of the bloc and working on getting a drilling rig to Cuba. Jorge did not say when Petrobras expected to begin drilling. So far, only one test well has been drilled in Cuba’s offshore fields — by Spain’s Repsol-YPF (REP.MC) in 2004.

HAVANA – (IPS) – In another demonstration that it is impossible to hide anything in this socialist Caribbean island nation, the hottest video in Cuba today appears to show President Raúl Castro’s determination to root out certain vices and disloyalties, regardless of the rank of the people involved. While details of the scandal spread rapidly by word of mouth, not much is being said about the lessons arising from what was undoubtedly one of the most difficult situations faced by the Cuban government since the June 2006 retirement of former president Fidel Castro for health reasons.

As told to IPS by several members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), Raúl Castro’s moves were aimed at eliminating “test tube” leaders – a term that refers to young people who leapt from youth organisations to powerful positions – and at putting an end to parallel structures of power in order to strengthen the country’s institutions.  The president is also said to aver that he does not expect his ministers to be asking him what they should do at every turn, but to follow regulations and carry out the tasks entrusted to them, and report to him after reasonable periods, which according to his experience in the armed forces could be every six months.

With such pointers, President Castro is emphasising a personal style of leadership which, ever since his appointment as interim president, has sought greater efficiency, the decentralisation of functions and decision-making, and meticulous consideration of each and every decision before it is taken.  Viewed by now by thousands of members of the PCC and the Young Communist League, the video that is widely associated with the dismissal of former vice president Carlos Lage and former foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque also tarnishes a large group of the country’s former high officials.

They include Carlos Valenciaga, Fidel Castro’s former personal secretary, former vice president of the Council of Ministers Otto Rivero, former PCC international secretary Fernando Remírez, and the formers ministers of basic industry and trade, Martha Lomas and Raúl de la Nuez, respectively.  Disloyalty, erratic behaviour, dishonesty and abuse of power are the main charges against those involved, several of which were mentioned by the Cuban president himself at a Mar. 2 meeting of the PCC’s Politburo, which was filmed for the video.  But as far as is known, no extreme measures have been taken against the accused, beyond dismissal or release from their duties.

While several witnesses say that Lage is cooling his heels at home, put on what for decades has been known locally as the “pajama plan”, Pérez Roque is working as an electrical engineer in a factory, Lomas is working at a pharmaceutical laboratory and Valenciaga is employed at the National Library.  Those who attend the video showings are instructed not to take anything in with them, such as recording equipment of any kind, and the authorities have managed to prevent any leakage of the material for months. But the wide distribution of the video suggests the government wants its contents extensively divulged among the population.

Some persons have even said that they went to see the video knowing that they could not record it or take notes, but were allowed to tell others what they saw. “It was obvious. And it is right that it should be known that there are some things that cannot be done with impunity,” one member of the PCC told IPS.  Nevertheless, some feel the Cuban people have a right to more information, and ever since Lage and Pérez Roque were dismissed, many sectors have been calling for a full account. They expected at least a detailed editorial in the official newspaper, Granma.

The video portrays private meetings and parties, and contains recorded telephone conversations and other documents gathered in the course of an investigation which gradually involved people in high government positions, through their connections with a trade representative for the Basque Country province in Spain, an Italian businessman and a “disgruntled” Cuban. Conrado Hernández, perhaps the most notorious case, was from his youth a close friend of Lage’s. He used this friendship with the vice president to become the head of the Cuban office of the Society for Industrial Promotion and Reconversion (SPRI), an agency of the Basque provincial government.

But Hernández is accused of collaborating with Spain’s National Intelligence Centre (CNI). Although Madrid has denied this, it took measures among the embassy personnel in Havana after the scandal came out.  As a spy, Lage’s lifelong friend Hernández obtained information about investment priorities, the health of Fidel Castro, Cuban predictions for the Basque elections, and, apparently the last straw, the designation of José Ramón Machado as first vice president in the February 2008 elections. Lage was again implicated by his cousin Raúl Castellanos, who worked for Carlos Aldana’s team until he was dismissed in 1992. Aldana was the head of the ideological division of the PCC Central Committee, and was regarded as Cuba’s “number three.”

Although he went on to work as an adviser at the Cuban Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery, Castellanos was resentful about his dismissal and often criticised the Revolution in public. This led to an anonymous tip against him, and a secret service investigation.  The evidence presented by President Castro, after each denial or evasion by the accused, includes a recorded conversation in which they mock the historic leaders of the Revolution. Castellanos even says he wishes first vice president Machado were dead.  On the video presented by Castro, silence was the only response of the participants, including Lage.

Last, but not least, especially because of the potential implications for national security, is a case which, had it proved successful, would have meant handing over all rights to use Cuban ports to a foreign businessman.  Although Lage’s approval for the plan is not explicitly proven, several Party activists affirm that it was generally understood that there were no problems with Alfonso Lavarello, the Italian businessman involved; Lage had given the go-ahead on the deal, and everything had been authorised.

So it was that, without proper verification and control, a number of ministers signed the contract, in which the bulk of the earnings were allocated to the foreign businessman. Cuba subsequently cancelled the deal and now faces a lawsuit for millions of dollars.  As the video continues to circulate, and people retell hackneyed jokes about hidden microphones all over the place, the question that remains unanswered is why relatively respected leaders took to behaving as if their positions of power made them automatically unassailable.

Havana – DTC – Scuba diving and snorkeling, bird watching and nature tourism are some of the options at Los Caimanes national marine park. The park, 99 percent of which is underwater, is located in the provinces of Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus and Ciego de Avila, and has a high tourist potential. Vacation packages include tours of the coral reefs, which cover 15 percent of the seabed, and excursions to canals between mangroves. That region of the Atlantic Ocean is inhabited by 40 species of corals, 64 percent of those reported in Cuba, and more than 400 varieties of fish, algae, sponges, coelenterates, mollusks and echinoderms. Experts from the Center for Environmental Studies and Services pointed out that the promotion of tourism is complemented by sustainable development and the protection of the region’s biodiversity.

Gazette Times – Corvallis – A brightly colored bus is making its way through Oregon and headed south to Texas on its way to Cuba. Pastors for Peace, a group dedicated to taking humanitarian aid to Cuba while challenging the United States’ blockades of the country, passed through Corvallis on Tuesday. Among the participants are Corvallis City Councilor Mike Beilstein and his son, Michael. It’s the fourth time Mike Beilstein has gone to Cuba with Pastors for Peace. “It’s mostly a civil rights issue for Americans,” Beilstein said. “We should be able to travel to places like Cuba.”

Raising awareness of the Cuban 5, five men convicted for espionage-related charges, is another aim of Pastors for Peace. The five were Cuban intelligence agents accused of infiltrating exile groups in the U.S. They have contended their trials in Miami were unfair. About 30 people enjoyed a vegetarian lunch and listened to a presentation by activist Alicia Jrapko of the International Committee for the Release of the Five. “This case has been completely silenced by the mainstream media,” Jrapko said.

The group collects donated medical supplies, construction tools and educational materials along the way. The caravan will join other volunteers in Texas to cross the border to Mexico. Supplies will be shipped to Cuba; participants will fly to Havana. Beilstein said that he is looking forward to the trip. Cuba’s health care and education system are better than ours, he said, and maybe that’s what the U.S. government is worried about: “The threat of a good example.”

The New York Times – NY – First North Korea. Then Vietnam. Now Cuba. The New York Philharmonic, continuing its travels in the Communist world, is seriously considering an invitation to perform for the first time in Havana. Philharmonic officials plan to travel to Cuba on Friday to look over logistics, the orchestra’s spokesman, Eric Latzky said. The visit would take place in late October, just a few days after the orchestra returns from an Asian tour that will include Vietnam, another first for the Philharmonic. In February 2008, it traveled to the isolated, totalitarian North Korea in a trip that drew wide publicity. In the wake of that visit, several Philharmonic officials had casual conversations with an ABC News official who has contacts with Cuban diplomats in Washington. The ABC official put the two sides together, unofficial contacts ensued, and a formal invitation came last week, Mr. Latzky said.

The Cuban visit would last three or four days, he said, and include two concerts. The Philharmonic’s incoming music director, Alan Gilbert, would conduct, as he will for the Asian tour just before. No repertory has been chosen, Mr. Latzky said. The orchestra and its current music director, Lorin Maazel, took some heat for agreeing to visit a repressive country with a poor record on human rights like North Korea. Mr. Latzky stressed that two congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Steve Israel, who have an interest in Cuban affairs, had given “very enthusiastic expressions of support.” He said he had no immediate comment on whether the Obama administration approved of the trip. “We’re not making the comparison to North Korea,” he added.

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s Centro Nacional de Biopreparados (BioCen) has developed and administered vaccines to diagnose and treat allergies. The production, stability, quality control and registration of the vaccines were presented at a meeting organized by BioCen, which produces the first anti-asthma vaccines patented in Cuba. Research is aimed at replacing the injectable vaccine for a sublingual vaccine, among other goals. So far, BioCen’s work has mainly focused on allergies caused by mites, but research is underway to find vaccines against food poisoning.

HAVANA – (Reuters) – To record his next hit El Micha, one of the rising stars of Cuba’s reggaeton music blending reggae, Latin and electronic rhythms, just has to knock on his neighbor’s door. A microphone plugged into an old computer in an apartment in Havana’s working-class suburb of Reparto Electrico serves as the studio where some of Cuba’s most successful reggaeton songs are recorded. “Reggaeton is unstoppable because it is recorded at home. It is totally independent,” says Michael “El Micha” Sierra, 27, a former basketball player whose bottom row of gold teeth flash when he gives one of his frequent broad smiles.

With little official support or air time on state-controlled radio, the songs Cuban reggaeton artists record in makeshift studios lined with egg cartons for sound insulation are mostly transmitted though homemade CDs and on computer flash memory sticks. That is how the tropical fever of reggaeton is sweeping Cuba, captivating its youth and enraging a cultural establishment alarmed by the vulgarity of some of its lyrics, which include phrases like “Coge mi tubo” (“Grab my pipe”) and “Metela” (“Stick it in”). “Cubans know about music and if they picked reggaeton they have to be respected. The people are the ones who decide,” said Sierra.

Reggaeton, a cocktail of reggae, Latin and electronic rhythms, first emerged in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s and has spread rapidly though Latin America. In Cuba, it is played on crowded buses, shakes neighborhood windows with its throbbing bass and packs discos night after night. Its vibrations even seem to be shaking Cuba’s cultural establishment, decades after the island shook the entertainment music world with its native-born mambo and cha cha cha. Like hip hop, its relative, reggaeton chronicles real life in the streets. But its popularity stems from a catchy, sensual rhythm that is perfectly suited for dance-crazy Cubans.

“Teachers and family cannot be naive regarding this matter,” warned state-controlled TV as it showed 6-year-olds doing covers of Puerto Rican reggaeton megastar Daddy Yankee. That was the latest sign of official alarm over what the authorities see as a vulgarization of Cuban culture. The official daily Juventud Rebelde called reggaeton a reflection of “neoliberal thinking” and Culture Minister Abel Prieto said it should be “pushed away.” “In the cultural world there is concern about the excessive popularity of reggaeton,” Julian Gonzalez, president of the National Council for Visual Arts, told Reuters.

But at a disco in Guanabo, a beach resort just east of Havana where El Micha played on a recent Sunday, 28-year-old kindergarten teacher Selene showed little sign of concern, however, shaking her hips frenetically to the music. “It is true, reggaeton can sometimes have vulgar lyrics. But I like it and dance it,” she said. “Come on. Do they want young people to dance danzon?” Some Cuban officials have suggested promoting more traditional Cuban dance rhythms like danzon, son and casino to counter the reggaeton offensive. “Declaring war on reggaeton would be a mistake. These are not times for that kind of response,” said Gonzalez.

He may be right, says Puerto Rican researcher Raquel Z. Rivera, co-editor of “Reggaeton,” a book recently published by Duke University Press. An attempt to ban it in Puerto Rico only made it more popular. “Cuban authorities are wary for the same reason as authorities in other countries — reggaeton tends to be hyper sexual and to glorify consumerism and fashion,” she said. Cuban reggaeton musicians say prejudices keep them off the recording labels and radio airwaves. Their music cannot be found in stores. Fans simply burn their own CDs. “In Cuba, reggaeton moves thanks to piracy,” said El Micha.

A beginner typically records at a makeshift studio for $2 an hour, burns as many CDs as he can afford to and spreads them around. Some became famous giving free CDs to taxi drivers. A few have achieved local success like Gente De Zona, Baby Lores or Kola Loka, and some even dream of breaking into the U.S. market including Elvis Manuel, a 19-year-old reggaeton star who disappeared last year while trying to cross the Florida Straits to the United States. But most just fly under the radar only to emerge at weekends for concerts at state-owned discos.

“Reggaeton is treading a fine line between official and unofficial/independent worlds,” said Geoff Baker, a lecturer at the University of London’s Royal Holloway College who has researched the topic in Cuba. Cuban reggaeton has a distinctive rhythm from its Puerto Rican roots, local musicians say. It is also less violent in its lyrics than the imported version. “My lyrics talk about what young people live without getting into politics, because I don’t really care about that. Reggaeton is music for people’s pleasure,” said El Micha as he got ready to go on stage.

Havana – DTC – Cuban agricultural authorities have taken actions to increase rice production and reduce imports of that vital food. In order to achieve that goal, investments have been made in processing plants in central Sancti Spiritus province to process the domestic harvest. As a result, new equipment has been installed to improve industrial yield and the quality of rice for the family shopping basket and the tourist sector. Cuban rice growers produce about 220,000 tons and according to plans, imports will decrease 29 percent this year.

Cultural Diplomacy News – Two cities, Havana and New York City, stand like bookends to her life.  One was the site of her exile while the other anchored her flight.  Asked what effect these two cities have on her, Maria ‘Luly’ de Lourdes Duke said that they both have contributed so much to how she sees the world.  Then she added with a knowing laugh, “They both give me energy, that’s for sure!”

The poignancy of the ‘Chelsea’ exhibition came through in Mrs. Duke’s voice when she explained it.  “This is the first major group show to be accepted by both countries…there hasn’t been an exhibition of this caliber in over 50 years”, Mrs. Duke said.  The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes has for years displayed work from artists all over the world, with the conspicuous exception of US artists due to the constraints of America’s embargo against the island.  Now, after years—too many years in Mrs. Duke’s view—United States artists have the chance to travel to Cuba to display their own work in the famous Havana museum.

For years Mrs. Duke has flatly opposed the United States’ embargo against her Cuban homeland and called for its removal.  Not one who is shy about her beliefs, she has publicly reiterated that US foreign policy towards Cuba is stagnant and has been for many years.  She noted that it has never addressed the needs of either the American or Cuban people.  Such views and pronouncements have not particularly endeared Mrs. Duke to powerful Cuban-American leaders and organizations, many of whom have a tradition of strict adherence to the embargo.

Although vilified by some members of her community because of her beliefs, she stood her ground.  Never considering herself a lone dissenter, she has been surrounded with other like-minded people whose artistic, musical, architectural and medical talents she saw were being stifled by the yoke of the embargo.  Nor was the embargo ever an accurate reflection of her values.  She has always been too dedicated to a community’s growth to support an embargo which is designed to divide.  Throughout my conversation with Mrs. Duke the idea of community was a theme which often undergirded many of her statements.

It is no wonder then that for over 30 years she has been actively involved with Boys & Girls Harbor, an organization located in New York City which provides education and character development programs to over 2,500 New York City children each year.  Today she sits as the organization’s Executive Vice President, and she can marshal evidence that the Harbor has positively contributed to raised education standards and better social services for its users.  Now her goal is to replicate that same model, bring that same level of community goodwill to Cuba.

She knows that to have any success in threading together the citizens of Cuban and the United States the embargo must first be removed.  Only then can the two societies realize that they each have a stake in the well-being of the other.  But Mrs. Duke knows that her task is to demonstrate that the two societies actually do have a stake in the other.  Despite a long standing embargo which has severed so many connections and left so many loose ends, Mrs. Duke believes that the two societies have much to share. ‘Chelsea’ is stitching those severed connections back together.  Loose ends are being re-tied and a tapestry, imperfect but beautiful, has emerged.

The United States’ embargo against Cuba is an oft captured theme in the art displayed at the ‘Chelsea Visits Havana’ exhibit.  Indeed, ‘Chelsea’ itself is as much about challenging the embargo as the art it displays.  Exchange between the two countries—exchange of any kind—has been intentionally blocked by the embargo.  Artistic missions like ‘Chelsea’, in which American artists have the opportunity to travel to Cuba were rendered impossible under the previous Bush administration’s enforcement of the embargo.

For Mrs. Duke, ‘Chelsea’ is vindication of what Foundación Amistad has been steadily advocating for years: an open exchange of ideas between the two countries, which have been paralyzed and underdeveloped by the embargo.  Energy is what one feels when talking to Mrs. Duke.  She has a laugh that is as breezy as her reported salsa steps on the dance floor.  A prominent Cuban-American exile, Mrs. Duke moved to the United States at the age of 14 in flight from the Castro regime.  Initially knowing only Spanish, she spent her first years in the United States frustrated and overwhelmed with learning English.  Yet when speaking with Mrs. Duke, it is hard to imagine that she struggled with the language that she now commands so articulately.  Every statement, especially those which touched on her political views, she delivered with a steady exactness; a true conviction of beliefs.

Those convictions were in part formed by her intrigue with art, with what meets the eye directly.  A former student of art herself, she has always been drawn to its ability to communicate ideas.  Asked if art has helped her understand political events, she answered that not only has her understanding of political events has been greatly influenced by art, but much more.  Finding particular solace in the breadth of art that followed the Great Depression, her interpretation of that event was greatly formed by the narratives she found painted on canvases.  Also an avid reader, she is well versed in the luminaries who dominate the famous Latin American literary landscape.

A lifetime passion for art has colored much of what Mrs. Duke does.  She is now a benefactress for prominent artistic, literary and architectural exchanges themed around the United States and Cuba.  Indeed, Mrs. Duke has been busily engaged in a precedent-setting art exhibition which is stitching together artistic exchanges between Havana and New York.  The exhibition, titled ‘Chelsea Visits Havana’ brings work from 33 artists and 28 galleries from New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood to Havana’s prominent Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes for display.

The exhibition, set to end on 17 May, has already attracted international press and acclaimed reviews.  The exhibition has received much logistical and financial backing from Foundación Amistad, a non-governmental organization founded by Mrs. Duke in 1997 which is “dedicated to fostering better mutual understanding and appreciation between the peoples of the United States and Cuba.”  Through the direction of Mrs. Duke and her colleagues, the foundation has been instrumental in organizing campaigns to preserve historical buildings in Cuba, ship medical supplies, and secure artistic exhibitions like ‘Chelsea Visits Havana’, among many other things.

Havana – DTC – Cuban shipyards in Havana have recovered their management capacity to meet the growing demand to repair and build boats for the tourist sector. The shipyards in Casablanca, in the port of Havana, have repaired 157 boats, including 56 foreign boats. In addition, Empresa de Astilleros del Caribe (ASTICAR) has a floating dock to repair 116-meter-long boats. ASTICAR provides technical assistance to treat and preserve surfaces, welding, renovation of cathodic protection, machining and galvanized coating. The Chullima shipyards are located on the banks of the Almendares River, where recreation boats are built to boost the development of tourism. The company has built, maintained and repaired wooden, fiberglass and steel boats.

Skiddle.com – !La Bomba! London’s explosive and essential Latin rave continues its monthly Thursday residency at the Ministry of Sound on Thursday August 6th 2009 with a Cuban Special to celebrate 50 years of Cuban independence with a mix of guest artists and DJ’s including celebrated Cuban rapper Papo Record and friends backed up by guest DJ’s Javier La Rosa, Yersin Guillen & Flecha from Floridita. The resounding success of La Bomba – The Latin Explosion has created shock waves across London’s club scene with its effervescent hot mix of urban Latino sights and sounds creating a rush for more parties across the UK and internationally including events in Brighton, Germany & Ibiza.

Ministry of Sound, will be divided into 2 areas, The Box, La Bomba’s main floor will feature a special live performance by Papo Record and friends, the Cuban rapper who won best new Cuban artist 2005/2006 and guest DJ’s Javier La Rosa, Yersin Guillen & Flecha from London’s famed Cuban restaurant Floridita. They will be backed up by London’s top urban Latin DJ squad Jose Luis & DJ Loco who mix, scratch and cut up reggaeton and dancehall reggae with Latin hip hop and house into one big throbbing bashment mash-up. The bar will rock to the sounds of salsa, merengue and bachata with DJ Vaya and guests. The VIP area over-looking the Box and the Bar will once again be catering for VIP guests and table reservations.   http://www.phuturetrax.co.uk

Date: Thursday 6th August 2009
Event: La Bomba – London’s premier Latin music event: Ministry of Sound. 103 Gaunt Street, London SE1 6DP
Times: 10:30pm – 4am
Line Up: Main Room: London’s top urban Latin elite DJ Squad, Jose Luis & Loco plus Javier La Rosa & Yersin Guillen.
The Bar: salsa, merengue and bachata sounds with DJ Vaya and Flecha from Floridita.
Admission: Ticket prices: £7 in advance and £10 at the door.

VIP tables: candelauk@gmail.com
Website: www.la-bomba.co.uk, www.reggaeton.co.uk

Havana – DTC – Cuba’s steel exports have increased, due to the high quality of the product. The company Aceros Inoxidables (ACINOX), in the eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas, has reported large revenues by concept of steel exports. In 2008, ACINOX’s exports increased by 37 percent, compared to the previous year. Most of ACINOX’s steel exports go to Latin America.  The company’s has implemented the ISO 9000 quality standards and has installed new equipment to laminate metals.

The Globe and Mail – Toronto – Where was Ian Delaney when they passed out the How-to-Behave-in-Corporate-Canada handbook? The one that stipulates that upon the arrival of success in enterprise, you fix yourself a shiny corporate address within the umbra of Bay Street—elbow to elbow with the elites— and haul in a few Barcelona chairs and at least a piece or two of showy art?  But no: A toss north of Toronto’s downtown core, Delaney pads about a nondescript building that doesn’t even sport so much as a Post-it note to declare, “Sherritt International Corp. lives here.” The place is like a graveyard. So many advantages “We don’t even need a receptionist” trumpets the CEO.

Well, once you get up to the fifth floor, there is a greeter. But how would you know that Sherritt’s on 5? It’s a mystery—like being inside the CIA. The stated rationale has the feel of a repeated bemusement: “We hate people and we have no customers,” he says. He’s joking, all right? Or at least half-joking: “We don’t have to try to dope out what the consumer wants,” he explains. “Nobody eats nickel.” And it’s not as if he’s working in retail. “If I wanted to,” Delaney adds, “I could sell our entire output at the close of business tomorrow.”

Let’s trip back in time: Nineteen years ago this summer, Delaney and a fellow named Eric Sprott—you may have heard of him—grabbed a cup of coffee together. Sprott lamented that the 35% of Sherritt Gordon that his brokerage, Sprott Securities, had distributed into the Canadian marketplace had behaved like a dog, and control of the company was out there and, well, any thoughts? To which Delaney had one: takeover. The idea was driven not by any particularly astute strategy, you understand, but rather a simpler, pigeon-chested belief: “We coopered together a business case, but mostly we were doing it because we could,” says Delaney. “We were completely, arrogantly confident.”

Those were the days. Defaults rising on junk bonds. Robert Campeau trying to reorganize. The Belzbergs raiding south of the border. Barbarians at the Gate arriving hot off the presses. Exciting times, my friend. Living history. A little rougher around the edges, too—junk debt was called junk debt, none of this courtly “high-yield market” stuff. So the dissident proxy circular was launched, and the fight to turf Sherritt management was engaged. The rationalization offered to shareholders was conveyed in Delaney’s trademark, unembroidered language: “Vote for us or this thing’s gonna tank.” I won’t recount the subsequent tale except for choice highlights. One: The dissidents were successful. Two: Sprott, being a Bay Street guy, didn’t stick around. Three: Delaney, a Bay Street guy turned operational guy, stopped sleeping.

“Exciting doesn’t quite capture it,” he says dryly, of the post-takeover period, during which he wondered how to market a functionally insolvent company to the Street. His solution: another takeover The acquisition of Canada Northwest Energy Ltd. gave Sherritt a natural hedge against fluctuating gas prices, crucially allowing Delaney to, as he says, “pin the balance sheet” as the economy collapsed into the 1991 recession. (“Real estate was crumbling. The Reichmanns were going and gone. And we started sleeping.”)

The company’s ensuing search for nickel to feed its Fort Saskatchewan refinery set Delaney on an adventure. The first leg was to the Soviet Union, a dour and unproductive exercise. The second was to Cuba, which he found to be marvellously erratic and unpredictable. A meeting was secured with a senior party official who wanted to know how Delaney—De-laaaaaney, with a long, soft “a” as the Cubans say it—got his job. Clearly the words “proxy contest” would be meaningless. Delaney, ever the salesman, opted for the more audience-appropriate “revolution” metaphor. “All of a sudden, this guy is asking all these probing questions,” Delaney says. He reported to Fidel. And before long, Delaney was meeting with El Jefe himself.

Here’s a story: Delaney and Castro are sitting in a boardroom in the Revolutionary Palace. It was the start of the Gulf War. “An aide comes into the room and hands him a typed thing. As he’s reading it, his face falls. He looks across the table at me and says, ‘That madman [Saddam Hussein] has just sent some missiles into Tel Aviv’.… I, not very intelligently, say, ‘Are you sure?’.…He looked across the table and said, ‘Delaaaaaney, you should know we have impeccable intelligence sources.’ And he turns the sheet around and it says ‘CNN.’”

Cuba was on the ropes. The Soviets had exited—along with “40 or 50% of [Cuba’s] gross national product,” Delaney reminds. The Canadian’s timing was impeccable. What started as a 50-50 alliance to mine nickel at Moa Bay blossomed into Delaney’s stated ambition to turn Sherritt into the Canadian Pacific of Cuba. Gordon Capital—remember them? —led the underwriting on the first issue. Brazen and ballsy: a matched set. The primary parts of the gambit worked: Nickel and cobalt are Cuba’s largest exports, and that’s Delaney’s play. Other parts, less so: “We fooled around in hotels and other things,” he says. “But we don’t know anything about those businesses.”

Running a commodities business means trying to immunize oneself psychologically from price swings. Nickel, eventually, had a good run, poking above $20 (U.S.) a pound in the spring of 2007, a nice environment in which to sail into retirement, which was Delaney’s plan. By 2008 he was thinking he could get the other half of the household—that would be money manager Kiki Delaney—warmed up to the idea of circumnavigating North America aboard a big, tough and ugly Bering Sea crab boat. It didn’t happen. First there was the temporary stepping aside of Jowdat Waheed, who had succeeded Delaney as CEO, for family reasons, and then the collapsing price of nickel, which fell this spring to five bucks and change. There was the ballooning capital-cost estimates for the Ambatovy nickel project in Madagascar, where Sherritt has a 40% interest. And, oh yes, the military-backed takeover in that country. And the unknown outcome of U.S. President Barack Obama’s engagement on the Cuba file—he has lifted some travel restrictions, leaving the future of the U.S. embargo on everyone’s mind.

Delaney’s not going to make a bet on that one—or make any predictions about Castro’s successors. “Some of them I would invest a lot of money with, and others I wouldn’t, but I’m not going to name them.” As for Madagascar and Ambatovy, that’s a 30-year story. “On Bay Street you can buy and sell our stock if you don’t like what’s going on in Western Canada, or Madagascar or Cuba—wherever the heck we operate. And we operate in some weird places. You can just sell our stock. But I can’t do that.” Delaney will tell you that he likes his operations to blend into the “paintwork” of the host country. Invisible, almost, which seems fitting. The interview comes to an end. And the Smiling Barracuda, as he was once known, quietly disappears back into the inner workings of the nameless building.

Havana – DTC – Experts at the Thermoelectrical Plant in the central Cuban province of Cienfuegos, completed the maintenance and modernization of power generators. The works were aimed at improving operational efficiency by recovering the plant’s generation parameters. Another group of generators, boilers and turbines are undergoing partial maintenance to improve operational conditions and quality diminished by long years of exploitation. These actions will contribute to saving, as the plants are operating in conditions that are close to their design capacity, thus preventing overconsumption of fuel.

The Martha’s Vineyard Times – The career of legendary Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant comes alive again in Jonathan Hock’s new documentary, “The Lost Son of Havana,” part of Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s Summer Series. Those of us who saw Tiant play remember his unique wind-up, and the bulldog determination that almost won Boston the 1975 World Series. El Tiant, who still coaches for the Red Sox, tossed an incredible 173 pitches to win the fourth game before the team finally lost. Tiant left his native Cuba in 1961 at the age of 20 to play in Mexico. Already named 1960 Rookie of the Year in Cuba, the pitcher was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Forty-six years passed before he could set foot in Cuba again.

The film captures Tiant’s return – including visits with relatives, friends and fans – when he is invited to coach a goodwill exhibition game between Americans and Cubans. (Americans are still not legally allowed to visit.) There is a comic bureaucratic twist when the Cuban government requires even the camera crew to play in the game. “The Lost Son of Havana” intercuts footage of Tiant’s Major League career with scenes of the exhibition game in Pinar del Rio and his rambles through the old neighborhoods where he grew up. Until the audience gets reacquainted with the 67-year-old former pitcher, the shots of his earlier career seem a lot more compelling than his low-key return to Cuba.

Commentary from baseball greats like Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski attest to how Tiant was the hottest pitcher in baseball in his time. He set an Earned Run Average record of 1.60 in 1968 when he went 21-9 wins with 9 shutouts. At spring training in 1970 when Tiant was playing for the Minnesota Twins, he injured his shoulder. In typical style, he posted seven victories before doctors determined he had cracked his scapula. No record of such an injury existed, except in javelin throwers, and it was a measure of how hard Tiant threw the ball at the height of his career.

Released by the Twins, Tiant was determined to make a comeback and pitched for the Louisville Colonels, a Red Sox farm team. Since Tiant could no longer rely on his fastball, he changed his pitching style and re-invented the style of his father, Luis “Lefty” Tiant, who was a legend in his own time. Playing in the Negro League in the U.S. in 1931, he once struck out Babe Ruth and was rumored to have invented the screwball. Like father, like son. It didn’t take long for the Red Sox to bring up the younger Tiant, who played for them from 1971 to 1978. Actor Chris Cooper narrates how George McGovern intervened on El Tiante’s behalf so that his parents could come to the U.S. and watch their only child play during the 1975 season. Senator McGovern describes how Fidel Castro made a rare exception to government policy and allowed the senior Tiants to travel to Boston and stay as long as they liked.

Indeed they stayed for 15 months and might have stayed longer. But the senior Tiant died of cancer and his wife soon followed. When the Red Sox did not renew Tiant’s contract, he moved on to play for the Yankees, the Portland Beavers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and finally the California Angels. “I never gave up,” he says. As his remarkable story unfolds, the film builds rapport with the pitcher’s family, friends and former colleagues in Cuba. The grim economics of living in Cuba become clear when one family member admits, “We’re living on cigarettes.” A modest hero, Tiant, offers non-prescription medicine, toothpaste, and cash. “This is my country,” he says. “I don’t care about politics. If I die, I die happy.”

Cuban News Agency – HAVANA, Cuba – The Council of State of the Republic of Cuba passed on June 26th, 2009, the Decree-Law number 268 “Reform of the Labor Regime” which is published by Granma newspaper as an Official Note. An important part of this legislation is related to the rational use of human resources and work contracts, in order to palliate the effects of population aging, to encourage work in the society, as well as to give the possibility to workers to increase their income.

In addition, it establishes, with more precision, the requirements and conditions for the granting of maternity monetary benefits. It also deals with the acknowledgement of the workers’ right to receive compensation for economic and moral damages suffered, when the authority or entity revokes the disciplinary measure imposed, due to the non-observance of the essential procedures and formalities needed to impose such measure. The Decree-Law places particular emphasis on the comprehensive regulation of the holding of more than one job by individual, through which workers are enabled, after fulfilling the duties their positions require, to have more than one job and to earn the corresponding salary.

Out of these working contracts, one will be considered as the principal, which is the one agreed upon by the worker before signing the additional contract. This will not be applied to directives and officials, health technicians and professionals, researchers, professors, teachers and auditors, except for the holding of teaching, scientific research or other positions that were approved by express decision of the authority or entity which appointed or chose them. The Decree also gives the possibility to students in the regular courses at the middle-high and higher education levels, of working age, to start working through contract for a certain period of time, in the part-time job modality, and to earn salaries based on their performance, without affecting their professional training, academic performance and the fulfilling of the social service once they graduate.

In all cases, the Decree-Law defines that workers holding more than one job have the legally established working and social security rights. The ability to hire in the capital city workers from other provinces, in order to cover their labor needs both temporarily and permanently, are transferred from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to the heads of entities, bodies of the State Central Administration and other national ones, as well as to the President of the Havana City Provincial Administration.

The Interior and Armed Forces ministries will pass the dispositions required for the application of this Decree-Law in their respective systems, according to their particularities, like the main leaders of the political, social and mass organizations will do. This Decree-Law, besides adapting a group of labor dispositions to the current situation and eliminating prohibitions, ratifies the governmental will, along with other measures, to boost the productive forces, to enable the raise of income, as well as to contribute to make work the main source of satisfaction of the people’s material and spiritual needs, regardless of the government’s decision to continue protecting the needy.

Reuters – HAVANA – Cuba’s trade deficit soared by 65 percent in 2008, driven by a doubling in the value of oil imports, higher costs of food imports and a decline in key export nickel, according to a government report. Exports totaled $4 billion, similar to 2007, while imports increased 41 percent to $15.4 billion, leaving a deficit of $11.4 billion, the National Statistics Office reported on its web page http://www.one.cu. Oil-rich Venezuela saw exports to its socialist ally soar to $5.3 billion from $2.9 billion in 2007 as it increased oil shipments and prices peaked, making the South American country by far Cuba’s most important commercial partner.

Cuba’s arch enemy, the United States, also benefited from higher prices as food exports, allowed since 2000 under its long-standing trade embargo, hit a record $860 million, compared with $608 million in 2007. Despite trade sanctions in place since 1962, the U.S. held its ranking as the island’s fifth-largest trading partner. China remained Cuba’s second partner at over $2 billion, followed by Spain and Canada as in recent years. The trade data has to do with the trading of goods and does not include key income sources such as tourism and the export of medical services, primarily to Venezuela.

Earlier this year, the statistics office said Cuban exports of services grew by 6.2 percent to more than $9 billion in 2008, consolidating their position as Cuba’s biggest source of foreign exchange.

Cuba said it received $2.4 billion from tourism and related activities in 2008. But nickel exports to Canada, Europe and China fell to $1.5 billion from $2.2 billion in 2007. Last year’s poor economic performance, attributable in part to three devastating hurricanes and the global financial crisis, has forced Cuba to severely cut imports this year, postpone payments to creditors and impose austerity measures such as forced reductions in power consumption.

Havana – DTC – Agricultural authorities in eastern Santiago de Cuba province are developing bamboo crops to recover areas affected by deforestation. According to experts, some 400 hectares will be planted with bamboo this year. They added that bamboo has many economic uses, including the manufacture of furniture and handicrafts, which are highly demanded on the domestic market. Bamboo can also be used to produce pressed timber and build houses and gastronomic establishments. The plant is vital in the strategy to reduce the impact of climate change, given its great capacity to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to cover the damaged soil.

The Post and Courier – Charleston – When I returned to Cuba in 1999 after 29 years, it took me days to gather the courage to drive up to Cuabitas, our old neighborhood in the mountains above Santiago, to see what had become of my mother’s childhood home. Divided between two families, it was a shadow of the graceful, mustard-colored mansion I remembered, a happy place surrounded by fruit groves lovingly tended by my grandfather, Santiago Parlade, and his daughters.

Though many of the fruit trees were gone, my grandfather’s favorite mango tree was still standing, its sprawling branches covered with lacy, golden flowers. Seeing it going strong after so many years lifted my spirit; it was the one hopeful sign on a painful and depressing visit. That tree was my grandfather’s proudest creation, a prolific bearer of peach-shaped fruit with juicy, saffron-colored flesh and delicate yellow skin suffused with a gorgeous pink blush. It was my childhood guide to the seasons, blooming in time for Christmas, bearing green fruit when my May birthday was near and supplying us with what seemed to be an endless bounty of mangoes just before summer vacation.

Though my slender, silver-haired grandfather was a shipbuilder by trade, he was a gifted amateur pomologist, and that tree was the last and most successful of his mango breeding experiments. A cross between the Corazon and other types I can’t recall, it was known in our area as the Parlade. Each morning, he would search his trees for ripening fruit, carefully pulling them down with a long, forked pole and placing them on a windowsill. When the Parlade mangoes were ripe, he would massage them between his long, bony hands until the flesh practically melted within. Then he would puncture the skin and hand us the fruit so we could suck out the juice.

The huge bizcochuelos with their turpentine-smelling sap were reserved for dessert, and we would cut into long, fat slices after lunch with a certain degree of ceremony. There was no etiquette to eating the Toledo mangoes that grew on a dwarf tree near a side patio. Tiny, fibrous and especially sweet, they had large, roundish seeds that we sucked like lollipops, juice dripping down our cheeks. How I would have loved to take budwood from those precious trees back to Miami. If I had dared, I would have been following a well-trod path that is at least a century and a half old.

The first documented mango in Florida, the so-called No. 11, came from Cuba in 1861. It was followed in the 1880s by a Cuban variety with a penetrating, resinous aroma called Turpentine here and mango de hilacha on the island. It’s believed that an English physician working for a slave-trade company introduced a single mango seed from Jamaica to Cuba in 1789. The origin of that fruit is uncertain, but it most probably came from India through Brazil via the Portuguese. “The great majority of Florida mangoes have been grafted on rootstock belonging to the sturdy Cuban Turpentine,” says Richard Campbell, senior curator of tropical fruit at Williams Grove at the Fair- child Farm in Homestead, Fla., a scientific and outreach facility of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

A chance encounter between the Turpentine and the Mulgoba, a beautiful Indian mango with red skin introduced in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1898, gave rise to the prized Haden and its progeny, a long line of important commercial cultivars including the prolific Tommy Atkins. The Mulgoba tree that Campbell planted at Williams Grove is a graft from the original Palm Beach County, Fla., tree, while the Turpentine was grafted from budwood taken from a 100-year-old tree in Snapper Creek Hammock, where it’s thought mangoes were introduced to Miami. These are just two of the 450 mangoes from all over the world that Campbell and his Colombian-born colleague, Noris Ledesma, have planted at Williams Grove, creating the largest mango germplasm collection outside India and Southeast Asia.

At Williams Grove, you will find the Cuban mangoes of my memory, the tiny Toledo and the bizcochuelo, the Prieto (dark-skinned with lightly fibrous orange flesh) and the stupendous, red-skinned San Felipe from Western Cuba. “You can taste sugar cane with a backdrop of resin in these mangoes,” Campbell says. He obtained the San Felipe graft wood in 1994 from his friend, Pedro Lopez, a Cuban exile, and has been surprised by its performance. “San Felipe is the god of Cuban mangoes,” Ledesma told me, perfect for Florida gardens. Campbell considers many of the commercial varieties sold in Florida stores, such as the Tommy Atkins from Guatemala and Mexico, “an embarrassment to the mango.” And he wants to extend the pleasure of eating exceptional mangoes by teaching farmers how to grow perfect fruit.

“If you can grow a good mango here in South Florida, you are not competing with the fruit in the grocery store because it is not the same product,” he says. Mangoes do not reach their full flavor potential with the nitrogen-rich synthetic fertilizers many commercial growers use to boost yield, he explains, but prefer light organic mulch. Like many U.S. chefs, I would pay a premium to have a steady supply of Florida mangoes with rich and varied flavor profiles to serve at my restaurants rather than cheaper, lackluster imports. Campbell and Ledesma practice what they preach at Williams Grove, managing the center like a family farm. At their weekend market, you can buy fruit and smoothies from whichever trees happen to be bearing for $1 apiece. The closest I have come to the childhood joy of eating my grandfather’s mangoes was feasting on a dozen varieties Ledesma selected for me at Williams Grove.

Campbell and Ledesma have created a model of sustainable agriculture that makes economic sense, and have given mango lovers the opportunity to get reacquainted with the essence of the fruit. When we Cubans get ourselves into a complicated mess, we say we are in an “arroz con mango,” literally “rice with mango.” This turn of phrase became a real dish in our home in Oriente Province during the severe food shortage of the late 1960s. We had plenty of mangoes that season, and wild culantro grew near the water well. With these two ingredients, my father created a dish of unexpected charm that made us all laugh. When I make my more abundant versions of the dish, such as this riff on Cuban-Chinese fried rice, I remember those hard times and the lighthearted way in which Cubans deal with adversity.

Serve with an avocado and watercress salad and a floral white wine such as Susana Balbo Crios Torrontes ($15) from Mendoza, Argentina.

Rice With Mango (Arroz con Mango)

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 medium mangoes (preferably half-ripe)

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons Japanese brown rice vinegar or cider vinegar

1 teaspoon aged rum

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 small chicken breast (about 4 1/2 ounces), diced

1/4 pound smoked ham, cut into 1/4 inch dice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice

3 scallions with 3 inches green, finely chopped

5 medium shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, patted dried, stem removed and cut into 1/2-inch dice

4 cups cooked white rice

1 tablespoon finely chopped culantro or cilantro

A 2-egg omelet, lightly salted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup frozen or fresh peas

Additional soy sauce to taste

Directions

Peel the mango and cut into 1/4-inch dice; place in a small bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the soy sauce with the vinegar, rum and sugar. Add the chicken and ham and toss to coat with the sauce. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.

In a wok or 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until it sizzles. Add the garlic and saute for 10 seconds. Add the onion, bell pepper, scallion and mushrooms and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Add the chicken, ham and sauce, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Add the rice, culantro or cilantro, diced omelet and peas, and cook, stirring with more soy sauce to taste or a bit of vinegar if needed, until all the ingredients are combined and the rice acquires a uniform tan color.

Add diced mangoes and toss with the rice to combine.

(Culinary historian Maricel E. Presilla is the chef/co-owner of Cucharamama and Zafra restaurants in Hoboken, N.J. Her latest book is “The New Taste of Chocolate.” )

The Journal of Commerce – Cuba’s trade deficit jumped 65 percent in 2008, propelled by the doubling in the value of its oil imports, higher costs for food imports, three devastating hurricanes, and weakness in its nickel exports. Cuban exports totaled $4 billion, about the same as in 2007, while imports increased 41 percent to $15.4 billion, creating a deficit of $11.4 billion, the National Statistics Office reported June 30. Cuba also said it took in $2.4 billion from tourism and related activities in 2008. Imports of oil from Venezuela soared to $5.3 billion last year, compared with $2.9 billion in 2007 because volumes and prices increased. Venezuela was by far Cuba’s most important trading partner, followed by China, Spain and Canada. Nickel exports to Canada, Europe and China fell to $1.5 billion, compared with $2.2 billion in 2007.

The United States also benefited from higher prices for its food exports to Cuba, which have been permitted since 2000, despite its long-standing trade embargo. Total U.S. exports to Cuba authorized by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) of 2000 (much of which is food) reached a record $860 million, compared with $608 million in 2007. Despite trade sanctions in place since 1962, the U.S. continued to be Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner. Poor economic performance in 2008 has forced Cuba to severely cut imports this year, postpone payments to its creditors, and impose austerity measures such as forced reductions in power consumption.

Havana – (EFE via COMTEX) — A corps of inspectors will pursue fraud in the consumption of electricity in Havana’s residential sector starting on July 1 as one of the measures implemented by Gen. Raul Castro’s government starting a month ago to save energy, the official Tribuna de La Habana newspaper reported. The inspectors will go out in pairs through the streets and electric power cuts will be among the measures that could be applied to families circumventing the service regulations, the newspaper said.

Prevailing legislation establishes a fine of 500 Cuban pesos (equivalent to about $23), the retroactive collection of outstanding fees for the illicitly-used power and a cut in electricity supply for 72 hours for first-time offenders who are found to be committing fraud, Tribuna de La Habana said. Repeat offenders will be liable for fines of 1,000 pesos (about $45), suspension of their electricity for 15 days and other penalties, the newspaper said. The head of inspections in the capital’s residential area for the City of Havana Electric Company, Santiago Michelena, said that during the summer is when more fraud is committed, adding that up to the end of May authorities had detected 2,776 instances of violations.

The installation of measures to block the functioning of power meters and the clandestine “hooking in” to collective payment networks are some of the most frequent illicit acts. The intensification of inspections against violations of the electricity regulations comes within the drastic measures decreed by the Cuban government to save power, since the economic situation on the communist island worsened with the effects of the international financial crisis, the fall in tourism revenues and exports, among other factors that have left the authorities here in a very illiquid position. The measures include the cutting off of electricity to firms and institutions that do not have a savings plan or who fail to comply with such plans already in place, restrictions on the use of air conditioning and refrigerators and changes in work schedules. The restrictions on energy consumption starting on June 1 have saved Cuba the equivalent of a total of 18,296 tons of various kinds of fuel, according to official data.

Granma Intl. – Havana – JOSÉ Ramón Fernández has been reelected president of the Cuban Olympic Committee for the 2009-2012 term, in which the London Olympics will be the main goal. Fernandez noted that the training of athletes from the ground up, which constitutes the great sports reserve, is a priority, and he emphasized the importance of training for coaches, as well as the application of science and technology. Fernández was elected unanimously by the 38 presidents of national federations in a session attended by Commander of the Revolution and Hero of the Republic of Cuba Guillermo García.

The 1976 double Olympic champion Alberto Juantorena was reelected vice president, together with Roberto León Richards, a former gymnast and vice president of the National Sports Institute (INDER).  Ruperto Herrera will be the new general secretary, while the recording secretary will be Rafael Guerra and the treasurer José Luis Rivas. Other committee members include Mario Granda, Conrado Martínez, José Peláez, María Caridad Colón, Legna Verdecia, Cecilia Juara and Daíma Beltrán. Also, there are International Olympic Committee members Reinaldo González and Yumilka Ruiz, and as appointees, INDER president Christian Jiménez, Misael Lima (executive director), Pedro Cabrera (press director), René Romero (technical director) and Oscar Acosta (marketing).

With a view to the London Olympic Games in 2012, Fernández said that priority will be given to training in the island’s principal sports, such as baseball, boxing, athletics, judo, wrestling, volleyball, soccer and basketball. Fernández spoke optimistically about the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, where Cuba should participate with a delegation “at a sufficiently high level to maintain our place as No. 1 in the region.”  The official said that Cuba “expects good sense” on the part of authorities in guaranteeing access and security to the Cuban delegation and the possibility of being able to attend like any other nation.

“The rigorous conditions for us being able to attend the Games” are for organizers of the regional competition in Myagüez to “guarantee the appropriate atmosphere of the Games for our athletes,” Fernández explained to a group of journalists after a meeting at the Cuban Olympic Committee headquarters.

Radio Nuevitas.co.cu – The main graduation ceremony of the 2008-2009 academic year was held in the Main Lecture Hall of the University of Havana. At the ceremony, the most outstanding students of the daytime regular course, the course for workers, distance learning and the municipal university venues were recognized. With this year’s graduation of 2,250 new professionals, the University of Havana has graduated more than 105,403 men and women who contribute to the development of all spheres of society, said Dr. Gustavo Cobreiro Suárez, rector of the University of Havana.

“The Alma Mater [the University] has been a forge of thought, conscience and character. It has passed on the experience of many to all of us, to face the current challenges of Cuba and the world. Precisely that, and the new challenges that we will conquer, is what matters from this moment on,” said Marlon González, graduate in Social Communication. The act was presided over by José Ramón Fernández, vice president of the Council of Ministers; Miguel Díaz-Canel, minister of Higher Education; and Roberto Montesinos, head of the Department of Education of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, among other leaders.

Soundingspub.com – As Washington moves closer to lifting the ban on travel to Cuba, American mariners are increasingly optimistic they will soon be cruising and fishing in the land of “rum, rhumba and revolution.”  Like a lost world, nowhere else as close to home looks and feels like the undeveloped Caribbean of the 1950s. Jeffrey Siegel, publisher of the online cruising guide www.activecaptain.com, had been planning a voyage to Central America aboard Acapella, his DeFever Pilothouse 53, until recent news reports suggested a more interesting gambit. “If Cuba becomes a possible destination, I’m skipping the rest for now and heading there,” he says. “Fifteen hundred nautical miles of coastline would take years to explore, and I’d really like to see it before it changes.”

While projections vary, it can be safely estimated that thousands of U.S. boaters would follow Siegel’s lead — so many that Cuba might eventually supplant the Bahamas as our No. 1 foreign cruising destination. For its part, Cuba is preparing for the influx. Reuters news service reported in April that construction is under way on a 1,500-slip marina at Varadero, a beach resort 80 miles east of Havana. Sheer novelty may be at the heart of Cuba’s appeal, but there’s also the fact that so much of the island is so close. (Its north coast lies only 90 miles from the Florida Keys.) So once the U.S. travel ban is lifted, cruising Cuba should be easy, right? No way, Jose — not if the experiences of today’s Cuba cruisers are any indication.

While the movement of U.S. recreational vessels to Cuba has been virtually halted since the Bush administration began closing loopholes and vigorously enforcing the decades-old travel ban, small numbers of Canadian and European sailors, unaffected by U.S. restrictions, have continued to cruise Cuba. Their experiences — as reported to my Web site, www.cubacruising.net — show how Cuban officials, apart from those at the handful of state-owned marinas, can be indifferent to the needs of cruisers. Such could be said of other Latin American officialdom as well, but in those countries foreign boaters have two things working in their favor: Businesses in coastal regions are ready to lend a hand to solve boaters’ problems, and expatriate communities of Americans and Europeans are a resource for advice to help boaters get a fair deal. Not so in Cuba, with few private enterprises and even fewer ex-pats. Get into trouble in Cuba, and you could find yourself doubly damned — whatever went wrong to begin with, plus the bureaucracy.

Canadian Deidre Farrell tells how she and her husband, Steven Delong, their daughter and a friend had anchored their Mason 43, Whitestar, off Cayo Jutias on the remote northwestern shore of Cuba in early 2007. Winds piped up from the north one day, and the boat dragged onto a sandbar, where it remained stuck for eight days. As often happens, their problem was compounded. As Delong tried to use the boat’s engine to reverse off the bar, the propeller shaft came loose within the coupling attaching it to the transmission.

Experienced sailors, the Whitestar crew tried, but failed, to kedge the boat into deeper water. The nearby Cuban coast guard did not respond to their radio calls. Finally, with the help of a nearby Canadian vessel that had Spanish speakers aboard, they got their message through. As Farrell recalls: “They assured us that the only tow boat in Cuba would be dispatched immediately from Havana, 12 hours away. ‘Are there any large boats in the area that could assist?’ Steve asked. A definite ‘no’ came back. The fishing boats we had seen nearby in Santa Lucia did not have the winches and cable necessary to free us. Besides, being Cuba, they would have to fill in a mountain of paperwork to get permission to help.” No tow boat came. Communication ceased. Frustration rose like a tide. The Cubans sent a team to try to kedge the vessel off the sand, even though it hadn’t worked before. The team leader asked that Delong sign a salvage agreement.

“I was horrified and had images of a Cuban general sailing Whitestar,” says Farrell. “Steve just laughed and reworded the document to state they would refloat and tow Whitestar to Santa Lucia, five miles away. He also said there would be no payment unless they were successful. Three hours later the team gave up; they would send for the tow boat.” Again, the promised tow boat never came. Instead, the Cubans said they would dispatch several fishing boats to free Whitestar, as Delong had originally suggested. They never came.

“By Friday morning, things were dark indeed,” says Farrell. “We were down to the last water tank, the last can of Coke, the beer long gone. It was pink gin for happy hour. No news from the tow boat captain. I know I wasn’t alone with my frustrations and concerns, but I was the first to break. Through a flood of tears, I told Steve we’d have to abandon our baby ship. Always the optimist, he said, ‘There’s a solution for every problem. We just haven’t found it yet.’ ” Delong, who had been trying all along to fix the shaft problem, finally succeeded by drilling new setscrew dimples into the shaft. After four hours of back-and-forth motoring and kedging, Whitestar was free. A commercial towing service would have solved Whitestar’s grounding problem in short order, but the nearest TowBoatU.S. was in Key West. A medium-size fishing vessel, like those at Santa Lucia, probably could have done the job, too, except for that pesky paperwork.

In the end, despite friendly relations with the Cubans, these Canadian sailors were forced to rely on their own ingenuity to get out of trouble. Delong and Farrell decided that in remote waters they had best adopt a more conservative strategy — for example, routinely using two anchors rather than one. Despite their cautionary tale, Farrell and Delong say their Cayo Jutias experience will not deter them from returning to Cuba in the future.

Two years ago, a more disturbing incident was reported on the north coast of Cuba. A U.S.-flagged Gulfstar 50, with a family of five aboard, put into Bahia Manati with what was described as “serious rudder damage.” Manati is not a port of entry, and recreational vessels are apparently not welcome there because Cuban authorities tried to force the vessel to put back to sea, despite a problem that likely had rendered it unseaworthy.

Besides putting lives at risk, this suggests either ignorance of, or indifference to, the Law of the Sea, whose conventions for “innocent passage” provide that mariners in trouble are to be provided refuge while their problems are sorted out or, in the case of bad weather, storm conditions abate. Official Cuban policy is to welcome mariners of all nations, including the United States, but this and other incidents reveal inconsistencies in the application of the policy.

As reported by a knowledgeable individual who must remain anonymous, the Americans responded to Cuban bullying by calling a stateside station using their vessel’s single-sideband radio. Details of the distress call were relayed to the U.S. State Department and the Coast Guard. Despite the lack of diplomatic relations with Havana, Washington maintains a substantial “interests section” in the Cuban capital, housed in the Swiss embassy. Coast Guard liaison officers intervened on behalf of the American family, and the vessel was reportedly towed or escorted to a repair facility instead of being forced back into the North Atlantic. (It may come as a surprise that in all of the U.S. government, it is the Coast Guard that may well have the best working relationship with authorities in Havana.)

In another example, worse still, British single-hander Ray Oliver blames official Cuban misbehavior for the loss of his sailboat, a 36-foot Amel Kirk. Vastly experienced, Oliver is a career charter skipper who wanted to spend his offseasons cruising the Caribbean at the helm of his beloved Cymar, so he sailed her across the Atlantic and cruised the Caribbean. Common sense dictates that a nation’s first harbor along a sea route should be designated a port of entry, and so it had been with Baracoa, the easternmost seaport on Cuba’s north coast. For reasons that remain unexplained, Havana withdrew Baracoa’s port-of-entry status at some point in the 1990s, but word of this change was slow to spread. Now, to clear in with Cuban customs and immigration, recreational vessels must proceed 80 nautical miles farther west to a government marina at Vita Bay.

In January 2004, after two days and nights on passage from the Dominican Republic, Oliver dropped the hook in Baracoa because weather forecasts were calling for northerly winds and building seas. Baracoa is a snug harbor in northerly conditions, thanks in part to the hulk of a ship that had been scuttled to form a breakwater. No sooner had he arrived than port officials ordered him to leave the harbor. The British sailor, in his 60s and exhausted, pleaded to be allowed some sleep. The Cubans gave him until the next morning, when he would have to leave despite deteriorating conditions. And so he did.

“After an exhausting night in enormous swells, I was still about six miles from my waypoint to Puerto de Vita,” Oliver wrote. “The mainsail snagged as I tried to reef it in, and the boat drifted inshore without my realizing. Motorsailing was difficult, as the waves repeatedly pummeled Cymar and thrust her across a reef. With the cockpit awash, I ran aground about 50 meters from shore.” Oliver made it safely to shore, where he underwent a different type of ordeal. Ignoring his pleas for help refloating his boat, officials questioned Oliver for hours and packed him off to a resort hotel he could not afford. The next day the local comandante convinced Oliver that his boat was a total loss. Tired and depressed, Oliver agreed to the comandante’s request that he write a letter saying he would leave Cymar and all of its gear to “the people of Cuba.”

“I was soon to learn, however, that I was being played,” Oliver says. “On examining the damage to Cymar, I found she had only been scraped by the coral and not holed at all. I knew I would have to act quickly to save her. While at Vita, I met two experienced Canadian fishermen with a 45-foot fishing boat who offered to rescue Cymar by towing her off the reef the next day at high tide. All hopes were dashed, however, when the comandante told me that the fishing boat was not allowed to tow me. The Canadian crew had no work permits.” The Cubans stripped the boat, but Oliver doggedly pressed his case until some of the gear was returned to him for shipment back to Britain. “While I had lost my boat, I had managed to stop the Cuban authorities from stealing all of my possessions,” he says.

In hindsight, Oliver’s biggest mistake was trying to cruise Cuba by himself. Even an experienced hand needs help when things go wrong, particularly in a place that is 50 years behind the times. Oliver did not foresee that his experiences sailing Cymar elsewhere in the Caribbean had not prepared him for the realities of Cuba. Aboard the Mason and the Gulfstar, adversity was matched by strength in numbers. Their bigger crews — four or five people on each vessel — shared the burdens and bore witness to the actions of Cuban authorities. (Most of the cruisers with whom I have spoken who report positive experiences in Cuba have had at least four people aboard or had buddy-boated.)

In February 2004, when President Bush announced a crackdown on U.S. vessels visiting Cuba, his proclamation cited the potential for bad behavior on the part of Cuban officials, including an alleged willingness to impound foreign vessels and use deadly force. Most mariners who have visited Cuba would scoff at the notion; year after year, many Canadian and European sailors have reported positive experiences cruising Cuba’s coast. Isolated as they may be, however, incidents such as those described above, which show an inability or unwillingness to render basic assistance and outright refusal to grant safe harbor to boats in distress, can only serve to tarnish Cuba’s image as the outstanding boating destination we hope it will be.

(Peter Swanson, 53, has been sailing since he was a 10-year-old boy on Cape Cod, Mass. He holds a 50-ton Coast Guard master’s license. When he’s not writing for Soundings and other boating magazines, he delivers sailboats and trawlers. On his next cruise aboard Rio, his 1977 Morgan Out Island 41, Swanson hopes to circumnavigate Cuba.)

Ahora.cu – A clinical test of the effectiveness of a vaccine administered intra-dermically against poliomyelitis is being undertaken in the Cuban province of Camaguey, to be commercialized in the international market. The inoculation, not administrated orally, as it is traditionally done worldwide, uses a fifth of the current dose. If the results of this research are effective, the price of this vaccine would be reduced and poor countries would have access to it. This research has been sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and entrusted to the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) in Havana.

Dr.Sonia Resik Aguirre, a microbiology specialist told JR that this study will be applied to more than 300 children born between March and April in 13 health areas in the Cuban towns of Nuevitas, Florida, Vertientes and Camagüey. The IPK researcher commended those parents who let their children participate in this important test. A first dose of the vaccine will be administered in July for those children born in March and in August for those born in April. There will be a second in November and December respectively. Children will be administered the usual immunizing drops in February, 2010. Thanks to this Cuba was declared the first country free of this disease in 1963.

Camaguey was chosen as the venue for this world study not only for the quality and excellence on the professionals but also for the researcher’s previous experience with Cuban vaccines. The Pan-American Health Organization director sent a message to Cuban president Raúl Castro Ruz recognizing the effort of this professional staff as well as a special recognition to the IPK and health care centers of this province. Specialists use a needle-free injector to inoculate this vaccine, which is practically painless, less expensive and does not call for specialized staff. Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria have not yet eradicated poliomyelitis, although sooner or later it will be eliminated all over the world.

Radio Cadena Agramonte – Havana – An article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, reported that Cuba is still treating the children who suffered from the devastating nuclear accident in Ukraine in 1986. More than 18,000 Ukrainian children have been treated over the years at the Tarara facility near the Cuban capital, Havana. The programme was set up in 1990 to treat the victims of the world’s most devastating nuclear accident four years earlier. The article highlighted that twenty-three years after Chernobyl, the Cuban programme is still going strong. Remarkably, children born years after the disaster still suffer physical consequences of the meltdown that irradiated large parts of Ukraine and Belarus.

In Tarara the children get treatment based on the seriousness of their illness. While some disorders – such as the 30-fold increase in thyroid cancer among Ukrainian children – are directly linked to the Chernobyl accident, it is not known whether some of the other pathologies are caused by radioactive pollution or post-traumatic stress, explained one of the Cuban doctors working there. Ukrainian authorities have expressed their gratitude to Cuba on several occasions. The programme continued throughout Cuba’s economic crisis of the early 90s, the so-called “special period” after the fall of the Soviet bloc.

The article finishes by pointing out that although austerity is still apparent across the island, the Chernobyl project has survived thanks to an agreement between the two countries: Ukraine covers transportation, while room, board, schooling and medical services are covered by Cuba. Some unofficial estimates put Cuba’s expenditure at more than $300m (£180m) in medical costs alone, according to the Guardian. “Many people who are unaware of our ideals still wonder what Cuba might be after,” Dr Julio Medina, general co-coordinator of the programme, recently told the Cuban newspaper Granma: “It is simple: we do not give what we have in excess; we share all that we have.”

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