Tag Archives: Cuba Mining

Cuban Weekly News Digest – March 31st, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Video clip re new business licences in Cuba –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Pricing: full pricing information can be found here.

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

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

What does EcoArts Tours do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernesto Medina Villaveirán
Minister-President
Central Bank of Cuba

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

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

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

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

James
Cuban Weekly News Digest

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Cuban News Digest – Aug. 9, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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