Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables

Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 6 June 2016 — In recent weeks, the world has taken
a great interest in the scandalous revelations of the Panama Papers.
Millions of documents have revealed the shady side of celebrities,
politicians and leaders in every region and of all political colours.
And, of course, a government as chameleon-like as Cuba's was not going
to be an amazing exception, the missing condiment in this soup.

The very serious revelation that the Castros' government and its
Venezuelan counterpart contracted the services of a German business, by
way of the Mossack Fonseca law firm — trying in that way to not appear
tied in with such unsavoury accomplices — to arrange the production of
the current version of the Venezuelan passport, and the subsequent
control over the distribution of this document since then by Havana, has
been the most embarrassing thing that has been revealed by these
documents about the island's government.

Although many people are waiting avidly for new revelations which
incriminate high Cuban officials, this writer would not be surprised,
nevertheless, if absolutely nothing of the sort happens. This certainty
derives from a total conviction in a long-established truth, which is
the most obvious and elemental of all: none of the Castros has ever
needed to deposit his fortune or cover up his activities in tax havens,
simply because they have never needed to avoid any kind of audit. They
alone are their only auditors, judges and participants in their shady
activities, in which nobody else can stick their fingers in — period.
Or, in fewer words, both dictators have always considered Cuba to be
their exclusive private tax haven.

In order to back up this accusation, let's look at the most widely-held
definition of what is a tax haven. Normally it is considered to be any
territory or country which complies basically with the following conditions:

If the jurisdiction levies no taxes, if it permits non-residents to
benefit from tax breaks, even when they in fact carry out no activities
in the country.

If there is no transparency, if there are strictly private bank
accounts, and the personal details of owners and company shareholders do
not appear in public records, or indeed they permit formal
representatives, called nominees, to be employed.

If the laws or administrative practices do not permit interchange of
information with other countries or international organisations for
fiscal purposes in relation to taxpayers benefitting from exceptionally
low tax rates.

In order to understand the present analysis, we have to start off from
the incontrovertible premise that the same geographical space is
cohabited by two antagonistic Cubas. One of them is the Cuba of the
dictators and the regime's historic "sacred cows," and a whole entourage
of opportunists, high level executives, managers of important companies,
all of whom are absolutely tied in with the government, and the highest
level officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the armed forces, as
well as Cuban ambassadors overseas. Their respective families and lovers
also belong to this elite, along with good friends, and the cream of
this Cuban neo-bourgeoisie, the emerging upper middle class, and also —
and why not? — all those businessmen and foreign diplomats resident in
the island.

A completely different totally opposed reality, is the life lived by the
ordinary Cuban. 90% of us Cubans live in this lower class Cuba, and this
is where I live, with my family and all my friends, just like the
overwhelming majority of Cuban professionals and everyone who works for
the state. It is the Cuba of miserable salaries and the everyday pursuit
of your daily bread. It is this Cuba, which is poor and hopeless, that
wave after wave of Cuban young people are fleeing.

So we have the upper class Cuba convinced that it has no obligation to
account for anything to lower class Cuba. If we consider these
realities, only apparently overlapping, as two separate countries, which
in practice is what they are, we are then able to understand why it is
not hyperbole or gratuitous to say that the Castros have for more than
50 years enjoyed the advantages of having their own tax haven.

But, finally, why should we consider Cuba to be a tax haven? Very
simply, we are talking about a country without the most basic legal or
civic mechanisms to indict the most corrupt, because it is precisely
those people who call the shots. It is a country without division of
powers, which guarantees the total impunity of those people.

There has never existed in post-revolutionary Cuba either an official
press which denounces anything, or a police authority which investigates
anything, or a public prosecutor which accuses any one of the most
corrupt people in the government, because — get this — you cannot take
at face value the the periodic purges of disgraced officials, because in
these cases the order always comes from the current dictator's
executive, and never from the judicial system which should naturally
deal with it. There are far more than enough examples of investigations
which have faded away into nothing when they have been countermanded
from above, which no-one dares to question.

When you check it out, there are all the elements here of the
above-mentioned definition. We have a caste which doesn't pay any taxes
on their informal or illegal businesses, or if they do pay them, they
are just a token in relation to the real level of their income.

We have a government which has always practised the most absolute and
systemic secrecy in relation to the private lives and real incomes of
its most important chiefs, and also a rigid censorship over whatever may
be produced to evidence their over-the-top schemes, managed by
unscrupulous front men, referred to above as nominees. And finally we
have a body of law, for the most part in violation of the most important
human rights, but made to measure for the aspirations of the elite to
maintain their power and influence.

Cuba is still today a tax haven for the untouchables, with all
institutions in submission to this privileged class which lives like
kings on the Olympic heights, disconnected from the reality of the
people who live beneath them in poverty and want.

In fact, if you asked a thief or corporate tight-wad who want to fill
their bank accounts on the margins of any tax responsibility, what would
be the country of their dreams, they would definitely say that that
country would have a government which didn't waste its time on listening
to useless pleas from its people, which was hard-line and keeping a grip
on its power — it would be ideal if, by the way, it was the only one
legally recognised in the constitution — and which would guarantee that
it would leave me in peace to get on with my business dealings, sorting
out unionists and trouble makers. That is to say, a government keen on
the most profitable exploitation of whatever you can come up with.

Our hypothetical crook would say that in that fantasy world, I would
have a monopoly of all markets, which would practically make me a God
who could order, to my heart's content, the fate of millions of
consumers who would have no choice apart from what I offer, which would
allow me to speculate by selling dear whatever cheapo thing I imported.

I would love to carry out my activities, our respondent would continue,
among serious, upright people and businessmen who understand that the
best business is the one which generates the most profit in the shortest
time possible, no matter who may be hurt.

I would like a country to have no division of powers, in which every
judge, right up to the Supreme Court, was subordinated to a powerful
man, an arch-calculator, through whom everything flows, as smooth as
silk, and protected from indiscreet gazes.

Just think, dear reader, whether that elite country, the above-mentioned
Cuba, with its life-long privileged class, where greed and opportunism
reigns, the Cuba of despotic generals and criminals who go unpunished,
should not be considered to be a genuine and very exclusive tax haven.
If such a country could not be classified as such, then a guanábana is
not a spiky green fruit. Needless to say, whatever similarity to real
life here would not be a coincidence. Draw your own conclusions

Translated by GH

Source: Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega –
Translating Cuba -

Havana, Definitely a “Wonder City”

Havana, Definitely a "Wonder City" / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 27 June 2016 — Recently, Havana has been
declared a New7Wonder City of the Modern World, based on the votes of
thousands of people in a contest by the Swiss foundation New7Wonders,
citing its "mythical attraction, the warm and welcoming atmosphere and
the charm and gaiety of its inhabitants."

Winning the honor, given the palpable deterioration of the city, has
kicked up a bit of scandal with protests from those who believe that
Havana does not deserve such a title because of the amount of trash,
debris, destroyed buildings, potholed streets, and shattered sidewalks
where there are drunk people lying on every corner.

All this, along with economic backwardness and socio-cultural disaster
that has been brought to us by more than half a century of populist
authoritarianism, have not been able to bury the splendor of Havana's
exquisite and eclectic architecture, from earliest times to the first
half of the twentieth century, the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the
city and the traditionally friendly, attractive and cheerful
characteristics of its population.

No, it has not been possible. Neither abandonment of the capital by the
all-powerful state, occupied with survival, nor so much filth dropped or
thrown on Havana could hide El Morro and La Cabaña, or conceal the
intact Malecón, the Paseo del Prado with its lions, 23rd Street known as
La Rampa, Paseo, G and 5th Avenue with its green areas and benches made
for love, the still fabulous tunnels of Linea and 5th Avenue, or the
entrance of the bay.

No amount of contempt could tarnish the luster and lineage of Central
Park, or the monuments to Marti, Maximo Gomez, Maceo and Jose Miguel
Gomez. Still shining in all their splendor are the Capitol building, the
Government Palace, the Palace of Fine Arts, Aldama Palace and the
Asturian Center.

Still standing today are the magnificence of the Hotel Nacional, the
Hilton Hotel – now the Habana Libre – the Riviera Hotel, and the
majestic and unsurpassed Focsa building and the Civic Square complex,
just to mention signature buildings, along with the old and historic
Havana Cathedral.

The damage so-called "state socialism"has brought us has not been able
to destroy this work, the wonder of Havana remains intact, as does the
welcoming atmosphere offered by the charm of its multi-ethnic population
with their cultural diversity, musical spirit and good cheer.

Havana was and remains a Wonder City thanks to the charm that remains
from the decade of the '50s, with the classic and antique cars,
maintained and embellished by popular initiative, which present us with
a city that moves slowly, as if frozen in time; leaving us unclear
whether our future never comes, or we yearn to return to the past. The
greatest charm of the city is its children for whom, despite all the
nonsense and inattention from the unchanging government of the last 57
years, we have done what we could to care for them bring them joy.

The wonder of Havana resisted outright the snub from a government that,
only in recent years, has begun to realize that it is not Varadero but
the City of La Giraldilla* that is Cuba's greatest attraction, capable
of enticing millions of tourists, and so it has begun to devote some
attention and resources to the restoration of some of the city's
historic buildings, including the Capitol.

It is worth noting that the historic center of Havana was declared a
World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982 and, thereafter, an intense and
reverent restoration work was undertaken by the Office of the Historian
of the City as a self-funded** project, independent of the central

Hopefully, in the future, given the interest of the military and state
monopolies in exploiting the tourism potential of the city, they will
continue the restoration of facades, parks, main streets and sidewalks,
although without the ability to add new wonders of construction to the
traditional splendor of those buildings.

But ignoring of the lesson of the New7Wonder designation, the government
and military remain engaged primarily in promoting golf courses and
housing complexes for millionaires that could produce some money in the
medium term, but which have the effect of diminishing our already
critical sources of drinking water, s, living in overcrowded conditions
and carrying water in buckets, are the thousands of ordinary citizens
who are the ones who continue to provide the most important part of the
wonder that continues to attract tourism from all over the globe.

Translator's notes:

*A statue of a woman, and a symbol of the city, atop the observation
tower in the former governor's house.

**That is, relying on donations from overseas.

Source: Havana, Definitely a "Wonder City" / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos –
Translating Cuba -

Patriotic Union of Cuba Withdraws From MUAD

Patriotic Union of Cuba Withdraws From MUAD / 14ymedio, Havana

14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2016 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)
announced Tuesday its intention to withdraw from the Democratic Action
Roundtable (MUAD), a political association involving at least 42 groups
and social projects.

A statement signed by UNPACU's board of coordinators also explains that
the organization will not continue to be involved in the #Otro18
(Another 2018) campaign, because at this moment any involvement in
"training structures" can affect its "dynamic" and "effectiveness."

The text clarifies that the largest opposition organization in the
country will continue to enjoy "the best relationship and collaboration"
with MUAD, which was defined as a political association "under
construction." UNPACU says that it values the work of the coalition "in
favor of a democratic, just, prosperous and fraternal Cuba."

UNPACU made the decision public a few hours after its leader, Jose
Daniel Ferrer, presented the democratic project of his group in the
European Parliament, according to a press release from the Association
of Ibero-Americans for Freedom (AIL).

The UNPACU leader told 14ymedio unity exists and they are in agreement
with MUAD's actions and cooperation. "The problem is that our dynamic is
more active will act together to them, or they with us, when both sides
believe it necessary."

Also participating in the presentation to European Union
parliamentarians, entitled "Cementing civil society in Cuba," was Manuel
Cuesta Morua, spokesman for the Progressive Arc Party, an opposition
party and one of the most visible faces of MUAD.

Ferrer's visit to Brussels is part of an intensive travel itinerary that
has included several European and US cities, in response to the Cuban
government having issued the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black
Spring a special travel permit allowing him to leave the country "only
once." The permit was granted after intense pressure.

During his stay in Miami, Florida, Ferrer said in an interview that
estimated UNPACU's membership at more than 3,000 activists and
supporters, mainly in Santiago de Cuba and other eastern provinces.

Last week several members of MUAD participated in a meeting in Quintana
Roo, Mexico, sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the
Christian Democratic Organization of the Americas (CADO). The meeting
served to reaffirm the consensus projects and elect the members of its
Executive Secretariat.

Source: Patriotic Union of Cuba Withdraws From MUAD / 14ymedio, Havana –
Translating Cuba -

Flights between Cuba, Key West truly 'unreal'

Flights between Cuba, Key West truly 'unreal'
BY ROB O'NEAL Citizen Staff

After 17 years of traveling to Cuba, I can honestly say that my most
recent return on Sunday was by far and away the most exciting and
amazing ever. Countless hours of driving north to Miami only to fly back
south over the Seven Mile Bridge en route to Cuba was the norm. In the
early years, we would fly from Key West, to Miami, to Nassau, Bahamas,
then on to Cuba, just to skirt travel restrictions to Cuba. I think my
record is about 12 hours to traverse the 100 or so miles from Key West
to Havana, so Sunday's 45-minute, direct flight from Havana to Key West
(by way of Marathon) seemed unreal, but it was. It was gorgeous, too.
Without exaggeration, we were out of sight of any land for about 20
minutes, tops.

As part of the Key West Yacht Club's first "all-in" journey to Cuba last
week, several Keys aviators filed paperwork, paid some fees and joined a
very small club that was officially chartered in 1913. A Canadian, J. A.
Douglas McCurdy, was the first to try to make the crossing in 1911, but
failed, crashing within sight of thousands of Cubans stretched out along
the Malecon. He was quickly rescued and it's said he never even got his
feet wet. The hope of adventurous pilots and, indeed, both the U.S. and
Cuban governments, was to break Frenchman Louis Bleriot's over-the-water
record of 22 miles, which he did in 1909 when he flew over the English
Channel. Bleriot's record held until a Conch of Cuban descent and his
competitor, a full-on Cuban, set their sights on the $10,000 peso reward
(roughly $200,000 today) for the first to cross from Key West to Cuba.
Whoever came in second got $5,000.

If there's one thing I have learned since being asked to write stories
to accompany my images, it is that the Internet truly is an "echo
chamber." Lots of folks play fast and loose with the facts, so when I
tell you that some say Domingo Rosillo had a pet monkey on board, you
mustn't take it as gospel. Most do agree, however, that both Rosillo and
Agustin Parla, (the Conch), were aiming for first place but had
different ideas on how to achieve the goal. Rosillo, by most accounts
seemed a tad more practical as he had three ships stationed some 45, 30
and 15 miles off the Cuban coast to help guide the way with the smoke
from their stacks. Parla, who chose to use a seaplane, a decision that
would hinder him due to a snafu during takeoff in choppy seas, and only
a compass for guidance, was nonetheless driven. While he came in second
place, arriving two days later due to necessary repairs, his
overshooting of Havana put him, quite literally, according to most
accounts, into Mariel Harbor, dozens of miles further to the west. Parla
survived and inadvertently became the record-holder for most miles flown
over open water. There are monuments for both of these Cuban pioneers of
aviation at Key West International Airport.

Back to 2016, with relations continuing to warm between our countries,
American pilots are slowly becoming welcomed to Cuba's main airport.
Last week, it was announced that regular commercial flights will resume
between South Florida and several popular Cuban cities.

This is going to get really interesting, really fast.

Source: Flights between Cuba, Key West truly 'unreal' | -

Some UK Firms Targeting Cuban Solar + Energy Storage Market Following Trade Restrictions Relaxation

Some UK Firms Targeting Cuban Solar + Energy Storage Market Following
Trade Restrictions Relaxation
June 29th, 2016 by James Ayre

Now that Cuban trade restrictions have been relaxed somewhat, a number
of UK solar energy firms have set their sights on the country, according
to recent reports.

In particular, the UK-based company Hive Energy (of Hampshire, England)
recently announced that it was the "first British company to secure a
major solar project contract in Cuba."

Hive Energy has apparently secured a contract with Cuba's state
electricity company, Union Eléctrica de Cuba, for the development of a
50 megawatt (MW) solar energy project in the Mariel Free Zone. The
project is scheduled to be completed by 2018.

A press release continued: "The contract marks Cuba's serious efforts to
clean up its fuel supply and move away from a dependence on foreign oil
to a portfolio of wind, sun and sugar cane. Combustible fuels are also
the island's primary source of contamination, and following 5 decades of
a US embargo, Cuba's power grid and plants are costly and inefficient.
All of these factors have forced the island to look for renewable
solutions to support the economy."

In addition to Hive Energy's contract, a separate UK-based developer by
the name of Commercial Funded Solar (CFS) is apparently working on
several new solar + energy storage project contracts — altogether
totaling $7.3 million in potential project costs and 5 MW of nameplate

Greentech Media notes in its coverage that "CFS last month signed a
joint venture agreement with UK-based Cuban investment firm Leni Gas
Cuba to gauge the market for hybrid renewable energy systems in the
country." Furthermore, "CFS chief executive Tim Dobson said the company
is targeting Cuba's commercial and industrial solar sector, and is
already looking to install renewable energy systems on 3 Cuban island
holiday resorts."

Leni Gas Cuba will reportedly also be sourcing the project opportunities
— which may also include Cuban school and hospital projects.

The coverage continues: "CFS expects the Cuban market for
solar-plus-storage could be worth around $29 million within a year.
Dobson said the nation's network operator is willing to offer
power-purchase agreements of between $0.10 and $0.15 per kilowatt-hour,
'with storage on the higher end.' "

Other UK firms are investigating the country as well, with the
commercial director for UK renewable energy professional services firm
Dulas, Alistair Marsden, noting that Cuba is an "interesting" market.

The country is reportedly aiming to increase its renewable energy share
to 24%, from 4.3%. Interestingly, the country is currently (through the
University of Havana) "studying the prospect of Cuba running its own
verification, control and certification labs for photovoltaic cells and
modules in the future."

A rapid move towards renewables would likely be prudent considering the
deteriorating situation in Venezuela (a major supplier of oil for Cuba).

Source: Some UK Firms Targeting Cuban Solar + Energy Storage Market
Following Trade Restrictions Relaxation | CleanTechnica -

Christianity has 'grown in the shadows' inside Cuba

Christianity has 'grown in the shadows' inside Cuba
By Billy Hallowell
Published: Wednesday, June 29 2016 12:10 p.m. MDT

Christianity in Cuba has "grown in the shadows of culture for many
years," but a number of organizations are working to help invigorate
that growth by equipping and training pastors and churches, alike,
inside the Caribbean nation.

From Bible distributions to gospel trainings, efforts to grow the faith
have ramped up over the past two years with Christian organizations
seeing unprecedented opportunities to help Cuban citizens and churches
gain biblical knowledge.

As these initiatives grow, a number of institutions, including The Luis
Palau Bible Institute, the International Bible Society, the Luis Palau
Association and Logos Christian University will host a historic
gathering in Cuba this November that will offer ministry training to
scores of local pastors.

It's an event that will be a first for the region, and one that is made
possible due to the growing freedom inside Cuba, according to Dr. Carlos
Barbieri, director of the Luis Palau Bible Institute.

Rather than simply offering online and video classes to pastors — which
are often ineffective due to technological constraints — the
organizations involved will come together to run free, on-site courses.

Barbieri told Deseret News that the effort comes at a pivotal time.

"The church in Cuba has grown in the shadows of culture for many years.
Many of the churches and church leaders were born in the trenches and
underground," he said. "They are bold and persistent. They are
undoubtedly a living example for others, committed to the scriptures and
passionate about the Lord."

The Luis Palau Bible Institute had previously trained a small number of
pastors inside Cuba, but the task was quite difficult, with many
barriers impacting the effectiveness and scope of those efforts.

"We have been training a very small group of Cuban leaders who can
access our materials and training online," Barbieri explained. "It has
been a very small amount — no more than 40 pastors and leaders
throughout the entire nation."

But the on-site classes planned for November are slated to accommodate
220 pastors, offering a broader reach for the institute's ministry training.

Barbieri said that emails and letters from pastors and faith leaders
over the past few years have told the Bible institute that the trainings
are much-needed, with a lack of access to technology creating problems
for those attempting to consume the content online.

"We have attempted many times to send DVDs, old-school computer disks,
or even hard drives to help with training," he explained, noting that
internet access is not always widely available in Cuba. "None of them
were very effective."

So, the organization started thinking about on-site efforts to help
bridge the divide. And changing political winds have, in many ways,
helped in organizing the Luis Palau Bible Institute's November plans,
Barbieri said.

As previously reported, the Obama administration has taken steps to ease
decades-old restrictions on Cuba — regulations that have kept the U.S.
out of Cuban affairs and had essentially isolated the country.

According to Barbieri, warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba have
led the Cuban government to be more open to Bible training courses and
more willing to grant religious visas to teachers. Additionally, the
scenario has helped create smoother travel inside the island, while also
profoundly impacting Cuban Christians who are looking to spread their faith.

"Most important of all is that Cuban Christians feel more free to engage
in these events and participate in these training courses without fear,"
he said.

More open communication has also allowed Barbieri and his team to better
assess churches' needs inside Cuba. With that information in mind, the
Luis Palau Bible Institute will bring in educators this November to
offer Bible instruction.

"The idea is to take several teachers and have three days of intensive
studies on specific topics of unique interest to Cuban pastors,"
Barbieri said. "We figured that if pastors cannot access the studies
online, we will bring the studies directly to them."

One of the keys to the training will be the cultural elements that the
Bible institute has kept in mind throughout the organizational process.
Despite being "semi-isolated from the world for the past five decades,"
Barbieri said Cuba is still a Latin culture and that this must be taken
into account when training churches.

"Their culture is as Latin as any other Latin American country and needs
Latino leaders and teachers, who understand their mindset and can help
in very specific issues within the church," he said. "Issues like
pastoral counseling, counseling through domestic violence, dealing with
adultery, fighting against child abuse, or breaking addictions."

The changing relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has led many
Christians to further explore what's been happening inside the Caribbean
nation for the past 50 years when it comes to church growth and

Similar to Barbieri's claim that Christianity has had a healthy growth
in the region, CBN News also covered the issue earlier this year,
concluding that the church has fared "amazingly well" during the
country's isolation period, with the outlet adding that "many believe
the hardships and suffering have paved the way for an explosion of
church planting."

Other organizations have sent tens of thousands of Bibles to Cuba over
the past two years as well, seeing newfound opportunity after relations
between the U.S. and Cuba started to thaw.

In fact, the American Bible Society called the situation an
"unprecedented opportunity for the church," announcing in 2015 that the
organization is hoping to send 1 million Bibles to the region over a
three-year period.

Source: Christianity has 'grown in the shadows' inside Cuba | Deseret
News -

‘Lighthouse Cubans’ appeal decision to be sent back to Cuba

'Lighthouse Cubans' appeal decision to be sent back to Cuba

SUGARLOAF KEY, Fla. (WSVN) – The group of Cuban migrants found on a
lighthouse near Sugarloaf Key plan to appeal a federal judge's decision
to send them back to Cuba.

The group of 24, dubbed the "Lighthouse Cubans," were hoping to stay in
Miami based on the "wet foot, dry foot" policy after they made a swim to
the American Shoal Lighthouse when they came in contact with the U.S.
Coast Guard. Twenty-one of the migrants made it to the lighthouse, just
seven miles off Sugarloaf Key.

On Tuesday, the judge ruled the that the lighthouse did not constitute
as U.S. land. Therefore, they must return to Cuba.

Had the judge determined that the lighthouse constituted land, it would
have allowed the group to stay.

Source: 'Lighthouse Cubans' appeal decision to be sent back to Cuba –
7News – WSVN-TV -

'Suppliers of Customers' – A Thriving Business Serving Restaurants and Private Accommodations

'Suppliers of Customers' – A Thriving Business Serving Restaurants and
Private Accommodations
JORGE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ | La Habana | 30 de Junio de 2016 - 14:22 CEST.

Along with private restaurants and accommodations, another business line
has sprouted up in Cuba: the provisioning of customers in exchange for a
"commission." It's an "under-the-table" activity to which former street
hustlers are turning, as are active tour guides and other "experts" in
dealing with foreign visitors.

There is no regulation prohibiting the owners of these businesses from
"paying us a commission for bringing them Yankees," says Orlando Jiménez.

Many restaurant owners and the self-employed involved in renting rooms
prefer to carry out this practice discreetly, to keep from drawing the
attention of inspectors to the profits that allow them to pay their "
customer suppliers."

"I started out selling CDs of Cuban music in the Callejón de Hamel. I
got them on the street for 12, but the tourists paid 15, so I made 3 off
each one," Jiménez explained.

"Now I take the Yankees to houses that rent for 25 to 40 CUC, depending
on the area. The deal is a 5-CUC commission for each day rented. I also
offer currency exchange services. If the foreigner doesn't want to wait
in line at the CADECA (Exchange Office), that's another commission," he

Some small business owners use a system of signed business cards.
"They're important to the commission business," says Leonor, who rents
rooms in Havana. "Otherwise, I'd have just anyone bringing me
foreigners, and you have to be careful about crime."

"I have my two regular providers, who have my signed card. If they're
busy with other things, they provide it to people they trust. They have
to bring a card with my signature in order to be receive," Leonor explains.

"The rental commission is 5 CUC per day, but if the foreigner has
breakfast, lunch and dinner, I add 2 or 3 more CUC to the commission,"
she explains.

There are houses for rent known as mataderos (slaughterhouses), for
prostitutes that only work for Yankees, says Sonia, who owns a business
of this kind near the Malecón (breakwater) in Havana.

The rate ranges from 10 to 15 CUC per hour, and "the girls get a 5-CUC
commission, something extra, in addition to what they charge each Yankee
for their services," she says.

A business that everyone "eats off"

Bars and restaurants with prices way out of reach for most Cubans also
have connections with "purveyors of customers."

Their owners admit that, in addition to avoiding trouble with
inspectors, caution allows them to avoid being "saturated" by an excess
of undesirable offers. "The earnings from commissions are attractive,"
according to the owners of a luxury restaurant in Old Havana.

The commissions at places like the one they have can range from 3 to 5
CUC per dish ordered by foreign customers.

If it is an off-menu dish, like crocodile meat, the commission can be as
much as 15 CUC. Cocktails and wines, meanwhile, are worth commissions of
3 CUC.

According to Saúl Matos, the driver of a coco-taxi, the commissions
business has become a racket "that everyone is eating off."

"There are slow days when I only get two fares, but I make up for it
with the full service I offer the Yankees," he says. "If I convince them
to eat or drink at my places, I get a commission. Sometimes they even
treat me, and I make more."

"If I get an intermediate fare, but I'm able to pick up other Yankees, I
help out another driver, who pays me a commission. All this also creates
a 'rapport' with the Yankees, who end up leaving you a tip, which is
appreciated," he adds.

Tour guides and drivers who work for state agencies also have
established connections with private sector businesses.

Sandra, a guide in Havana's historic center, says that the commissions
are a business "that is easy and trouble-free," but "it's better to keep
it hush-hush, because you never know."

"Tourism packages offer complete travel plans, but if you have the charm
and the knowledge you can squeeze other things in while barely getting
off the route," he says. For this "its helps that the establishments are
promoted on the Internet," he says.

"If in a month you manage to take 3 package tours of 8 to 12 foreigners
to the restaurants on your agenda, you can make 5 CUC for every dish
they order," he says.

"Those profits are shared with the driver and the head of the tour
operator. The competition is tough, because many people on the street
have experience dealing with foreigners. But our advantage is that we
operate within the legal framework, and have better contacts throughout
Havana and the provinces."

Source: 'Suppliers of Customers' – A Thriving Business Serving
Restaurants and Private Accommodations | Diario de Cuba -

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Hidden Pastors Of Cuba’s Evangelical Churches

The Hidden Pastors Of Cuba's Evangelical Churches / 14ymedio, Ricardo

14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 26 June 2016 – Religious
visas for foreign pastors invited to Christian events exist in all
countries, but in Cuba they serve as a mechanism of repression and
blackmail by the state, with the aim of silencing the voices that are
raised against it within the Christian community.

When this kind of visa is requested, the Cuban government demands that
the churches submit a detailed schedule of the places where the
foreigners will be and where they will stay, from the time of their
arrival in the country until their departure. If the itinerary includes
any of the churches that express disagreement with state policies, then
the request for entry into the country is denied.

In addition, the Cuban governments demands that the church councils
submit all the data on the preachers involved before offering them a
visa, and if they are found to be associated with any NGO in their
countries of origin that does not sympathize with "the Cuban cause," the
request is denied. If everything for one pastor is "in order," according
to their preferences, but the event has also invited other pastors who
dissent from the communist process, the visa will probably be denied.
Faced with this stark reality, the Christian community has been forced
to hide foreign pastors who are invited to preach at their events.

This generates persecution by the Department of Immigration and Aliens,
which levies heavy fines on offending churches or pressures their guests
to leave the conference venue. On many occasions we have seen police
operations mounted to stop pastors, as if they were drug dealers, who
manage to make it to our activities.

How can the Church hide these preachers? It requires a great deal of
audacity. The basic thing is to omit the names in the conference
programs that are made public, and to have the guests travel on a
tourist visa (sometimes through a third country) and reach the island by
way of an airport in another province.

When they enter with a tourist visa (at least in theory) they can move
freely around the country. That means it is not illegal for them to be
in one of our churches and, if found with microphone in hand, we can
always claim that they are "witnessing" (a term in Christian speech that
is similar to preaching) rather than lecturing. As a security measure,
these preachings are not made public through audios or videos, in case
they might appear on social networks and become incriminating evidence
against us.

While this happens with pastors of all nationalities, most abused are
the Americans, because they provide most of the financial support for
our congregations. This support is not some "Machiavellian plan of the
Empire." The Cuban Evangelical Church has had its roots in American
congregations since 1900, when they began sending evangelists to our
country, who established what we know today.

By denying US religious pastors visas, the Cuban government "punishes"
the rebellious churches twice, because not only do they prevent their
members from listening to the words of the guest, but they also cut off
all possible financial aid.

That this happens in our country is contrary to the Constitution, which
states in Chapter 1 Article 8: "The State recognizes, respects and
guarantees religious freedom. In the Republic of Cuba, religious
institutions are separate from the state. The different beliefs and
religions enjoy equal consideration."

How much longer will we have to wait for our religious freedom to be
recognized and guaranteed? And above all: What is the government waiting
for to start respecting our rights?

Source: The Hidden Pastors Of Cuba's Evangelical Churches / 14ymedio,
Ricardo Fernandez – Translating Cuba -

U.S. Approves Boat Insurance For Cuba Travel

U.S. Approves Boat Insurance For Cuba Travel
Posted on 29 June 2016 Written by Peter Swanson

Common sense has finally prevailed. Pantaenius, a U.S. marine insurer,
said it will offer coverage for American boats traveling in Cuban
waters. This should eliminate a major barrier to cruising and fishing in
Cuba, in my opinion.

Ten months ago the division of the U.S. Treasury Department that
regulates interactions with Cuba under the U.S. embargo announced that
U.S. citizens with a legal reason to travel to Cuba could do so by boat
— their own boat. However, the regulations did not permit U.S. insurers
to offer hull insurance.

Thus insurance issues have proved the major disincentive for the many
American boaters dreaming of visiting Cuba. This was true when AIM
Marine Group, our parent company, organized a rally that went to Cuba in
April and as articulated to us by the many boaters who have sought to
visit the island nation on their own.

Pantaenius is a German insurer with a U.S. division. Cary Wiener, the
president of Pantaenius USA, said his legal team petitioned OFAC months
ago, seeking a change in regulations to allow his company to pay claims
that happened in Cuban waters. The problem was an embargo prohibition on
paying dollars to Cuban government entities or individuals.

OFAC, which stands for the Office of Foreign Assets Control within the
U.S. Treasury, recently updated its online Frequently Asked Questions
page with this language:

80. May persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction provide certain
insurance-related services (such as cargo or hull insurance, or
reinsurance) to persons subject to U.S, jurisdiction who are engaging in
authorized activity in Cuba?

Where the provision of insurance-related services is directly incident
to activity authorized by general or specific license, then the
provision of such services is authorized as well ...


81. Does a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction require an OFAC specific
license to pay an insurance claim that arises from authorized activity
in Cuba if the payment involves a Cuban national?

Where the provision of insurance-related services is authorized by
general license, either expressly or as a transaction ordinarily
incident to a licensed transaction, this authorization extends to the
payment or settlement of claims, including to a Cuban national.

Pantaenius may have stolen a march on the competition, but it is certain
its advantage will be short-lived because U.S. insurers, such as AIG and
the Gowrie Group, also have demonstrated their interest in the market
for Cuba coverage.

Wiener says Pantaenius offers a navigation area for Florida and the
Caribbean, which has heretofore excluded Cuba. Now, he says, customers
will be able to "buy back" Cuba coverage for up to 20 days for an
additional 10 percent of their total premiums with a $500 minimum.
(Pantaenius only covers boats valued at $200,000 or more.)

If that seems steep, consider Pantaenius' rationale. Wiener says he
believes that many damage claims short of a total loss will require that
the vessels in question be towed back to Florida for repairs because of
the lack of marine infrastructure in Cuba and remaining obstacles in the

According to Wiener, Pantaenius will require applicants for Cuba
coverage to affirm that they qualify for one of the 12 so-called
"general licenses" that let U.S. citizens travel legally to Cuba — no
different than what the travel agencies require to book air travel to
the island.

AIM's rally participants, for example, qualified under the
"people-to-people" educational license. Another popular license for
Americans with boats is international competitions, such as sportfishing
tournaments and sailing regattas.

Wiener says the customers will affirm that they are traveling to Cuba
legally and will abide by U.S. regs, but Pantaenius will not investigate
further. The company's honor system for applicants reflects the U.S.
government's own almost non-existent enforcement policy.

What boaters have done until now — those not brave enough to go "naked,"
or uninsured — is to purchase a policy from a "London syndicate" such as
Lloyd's. In my own case this represented an increase in the cost of my
boat, valued at $65,000, from $1,400 a year to $2,100. Lacking a
presence in the U.S. market, these syndicates operate outside the
confines of the U.S. embargo, although some experts will debate that point.

One of the participants in AIM Marine's program, "Rallies to Cuba: Learn
the Lingo," says he paid an additional $8,000 for syndicate coverage of
his boat during the rally. That's a lot, considering the risk. The only
period during which his previous insurer would have declined a claim
consisted of transit from the Cuba 12-mile limit to the docks of Marina
Hemingway, where it would remain for two weeks before heading back to
international waters.

All in all, this is a huge improvement and is certain to fuel further
exploration of Cuba's coast by America's boaters. The downside is that
Havana's only marina likely will be overtaxed in the immediate future as
it struggles to expand the number of berths. And it's bad news for those
brokers who have been making hay while the sun shines, selling Lloyd's

Peter Swanson is a contributing writer for Soundings and the event
content manager for the Active Interest Media Marine Group.

Source: U.S. approves boat insurance for Cuba travel | Soundings Online

Ending Cuban embargo could spur 'contagious capitalism'

Ending Cuban embargo could spur 'contagious capitalism'
Benjamin Powell
American tourists are helping fuel a pro-freedom spark in Cuba

While President Obama's visit to Cuba three months ago had little effect
on Cuba's geriatric leadership, his decision to make it easier for
Americans to travel to the island appears to have ignited a pro-freedom
spark among the Cuban people, especially the young.

That's my take-away from a recent visit to the "socialist paradise." I
found hope, if not optimism, that things will get better.

The United States could give that hope a boost by doing away with the
Cuban trade embargo, which has put the squeeze on the Cuban people for
more than five decades, but has done little to deter the communist
government's abuses. Obama's executive orders have made it easier for
Americans, particularly Cuban Americans, to travel to the island. But if
Americans want to see a freer Cuba, Congress should repeal the embargo.

Historically, the Castros have used the embargo — they call it a
"blockade" — to blame the United States for Cuba's poverty and other
problems. Like any trade restriction, the embargo has made Cuba poorer.
But it is not the underlying cause of Cuba's problems.

Cuba's poverty is a consequence of the country's economic system, which
is an appendage of its political system. Put simply, state ownership and
management of major industry, from tourism and cigar-making to sugar
milling and oil refining, has made a mess of the economy. The people pay
the price.

In the few areas where Raul Castro has allowed some modest
market-oriented economic reforms, things are somewhat better. In 2011,
for example, he relaxed restrictions on renting out private homes to
guests and operating private restaurants. Those sectors have seen some
improvements. Compared with the large and often-decaying state-run
hotels, private guest homes typically are cleaner, better maintained and
less expensive.

The private restaurants also are typically more appealing than their
government-run competitors. But as I noticed during my visit, their
menus are strikingly similar, with limited choices due to the
government's control of the supply chain, which invariably results in
overproduction of some products and shortages of others.

The United States cannot impose reforms from afar. Reform has to
originate in Cuba. But ending the embargo could help spur the process.

Economists have long appreciated that international trade, in addition
to its economic benefits, promotes peace and cultural understanding, and
helps undermine prejudices.

Increased commerce between the United States and Cuba would help more
Cubans learn how a market economy's "rules of the game" create
opportunity and promote prosperity; this would create a demand for more
of the same at home.

Economists Peter Leeson and Russel Sobel call this phenomenon
"contagious capitalism." Leeson and Sobel studied changes in economic
freedom among 100 countries during the period 1985 to 2000. They were
especially interested in seeing if economic policy changes in one
country would lead to similar changes among its geographically closest
trading partners. And, indeed, the answer was yes — economic reform is
often contagious.

A Cuban university student I met in Havana seemed to understand this. He
was pleased to learn I was from the United States and taught at a U.S.
university. "It is good when more Americans come to Cuba. It helps us
become a little freer," he confided.

He told me to ignore the anti-U.S. billboards and signs I would see in
my travels. "Know that 85 percent of Cubans will be happy you are here,"
he said. After a week in the country, I got the impression that his
estimate was on the low side.

Pro-U.S. sentiment is running high in Cuba since Obama's visit. If U.S.
politicians can find the will to repeal the embargo, it might just be
the nudge Cuba needs to make the market reforms that will loosen more of
the shackles that bind the Cuban economy and people.

Benjamin Powell is a senior fellow with the Independent Institute and a
professor of economics and director of the Free Market Institute at
Texas Tech University's Rawls College of Business.

Source: Ending Cuban embargo could spur 'contagious capitalism' - Sun
Sentinel -

Cuba reports no Zika transmission since March; Dengue all but eliminated

Cuba reports no Zika transmission since March; Dengue all but eliminated

Cuba has successfully held off the Zika epidemic and in the process all
but eliminated Dengue fever and other mosquito-carried illnesses,
state-run media reported on Tuesday.

Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told a Council of Ministers
meeting that a series of measures taken this year to eliminate the Aedes
strain of mosquito that carries Zika and other viruses had drastically
reduced infestations. There had been no infections, he said, since one
locally transmitted case, the country's 14th, was reported on March 15.

Cuba has called out the military to help fumigate, activated
neighborhood watch groups to check there is no standing water, where the
insects breed, instituted health checks at airports and other entry
points to the Caribbean island, among other measures.

A source in the health ministry, with access to epidemiological data,
told Reuters last week that there was no Zika transmission.

"We are all over it. Every time someone enters the country from Brazil
or Venezuela or wherever and comes down with Zika, more than 20 cases so
far, we isolate them and check their neighborhoods," the source said,
asking not to be identified as the information is considered classified.

The source has contradicted official reports in the past due to the
individual's concern for public health.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant
women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size
that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific
consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological
syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last
fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,300 cases of
microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in mothers.

The United States and Cuba signed an historic agreement last week to
collaborate on health issues, including Zika, as part of detente begun
in December 2014.

Media quoted Health Minister Morales as stating that due to efforts to
date, there were no reported cases of Chikungunya, another
mosquito-spread virus, and that Dengue, endemic to the region, had been
all but eliminated.

"Dengue, which when we began our intensive campaign was present in 14
provinces and the special municipality of the Isla de la Juventud, today
is present in only one municipality in Guantanamo province," he said.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Source: Cuba reports no Zika transmission since March; Dengue all but
eliminated | Reuters -


In a country that's dealt with decades of rationing, ice cream is the
public luxury. Sit down for your 15-scoop serving

Havana—beautiful, decaying, perfumed by diesel fumes and sweet sea
air—is a challenging place for an outsider to come to grips with, even
after repeated visits: Why has someone left the carefully arranged head
and feet of a dismembered goat outside a Catholic church? Why are the
taxis nicknamed almendrones (literally, "big almonds")? And, perhaps
most puzzlingly, why do Cuban adults eat so much ice cream?
Starting around 10 a.m. and going well into the evening, Havana,
especially its Old and Central quarters, is filled with people—an old
lady with smooth, nut brown skin; a young man with an
Elvis-meets-Reggaeton hairstyle; a teenaged girl in
microshorts—consuming great quantities of helado with remarkable
dedication. Some eat out on the street, but most spoon up their
pint-size sundaes in one of the city's busy ice cream parlors, gorgeous
but weather-beaten, where it's not unusual to line up for an hour and a
half to get in.
Cuban ice cream parlors are curious places. Arlequí­n, a medium-size
store on a busy, pedestrianized street in Central Havana, is done up as
if a child's birthday party were about to start, its walls illustrated
with huge cartoon characters that seem drawn from some trippy fairy
tale. Yet for all the frivolity of the decor, the mood inside is oddly
subdued, as though the liveliness of Havana had been held back at the
door. Ice cream shops may be the only places in the city where there's
no music, and the volume of conversation barely rises above the murmur
of a library. The waitresses, dressed in 1950s soda fountain outfits
(jaunty little hats, cute monogrammed aprons), are taciturn. I sat at a
table with a couple of teenaged boys sharing earbuds, and a
jolly-looking group of friends in their 60s, and between them they
barely spoke a word.
It's a strange contradiction, particularly to a foreigner, but after a
few days packed solid with ice cream eating, I started to understand it.
As one man told me as we waited in a long, snaking line, "In Cuba, ice
cream is social." It's just a particular kind of social: people who
still subsist on rationed goods, collectively enjoying the rare
experience of having as much as they want of something, surrounded by
their compatriots, all alone together.
Copellia is the city's best-known ice cream parlor. Fidel Castro
commissioned it in the early days of the Revolution, and while Havana is
full of buildings that evoke faded glory and eroded optimism, Copellia
is a particularly vivid example. Castro was inspired to create the shop,
which bears strong resemblance to a modernist cathedral, after his first
official visits to the United States, where he was turned on to American
ice cream and its abundance of flavors. As with baseball, Castro seems
to have been both impressed by Cuba's imperialist neighbor and
determined to surpass it. Built on the site of a former hospital,
Coppelia was made to accommodate 1,000 guests at a time and served up 26
different flavors of ice cream in its early years. Today, beneath its
soaring arches and stained glass windows you're lucky to be able to
choose among three, due to the shortages Cuba has been dealing with
since various expansions of the American embargo, and the collapse of
the Soviet Union.
But the number of available flavors doesn't seem to deter Habaneros. The
usual order is an ensalada—an oval-shaped yellow plastic bowl containing
five scoops, perhaps with caramel sauce and crushed cookies on top—and
most people order three of them. These 15 scoops will be polished off in
about 15 minutes, after which another ensalada might be ordered and
consumed with equal speed. Many customers bring plastic buckets, ranging
in capacity from two to five pints, and before leaving order more ice
cream to go, squashing as many scoops as possible into their containers.
As I found out when I went to Heladería Ward, a large ice cream parlor
with 30-foot ceilings out by the Coliseo de la Ciudad Deportiva sports
stadium, people look at you askance if you only order a single ensalada.
Ask for the next size down—tres gracias, three scoops—and your
tablemates will assume there's been a misunderstanding and try to
correct your order.
Unlike various staple goods, such as toilet paper and cooking oil, ice
cream in Havana is very, very cheap. An ensalada costs the equivalent of
20 U.S. cents. Unsurprisingly, the quality is not always high: The
coconut ice cream at Soda Obispo, a popular store in La Habana Vieja
(Old Havana), is delicious, full of strands of fresh fruit; but just
down the street is a busy hole-in-the-wall joint whose vanilla tastes
worryingly like pink bubblegum. But deliciousness is only part of the
point. During the Special Period (the era of terrible scarcity in Cuba
that began with the decline of the Soviet Union), "ice cream was made
with water instead of milk, and it still sold well," said Maria, who
has worked behind the counter at Soda Obispo for decades. In the large
back room there I found Wilber, a stocky man in a once-white tank top,
who has been making the ice cream there for 15 years. Over the din of
his machines, he explained that today his milk—"all full fat"—comes from
New Zealand, Mexico, and Uruguay.
"The government buys it from those countries, then sells it to us for an
affordable price," he said. At some level, the Cuban state has
apparently decided that a population with limited access to many
essentials deserves, at the very least, affordable ice cream. At the
beginning of the Special Period, Cuba lost suppliers of both powdered
milk (East Germany, during reunification) and butter (an economically
depressed Soviet Union). Without money to buy these products elsewhere,
the government had to decide whether the labor of its small number of
cows would go toward the production of butter or milk for ice cream. Ice
cream won.
One possible reason for this was offered up to me by a man I met who
runs a casa particular where people can rent rooms and where I once
stayed, and who also sells pirated DVDs and software in Central Havana.
"People like me, with their own businesses, go to comedy clubs in
Vedado," he said, referring to a more upscale neighborhood. "We'll pay
the entrance fee, have some beers, and hang out there. But people
earning a regular salary in national pesos can't afford that." For the
average Havana resident living on a regular state salary, a few beers in
a bar would add up to a week's wages. An ice cream parlor may be the
only place regular people can afford to eat or drink with others.
The best ice cream I ate in Havana came from a tiny store in La Habana
Vieja called El Naranjal. It was a modest-size vanilla ice cream
sandwich. Acquiring it took about a minute and cost the equivalent of 60
U.S. cents, which would have been affordable to the Cubans walking past
me as I left the store. But outside on the street, passing packed ice
cream parlors, I understood why my sandwich's deliciousness was only
part of the Cuban ice cream experience. I finished it alone, then headed
back to my room.

Source: Inside Cuba's Intense Ice Cream Obsession | SAVEUR -

'Top Gear' Hosts Are First Americans to Legally Race in Cuba in Over 50 Years

'Top Gear' Hosts Are First Americans to Legally Race in Cuba in Over 50
George BackJune 29, 2016

Top Gear, the US version, was officially cancelled this week. But the
long-running auto show at least went out on top, drag racing in Cuba!

Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood, and Tanner Foust travelled to the island of
Cuba where they were the first Americans to legally race in over 50
years. In fact no one had done much legal racing in Cuba since it was
outlawed in in 1962.

The three hosts met up on a highway where Cubans have only recently been
holding government sanctioned races. Ferrara started off the drag races
in his 1955 Ford Fairlane, sporting a 4-cylinder diesel engine from
Toyota. Even though he was slow, his competition was slower and he
managed to pull out a victory.

Wood then raced his 1956 Chevy Bel-Air wagon and also won. Which was
also surprising because he was pushing that American steel around with
an even smaller 4-cylinder diesel engine.

Finally it was professional driver and X-Games legend Tanner Foust's
turn to race, and unlike the other guys he had a wide block V8 in his
1952 Mercury Monterey. Unfortunately for him the guy he was racing had
an even more impressive car. So he had his doors blown off at the
starting line.

Source: 'Top Gear' Hosts Are First Americans to Legally Race in Cuba in
Over 50 Years Video -

American will offer Cuban travelers help with visas

American will offer Cuban travelers help with visas

Airline still working out details so first commercial flight to Cuba can
leave Sept. 7
It has extended a Cuba fare sale until July 11 and added cities
There hasn't been commercial air service to Cuba for more than 50 years

To help its new Cuba business take off, American Airlines plans to work
with an outside company to assist passengers with getting visas for
travel to the island, and it will set up a special Cuba reservations
desk soon.

Normally obtaining visas to countries that require them for entry by
American citizens, such as Brazil and China, is the responsibility of

But Martha Pantin, an American spokeswoman said, "With this being a new
situation, we are working with a third-party vendor that will assist
customers who have purchased flights to Cuba on American Airlines."

Once passengers are ticketed, usually about 30 days prior to departure,
they will receive a call from the American vendor who will work with
them on the visa process, she said. Journalists and those traveling to
Cuba for business will need to make their own visa applications through
the Cuban Embassy in Washington.

She said it also was "unique" for the airline to have a reservations
team dedicated to a single country.

Because embargo restrictions still remain in place, only U.S. passengers
who fall into 12 categories of travel authorized by the U.S. government
are allowed to travel from the United States to Cuba. Travel for pure
tourism isn't allowed, although there is legislation pending in Congress
to eliminate Cuba travel restrictions entirely.

American plans its inaugural flight to Cuba on Sept. 7, but is still
awaiting final approval from the Cuban government. American executives
were in Cuba last week negotiating the details, said Pantin.

Although charter companies have been flying the Cuba route for many
years, no U.S. airline has offered commercial service to Cuba in more
than 50 years. But as part of the Obama administration's engagement with
Cuba, the United States and Cuba agreed to restore commercial air
service between the two countries.

American also has extended a fare sale for its first regularly scheduled
flights to Cuba until July 11. The special fares apply for travel to
five Cuban cities from Sept. 7 through Nov. 15. All the fares require a
three-night minimum stay or a Sunday stay.

American's first flight to Cuba is scheduled to arrive in Cienfuegos on
Cuba's south coast Sept. 7. Another American flight is scheduled to land
in the Cuban city of Holguín the same day, but the Cienfuegos trip will
be the inaugural flight because it takes off earlier in the day.

American also will be flying to Camagüey, Santa Clara and Matanzas, and
has applied for Havana routes that are expected to be awarded by the
Department of Transportation later this summer. Five other U.S.
commercial airlines also have been authorized to begin regularly
scheduled service to the island.

The Cuba fare sale also has been extended to other U.S. cities where
American flies, including Boston and New York where round-trip fares
were lowered to $160, excluding taxes. Round-trip flights originating in
Miami are $198 excluding taxes ($286 with taxes included.)

American also will be offering special fares for Cuba flights
originating in Tampa, Orlando, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C,
Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and
San Francisco.

Source: American extends a sale for Cuba trips until July 11 and
announces how it will be handling visas for travelers | In Cuba Today -

After 39 days at sea, lighthouse Cubans have wet feet, judge rules

After 39 days at sea, lighthouse Cubans have wet feet, judge rules

21 Cuban migrants are headed back to Cuban soil
Judge ruled U.S.'s "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy does not extend to lighthouse

After more than five weeks bobbing offshore in a Coast Guard cutter, 21
Cuban migrants are headed back to Cuban soil.

Federal Judge Darrin Gayles ruled Tuesday that the United States'
"wet-foot, dry-foot" policy does not extend to the American Shoal
lighthouse six and a half nautical miles off Sugarloaf Key. The 21
migrants, two of which are women, fled Cuba and landed on the
lighthouse, sparking an eight-hour standoff with the Coast Guard crews
while they refused to climb off the 109-foot tall structure.

Once they climbed off the lighthouse and into the Coast Guard boats, the
U.S. government said the structure didn't count as American soil and
tried to send the migrants back to Cuba.

Pro-bono lawyers for the nonprofit Movimiento Democracia, or Democracy
Movement, filed an injunction to the repatriation order four days later,
leaving the migrants in Coast Guard limbo until Judge Gayles ruled.

Gayles, in a 35-page order, ruled that the migrants who arrived at
American Shoal Light May 20, were not denied constitutional rights. He
did not weigh in on whether the Cubans reached dry land, but rather
stated the Coast Guard and U.S. Homeland Security were not wrong in
determining the migrants were interdicted at sea.

"The Court neither approves nor disapproves the Executive Branch's
decision that the Cuban migrants in this case do not qualify for refugee
processing as dry foot arrivals to the United States," Gayles wrote.
"Developments and revisions of immigration and foreign policy are left
to the political branches of the government."

William Calderon, one of the several lawyers representing the migrants
pro bono for Democracy Movement, said he is not sure whether the group
will appeal Gayles' decision.

The makeshift vessel left Cuba with 23 migrants aboard. All of them
jumped off and swam to the lighthouse when a Coast Guard crew
approached. Two were snagged by the Coast Guard, but the rest made it to
the lighthouse. Three migrants continued to hide for an extra day after
the first 18 surrendered to the Coast Guard.

Democracy Movement's injunction was based in part on a case it
successfully argued on behalf of 15 migrants who landed on a piling of
the old Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon in 2006. Homeland Security
determined the old span, next to the functioning bridge, is no longer
connected to dry land because it has sections missing and ordered the
Cubans to go home.

But a federal judge later that year determined the historic bridge is
still part of the United States and dry land, and several of the
repatriated migrants have since returned to the states.

Source: Cuban migrants who clung to lighthouse can't stay in U.S., judge
rules | In Cuba Today -

Cuba turns down congressional visit to check its airports

Cuba turns down congressional visit to check its airports

Some members of Congress wanted to review security, technology at Cuban
Concern the Obama administration is overlooking security risks
White House is accused of denying access to information

The Cuban government has denied visas to a U.S. congressional delegation
that wanted to visit the island this weekend to review its airport
security procedures and technology.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael
McCaul, R-Texas, who was to lead the delegation, complained that it's
"easier for Cubans to come to the United States than for Members of the
House Homeland Security Committee to get to Cuba."

"At a time when the Obama Administration is rolling out the red carpet
for Havana, the Cuban government is refusing to be open and transparent
with the Representatives of the people," McCaul said in a statement.

McCaul said security at airports designated as "last departure points"
for flights to the United States States "are critically important to our
homeland security, but these security concerns seem to be taking a back
seat to the President's legacy building effort."

Rep. John Katko, R-NY., who chairs a House subcommittee on
transportation security and was to be on the trip to Cuba, detailed the
concerns that McCaul referenced in his statement.

"We still don't know if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and
explosive detection systems in place, whether it has the technology to
screen for fraudulent passports or ID, whether or how aviation workers
are screened, and if Federal Air Marshals will be allowed to fly
missions to Cuba on commercial flights," Katko said in a statement.
"This is a government that was only just removed as a state sponsor of
terrorism list one year ago, and it is not enough to rely on the Castro
regime's word that these airports are secure."

The dispute became public during a congressional hearing last month in
which McCaul accused the Obama administration of "rushing unnecessarily"
to reestablish commercial flights to Cuba.

Katko said at the hearing that Transportation Security Administration
officials had told him privately that security at Cuban airports was
"bleak," with only two Chinese-made full-body scanners in the country,
little training for drug-sniffing dogs, and little information on how
airport workers are selected and vetted.

Those same airport conditions currently apply to the charter flights
from Cuba to several U.S. airports.

A TSA official at the hearing, Larry Mizell, declined comment on the
security issue, saying that information was classified as "sensitive."
But he added that, in his opinion, security at Cuban airports had
improved over time.

Mizell and other officials from Homeland Security and other agencies who
testified at the hearing assured the Congress members that all seven
Cuban airports inspected by TSA as of May met the standards of the
International Civil Aviation Organization.

Katko accused the administration of failing to provide Congress with
information requested on the issue. "The Administration's lack of
transparency on this issue is unacceptable, and leads me to believe that
the Administration is either hiding something, or worse, simply
negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy," he
said. "The Administration is eager to have as many people as possible
visit Cuba — except for those who are attempting to examine Cuban
security infrastructure."

The congressional delegation had been trying to obtain visas for the
Cuba trip for six weeks.

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Monday that the Cuban
government's visa rejection was "troubling and highly suspicious" as the
Obama administration promotes travel to Cuba. "What are the Cuban
dictators hiding from the American people?"

The Cuban government so far has authorized six U.S. airlines to fly to
nine Cuban destinations starting in September: Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo
Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and
Santiago de Cuba.

Flights to Havana have not been authorized, a decision believed to be
due to the small size of the capital's airport and its lack of capacity
to handle the ever-growing number of arrivals.

U.S. airlines also want to hire their own personnel in Havana and use
the more modern Terminal 3, which handles all international flight. U.S.
charter flights now use Terminal 2, the oldest at the Jose Martí
International Airport.

The Obama administration expects to authorize up to 110 daily flights
between the United States and Cuba.

Nora Gámez Torres: @ngameztorres

Source: Congressional committee denied entry to Cuba to check airport
security | In Cuba Today -

Berta Soler - 'Let them take the equipment, but broken'

Berta Soler: 'Let them take the equipment, but broken'
DDC | La Habana | 28 de Junio de 2016 - 15:13 CEST.

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and her husband, the
former political prisoner from the "Group of 75," Ángel Moya, were
arrested early Monday morning, for the second time in less than 24
hours. The activists had broken the cameras that had been installed at
the group's headquarters in Lawton, and thrown them onto the street.

The incident began on Sunday, when State Security forces and Police
tried (but failed) to break into the Ladies in White headquarters, under
the pretext of carrying out an inspection. At that time the women,
including Soler, were being held for participating in the
#TodosMarchamos campaign.

State Security sent a young man "to go up on the eaves of the house and
steal the cameras from the window," Soler told the DIARIO DE CUBA. The
equipment in question consisted of the cameras the group of women uses
to record the repressive operations carried out against them every Sunday.

"He managed to break one of the cameras. All to wipe out what´s visible,
so that the world doesn't know what's really going on," she added.

The activist explained that, after being released, and anticipating that
regime forces would try to enter the house again, the Ladies in White
and other activists decided to destroy the equipment on their premises.

"As we were threatened with these acts of vandalism at the national
headquarters, the order was to break all the equipment we had, so that
they wouldn´t take it," Soler said. "Rather than having them take it,
that is, to steal it, we'd rather break it first."

According to the leader of the Ladies in White, the agents told the
dissidents: "go ahead and break them, we'll take them broken."

Soler said that she and Moya arrived at the movement's headquarters at
"about 12 at night," took all "the equipment, already broken," and threw
it onto the street, right in front of the house.

"About fifteen minutes later the police came and, on the orders of some
five State Security agents there, who were watching us, arrested Ángel
Moya and I. We were held for about 20 minutes. During that time we were
in a patrol car, near the Aguilera unit," she said.

"Finally, by order of the State Security Department, apparently, they
took us back to the national headquarters and released us," she added.

The Ladies in White have been victims of "inspections" before, which
have included the confiscation of their goods – including toys and food
that was for parties with neighborhood kids and dissidents' children at
Christmastime. Such incidents have occurred both in Havana and at
provincial headquarters, like that in Holguin.

Source: Berta Soler: 'Let them take the equipment, but broken' | Diario
de Cuba -

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion

Cuba's Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion / 14ymedio,
Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2016 — "We want to be on the
front pages of newspapers" claimed a taxi driver in the middle of heavy
traffic on a Panamanian street after being asked about the
leaked documents from the firm Mossacl Fonseca. A few weeks after that
conversation, the media focused again on that country this Sunday, but
this time for the opening of the new Panama Canal locks.

Between the cacophony of the official celebrations and the criticisms
provoked by the megaproject, one thing is missing from the news reports:
the supposed beneficiary of such improvements – Cuba's Port of Mariel. A
cloak of silence surrounds the details of its current conditions, or
lack of conditions, to serve as a stopover for ships that will pass
through the new facilities and can carry up to 13,000
20-foot-equivalent-unit (TEUs) containers each.

When the Cosco shipping company's vessel Andronikos, from China, with a
capacity of 9,400 containers passes from the Atlantic to the Pacific
through the new facilities today, it will awaken the competition between
the region's ports to win the largest numbers of vessels using the canal.

In April of 2015, one of those responsible for the development of the
Cuban port facility some 28 miles from Havana, said that the government
aspired to convert the container terminal at the Port of Mariel into a
"better choice" for transshipments in the region, once the Panama canal
expansion opened.

A projection also confirmed recently by Alicia Barcena, Executive
Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the port will be "a major logistics
hub and regional transfer" and stressed "the huge advances in the Mariel
Special Development Zone (ZDEM) and its port terminal."

However, the flagship project of Raul Castro's government, intended to
boost the national economy, generate exports and attract investment, is
not ready at the precise moment when it might tap the huge flow of cargo
through the improved Panama locks. Several sources consulted suggest
that the the main cause for the delay is the poor dredging of Mariel Bay.

With 4,268 workers, including 454 technicians and 221 engineers, the
Port of Mariel has not taken advantage of the nine-year duration of the
work on the Panama Canal, including the fact that that project is more
than 24 months late in relation to its initial schedule. A reality that
belies Cuba's official forecasts that placed the beginning of 2016 as
the date for the opening of its terminal for Post-Panamax containers.

However, Miami-Dade County has done its work. Last year that port city
served the highest number of containers in ten years, and has been
preparing to welcome the large freighters that transit through the new
locks. Officials there hope that port will become the first stop in the
southeastern region of the United States, before the boats file through

The works in Miami have been mentioned over the past few days by the
international media, linking them closely to the Panama
Canal. Improvements in the port facilities include new railroad service,
plus a tunnel connecting the port with the interstate highway
system. While in Cuba, tons of rice and fertilizer have remain stuck in
the Bay of Havana in recent weeks, in the absence of freight cars to
transport them.

Significantly, the issue of the Port of Mariel has a diminished presence
in the official Cuban media and the few reports that are transmitted
avoid specifying the current volumes of activity. No ZDEM specialist or
authority has explained to the national press how the country will take
advantage of the opportunities opening from today, while Panamanians
celebrate the inauguration of the work of the century.

Instead of information, we get only silence and rumors. The dark wall of
secrecy installed around the Port of Mariel separates the official
megaprojects from reality.

Source: Cuba's Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez – Translating Cuba -

Archbishop Of Havana Wants “Socialism To Progress”

Archbishop Of Havana Wants "Socialism To Progress" / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 27 June 2016 — The newly appointed archbishop of
Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia, said in an interview broadcast Monday
by the Associated Press (AP) that does not want that Cuba "to have
capitalism or anything in that style, but for socialism to progress" to
go "forward to fair, balanced and fraternal society."

The priest defended the work of his predecessor, Jaime Ortega. "I think
that the cardinal did a great deal of good," he said. "In some places
there is a slightly negative image of him, and it is false. I am going
to continue doing what he did."

The archbishop said he doesn't fear the criticisms of government
opponents, which for years demanded that Ortega, who led the archdiocese
for three decades, press for a change in the country's political model.

Born in 1948 in Camagüey, Garcia did not support the Revolution after
its victory in 1959. He was ordained a priest in 1972 and became
Archbishop of Camagüey in 2002. His father died in prison accused of
being responsible for a train accident, which took place in unclear
circumstances, at the end of the 1960s, an era marked by harassment of
religious figures. Despite the fact that he challenged the state in the
1970s by offering catechism in homes, he later changed his attitude
toward the authorities. "There were always people who remained faithful
despite the great difficulties at the beginning of the Revolution. One
can walk, talk and look to the future," he told the AP. "We can't live
in the past."

Source: Archbishop Of Havana Wants "Socialism To Progress" / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba -

Gagged Words

Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 27 June 2016 – The Eva
Tas Foundation, located in Amsterdam, publishes and promotes texts that
have been and are censored, regardless of where or how. Indeed, as a
part of this laudable and necessary work, this institution just
published two books by one of the most important figures in Cuban
letters, and one of the highest contemporary examples of commitment to
the truth and the defense of freedom: Amir Valle.

Gagged Words is one of them. The book was completed this 20 February,
and though the ink hasn't dried yet it is essential reading for anyone
who wants to know the history of the Castro regime's censorship,
harassment and persecution of creative work and thought in Cuba, mainly
in literature and film, but above all it reveals the subtle mechanisms
of intellectual repression that the regime has adopted in these times of
what some call late-Castroism.

Amir Valle, one of the most important Cuban intellectuals of all time,
describes certain keys to this veiled censorship or repression that goes
unnoticed by many strangers to the Cuban island. This censorship or
repression in many cases is considered by the new Mr. Magoo as a hoax
invented by enemies to discredit the "greatest example of human dignity
and social justice in the world today": The Cuba of Fidel. For example,
the complex mechanisms which prevents foreign publishers at our Book
Fairs from breaking the "ideological firmness" of our people by giving
them access to controversial literature.

The foreword of the book is by another great of our literature and a
person with an intellectual commitment to truth and freedom: Angel
Santiesteban. Thanks to this prologue, the reader from other cultures
(what Cuban does not know who we are talking about?) can learn the
essential aspects of Amir's life from the mouth of someone who has known
him intensely for almost three decades, and who addresses the worth of
information that one is about to receive, in very direct language, with
which a master of the language aims to reach the widest possible audience.

It is not by chance, but by ineluctable statistical necessity (here
surveillance and harassment never sleep), that this book came to me from
the hands of another intellectual who is often quoted in the pages
of Gagged Words, whom the police arrested Friday in my and my wife's
presence at one of the busiest intersections in Santa Clara. As the
captain of the secret police informed us, on suddenly materializing next
to us out of nowhere (what a shock to me, an atheist!) they took him to
talk "a little while" with them: "Because, compadre, with Vilches we
couldn't have done better, check it out, we've even resolved (they = the
secret police, it is understood) to put him on the jury in a contest
there in Varadero."

Gagged Words is a book with which, if you are still one of the clueless
of good faith who remain out there, you should do two things: the first
is to read it. The second is to go to Cuba with it in your suitcase so
that you can, with total sincerity, declare it at Customs, and share it
with any Cuban with the face of a reader you run into in the street.
Only then will the reality of the "Raulist opening" be known first hand
with regards to intellectual creativity, thinking and the free
discussion of the ideas. Keeping in mind, if you are one of those
anti-Yankee global-phobics who come and go in the world today, that Amir
Valle, even though they invited him, never stepped foot in what was then
the United States Interest Section in Cuba.

And it is my good friend, who then returned to the plane, expelled from
the island as a persona non grata, as Amir summarizes in an epilogue:
(In Cuba) "independence, creative freedom, free expression of creativity
are elements as palpable as galaxy EGS-ZS8-I, the most distant, 13,000
million light years from earth."

A pdf of Gagged Words is available here.

Source: Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea – Translating
Cuba -

Improving relations between the US and Cuba making life difficult for Danish tourists

Improving relations between the US and Cuba making life difficult for
Danish tourists
A classic case of too many cooks spoiling the ajiaco cubano
June 28th, 2016 2:43 pm| by Shifa Rahaman

Danes hoping to travel to Cuba may be in for some unpleasant surprises:
ever since relations between the United States and the island nation
have warmed up, Danes are finding it much harder than before to secure
their spot at the table.

Americans are now traveling to Cuba in droves, and the demand for the
dollar means that most hotels are fully booked and transport has
become more complicated.

No longer a dream destination
The travel agency Hannibal Rejser has been monitoring the situation and
is no longer suggesting Cuba as a travel destination to Danes interested
in going on holiday.

"It is no longer a destination I suggest to people," said Jesper Hannibal.

"There are too many bumps in the road now, and if you're not prepared to
deal with them, you're better off finding other destinations."

Niels Amstrup from the travel agency Jyske Rejsebureau also chimed in,
saying that the interest in traveling to Cuba among Danes has fallen
between 10 and 20 percent compared to last year.

Source: Improving relations between the US and Cuba making life
difficult for Danish tourists | The Post -

As the Doors Open to Cuba, Should Your Business Be Entering?

As the Doors Open to Cuba, Should Your Business Be Entering?
One Challenge: How to Obtain Reliable Information About Potential Local

The easing of sanctions against Cuba is creating opportunities for some
businesses to explore a market that has been largely closed to U.S.
businesses for more than 50 years. As a result of changes announced by
President Obama starting in December 2014, it is now possible for U.S.
businesses engaged in certain types of activities to set up operations
in Cuba, giving those businesses the chance to stay actively engaged in
the local market on a daily basis.

Businesses that fall within the authorized categories may establish a
business and physical presence in Cuba, and they may employ both Cuban
nationals and persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction. This provides an
opportunity to hire local personnel who have a broader understanding of
the local marketplace and scope of opportunities.

One of the challenges I have heard many clients cite as they are trying
to decide whether and how to enter the Cuban market is how to obtain
reliable information about private entrepreneurs, the local construction
industry, and other segments of the market, information which is needed
to understand whether the requirements of certain OFAC general licenses
and EAR license exceptions can be satisfied. Being able to hire a local
may give you an advantage in identifying the best opportunities for
sales that will fall within the authorized scope of the US rules.

In addition, you are also permitted to employ in Cuba persons who are
subject to U.S. jurisdiction, which includes U.S. citizens and permanent
residents. This enables you to relocate current company personnel, who
have the requisite knowledge about your business, to Cuba. Because they
know your business, such individuals may be the perfect complement to
the Cuban national you hire locally.

The Cuba rule changes have also authorized new means for undertaking
various financial transactions. In particular, credit cards issued by
U.S. financial institutions may now be used in Cuba. Moreover, U.S.
businesses that set up operations in Cuba are permitted to open and
maintain bank accounts in Cuba for the purpose of engaging in authorized
activities in Cuba. The payment terms for items exported from the United
States to Cuba and for other transactions authorized pursuant to the
Cuba sanctions have been eased on all types of exports except
agricultural commodities. This permits transactions with Cuba to be
conducted in U.S. dollars and authorizes U.S. banks to process a broad
array of transactions involving Cuba.

Take note, however, that just because they are authorized to engage in
additional transactions involving Cuba, not all U.S. banks and credit
card companies are eager to do so because of potential compliance risks.
In addition, the local economy in Cuba remains largely cash-based; many
businesses there do not yet accept credit cards.

Entry into the market is not without its limitations. In addition to the
challenges that result from a lack of development of certain markets and
sectors of the Cuban economy, compliance with the sanctions regulations
remains a trap for the unwary. You would be wise to work closely with
counsel having experience with the Cuba sanctions regulations to ensure
that any activities your business undertakes involving Cuba stay in
compliance with the rules. The regulations are complex—take the section
that provides authorization to establish a business and physical
presence in Cuba; it cites at least a dozen other sections of the Cuba
sanctions regulations in the course of telling you what is and is not
permitted and by whom.

And by no means have the Cuba sanctions—or the related penalties—gone
away. There remain broad prohibitions on engaging in transactions
involving Cuba, including restrictions on the exports of goods to Cuba
in many circumstances. Even with the increased opportunities, it remains
imperative to enter the Cuban marketplace with caution to ensure compliance.

Susan Kovarovics is a partner at the law firm of Bryan Cave LLP. Megan
Gajewski Barnhill is an associate at the firm.

Source: As the Doors Open to Cuba, Should Your Business Be Entering? |
Global Trade Magazine -