Friday, September 30, 2016

Omega and Odyssey Compete for ‘Weekly Packet’ Audience

Omega and Odyssey Compete for 'Weekly Packet' Audience / 14ymedio, Luz

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 September 2016 – Two young men wait on the
centrally located corner of San Lazaro and San Francisco in Havana,
at the door of the private business Copypack. They have in hand a hard
disk to get the 'Weekly Packet' without knowing that through this
compendium of audiovisuals a discrete battle is being fought to
monopolize the public's preferences. Who chooses the compilation called
Omega and who chooses Odyssey? That is the question.

With names from the epics, which seem straight out of video games and
science fiction movies, the two great parent companies of this singular
television alternative are trying to capture audience. They are the germ
of the channels that the island's TV viewers will enjoy in the future,
without sneaking around or standing in line to make copies to take home.

"I realized that my 'packet' was Odyssey because I asked for some copies
of Q'Manía TV and they told me that that material only came out on
Omega," said one of the customers waiting on the sidewalk. "I was
surprised, because I had no idea of those details," he said.

The two productions houses that copy, organize and distribute around one
terabyte of material every week started offering movies, series, and
foreign magazines, but they have been expanding and shaping their own
content. While Omega is betting more on series delivered episode by
episode, Odyssey is "best for finding music and videoclips," say their

Full Copy is a business with two locations in Havana, one in Vedado and
another in Lawton, that offers the Omega packet every day from 7 in the
morning, or a courier will bring it to your house for 1 Cuban
Convertible peso. "Every week we sell more than a thousand copies," says
Javier, an employee.

The director and producer Rolando Lorenzo, who heads one of the leading
programs in the Weekly Packet, explains that when he got the first
deliveries of his production ready, dedicated to promoting the history
of show business and advertising private businesses, the Omega managers
gave him an "exclusive" space without paying "a single centavo."

Entrepreneurial by nature, Lorenzo appreciated the gesture that helped
him when his project was just starting out. The producer believes that
"quality leads to power" and his program will help Omega develop even
more and of course he pushes for Q Manía TV to grow its audience.

The director says that Omega "has its privileges" and proudly says that
his program is available "in many places in the packet because it is in
several folders," especially in the first one, organized alphabetically,
something that he calls "a luxury" and he pushes to keep his commitment
to quality.

On 26th Street, in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution municipality, is one
of the most important places in the capital for the distribution of the
Weekly Packet from Odyssey. Its employees explain to 14ymedio the "daily
update," unlike Omega, along with the variety of music and TV series.

"The real difference is in Odyssey's musical selection," says a young
messenger who is responsible for distributing both packets on his
bicycle and he says that "both have daily updates." Laughing, he says
that both firms behave like "Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, which are more
similar than they want to acknowledge in public."

Odyssey is managed by Abdel, "The Essence," a very well-known music
producer on the island. Thanks to its wide selection, many of the
artists that can't show their videoclips on the popular TV show Lucas,
thanks to censorship, find a space on this audiovisual compendium. The
young man doesn't hesitate to assert that in his hands is "the best
Packet of the week."

However, Omega is no slouch and recently has created alliances with
musical promoters like Eje Record or Crazy Boys to expand its variety of
songs, soundtracks and videos with national singers.

Both parent companies have evolved in content distribution toward the
advertising business. From the work of an artist who is just starting
out, to reports focused on private businesses, the private sector
determines more and more the content of the Weekly Packet.

In a country where only ideological propaganda is permitted, promoted
and disseminated by the government on national television, alternative
networks of distribution have filled the commercial spaces that are
missing on the small screen.

Elio Hector Lopez, "The Transporter," known for being one of the
managers of the Weekly Packet, announced some months ago his intentions
to mutate his company toward advertising, and recognizes the need to
evolve in this sense of be able to survive in the future.

The producers who manage the Weekly Packet have a view of the future and
dream that their compilation of audiovisuals will shape morning television.

Source: Omega and Odyssey Compete for 'Weekly Packet' Audience /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba -

More Cuban Doctors Going to Venezuela and They Are Eating Iguanas

More Cuban Doctors Going to Venezuela and They Are Eating Iguanas / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 September 2016 — Contrary to all expectations as
well as to prior agreements, the Cuban government will temporarily
double the number of its health personnel in Venezuela. The sudden
decision, an emergency response, is an effort to halt widespread
discontent among the Venezuelan people and to garner the gratitude of
the rising number of impoverished sectors within the country by sending
in an army of white lab coats to augment the social program Barrio
Adentro (Into the Neighborhood), one of the Venezuelan ruling party's
flagship projects.

This very humanitarian social program, whose focus is helping those most
in need, began as a wonderful local initiative with citizen involvement
and grassroots leadership. It has importance today, having evolved into
a political tool for rescuing the Venezuelan government.

A few days ago a meeting took place in Havana at the headquarters of
Chief Medical Cooperation Unit (UCCM), the group which oversees
compliance with the Cuban government's international medical cooperation
commitments. The goal was to plan and implement a government new
strategy. It was one of a string of grueling meetings held behind closed
doors and chaired by Roberto González (Marin), head of Cuba's medical
mission in Venezuela. Government representatives of both nations also

According to the latest agreement, Cuban health care workers will fly to
Venezuela in small groups from Monday, August 19 through August 30.
After landing, their task will be to carry out a "strategic mission" in
areas identified in the signed document and designated on a map as "high
priority." These areas are the states of Miranda, Yaracuy, Aragua,
Capital District, Carabobo, Barinas and Apure.

"Fewer people are leaving for Venezuela every week. These days we are
only sending replacement personnel. Caracas pays daily for this service
and other Cuban exports at fixed price in hard currency based on the
price of a barrel of oil at the time the agreement was signed. But now
there is a big difference between that price and the current price of
oil. In other words, the workforce has been reduced considerably. This
big new group of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers is only
temporary. It's there to support Maduro. It's not part of the agreement.
It's what we call solidarity aid. These people must return to Cuba as
soon as the crisis ends," explains a Havana official from the Ministry
of Health.

"Look, this could just be a convenient political move during a time of
confusion. But I doubt it will work. What's the point of sending more
colleagues from our CDIs (Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers) when the
equipment there is dilapidated and there is a shortage of drugs?" asks a
Cuban healthcare worker who has been on a medical mission to a rural area.

"What Venezuela needs right now," he adds, "is food. My CDI colleagues
have to hunt iguanas in order to survive. You only have to look at our
Facebook profiles to see. And it is not because we are hunters. It's
because the grocery stores where Cubans shop only have rice, nothing
else from the main course.

As the number of Cuban physicians in Venezuela increases, their diets
are being supplemented with iguana meat, which they hunt.

Source: More Cuban Doctors Going to Venezuela and They Are Eating
Iguanas / Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -

The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba

The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García

Iván García, 19 September 2016 — Let's get to know Osmel, born in
Havana, in 1968. You can smell his body three yards away. He's a carrier
of HIV; he drinks alcohol and makes trouble seven days a week and
doesn't have any known residence.

He sleeps on top of some cartons in a building that threatens to fall
down. He eats little and poorly and makes some money collecting old
things in the dump at Calle 100, west of the capital.

His skin looks scorched, and every morning he tries to sell things on
the outskirts of the Plaza Roja in La Vibora: a pair of used shoes,
pieces of second-generation computers or a collection of old Bohemia

He says that Social Security "because of my advanced diabetes helps me
with 140 pesos (7 dollars) a month, which more or less allows me to get
what I need from the store and buy meat and medicine."

Undoubtedly, Osmel would like to have a family, sleep in a bed and have
a daily bath. "I dream about this all the time. To eat hot food, have a
wife and watch television with my kids. But how can I get that if what I
earn in a month by selling old junk or cutting stone doesn't cover my
needs?" he asks, and he answers himself:

"So that's why I have to get drunk. The money left to me goes for that.
Maybe it's the fastest way to kill myself," he says and takes a sip of
murky alcohol from a plastic bottle, filtered with industrial carbon.

Like Osmel, hundreds of indigents wander through the streets of Havana,
trying to survive in "the revolution of the humble, by the humble and
for the humble," as Fidel Castro once described it, which in practice
has been transformed into an incipient military capitalism that benefits
very few.

The Cuba of the Castro brothers happened to have a functional Social
Security, sustained by the blank check that the Kremlin provided, for
limited aid to retired and sick people, among others, who receive a
handful of pesos that isn't even enough to cover a third of what they need.

The big losers of the tepid economic reforms undertaken by General Raúl
Castro are the old people and those at risk of social exclusion. Not all
of them are beggars without a roof, like Osmel, but many are obligated
to sell newspapers, nylon bags, single cigarettes and cones of peanuts
in the streets, or become night watchmen for private companies or State
businesses to earn some extra pesos.

The worst isn't the present; it's the future. Keep in mind this date: In
2025, more than 30 percent of the Cuban population will be over 60
years. With emigration soaring, finances in the red and a lack of
coherent politics that offers net benefits to women and men of the third
age [retired], it's evident that Cuba will not be a good place for old
people to live.

Although the old are the most affected by the new economic direction,
according to Argelio, a sociologist, "almost 40 percent of the citizenry
lives below the poverty line accepted by international agencies, which
is measured by those who earn less than one dollar a day. For those in
extreme poverty, the figure on the Island hovers around 15 percent.

Specialists consulted consider that there are many reasons for the steep
fall in the level of life in Cuba. "The prolonged economic crisis, which
now has lasted for 27 years, an economy with ineffective structures,
sluggishness in applying efficient models of business management, the
circulation of two monies, low salaries and a decrease in productive and
export capacity. Except for the sale of services and tourism, in most
indices, Cuba has gone backwards," says Jorge, a professor of political

Raisa, an economist, blames the disaster on "poor governmental
management, the decapitalization of the country by the dual currency
system and low salaries, which distorts transactions, real productivity
and the buying power of the population. There are three or four types of
monetary exchanges in the export business and non-agriculture
cooperatives that affect economic performance. Raising salaries without
a productive base is counter-productive, but earning poor salaries is
even more so. The dual currency should be repealed now, although it
brings with it associated short-term phenomena that could trigger social

In October 2013, the Havana Regime announced the unification of the dual
currency and put into play a group of measures that would progressively
culminate with the withdrawal of the Cuban Convertible peso (CUC),
leaving only the Cuban peso (CUP). But the slowness and the new state of
austerity made the autocracy think twice before initiating an in-depth
monetary reform.

With an average salary that doesn't exceed 27 dollars/month, the average
Cuban must get by as well as he can to have one or two hot meals a day,
get soap, deodorant and detergent and buy clothing and shoes. To reach a
decent standard of living, Cubans need the equivalent of 20 minimum
salaries of 300 Cuban pesos a month, which would add up to the
equivalent 280 dollars per capita.

And probably this isn't enough, since the accumulation of material
hardships and lack of maintenance in the homes triple these figures.
Although the Government doesn't talk about the camouflaged inflation
that affects, above all, the State workers who earn in Cuban pesos, the
prices in the hard-currency shops — that require Cuban Convertible pesos
— reveal the real state of the situation.

Three examples: If a worker wants to buy a flat-screen television, he
needs a salary of a year and a half. To furnish his house, a salary of
five years. And if he dreams of owning a modern car, at the present
price in State agencies, he needs a salary of 180 years.

If this isn't inflation, let someone show me otherwise.

Diario Las Américas, September 9, 2015.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -

Ethics Committee Hears Appeal From Expelled Holguin Journalist

Ethics Committee Hears Appeal From Expelled Holguin Journalist /
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 September 2016 – Today the National
Ethics Commission of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) will finally
hear the appeal filed by Cuban journalist Jose Ramírez Pantoja, who was
fired from his job at Radio Holguin last August.

Ramírez Pantoja was accused at that time of republishing on his personal
blog, Verdadecuba, comments from Karina Brown, vice president of the
official newspaper Granma, who had spoken publicly about the country's
situation and the possible outbreak of another 'Maleconazo' – a 1994
protest that holds the record for the largest street* protest in the 60
years since the Castro brothers took over the Cuban government.

The trial was scheduled for last week, but for reasons that were not
clarified by the Court of Ethics it was postponed. After the hearing,
which will pass "a moral judgment on the performance of the journalist,"
according to a source who spoke with this newspaper, the commission will
have 10 days to issue a ruling.

According to UPEC's on-line site,, Luis Sexto,
president of UPEC's National Ethics Commission, traveled to the eastern
province on 7 September to conduct an "in person" interview with Ramírez
Pantoja. On that occasion, Sexto stated that despite the Provincial
Ethical Commission's having prepared a "substantial record" on the fired
journalist, "the National Commission receives, analyzes, supervises,
authorizes and modifies the measure taken at the provincial level."

The president of the national commission said he was "encouraged by the
spirit of justice inspired by UPEC and its Code of Ethics." He also said
he was traveling to Holguin "in a constructive spirit" and not as a

Speaking to 14ymedio, Ramírez Pantoja said he did not want to make a
political show of his case. However, his dismissal opened a Pandora's
Box and hardened the positions between those who defend swashbuckling
journalism mentored by the Communist Party and information professionals
seeking more freedoms.

Since the ruling, Aixa Hevia, UPEC's vice president, accused Ramirez
Pantoja of trying to position himself to move to the Miami media, and
hinted at the possibility of expelling from the country Uruguayan
journalist Fernando Ravsberg, a known sympathizer of the Cuban
Revolution, who runs the alternative blog Letters from Cuba and who came
to the defense of the fired professional.

The official press also lashed out in recent weeks against those media
"who want to present themselves as alternatives," in reference to the
multitude of alternative sites to the official press that have arisen,
especially on the initiative of young journalists who cannot find a
place in the old areas controlled by the government, or who seek to
augment their meager incomes. Iroel Sanchez, one of the journalists who
staunchly defends communist orthodoxy, challenged professionals who in a
"Cuban medium" paid homage to Che and shortly afterwards disrespected
him "where they pay better."

According to Ramirez Pantoja, the injustice committed against him led
him to consider the need for a journalism that is more serious and
committed to the needs of the people.

The journalist expressed his appreciation through social networks to
people who have supported him in the process. His presence on social
networks, however, has waned since he lost the privilege of connectivity
that is granted to some official Cuban journalists.

During the two months of the impasse, waiting, the reporter has had to
make a living through self-employment. He works "loading the Weekly
Packet onto flash drives," as confirmed by source close to him, and "he
has also been working with a the company Codanza, on the production of
the third North Atlantic Vladimer Malakhov Grand Prix Dance Contest."

Ramirez Pantoja's hearing takes place within a few hours of that of a
complaint against another former official journalist, Maykel Gonzalez
Vivero, who was expelled from Radio Sagua in Villa Clara "for
collaborating with private media."

If he loses in front of the National Ethics Commission, Ramirez Pantoja
can appeal to the UPEC Congress or request an appeal to the Supreme Court.

*Translator's note: Arguably the largest protest of all kinds by Cubans
against their government is that of the hundreds of thousands of Cubans
who have left the country.

Source: Ethics Committee Hears Appeal From Expelled Holguin Journalist /
14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -

Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex

Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex /
Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 28 September 2016 — After passing the crossing of La Palma,
two kilometers from the old bus stop of Mantilla, El Calvario is found
nestled, a district of one-story houses, roads without asphalt and a
multitude of dogs without owners.

At the end of a narrow alley the Cubalex Center of Legal Information
headquarters is located, a two-story house constructed from private
resources, that also serves as the waiting room for the public on the
lower floor and housing on the upper floor.

There, in the summer of 2011, the lawyer, Laritza Diversent Cambara, 36
years old, founded a law office to give legal advice to citizens without
charging anything nor caring about the person's ideological position.

"The last year we dealt with more than 170 cases. Most of the people
were poor and without resources, and they felt helpless because of the
State's judicial machinery. We advised on homicides, cases of violence
against women, drugs, prostitution and also for any dissident who needed
it," indicated Laritza, seated on a small roofed patio at the back of
her house.

The judicial illiteracy in Cuba is lamentable. Very few know the
Fundamental Law of the Republic or the proceedings that the police force
must fulfill during arrests, confiscations or when they give a simple

Since 2009, lawyers like Laritza Diversent has given lectures to
bloggers, independent journalists and the opposition, so they would know
how to act at the moment of an arrest.

But the laws in Cuba are an abstraction. They are a set of legal
regulations that supposedly should be respected by the authorities. But
the repressive forces are the first to violate them.

What occurred on Friday, September 23 is an example. Lartiza says that
"several neighbors had warned us about an operation that State Security
was preparing. About 20 uniformed agents presented themselves in the
office, some with pistols in their belts, as officials of several State
institutions. They brought a search warrant that didn't comply with the
requirements established by law. When we let them know it, they resorted
to force and invaded the entrance of the Cubalex headquarters, which at
the same time is my home."

They destroyed the door to the patio and came into the living quarters
after forcing the kitchen door. Now inside, they took away five
computers, seven cell phones, a server, six security cameras, three
printers, digital media, archives and money.

"They acted with total impunity and arrogance. The authorities assume
they are above the law. They filmed everything. Then they stripped us
one by one and body-searched us in a degrading way. It was really
humiliating," said Lartiza.

They took away and detained the lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, and the
activist Dayán Alfredo Pérez, whom they freed 12 hours later. Ferrer was
confined in the Zanja and Dragones police station, very close to the
Chinese Quarter of Havana.

Laritza assumes that the olive-green Regime could send Julio Ferrer to
prison. "From his family we found out that in a couple of days, Julio
will be presented in the Second Chamber of the criminal court. We will
do everything we can to prevent this."

Ferrer Tamayo, perhaps one of the best prepared Cuban jurists, was a
prosecutor in Guanabacoa and later a defense attorney. He knows like few
do about the corruption, nepotism and trafficking in influence in the
sewer of the legal system.

He has proof that points to several judges. When he decided to become an
independent lawyer, he suffered all kinds of harassment from State
Security. And in an underhanded legal plot, they sentenced him to three
years in prison. But his legal knowledge obliged the olive-green
autocracy to free him, without completing his sentence.

Now, everything indicates that they are going to prosecute him and
incarcerate him again. The coercion of Special Services has no limits on
the Island. Marienys Pavó Oñate, herself a lawyer and the wife of
Ferrer, has been confined since 31 July 2012 in the women's prison,
Manto Negro, in a case that he considers a conspiracy.

Cubalex, like other law offices and groups on the State's margins,
operate in a real judicial limbo. In one form or another, they have
tried to enroll in the Ministry of Justice Association's registry. But
either they haven't received a response, or they have been denied the
right to associate themselves legally.

In that regard, Laritza says that this indefinite or semi-clandestine
status was the perfect pretext to launch the violent operation against
Cubalex on Friday, September 23.

"At the head of the search was Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Delgado
Casanova and the prosecutor, Beatriz Peña de la Hoz. But to give it a
veneer of legality, other officers participated, like the ones from the
Institute of Physical Planning, the National Office of Tax
Administration and the Integral Direction of Supervision, a body of
inspection that forms part of the Council of Provincial Administration,"
points out the lawyer from Havana.

The Cubalex team is worried about the legal actions that the State can
take against Jorge Amado Iglesias, a collaborator of the office, since
he has a license to work for himself and they can fine him 1,500 pesos.
For her part, Laritza suspects that Physical Planning initiated a
process in order to confiscate both the headquarters and her own home.
Since it's a process of investigation that can last for months, Cubalex
cannot take on any cases.

Laritza Diversent is devastated. She believes that the operation
suffered by the office, added to other cases of detentions and
confiscations against opponents and alternative journalists, could be
the beginning of an imminent repressive wave against the dissidence on a
national level. "I never thought that by defending human rights I would
have to go through all this," she says.

And that new turn of the repressive screw brings back memories of the
Black Spring of 2003. The only thing different in the modus operandi is
the season of the year. To make it true, it would have to be in the fall.

Note: The photo of Laritza Diversent in her office was taken by Iván on
Monday, September 26, three days after the police operation against
Cubalex, which took place on the first floor of her house. In 2009,
Laritza began writing as an independent journalist on the blog, Desde La
Habana (From Havana). Her works from that period can be read in the
folder entitled Las Leyes de Laritza (Lartiza's Laws).

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against
Cubalex / Iván García – Translating Cuba -

Mexico, Cuba, U.S. talk again on 'Doughnut Hole' in Gulf Waters

Mexico, Cuba, U.S. talk again on 'Doughnut Hole' in Gulf Waters
September 30, 2016

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Officials from Mexico, the United States and
Cuba met on Thursday for a second round of talks on the limits of the
Western Polygon, an oil-rich area in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico,
two people close to the discussion said.

Talks about who owns what is in the so-called "Doughnut Hole" were
prompted after Cuba and the United States announced they would restore
diplomatic ties in late 2014.

International law gives countries the right to any resources found in
the sea within 200 nautical miles of their territory. But when areas
overlap, as they do in the case of the resource-rich Doughnut Hole,
countries have to craft an agreement.

The talks would conclude on Friday, one of the sources said, noting that
the officials aimed to define the coordinates to define where the
respective limits lie.

A Mexican government spokesman confirmed officials from the three
countries met to try and make progress on the issue and that results of
the meeting would be made public on Friday.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera and Ana Martinez; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Source: Mexico, Cuba, U.S. talk again on 'Doughnut Hole' in Gulf Waters

Charters vs. scheduled air service to Cuba: How will it shake out?

Charters vs. scheduled air service to Cuba: How will it shake out?

Among the passengers on American Airlines' first regularly scheduled
flight to Cuba was a top executive of one of the Cuban charter companies
that have begun to feel the heat now that regularly scheduled flights to
the island have resumed after a gap of 55 years.

Although American Airlines' 56 weekly flights to Cuba represent major
competition to the charter companies that have been the mainstay of
travel between the United States and Cuba for decades, Michael Zuccato
was flying that first AA flight from Miami to Cienfuegos on Sept. 7
because the company he co-founded, Cuba Travel Services, was in the
process of reinventing itself.

CTS has become an AA vendor, helping American passengers with the Cuba
visa process. Leveraging the California-based company's long experience
in Cuba, CTS also set up AA-sponsored tours for travel agents who wanted
to become familiar with the five Cuban markets that American has already
begun to serve.

For CTS, Zuccato's trip aboard the AA flight to Cuba meant coming full
circle. A charter to Cienfuegos back in 2001 was the first Cuban market
that the company served from Miami.

When AA inaugurated its service to Cuban provincial cities the second
week in September, CTS stopped all its charter service except Havana
flights, and those also will be suspended once the commercial airlines
begin flights to the Cuban capital later this year.

Michael Zuccato, Cuba Travel Services

"It will be extremely hard to compete with scheduled flights... so we've
decided to hold off until we figure out how things shake out in the
various markets," said Zuccato, the general manager of CTS.

Besides American, five other commercial airlines have been approved by
the Department of Transportation to offer regularly scheduled flights to
Cuban cities outside Havana, and both JetBlue and Silver Airways also
have begun their service. DOT has given the green light to eight U.S.
airlines to begin service to Havana, but none have started service to
the capital yet.

Some of the charter companies that have carried millions of passengers
back and forth between the United States and Cuba since the late 1970s
are looking for new Cuba-related business opportunities. But others say
they plan to keep flying and are doubling down on the Cuban-American
market, a niche they say they can serve better than anyone else.

Some of the flight suspensions aren't really by choice. Charter
companies that leased aircraft from American and JetBlue were told their
contracts for the planes would be canceled now that the commercial
carriers are in the air.

"As we begin service [to Cuban cities], we don't keep on doing
charters," American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said.

Another company that is taking a breather on charter flights until it
sees how scheduled air service to the island develops is Marazul, one of
the pioneers of the Cuban charter business.

The company ended service to almost every Cuban destination outside
Havana on Aug. 31 when JetBlue made its first scheduled flight to Cuba.
"At the end of November, we won't be doing charters using American
aircraft and we won't be doing any Havana charters," said Bob Guild,
vice president of Marazul Charters.

But he said the company still might organize charters for groups that
want their own aircraft, and other divisions of the company will become
more active.

Marazul already handles programs for hundreds of groups making research,
educational and other specialized trips to the island. "We'll define
ourselves more in that specialty-travel category," Guild said.

Over the past 35 years, he said, the company has built up contacts with
Cuban institutions that will help in putting together special-interest
itineraries such as eco-tours and travel to conferences. Marazul plans
to develop more people-to-people trips to the provinces that are now
being served by scheduled flights.

Marazul's Miami office also will continue providing services to
Cuban-American travelers who need help getting their entry documents and
passports in order and will make reservations for them and other
travelers — on scheduled and charter flights. It also will book hotels
and private-home stays as well as make rental car reservations.

Looking to the future, Zuccato said there may be opportunities to
package hotel rooms and flights and sell them inexpensively as well as
in arranging executive charters as business ties develop between the
United States and Cuba. The company has created a travel app that makes
it easier for individual travelers to Cuba to plan their own itineraries.

The company also hopes to put together more Cuba tours. "The tour side
is where the growth is going to come from," Zuccato said. And longer
term, he said, CTS would like to manage boutique hotels in Cuba and
offer those services to CTS customers.

The end game, he said, is the lifting of the embargo, which would make
it much easier for all Americans to travel to Cuba. "Then we could be
very well-positioned," he said. Currently Americans are only allowed to
visit Cuba if they fall into 12 specific categories of travel such as
those on people-to-people tours, Cuban Americans visiting family, and
those on educational, humanitarian or religious trips.

"I do think some of the charter companies will just fade away. Those
companies that focus just on the Cuban-American market will have the
most difficulty," he said.

But Zuccato isn't predicting the end of the Cuba charter business quite
yet. He point outs that it has gone through lean times before, including
during the George W. Bush administration when Cuban Americans could only
travel to the island every three years and carry 44 pounds of luggage
with them.

"The business didn't go away then and that was more troubling to me than
this," he said.

Island Travel & Tours, a charter company, recently stopped its weekly
flight from Miami to Camagüey and its Tuesday morning flight from Miami
to Havana because they weren't filling up, but Bill Hauf, president and
owner of the company, said it was a business decision rather than a
reaction to the new scheduled flights.

Hauf said Island Travel isn't dependent on leases with any of the
commercial carriers that have been approved for Cuba routes and plans to
continue running its charters from Orlando and Tampa to Havana and
hopefully add flights to Varadero during the winter season. The company
also expects to double its three weekly flights from Tampa shortly.

"[The scheduled flights] have no impact on us, because they don't have
the same passengers," he said. "It's like apples and grapes. They don't
want to take the boxes, big screen TVs, bicycles that we transport for

The commercial airlines, which make their money filling up planes with
passengers, have far more restrictive baggage policies than the
charters, which make most of their money carrying the goods that Cuban
Americans are taking to their families on the island.

Vivian Mannerud, whose company Airline Brokers arranges charters for
special events and sells Cuba-travel-related services, says how the
charter vs. scheduled flights equation develops "all depends on the
luggage fees." The industry standard for charters is generally the first
44 pounds free and then $1 or $2 per pound. Some charters allow the
first 20 pounds free and then impose a $20 charge on the first bag if it
exceeds that weight.

American Airlines passengers, in contrast, are limited to up to five
pieces of luggage or boxes, and overweight and oversize charges apply as
well as a $25 fee for the first bag, $40 for the second, $150 for the
third and charges of $200 on both a fourth and fifth bag. And from Nov.
19 to Jan. 6, excess, oversize and overweight boxes and luggage won't be
accepted on AA's Cuba flights. First and second bags are free for
passengers with elite status or who travel business or first class.

Right now, Mannerud said, many of the commercial airlines are offering
special introductory rates. "We'll see what the bottom line is and what
the fares are in January, but the baggage fees are key," she said.

The commercial airlines are expected to begin offering flights from the
United States to Havana in late November and early December and that's
also expected to have a big impact on the charter business.

The Christmas holidays have been a peak travel time for charters, and
Zuccato said that depending on demand, CTS might offer charters during
the holidays or on an ad hoc basis.

At the heart of Island Travel's Cuba business are older Cubans and Cuban
Americans who are making family visits. "They don't want to go online
and book their tickets. They will pay cash and want to come into the
office and kiss you on the cheek and schmooze," he said.

"Our clients want to go early in the morning so they get a full first
day in Cuba and they want to leave Cuba later in the day so they get a
full last day," Hauf said. American, in contrast, has scheduled its Cuba
flights for mid-morning departures from Miami to allow for connecting
flights from elsewhere in its system.

The charter companies that plan to continue to fly are hoping for a
number of decisions from the Cuban government that may lower landing
fees and make them more competitive with the commercial air carriers. A
combination of landing fees and insurance accounts for $194 of each
passenger's ticket price on charters while the commercial airlines pay
far less.

"I hope we can equalize the price with commercial airlines," said
Xiomara Almaguer-Levy, president and chief executive of Xael Charters,
which offers flights from Miami to Havana and Holguin. She said the
company intends to continue running charter flights to the island.

"We have the experience and many clients who want to continue to fly
with us," Almaguer-Levy said.

The company also offers people-to-people trips to Cuba and plans to
continue that part of the business as well.

It may take a while for all the additional air lift to Cuba to pay off.
Hotels, especially in Havana, are chock-full. Even though Cuba has a
hotel-building campaign in progress and more Cubans are renting rooms in
their homes to visitors, there is still limited lodging capacity.

"I expect this current [shortage] situation to go on for the next 1 1/2
to two years," Guild said. "The real challenge will be getting
accommodations at all."

Source: Charters vs. scheduled air service to Cuba: How will it shake
out? | In Cuba Today -

Almendrón Driver - A Daily Thriller in Havana

Almendrón Driver: A Daily Thriller in Havana
PABLO PASCUAL MÉNDEZ PIÑA | La Habana | 30 de Septiembre de 2016 - 09:51

The fact that Julio César, a 40-year-old freelance driver, glances into
the rear view mirror of his car to ask his image "Are you talking to
me?" does not mean that he's crazy. He jokes around and admits to being
a film buff and a big Robert De Niro fan. He tells me about one night,
in front of Prado and Neptuno, a street walker with a Jodie Foster air
crossed in front of his car, staring at him, in what was reminiscent of
the scene with Travis Bickle, the main character in Taxi Driver.

His imagination aside, this university graduate, sitting behind a wheel
for economic reasons, plays a supporting role in another thriller, this
one based on actual events, which we could call Almendrón Driver, a kind
of reality show, but without video cameras, on the differences between
freelance drivers and their customers, who clashed last July,
hostilities arising as a result of the Cuban-Venezuelan economic
debacle, which led to the announcement of a 50% reduction in fuel
allocations to the State sector (a source of cheap diesel fuel for the
self-employed), driving up transport prices.

Based on actual events

Julio speaks: "People grumble. They throw terrible tantrums in the car.
They accuse us of being reckless and brash. They start railing about how
they hope that our cars are confiscated from us, and other such attacks.
I ask them: 'Why don't you demand that the Government improve public
transportation? If there were buses every five minutes, I'd sell my car
and doing something else.' And they have nothing to say to that. Because
when you pass the buck to Hanibal Lecter, the lambs fall silent. It
never fails.

The Government doesn't miss a drop. Every day you've got to put at least
20 CUC in the tank. Then slog out 10 hours behind the wheel to recover
your investment, the taxes, fuel, car repairs, and to buy all the stuff
you need. Because, contrary to popular belief, no one gets rich driving
one of these old cars in Cuba. When it comes to luxuries the expert is
Antonio Castro Soto del Valle and, as far as I know, that guy is no driver.

By forcing drivers to use CUPET service stations, and setting up a phone
number to report those who don't apply the rate (10 pesos), the routes
have been divided into two: for example: Playa/Coppelia (10 pesos),
Coppelia/Capitol (10 pesos). Total: 20 pesos. In this way the numbers
add up. Otherwise we'd have to hoist the car onto donkeys.

According to sociology, "man likes to buy in the cheapest market, and
sell in the most expensive." Customers and the self-employed are only
behaving logically. The abnormal behavior is on the part of the State,
which, out of fear/panic of any liberalization, does not negotiate
mutually beneficial formulas for both groups. The only thing they care
about is preventing individuals from accumulating wealth.

Through their media apparatus they victimize the user, demonize the
self-employed, and then Big Brother intervenes, whip in hand, to impose
order. However, the only result of the measure is that freelancers and
users end up treating each other like enemies, as propaganda portrays
drivers as abusers and speculators, while passengers are made potential

Taking the lid off the fuel tank

Nationally, diesel has only seen meager discounts. Despite the
depreciation of crude by more than 60% worldwide, the liter sells for
1.10 CUC at CUPET stations. For example, the Vedado/Capitol run had a
price of 10 Cuban pesos because all the drivers were buying
misappropriated fuel, bought at 50% off the official price.

Nobody was surprised by the news. The State is fully cognizant of the
underground fuel market, and recovers its losses through taxes.

Paradoxically, the Mesa Redonda (Round Table) program sought some time
ago to create a magnetic card to sell subsidized fuel to individuals.
But where is it? The abandonment of this idea shows that double-dealing
and corruption are more in the State's interest than lowering prices.

Examples of the lack of control include the grand theft of a rail tanker
with a capacity for more than 25,000 liters of diesel, intended for the
SECONS (Construction Ministry). Even the Police have been caught taking
gasoline from their own patrol car for sale to individuals. The
Government and the official media, however, are remaining silent, so as
not to expose these scandals.

Aware that the people are as powerless as sheep, the State will neither
lower fuel prices nor penalize the thousands of thieves. It will simply
raise taxes to offset what is stolen. In this way it exploits the user
(the thieves camouflage themselves amongst them), who indirectly pays
for the State's inflated fuel prices. It is a vicious cycle.

The results of the official reaction to the people's complaints came to
at least 55 seized cars, and countless licenses withdrawn. The streets
were also deserted and more than 50% of cars stopped circulating, either
because the drivers' papers were not in order, or their cars were not
technically sound, demonstrating state controllers' thorough corruption.

Official sources suggest that across the country more than 7,400
licenses have been issued to work as a transport professional. Others
estimate that at least 7,000 more drivers were working without permits.

Currently, many of those without papers are taking retraining courses
(Law 28), to later pass the technical inspection, validate the car's
mechanical condition, and request their licenses. Speeding up the
procedures depends on the caliber of the bribes given.

Opening the trunk

The State collects taxes, but where does the money go? This is what we
wonder as we ponder the crowded streets. We drivers don´t make enough to
pay for repairs from the potholes.

If they do not vanish from the markets, tires are sold by the State for
more than 250% of their fair price (using Goodyear as a reference
point). The cooperatives dedicated to body work charge more than 700 CUC
for light repairs and painting. And getting spare parts for diesel
engines is a nightmare.

To these drawbacks we must add the corruption of officials, inspectors
and police, who seem to be given free rein to crush us. When Christmas
nears they station themselves in dark areas to avoid being filmed, and,
stopping yellow cabs, or Cuba's classic taxi cars, under the pretext of
some violation, and obtain the bribes they need to buy their year-end
pork, beer and rum.

Transportation in Havana and other provinces without private taxi
drivers would be chaos. Our work is hard, and on top of it we have to
put up with abusive customers, who pay us reluctantly when they reach
their destinations, slamming the doors. Some fellow drivers take revenge
by blasting reggaeton music. After all, we are all children of abuse.

Wiping out our services would create a major problem. We drivers end up
feeding the corrupt, and thieves; that is, half of Cuba. I can also
assure you that I have amassed enough experiences to write an urban
novel. Someday I'll do that.

About your Cuban version of Taxi Driver ... what happened to the young
Jodie Foster lookalike you saw at Prado and Neptuno?

Well, I drove up and called out to her. She comes up to the window and
says: "Oral sex costs five CUC; intercourse, 20 CUC; and you've got to
pay for the rubber too, at 5 CUC." As an appetizer she showed me a
pelvic tattoo that read "Catch me if you can." So I asked for a discount.


Nothing. She told me to go to hell, and that all us drivers were sons of
bitches. Then I had to take a detour for the cardiovascular unit.

Source: Almendrón Driver: A Daily Thriller in Havana | Diario de Cuba -

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists in Cuba to “Cross the Red Lines

Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists in Cuba to "Cross
the Red Lines" /14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 28 September 2016 – Dismantling the legal framework
for the press and eliminating all barriers to individual access to the
internet are key factors to promote a more open information environment
in Cuba, according to the report Connecting Cuba: More Space for
Criticism but Restrictions Slow Press Freedom Progress, published this
Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). However, the
organization with headquarters in New York, highlights the progress made
and suggests that "the foundations of a free press already exist" in the

Among other positive factors, it emphasizes the existence of "A lively
blogosphere, an increasing number of news websites carrying
investigative reporting and news commentary, and an innovative breed of
independent reporters who are critical of, yet still support socialist
ideas." This transformation, it adds, means that it is possible to delve
into issues that for a long time were treated superficially or ignored
by the official press, making visible, for example, gay rights or
allegations of corruption and poverty.

The report assesses the development of projects such as the site of
narrative journalism El Estornudo (The Sneeze) and the in-depth articles
on local issues in Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), as
well as "the sustained quality of 14ymedio, which provides readers with
stories and perspectives that they can't find anywhere else."

"Space is opening up. Things are moving and the status quo is cracking,"
Miriam Celaya, a contributor to 14ymedio, told CPJ. "But Cuba hasn't
changed as much as we would like."

"The Cuban people deserve answers to numerous pressing questions," said
the organization, adding, "It would be foolish to expect that
substantive answers to these questions will be forthcoming anytime soon.
But they would become significantly harder to ignore if more Cuban
journalists were asking them. For the sake of their country's future, it
is hoped that more Cuban journalists will decide to join those who have
already crossed red lines."

CPJ lists among the elements that hamper the progress of press freedom
in Cuba "harassment and intimidation from authorities, a legal limbo
caused by outdated and restrictive press laws, and limited and expensive
access to the internet."

In addition, arbitrary arrests and citations for independent
journalists, according to the report, remain common despite recording a
decline in recent years. "Fears of similar action or arrest prompt many
independent journalists to self-censor," journalists interviewed for the
report told CPJ.

The organization believes that the restoration of diplomatic ties
between Washington and Havana has made it difficult for the Cuban
government to justify censorship of the press as a means to protect the
country from US aggression.

The main obstacle to the development of a free press, according to CPJ
is limited access to Internet, as broadband connections are not
available in most Cuban homes and the service is expensive. The low
internet penetration in the country (Cuba has one of the lowest rates of
internet access in the Western Hemisphere) means that the audience for
new media is concentrated essentially in the US and Europe, while access
to independent news sites such as 14ymedio is blocked, leaving island
residents to seek alternative solutions such as the Weekly Packet.

"Despite facing many obstacles, Cuba's journalists and bloggers have
found innovative ways to distribute content, including using flash
drives and underground computer networks, and sending articles via the
state email system," the report said.

The study reports that the use of Nanostations, a device that helps
extend wifi signals and that is available on the black market, is also

The report concludes with a series of recommendations to the Cuban
Government, among which are requests for changes in the constitutional
and legal framework to ensure that journalists can carry out their work
without fear and can create private or cooperative media, the promotions
of a critical state media, and better access to the Internet. In
addition, the organization demands an end to arrests and practices of
intimidation, and asks that the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion
and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression be
allowed in the country

The CJP asks, in addition, for the Organization of American States (OAS)
to act as mediator for the visit of the Rapporteur and to consider the
Cuban government's history on human rights in its work.

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists in Cuba to
"Cross the Red Lines" /14ymedio – Translating Cuba -

Cuba Forbids Opposition Observers from Traveling to Columbia Because President Raul Castro “Is Visiting There”

Cuba Forbids Opposition Observers from Traveling to Columbia Because
President Raul Castro "Is Visiting There" / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 28 September 2016 – The reason put forth by the Cuban
authorities to block travel to Colombia by opposition members called to
be observers in the plebiscite on the that country's agreement with the
FARC, is "national security," because "the president is already there on
a visit."

This is what a security agent, who identified himself as Ronald, told
the activist Agustin Lopez, brother of Ada Lopez. The opponent described
his arrest to 14ymedio, after he was detained at three in the afternoon
on Monday when asking the police surrounding his house why they were
there. He was released at 6:40 PM on Tuesday.

His sister, the activist Ada Lopez, had denounced a police operation
around her house in Havana from the early hours of Tuesday, to keep her
from going to the airport. She was due to travel to Colombia that
afternoon to also participate as an observer in the plebiscite for peace
that is to be held on Sunday, 2 October, but she was arrested when she
left for the airport.

Ada Lopez, who is also a member of the independent library movement,
received an invitation to visit Colombia as a part of the Otro18 project
(Another 2018) an initiative focused on promoting new laws regarding
elections, free association and political parties in Cuba.

"I was leaving my house with a suitcase to try to get to the airport,"
explained Lopez, adding that the independent journalist Arturo Rojas
Rodriguez, who was scheduled to travel with her, "was arrested
yesterday, taken to a police station in the Capri neighborhood and
subsequently transferred to a station in Cotorro, to prevent him from

Hours later, Ada Lopez's husband, Osmany Díaz Cristo, reported that she
had been arrested the moment she left her house headed to the José Martí
Airport's Terminal Three in Havana. "The suitcase she was traveling with
was thrown to the ground and she was dragged to the police car. Right
now she is at the police station in Regla," across the bay from Old
Havana, he added.

Both activists were invited to participate in the plebiscite by the
Election Observation Mission of Colombia (MOE), as confirmed by 14ymedio
through the opponent Manuel Cuesta Morua, one of the main promoters of

Last Sunday, Cuban President Raul Castro traveled to the city of
Cartagena de Indias for the signing ceremony of the peace agreement
between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.

Source: Cuba Forbids Opposition Observers from Traveling to Columbia
Because President Raul Castro "Is Visiting There" / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba -

Cuba welcomes ambassador nomination but says Obama can do more

Cuba welcomes ambassador nomination but says Obama can do more
September 28, 2016
By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's nomination of an ambassador
to Cuba is welcome but he should still do more to normalize relations
between the two countries during his remaining time in office, a senior
Cuban government official said on Wednesday.

Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for U.S. affairs in the Cuban
foreign ministry, told a news conference that Cuba will make those
concerns known during a bilateral commission meeting on Friday in

"The Cuban delegation will point out the lack of advances of in the
economic, commercial sphere," Machin said. "We consider the measures
adopted by President Obama's administration are positive but still
insufficient and limited."

Obama on Tuesday nominated career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top
official at the U.S. Embassy in Havana since relations were restored
last year, to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than five

This was "welcome" news, Machin said. Cuba appointed its ambassador to
the U.S. a year ago. Still, the nomination must be approved by the
Republican-controlled Senate, which is seen as a long shot in a
presidential election year and given expected strong resistance from
Cuban-American senators including Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of

Obama should also use his executive powers, as he has done in the past,
to further hollow out the trade embargo imposed on Cuba after its 1959
revolution, Machin said.

Only Congress can lift the embargo, and the Republican leadership is not
expected to allow such a move anytime soon.

"If the president could... allow investment in telecoms, why can't he
authorize investments in other areas?" Machin said.

If he allowed the export of certain Cuban products to the United States,
why could he not broaden the export of Cuban products?" Machin asked.

Obama's critics meanwhile accuse him of already making too many
concessions towards Cuba without getting enough in return.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said earlier this month
that if elected he would seek to reverse the detente unless the leaders
there allowed religious freedoms and freed political prisoners.

Machin said he hoped the next president would take into account the
opinion of the majority of Americans, who agree with the opening to
Cuba, according to opinion polls.

Despite the need for more progress still, the two countries have made
concrete progress in improving relations over the past four months since
a previous commission meeting, Machin said, for example re-launching
commercial flights.

(Editing by Alistair Bell)

Source: Cuba welcomes ambassador nomination but says Obama can do more -

Cuba rejects Trump's call for negotiations on human rights

Cuba rejects Trump's call for negotiations on human rights
September 29, 2016

HAVANA (AP) — A top Cuban diplomat on Wednesday rejected Donald Trump's
threat to undo detente with Cuba unless the single-party government
meets the Republican presidential candidate's demands.

Trump said in Miami this month that he would reverse President Barack
Obama's executive orders loosening the U.S. trade embargo on the island
unless Cuba meets demands including "religious and political freedom for
the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners."

Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy director of U.S. affairs, said Cuba would
never be pressured into making internal reforms, and he said whoever is
the next U.S. president should respect Cuba's right to self-determination.

"Cuba has always made clear that Cuba's internal matters aren't on the
negotiating table," Machin told reporters. "They're a function of
internal decisions by Cuba and the Cuban people and we really call on
the next president of the United States to stick to those principles.
They're not Cuba's principles; they're principles of international law."

The U.S. and Cuba have held several rounds of talks on human rights
since the restart of diplomatic relations. Neither country has said
whether the talks have produced any concrete results. Talks on
less-controversial issues like health and the environment have produced
a series of bilateral agreements.

Turning to business matters, Machin urged Obama to issue a final round
of orders loosening the trade embargo before the fifth and last major
round of negotiations at the end of this year. The fourth round will
take place Friday in Washington.

Machin also praised Obama's nomination of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the
charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, as the first U.S.
ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.

"It's a decision in keeping with the commitments that both countries
made and the aim of the United States and its diplomatic mission in
being represented here at the highest possible level," he said.

Laying out Cuba's wish list for the end of the Obama administration,
Machin said Cuba believed the president could permit more U.S. exports
to Cuba and more Cuban sales to the United States, and allow American
investments in Cuba beyond an exception for telecommunications companies
carved out at the beginning of the process.

He also said Cuba remains frustrated by banks' unwillingness to deal
with Cuba, particularly in dollar transactions that were long prohibited
by the U.S. embargo and related restrictions.


Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Source: Cuba rejects Trump's call for negotiations on human rights -

U.S. senator - 'Unlikely' Cuba ambassador will be approved this year

U.S. senator: 'Unlikely' Cuba ambassador will be approved this year
September 29, 2016
By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, which oversees the confirmation of foreign service nominees,
said on Wednesday it was "highly unlikely" that an ambassador to Cuba
would be approved this year.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated career diplomat Jeffrey
DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than five

"The committee was notified of the nomination yesterday but has not yet
received the appropriate paperwork to begin its work," Republican
Senator Bob Corker said in a statement emailed to Reuters. "However, it
is highly unlikely that an ambassador to Cuba would be approved in the

The appointment of DeLaurentis, the top American official at the U.S.
embassy in Havana, marked Obama's latest move to go as far as he can in
normalizing ties between the former Cold War foes before he leaves
office in January.

But the nomination must be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate,
which is seen as a long shot.

Corker's committee would have to hold a confirmation hearing for
DeLaurentis and vote to approve his nomination before it would go to the
full Senate, where it could be blocked by any senator.

Many lawmakers have warmly embraced Obama's moves toward more normal
relations with Cuba, which became public in a shock announcement in
December 2014. But several strongly oppose his efforts, arguing that
Cuba must do far more to improve human rights before it can deal
normally with the United States.

Cuban-American senators such as Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and
Democrat Robert Menendez are particularly opposed to Obama's policy.
Rubio and Menendez are both members of the foreign relations panel.

Congress' "lame-duck" session takes place in November and December,
after the elections on Nov. 8 and before the new Congress comes to
Washington in January.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)

Source: U.S. senator: 'Unlikely' Cuba ambassador will be approved this
year -

Iran agrees to restructure Cuba's debt

Iran agrees to restructure Cuba's debt

Cuba's debt to Iran has been restructured following an agreement between
the two countries.

The agreement was signed on September 20 by Iran's export credit agency
Export Guarantee Fund of Iran (EGFI), the Export Development Bank of
Iran (EDBI) and Banco Exterior de Cuba.

According to EGFI's deputy CEO Arash Shahraini, Banco Exterior de Cuba
will start repaying the outstanding loan next month, and has with the
agreement committed to settle the full loan by 2019.

"The debt relates to a credit line extended to Cuba 10 years ago to
import goods and services from Iran," he tells GTR.

The credit, he says, was given to public entities in Cuba, mainly in the
agriculture, equipment and medicine sectors. The loan was backed by the
Cuban government's sovereign guarantee and EGFI covered the repayment.

But the loan was not repaid on time, partly due to the economic
sanctions against Iran. EGFI would not reveal the amount of Cuba's debt
to Iran, but according to the Iranian news site the Financial Tribune,
Cuba has a remaining debt of about €43mn to Iran, €50mn with interest.

The agreement to restructure Cuba's loan forms part of a wider strategy
to strengthen ties between the two countries. Last week Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani made an official visit to Havana, where he met
with Cuba's President Raul Castro and former president and revolutionary
leader Fidel Castro.

According to Shahraini, Iranian exports to Cuba amounted to US$2mn
during the previous Iranian fiscal year. He says the sanctions against
Iran, as well as Cuba's payment default, has affected the volume of
trade between the two countries. "But now we are reviewing our cover
policy on Cuba," he says. "The two countries have good political and
economic relations and they are interested in expanding their relations
especially in economic fields."

Shahraini adds that EGFI is working to pave the way for the presence of
more Iranian companies in Cuba, especially those active in the export of
techno-engineering services who are looking to take part in
infrastructure projects. "There are a lot of Iranian companies who are
very capable in implementing projects such as dams, power plants, roads,
housing etc., who are now engaged in such projects in different parts of
the world," he says.

The lifting of the economic sanctions against the country in January
this year has allowed Iran to revive and establish links with foreign
banks and export credit agencies, and to recover its funds globally, but
the road to full financial transfer capacity remains long.

Source: Iran agrees to restructure Cuba's debt | Global Trade Review
(GTR) -

Cuban press makes strides despite controls

Group: Cuban press makes strides despite controls
Posted Sep 28, 2016 9:27 am PDT Last Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 10:00 am PDT

NEW YORK, N.Y. – An independent press is emerging in Cuba despite a
constitutional requirement that media be controlled by the one party
communist state, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report
issued Wednesday.

CPJ said bloggers, documentary filmmakers and others have been creating
new spaces for free expression and entrepreneurial journalism, but they
are still hindered by the threat of arbitrary detention and limited
internet access.

"The change in Cuba's outlook toward a more free press is a welcome
development," Carlos Lauría, CPJ's program director and senior Americas
program co-ordinator said. "The government needs to ground these changes
in the country's constitution and other legal frameworks so that
journalists and bloggers can report freely and without fear of persecution."

The advent of an independent media can be traced back to 2011 when
President Raul Castro introduced free market reforms, but these reforms
have been sluggishly implemented and even reversed in some cases, the
report states.

The restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in
December 2014 also made it harder to justify press censorship as a way
to protect from American aggression, the report said, citing Cuban

The report includes an overview of internet access in Cuba, which ranks
last in terms of connectedness in the Americas, complicating efforts by
journalists to distribute their content online.

Cuba also has the most restrictive free speech laws in the Americas and
it ranked 10th on CPJ's 2015 list of world's most censored nations.

CPJ said that many of the journalists it interviewed said they sometimes
avoid publishing work that is overtly critical of the government because
of the lack of legal protections.

The organization called on the Cuban government to dismantle the current
legal framework that allows censorship and arbitrary detention and to
improve internet access for the island's 11 million citizens.

Source: Group: Cuban press makes strides despite controls - NEWS 1130 -

How Donald Trump's Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba

How Donald Trump's Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba
ON 9/29/16 AT 10:42 AM

Trump's Secret Business Dealings In Castro's Cuba
A company controlled by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for
president, secretly conducted business in communist Cuba during Fidel
Castro's presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such
undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump
executives, internal company records and court filings.

Documents show that the Trump company spent a minimum of $68,000 for its
1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a
penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government
approval. But the company did not spend the money directly. Instead,
with Trump's knowledge, executives funneled the cash for the Cuba trip
through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and
Development Corporation. Once the business consultants traveled to the
island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows
instructed senior officers with Trump's company—then called Trump Hotels
& Casino Resorts—how to make it appear legal by linking it
after-the-fact to a charitable effort.

The payment by Trump Hotels came just before the New York business mogul
launched his first bid for the White House, seeking the nomination of
the Reform Party. On his first day of the campaign, he traveled to Miami
where he spoke to a group of Cuban-Americans, a critical voting bloc in
the swing state. Trump vowed to maintain the embargo and never spend his
or his companies' money in Cuba until Fidel Castro was removed from power.

He did not disclose that, seven months earlier, Trump Hotels already had
reimbursed its consultants for the money they spent on their secret
business trip to Havana.

At the time, Americans traveling to Cuba had to receive specific U.S.
government permission, which was only granted for an extremely limited
number of purposes, such as humanitarian efforts. Neither an American
nor a company based in the United States could spend any cash in Cuba;
instead a foreign charity or similar sponsoring entity needed to pay all
expenses, including travel. Without obtaining a license from the federal
Office of Foreign Asset Control before the consultants went to Cuba, the
undertaking by Trump Hotels would have been in violation of federal law,
trade experts say.

Officials with the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization did not
respond to emails seeking comment on the Cuba trip, further
documentation about the endeavor or an interview with Trump. Richard
Fields, who was then the principal in charge of Seven Arrows, did not
return calls seeking comment.

But a former Trump executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said
the company did not obtain a government license prior to the trip.
Internal documents show that executives involved in the Cuba project
were still discussing the need for federal approval after the trip had
taken place.

OFAC officials say there is no record that the agency granted any such
license to the companies or individuals involved, although they
cautioned that some documents from that time have been destroyed. Yet
one OFAC official, who agreed to discuss approval procedures if granted
anonymity, said the probability that the office would grant a license
for work on behalf of an American casino was "essentially zero."

'He's a Murderer'

Prior to the Cuban trip, several European companies reached out to Trump
about potentially investing together on the island through Trump Hotels,
according to the former Trump executive. At the time, a bipartisan group
of senators, three former Secretaries of State and other former
officials were urging then-President Bill Clinton to review America's
Cuba policy, in hopes of eventually ending the decades-long embargo.

The goal of the Cuba trip, the former Trump executive said, was to give
Trump's company a foothold should Washington loosen or lift the trade
restrictions. While in Cuba, the Trump representatives met with
government officials, bankers and other business leaders to explore
possible opportunities for the casino company. The former executive said
Trump had participated in discussions about the Cuba trip and knew it
had taken place.

The fact that Seven Arrows spent the money and then received
reimbursement from Trump Hotels does not mitigate any potential
corporate liability for violating the Cuban embargo. "The money that the
Trump company paid to the consultant is money that a Cuban national has
an interest in and was spent on an understanding it would be
reimbursed,'' Richard Matheny, chair of Goodwin's national security and
foreign trade regulation group said, based on a description of the
events by Newsweek. "That would be illegal. If OFAC discovered this and
found there was evidence of willful misconduct, they could have made a
referral to the Department of Justice."

Shortly after Trump Hotels reimbursed Seven Arrows, the two companies
parted ways. Within months, Trump formed a presidential exploratory
committee. He soon decided to seek the nomination of the Reform Party,
which was founded by billionaire Ross Perot after his unsuccessful 1992
bid for the White House.

Trump launched his presidential campaign in Miami in November 1999.
There, at a luncheon hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation,
an organization of Cuban exiles, he proclaimed he wanted to maintain the
American embargo and would not spend any money in Cuba so long as Fidel
Castro remained in power. At the time, disclosing that his company had
just spent money on the Cuba trip, or even acknowledging an interest in
loosening the embargo, would have ruined Trump's chances in Florida, a
critical electoral state where large numbers of Cuban-Americans remain
virulently opposed to the regime.

"As you know—and the people in this room know better than anyone—putting
money and investing money in Cuba right now doesn't go to the people of
Cuba,'' Trump told the crowd. "It goes to Fidel Castro. He's a murderer,
he's a killer, he's a bad guy in every respect, and, frankly, the
embargo must stand if for no other reason than, if it does stand, he
will come down."

'Its Stock Price Had Collapsed'

By the time Trump gave that speech, 36 years had passed since the
Treasury Department in the Kennedy administration imposed the embargo.
The rules prohibited any American person or company—even those with
operations in other foreign countries—from engaging in financial
transactions with any person or entity in Cuba. The lone exceptions:
humanitarian efforts and telecommunications exports.

The impact of the embargo intensified in 1991, when the collapse of the
Soviet Union ended its oil subsidies to the island and triggered a broad
economic collapse. By 1993, Cuba faced extreme shortages and Castro was
forced to start printing money solely to cover government deficits.
Three years later, the U.S. Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which
codified the embargo into law and worsened Cuba's economic decline. With
many financial options closed off, Cuba attempted to find overseas
investment to modernize its tourism industry and other businesses.

The first signs that American policy might be shifting came in March
1998, when President Bill Clinton announced several major changes. Among
them: resuming charter flights between the United States and Cuba for
authorized Americans, streamlining procedures for exporting medical
equipment and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to send small amounts of cash
to their relatives on the island. However, Americans and American
companies still could not legally spend their own money in Cuba.

That fall, as critics pressured Clinton to further loosen the embargo,
Trump Hotels saw an opportunity. Like the communist regime, the company
was struggling, having piled up losses for years. In 1998 alone, Trump
Hotels lost $39.7 million, according to the company's financial filings
with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Its stock price had
collapsed, falling almost 80 percent from a high that year of $12 a
share to a low of just $2.75. (After multiple bankruptcies, Trump
severed his ties with the company; it is now called Trump Entertainment
Resorts and is a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises, run by renowned
financier Carl Icahn).

The company was desperate to find partners for new business which
offered the chance to increase profits, according to another former
Trump executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. The hotel and
casino company assigned Seven Arrows, which had been working with Trump
for several years, to develop such opportunities, including the one in Cuba.

On February 8, 1999, months after the consultants traveled to the
island, Seven Arrows submitted a bill to Trump Hotels for the $68,551.88
it had "incurred prior to and including a trip to Cuba on behalf of
Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc."

The 1999 document also makes clear that executives were still discussing
the legal requirements for such a trip after the consultants had already
returned from Cuba. The government does not provide after-the-fact licenses.

"Under current law trips of the sort Mr. Fields took to Cuba must be
sanctioned not only by the White House but are technically on behalf of
a charity,'' the bill submitted to Trump Hotels says. "The one most
commonly used is Carinas Cuba."

The instructions contain two errors. First, while OFAC is part of the
executive branch, the White House itself does not provide licenses for
business dealings in Cuba. Second, the correct name of the charity is
Caritas Cuba, a group formed in 1991 by the Catholic Church, which
provides services for the elderly, children and other vulnerable
populations in the Caribbean nation. Caritas Cuba did not respond to
emails about contacts it may have had with Trump Hotels, Seven Arrows or
any individuals associated with them.

The invoice from Seven Arrows was submitted to John Burke, who was then
the corporate treasurer of Trump Hotels. In a lawsuit on a different
legal issue, Burke testified that Trump Hotels paid the bill in full,
although he denied recognizing the document.

'Totally False'

The Cuba venture was one of two assignments given to Seven Arrows at
that time, and the second has already emerged as an issue in the GOP
nominee's bid for the presidency. Trump Hotels also paid the consulting
firm to help develop a deal with the Seminole tribe of Florida to
partner in a casino there. Knowing that the Florida governor and
legislature opposed casino gambling in the state, Trump authorized
developing a strategy to win over politicians to get the laws changed in
an effort named "Gambling Project." The law firm of Greenberg Traurig
was retained to assemble the strategy. A copy of the plan prepared by
the lawyers showed the strategy involved hiring multiple consultants,
lobbyists and media relations firms to persuade the governor and the
legislature to allow casino gambling in the state. The key to possible
success? Campaign contributions.

The plan states "the executive and legislative branches of Florida
government are driven by many influences, the most meaningful of which
lies in campaign giving." For the legislature, it recommends giving to
"leadership accounts" maintained by state political parties, rather than
to individual lawmakers, because "this is where the big bucks go and the
real influence is negotiated." Records show that Seven Arrows also
incurred $38,996.32 on its work on the Gaming Project, far less than it
spent for the Cuba endeavor.

Aside from deceiving Cuban-Americans, records of the 1998 initiatives
show that Trump lied to voters about his efforts in Florida during that
period. At the second Republican presidential debate in September, one
of Trump's rivals, Jeb Bush, said the billionaire had tried to buy him
off with favors and contributions when he was Florida's governor in an
effort to legalize casino gaming in the state. "Totally false,'' Trump
responded. "I would have gotten it."

The documents obtained by Newsweek give no indication why the $39,000
spent on Seven Arrows' primary assignment—arranging for a casino deal
with the Seminole tribe—was so much less than the $68,000 expended on
the Cuba effort. The former Trump executive could not offer any
explanation for the disparity.

Though it has long been illegal for corporations to spend money in Cuba
without proper authorization, there is no chance that Trump, the company
or any of its executives will be prosecuted for wrongdoing. The statute
of limitations ran out long ago, and legal analysts say OFAC's
enforcement division is understaffed, so the chances for an
investigation were slim even at the time.

And perhaps that was the calculation behind the company's decision to
flout the law: the low risk of getting caught versus the high reward of
lining up Cuban allies if the U.S. loosened or dropped the embargo. The
only catch: What would happen if Trump's Cuban-American supporters ever
found out?

Source: How Donald Trump's Company Violated the United States Embargo
Against Cuba -

Austerity Measures In Cuba Spark Fears Of A Return To Dark Economic Times

Austerity Measures In Cuba Spark Fears Of A Return To Dark Economic Times
September 28, 20164:00 PM ET
Heard on All Things Considered

Cubans are bracing for a tough end of the year, after what has already
been a rough summer. The island's economy is in trouble. Venezuela,
Cuba's main patron and supplier of cheap oil, has slashed its generous
subsidies, while Cuba's other top cash commodities are facing worldwide
price plunges.

Since the U.S. and Cuba improved relations and President Obama made his
historic trip to the island in March, expectations had been running high
among Cubans that better economic times were coming.

But beginning in July, authorities cut work hours and electricity and
gas supplies. Those measures have prompted fears of a return to austere
times in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, known as the
Special Period, when many older Cubans remember cooking with charcoal,
going long periods without electricity and having a hard time finding food.

Cuban officials won't give hard figures, but some estimates say as much
as 40 percent of the oil supplied by Venezuela has been cut. That's put
quite a strain on Cuba's rough-and-tumble transportation system, which
consists of a limited number of public buses — always stuffed to the
gills — and a pack of privately run taxis.

These aren't the polished, prim, 1950-era classics seen driving past
Havana's waterfront: These taxi cars are barely held together, and
packed with six people.

At a main transfer stop in midtown Havana, passengers jump in and out of
taxis. But not medical student Claudia Arango, 20, who was trying to get
across town to her shift at a clinic.

"I've been here 10 minutes already and not one taxi going that way has
come by," she says.

Ever since the austerity measures took effect this summer, there are
fewer taxis on the road.

Roy Ramirez, 31, says it's tough filling up his beat-up '57 Chevy taxi.

"To run a car this big I need 40 liters of gas a day," he says, or more
than 10 gallons.

At the official state-run gas stations, that costs Ramirez about $45.
Most of the drivers avoid that by buying fuel off the black market for
about half that much, but as supplies have shrunk, those prices have
nearly reached the official ones.

Taxi fares are set by the state, and any unauthorized rides can result
in big fines, confiscation of vehicles, even jail time. Drivers say the
pricier fuel has slashed their wages by as much as 30 percent, and many
have just opted to pull their cars off the road.

On top of the transportation woes, authorities have cut office hours in
some state industries and turned electricity off.

Authorities say they will do their best to minimize electricity cuts to
residential areas or the booming tourist hotels and restaurants. More
than 3 million tourists — including many now from the United States —
hit Cuban shores last year, but that surge hasn't been able to offset
shortfalls in other cash-generating exports, including nickel and sugar.

Peering into the window of a state-run shop selling small kitchen
appliances, Adriana Norman says all the electronics are too expensive
for her meager monthly salary.

The 39-year-old, who was a teenager during the Special Period, says
sometimes, with the lack of buses and blackouts, "it feels like we're
back there again — but it's not as bad. Hopefully it won't come to that

Richard Feinberg, an economics professor at the University of
California, San Diego, says Cuba has far more economic partners than it
did in the 1990s, when Cuba relied solely on the Soviet Union, "but they
haven't succeeded in diversifying their export offerings."

"Therefore they remain without the ability to earn foreign exchange, and
they continue to need to import almost everything," he says.

Feinberg, author of Open for Business: Building The New Cuban Economy,
says the Castro government has slowed plans for opening to foreign
investment and reforming key industries.

Cuban leader Raul Castro shrugs off speculation of an imminent collapse
of the economy. In a speech to a closed session of Parliament this
summer, Castro said there was no denying there would be ill effects, but
in remarks published in state media, he said Cuba is better off today.
Cuban officials do warn that the second half of the year is shaping up
to be even tougher, as they expect further drops in export income and
fuel supplies.

Laura, a state worker who didn't want to give her name because she was
not authorized to speak to the press, says she is praying that isn't true.

She says so far the power cuts haven't been too bad — only about two
hours a day. The worst part is battling to get to work in taxis and
packed public buses in the cruel Caribbean heat.

"And you get to your office thinking at least there is air conditioning,
but then find out it's been shut off," she says. "It's a big
psychological blow."

Source: Austerity Measures In Cuba Spark Fears Of A Return To Dark
Economic Times : NPR -

Here’s why the White House waited 14 months to nominate ambassador to Cuba

Here's why the White House waited 14 months to nominate ambassador to Cuba

One of the White House's key architects of its Cuba policy said the
Obama administration waited 14 months to nominate an ambassador to Cuba
because officials knew how easy it would be for a U.S. senator like
Marco Rubio to block the nomination and it didn't want such a fight to
distract from other priorities.

"We knew we had to get a bunch of things done first that were
priorities, like negotiating the establishment of diplomatic relations,
the state sponsor of terrorism issue, some of the initial bilateral
cooperation, the president's trip," said U.S. Deputy National Security
Adviser Ben Rhodes.

On Tuesday, the White House nominated Jeffrey DeLaurentis as the "first
U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years." He has been the chief of
the U.S. Embassy in Havana since it reopened last year after President
Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro reestablished diplomatic

U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes

The nomination, as expected, has already created a new source of tension
between the White House and Miami's congressional delegation, which has
largely opposed the administration's cozying up to the communist government.

Charging that Obama has capitulated to the Castro regime, the South
Florida Republican Rubio warned he'll fight the DeLaurentis' nomination.

He's done it before.

Last year, Rubio took a months long stand against the nomination of
Roberta Jacobsen, who helped negotiate the diplomatic opening with Cuba,
as the new ambassador in Mexico City despite broad bipartisan support
for her in Congress.

Rubio lifted his hold on the nomination this past spring only after the
Obama administration agreed to extend sanctions against key Venezuelan
officials for three years. It'll likely take much more for Rubio to back
down on the DeLaurentis nomination considering his unrelenting
opposition on the Cuba rapprochement.

"This nomination should go nowhere until the Castro regime makes
significant and irreversible progress in the areas of human rights and
political freedom for the Cuban people, and until longstanding concerns
about the Cuban regime's theft of property and crimes against American
citizens are addressed," Rubio said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., called the nomination a " a direct
slap in the face to the people of Cuba and to American ideals" and said
it helps legitimize the Castro regime's brutal tactics in the eyes of
the international community.

Aside from the South Florida delegation, Rhodes said DeLaurentis has
great support among a bipartisan group of members of Congress, the
administration, the business community and large parts of the
Cuban-American population.

The White House is well aware of Rubio's opposition to any nomination of
an ambassador, but Rhodes said it was important to send a positive
message about U.S.-Cuban relations.

"They'll put up a fight and we'll see if we can get him a vote," Rhodes
said. "Hopefully we can. If not, we wanted to set the precedent that
governments nominate ambassadors to Cuba. And it'll be evident over time
that it's self-defeating to just deny us the resource of an ambassador."


Source: Why the White House waited 14 months to nominate ambassador to
Cuba | In Cuba Today -