Information – Información
We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support to pay for more powerful servers. Thank you.
March 2019
« Jul    


Will Trump Open A Pandora's Box Of Litigation Over Cuban Property?
If the president fails to continue the suspension of Title III, business
relations will be disrupted far more severely and irreparably than they
would be by any regulatory change.
07/10/2017 02:34 pm ET

Long before the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce finish
writing the new regulations that President Trump ordered to restrict
trade and travel to Cuba, the president will face another decision on
relations with Havana that could be far more consequential for U.S.
businesses. By July 16, he will have to decide whether to continue
suspending certain provisions of Title III of the Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (also known as Helms-Burton, after its

If he allows Title III to go fully into effect, he will open the door to
as many as 200,0000 lawsuits by U.S. nationals whose property was taken
by the Cuban government after 1959.

U.S. courts would be swamped, the ability of U.S. companies to do
business on the island would be crippled, and allies abroad might
retaliate for U.S. suits brought against their companies in Cuba. The
tangle of resulting litigation would take years to unwind.

Title III allows U.S. nationals to file suit in U.S. courts against
anyone "trafficking" in their confiscated property in Cuba—that is,
anyone assuming an equity stake in it or profiting from it. The U.S.
Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has certified 5,913 claims of U.S.
nationals whose property was seized. These are the claims that Cuba and
the United States had begun to discuss during the Obama administration.

But Title III takes the unusual position of allowing naturalized Cuban
Americans who lost property to also file suit against alleged
traffickers. Normally, international law recognizes the sovereign right
of governments to dispose of the property of their own citizens.
According to the Department of State, by including Cuban Americans who
were not U.S. citizens when their property was taken, Title III creates
the potential for an estimated 75,000-200,000 claims worth "tens of
billions of dollars."

Back in 1996, angry opposition from U.S. allies Canada, Mexico, and
Western Europe, whose companies doing business in Cuba would be the
targets of Title III law suits, led President Bill Clinton to insist on
a presidential waiver provision in Title III when Congress was debating
the law. As a result, the president has the authority to suspend for six
months the right to file Title III law suits, and he can renew that
suspension indefinitely. Every six months since the Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, successive presidents, Democrat
and Republican alike, have continued the suspension of Title III.

If President Trump does not renew the suspension by July 16, however,
claimants will be free to file Title III law suits by the tens of
thousands. Once the suits have been filed, there will be no way to undo
the resulting legal chaos.

When the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, U.S.
allies in the Americas and Europe denounced its extraterritorial reach.
Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom passed laws prohibiting
compliance with it. The European Union filed a complaint with the World
Trade Organization, which it dropped after President Clinton suspended
Title III. In fact, the principal justification both President Clinton
and President George W. Bush offered for continuing the suspension was
the need to maintain cooperation with European allies.

If President Trump does not renew the suspension, all these old wounds
with allies will be reopened as U.S. claimants try to haul foreign
companies into U.S. courts for doing business in Cuba. We already have
enough tough issues on our agenda with Mexico, Canada, and Europe
without adding another one.

U.S. businesses would not be exempt from potential liability. A Cuban
American family in Miami claims to have owned the land on which José
Martí International Airport was built, so any U.S. carrier using the air
field could be sued under Title III. Another family that owned the Port
of Santiago could file suit against U.S. cruise ships docking there.

Moreover, it would be almost impossible for a U.S. company to know in
advance whether a proposed business opportunity in Cuba might become the
subject of Title III litigation. "This will effectively end for decades
any attempt to restore trade between the U.S. and Cuba," attorney Robert
Muse told the Tampa Bay Times.

Explaining the new trade and travel regulations that President Trump
announced on June 16, senior administration officials said they were
designed "to not disrupt existing business" that U.S. companies were
doing in Cuba. If the president fails to continue the suspension of
Title III, business relations will be disrupted far more severely and
irreparably than they would be by any regulatory change.

Source: Will Trump Open A Pandora's Box Of Litigation Over Cuban
Property? | HuffPost - Continue reading
How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba
A trip to Santiago de Cuba should start with dinner at a paladar
(family-run restaurant) and end with drinks on the roof of the Hotel
Casa Granda.
By JENNIFER BAIN Travel Editor
Wed., June 21, 2017

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA-Ramon Guilarte welcomes us to his home and
restaurant with a cocktail full of vitamin R. Will it be a Cuba Libre,
rum and cola, or Estacazo, rum and lemonade? Rum is ridiculously cheap here.

Esta Caso seems more fun, thanks to our host's animated explanation
(some of it lost in translation) about how drinking this is like getting
whacked with a stick. As we dig into platters of mango, papaya and
pineapple, Guilarte opens a bottle of rum and pours a little on the
ground as an offering to the saints for good luck, and then asks us each
how big a "stick" we want in our drinks.

"Don't expect a common restaurant," he warns with a theatrical flourish.
"Everybody that comes to the restaurant is a friend. I think it's
important that you feel like home — and these are not empty words."

La Fondita de Compay Ramon is a paladar, a family-run restaurant that
boosts the economy and gives tourists and locals the chance to connect.
At this farm-themed paladar we sit in cowhide "taburete" chairs found in
typical farms and our host is dressed like a traditional farmer.

In between a stunning red kidney bean soup and unpretentious platters
full of rice, pork, cabbage, shrimp, chicken and plantains, we learn
that Guilarte is a painter and empty nester with two daughters and two

"Painting, and the life of a painter, is very lonely. Painting is
totally opposite to this business." He opened Compay Ramon in 2012 in
the Ferrerido neighbourhood of Cuba's second largest city. His
neighbours don't mind the nightly commotion, maybe because they often
get to share the leftovers.

"Best food in Cuba," according to "the Intrepid Group" in one of the
many accolades scrawled artfully on the wall and dated Dec. 16, just
weeks after Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro died and weeks before my
first visit to Canada's favourite Caribbean island.

You'll find plenty of online accolades for our enthusiastic host. "Ramon
is a character," allows our Cubatur guide and translator Ricardo
Zaldivar Rodriguez, "but this is not a show."

I duck down the hall into the tiny kitchen to meet Guilarte's smiling
wife Mayra Gayoso Romaguera and her helper, who is washing dishes by
hand. I peek at a modest bedroom.

My first night in Cuba ends with a stewed green papaya dessert and
Guilarte showing how to roast coffee beans and brew coffee the
traditional way and then sharing a cigar.

Santiago de Cuba, with half a million people, is often described as "the
hottest city in Cuba" because of its temperature and charm.

We cram a lot into a whirlwind day — historic sites like the Santa
Ifgenia cemetery, where Castro's ashes are marked by a large rock from
the Sierra Maestra mountains, and where national hero/poet Jose Marti
has an elaborate mausoleum. People bring them red and white roses

We hit Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, a former fort/prison called
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, and a Catholic church with a sacred
Virgin of Charity statue called El Cobre near a copper mine. I buy a
bundle of copper-tinged rocks from a guy in the parking lot.

Cubans make the most of what they are given. There is virtually no waste
here — public garbage cans are nearly always empty.

I'm more curious about the present than the past and so relish the
chance to wander down Calle Enramada, a pedestrian street where I don't
have time to join the lineup for hot churros.

"If you don't mention this street name," says Rodriguez, "it might be
said that you have never been to Santiago de Cuba."

At La Barrita Ron Caney, a bar by a rum factory, I sample seven-year-old
rum, smelling it with closed eyes, tilting the glass to see the body and
holding a sip in my throat while the house band plays traditional Cuban

There is music everywhere, in Plaza de Dolores, in Casa de la Trova Pepe
Sanchez, and at Tropicana, an outpost of Havana's famed cabaret.

"When we hear music, we start dancing," says Rodriguez, who sings and
dances throughout our week together.

At Restaurante Matamoros, the chef pops out of the kitchen to join the
band while we enjoy a soupy meat and vegetable stew called ajiaco. After
dinner we have coffee nearby at Café Constantin, where my Bembito Bomban
is a cheeky reference to Afro-Cuban women and combines coffee, cacao
liqueur and cinnamon.

Cuba is changing, so you will mix and match old and new.

Melia Santiago de Cuba is new, glitzy and a short drive from the
historic centre, with decent Wi-Fi (a very big deal), a pool, and a
breakfast buffet, where I wrapped thin slices of cheese around chunks of
guava paste.

In the heart of downtown, Hotel Casa Granda oozes colonial charm, with a
breezy rooftop restaurant and sweeping city views. For my last meal, I
had a Cuban sandwich (an American invention) and a local spin on
pepperoni pizza (forgive me).

It was no Fondita de Compay Ramon, but it was still equally, magically

Jennifer Bain was hosted by the Cuba Tourist Board, which didn't review
or approve this story.

When you go

Get there: I flew Cubana de Aviacion airlines ( ) direct to
Santiago de Cuba and flew home with a stop in Camaguey. WestJet, Air
Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing all fly to various spots in Cuba.

Get around: It's easy to take taxis around Santiago de Cuba, but if you
have a driver and guide (like I did with Cubatur), you'll have the bonus
of a translator/fixer.

Stay: I stayed at the modern Melia Santiago de Cuba (

Eat: Find La Fondita de Compay Ramon on Facebook.

Know: You can only buy Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) in Cuba and can't
exchange them at the end of your trip. Get them at the airport and
foreign exchange shops. Wi-Fi is limited to public squares and some
hotel lobbies. Buy a 60-minute Wi-Fi card for 2 CUC (about $2.75
Canadian) at the airport or your hotel. North American plugs don't work
so bring an adaptor for the European 220-volt system.

Source: How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba | Toronto
Star - Continue reading
Cuba then and now: LGBT progress is real
As the country opens its doors even farther, U.S. fundamentalists are
looking for influence and to proselytize — not a good omen for LGBT Cubans.
Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News Jun 5, 2017

It was 20 years ago when I first reported on the state of LGBT life in
Cuba, and the differences between then and now could not be more apparent.

Start with the procedure to arrange my travel to the island nation. In
1997, as an out LGBT journalist, I received no assistance from the U.S.
government — except the warning that I could have trouble re-entering
the United States, since the U.S. government might not recognize LGBT
reporters as legitimate journalists.

As for Cuba, its embassy refused to return calls.

As with most Cuba-bound Americans, I had to travel via Mexico and
arrange hotel and other necessities through third- and fourth-party
connections. At times, it was almost cloak-and-dagger.

Today, travel protocols made my arrangements vastly easier than 20 years
ago. The Cuban Embassy not only sped up my visa, it arranged for me to
have official Cuban press credentials, which it also did for other U.S.
LGBT media on the same trip.

That ease of entry symbolizes Cuba's attempt to open its society — and
go after the lucrative LGBT tourism market.

My trip could not have been timed better, since Cuba was about to
commemorate the 10th annual International Day Against Homophobia and
Transphobia, spearheaded in the country by the Cuban National Center for
Sex Education. CENESEX is headed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of the
current president of Cuba and niece to its former president, Fidel Castro.

Understanding religion's role
My first evening's dinner was spent with an old friend and U.S. gay
pioneer, the Rev. Troy Perry of the LGBT-inclusive Metropolitan
Community Church, who was scheduled to receive an award from CENESEX.

We dined with members of his Cuban church, whose pastor is Elaine
Saralegui, an out lesbian from Matanzas, Cuba. Their work holds a mirror
up to the religious complexity of the Cuban people.

The Roman Catholic Church estimates that 60–70 percent of Cubans
identify as Catholic, with Protestants — like MCC members — making up
only about 5 percent. Many from both denominations also embrace
practices of the African-Caribbean Santería faith.

As the country opens its doors even farther, U.S. fundamentalists are
looking for influence and to proselytize — not a good omen for LGBT Cubans.

But Perry's church has a distinction: It is the first official
non-government LGBT organization in Cuba. Perry takes pride in stating
that Cuba now becomes the 34th nation with MCC churches.

The distinctions and progress don't end there. Perry says that while the
Catholic Church in Cuba imports its priests from other Latin countries,
all MCC churches will have Cuban-born ministers.

The first is Saralegui, making her the first out lesbian activist in
Cuba. She says, with a grin, that she identifies as an LGBT Christian

Saralegui was inspired by Perry's work two years ago and asked her
bishop about creating a church for LGBT people. A few disagreements
later, MCC Matanzas — a city that considers itself Cuba's art capital —
became Cuba's first out church.

When she's not tending the church, Saralegui travels the country
performing liturgies for LGBT Cubans and anyone else who wants to hear
her message of inclusion.

"I want our community to be proud," she says with a smile through a

When I ask her if she's had any issues from members of the LGBT
community about her activism, she smiles broadly and states, "Some don't
believe you can be Christian and gay."

Overcoming Cuba's dark past
Cuba's past often clashes with its present — and the government's
relative embrace of the LGBT community today belies its shameful past.

Meet Luis. Now 74, he survived one of Cuba's labor camps for gay men in
the 1960s. At 16, Luis was taken to a camp, which was apparently
unsurprising since, he smiles and says, "Everyone in my neighborhood
said I was that way." He soon discovered what his time in detention
would comprise: "The second day they yelled and yelled at me, 'Be a man,
be a man.' All day.

"They never hit those of us in the camps; they only spoke at us."

On most days, the men had to sit through what today we'd call
re-programming. "They had signs everywhere: 'The revolution needs men.'
And they kept telling us we had to be men and gay people were not men."
They also heard frequently from the psychologist camp officials brought
in from Havana.

In another attempt at reeducation, the men were put to work.

According to Luis, there were many camps and each held about 120 men.
The hard physical labor was supposed to make one a hard (read: straight)

As to numbers, Luis tells me several thousand gay inmates were housed in
a section of Cuba far from Havana.

Luis is not clear about how he left the camp, but he knows what he did

"My old life was no more and I couldn't go home or get work so I went to
the capital," he recalled. "I told them I lost my papers and was given
new papers; they never knew about my past life."

He studied and became a technical draftsman. He found love, and settled
into life.

The government used to deny it had such camps, but before his death,
Fidel Castro admitted it and apologized. Luis, a short, jovial man,
wanted a personal apology and he eventually received it from another
Castro — CENESEX's Mariela.

When I ask what he thinks the future holds for Cuba's LGBT community, he
shrugs and says he's "hopeful." He wants people not to forget their
history, but he doesn't want that connection to the past to impede progress.

It's a hard line he walks, but he does it with a joyous style.

A couple of days later I watched him dancing at the CENESEX rally, doing
a rhumba with his friends. Luis was enjoying life and its new freedoms,
but never letting go of those memories of a different time.

Nascent LGBT tourism industry
The reality is that you can't judge Cuba on its treatment of LGBT people
in the past. Louis wants to live for today, and in today's Cuba, at
least for the LGBT community, things have changed.

My tour guide, Leandro Velazco, says of LGBT tourism: "We have bars,
nightly 'inclusion' parties, a couple of good restaurants, a state-run
LGBT organization, occasional festivals and even Grindr." When I look
quizzically at him, he tells me about something called Planet Romeo,
which he said was the first LGBT social-networking site to hit Cuba
several years ago. His business,, like many in Cuba,
is adjusting to the internet, hoping that the promise of LGBT tourism in
Cuba becomes a reality.

I thought of that as I marched in the International Day Against
Homophobia and Transphobia rally, along with almost 1,000 Cubans. They
shouted socialist slogans peppered with "End Homophobia and Transphobia
Now." There were no corporate sponsors, and it looked more like a gay
Pride celebration than a march of defiance. At the rally, there were a
few speeches and then a dance and festival. CENESEX used the event for
HIV education, condom distribution and testing.

There's no question Cuba wants to get into the gay tourism game. There
are at least four LGBT tour-guide sites on the web and numerous
individuals and travel groups in the United States who specialize in
LGBT Cuban tourism.

Cuba is home to great weather, beaches, mountains, incredible colonial
architecture and some of the most hospitable people you'll ever meet. It
also sometimes seems the country is in a time capsule.

That can be a curse or a charm.

The old Buicks and Chevys are an example. They're charming, but their
prevalence reminds visitors that new cars are out of reach for many
Cubans — although that has begun to change, as has the hospitality
industry, which languished for years. On the way to the airport, you
notice parking lots full of new taxis and tour buses waiting for the
explosion of tourists.

Cubans call their country "The Pearl of the Caribbean," but that pearl
is still trapped by the U.S. embargo. It's a touchy subject here — some
claim the embargo is keeping this country in economic turmoil, while
others say it is the government's political repression that stifles Cuba.

Either way, it wreaks havoc on tourism. There is not one place in all of
Cuba that you can use an American credit card. Therefore, cash is a
requirement. How many Americans want to travel with a wad of cash in
their pockets?

Still, Cubans themselves say they want change — and no longer to feel
like pawns of two governments.

This article originally appeared in Phildelphia Gay News.

Source: Cuba then and now: LGBT progress is real | Lifestyle | - Continue reading
Eight Truths About Cuba That the Bikini-Clad Girls Don't Know / Juan
Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 4 March 2017 — Another crazy initiative…a bit
picturesque, perhaps interesting, but totally absurd. Representatives of
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) arrive at the José
Martí Airport in Havana with the express intention of combatting animal
abuse and creating vegetarian habits on the Island.

The idea of watching young activists dressed in lettuce leaves attached
to green bikinis makes for an attractive attention-getter–and it
surprisingly reveals the enormous ignorance of many about Cuban history,
politics, culture, laws, and society.

Perhaps the authorities, as part of a "considered" neo-diplomacy, allows
these young ladies to promenade with gossamer lightness through Old
Havana, dispensing souvenirs, feeding homeless dogs, or handing out
introductory pamphlets on vegetarianism with recipes for beans and rice.
But there exists, and it is good to know this, (1) a cautionary,
provincial ordinance that more or less says the following: Anyone who
publicly goes around the Cuban capital dressed in swimwear, even when we
all know that it is a coastal city, commits a violation and could be fined.

Regarding beef, somebody should explain to the PETA activists that, ever
since July 12, 1963–creation date of the sadly famous OFICODAS (Offices
of Food Control and Distribution)–(2) Cubans have been forced to
exchange beef for chicken, 'hotdogs' and/or fish [see (4) below, there
is no fish], depending on which series is listed on the ration booklet.

In the greatest of the Greater Antilles, (3) there is as much beef
consumed as in India, where cows are considered sacred. And, besides the
facts that Cuba is (4) the only island in the world whose diet does not
feature fish and that Cubans born in that time euphemistically called
the Special Period (5) grew up without a culture of beef consumption,
(6) one pound of vegetables, in the agricultural market, competes with
pork in terms of price.

It would be useful to know who will offer lettuce to these young
lovelies because, even though Raúl Castro in 2008 started leasing
out 1.7 hectares of land in usufruct for agricultural use, (7) Cuba
still imports more than 63% of the food it consumes and the (8) fresh
lettuce offered in the restaurants of tourist hotels is not cultivated
on the Island.

A misguided plan which, save for the level of risk, is very similar to
that of the Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma–who even knowing the
fate of his ex-comrade and mentor, the Venezuelan Hugo Chávez–still
decided to travel to Havana this past 1 March to receive urgent medical
care in Cuba.

The principal enemy of people who waste time creating publicity stunts
is common sense. Now is the time for momentum, determination, and
awareness-raising about real matters, such as the disturbing rise in
the crime rate, gender-based violence, and the innumerable cases of
domestic violence. To name just a notable few.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: Eight Truths About Cuba That the Bikini-Clad Girls Don't Know /
Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's next chapter? Not so fast
Politics and Cuba's own challenges make the island a distant prospect
for tree fruit growers.
Casey Corr // Jan 11, 2017

Cuba has an outsized presence in American culture.

The reminders begin when you step off the airplane at Havana's José
Martí International Airport.

Blasted by hot, moist Caribbean air, you see things that are new and yet
at the same time seem rooted in memory: Drivers of 1950s American cars
beckon with a honk.

That familiar portrait of Che Guevera, dashing in beret, looks skyward
for his next revolution, or at least a place on somebody's T-shirt.

Reaching Havana's downtown, you see waters that trigger thoughts about
Cuba's shared history with the U.S.: the battleship USS Maine, the Bay
of Pigs, the CIA's plots to kill Castro, and the famous Americans who
drank and partied in Cuba, from Ernest Hemmingway and Meyer Lansky to
Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Elegant mansions, most now pitted and crumbling from neglect, remind you
of Cuba's past prosperity as the world leader in sugar production and
its lucrative exports of rum, tobacco and nickel.

But that prosperity, limited to Cuba's landed class, ended in 1959 when
the late Fidel Castro took power, triggering hostility with the United
States and dependency on subsidies from the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, so too did Cuba's economy.
Without Soviet cash, Cuba could not afford to buy enough food for its
people, nor could its inefficient state-owned farms grow enough food.
Rationing began and hasn't ended.

I went to Cuba last fall as part of a tour, sponsored by the American
Association of Agricultural Editors, to assess the prospects for Pacific
Northwest tree fruit growers. Our group came from publications and
organizations throughout the U.S., representing livestock and different

We met farmers, ministry officials, biotech researchers, importers and
others. We wanted to learn about Cuba's agriculture, especially changes
that began when the country's central planners decided to give their
economic model an "update:" that is, allow free market forces to take
hold in certain areas.

The sense of change accelerated in 2014, when President Barack Obama
took steps to normalize relations with Cuba. The election of Donald
Trump, however, has put a giant question mark over U.S.-Cuban relations;
during his presidential campaign, Trump pledged to reverse Obama's Cuba

The sense of uncertainty deepened in November when Fidel Castro died.
Some have speculated that Fidel Castro's death would accelerate
democratic reforms within Cuba.

When I was preparing to travel to Cuba, many friends said they wanted to
go before traditional Cuba was gone, as if Obama had triggered the quick
arrival of a thousand Starbucks. Miller Lite would push out rum.

That didn't happen, nor will it soon. The reasons are complex, having as
much to do with Cuba's internal politics and culture as with
unwillingness in Congress to unknot U.S.-Cuban trade.

Obama could only get so far by tinkering with regulations. Without
changes in U.S. law, Cuban importers cannot get financing for the
purchase of American goods. What Americans call a trade "embargo,"
Cubans call a blockade.

Whatever liberalizations that may have occurred, it's not yet, to
misapply one of Obama's own phrases, change we can believe in. Cuban
hardliners distrust the U.S. and work to dial back reforms, including
steps to allow growers to buy supplies and sell crops at prices that
reward investment.

Roughly 80 percent of Cuban farmland is controlled by the state; with
certain exceptions, government sets prices and quantities for buying
seed and other supplies.

Cubans take pride in the excellence of their free education and health
care systems, but they pay a price for imperfections in socialism:
Farmers at times cannot get fertilizer and chemicals, nor gas for aging
tractors or trucks.

Economists who track Cuba say the country imports 60 percent or more of
food needed for its 11 million people.

Before the revolution, Cuba was the ninth-leading destination for U.S.
agricultural exports, amounting to $600 million annually in
inflation-adjusted dollars.

The biggest U.S. shipments to Cuba were chicken parts, rice and
vegetables. When trade rules began to loosen, exports of all goods to
Cuba grew but only to $365 million per year.

The U.S. law requiring cash payments before shipment to Cuba places an
enormous barrier to expanded trade with the U.S., said Aurelio Mollineda
Martinez, one of the most senior Cuban officials we met on our visit.

Martinez, director general of the import-export agency Geocomex, said
the proximity of U.S. ports to Cuba, plus the quality of its products
such as grain and rice, would make the U.S. a natural trading partner.
Cuba can work around credit rules using third parties, but only to a
limited extent.

For purchases of rice and other goods, Cuba often turns to countries
that will provide financing such as Vietnam, China or Brazil, he said.

Martinez said he'd like to increase purchases of U.S. goods and
services, including equipment and chemicals from Monsanto and other
suppliers. (As if to underscore that point, the president of Iran and
the premier of China visited Cuba while we were there, prospecting for
trade deals.)

At our visits to government offices, typically bland monoliths done
Soviet style, we heard the same refrain: Credit is the problem. The
message gets repeated in the U.S. by organizations hoping to undo the
embargo for cultural, humanitarian or economic reasons.

Last February, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Cuba
and said he would expect strong sales of U.S. products, especially
soybeans, rice, poultry and biofuels.

The U.S. hoped to eventually provide 50 percent of Cuba's food and
agricultural needs, up from less than 15 percent now. Just how big could
the market become, near term? For some insight, many point to the
Dominican Republic, which has a comparable population and standard of

The Dominican Republic today gets about 45 percent of its agricultural
imports from the U.S. That's $1.2 billion compared with Cuba's U.S.
agricultural imports of $262 million.

Cuba has such a vivid place in American imagination, it's easy to get
bullish on the market there. But when you take into account other
factors, the buzz from Cuba Libre starts to wane.

For starters, Cuba's purchases of U.S. agricultural goods have not gone
up during normalization; imports of U.S. agricultural goods fell 62
percent since 2008.

Even with credit, the average Cuban's wages of $20 to $30 a month will
remain a damper on growth, even with the additional income some Cubans
receive from private-sector wages or remittances from relatives in the U.S.

Moreover, any growth in agricultural imports will be constrained by the
explicit Cuban policy of increasing domestic agriculture; in other
words, the state will continue to direct resources and policies toward
improving the weak farm sector.

Increased trade with Cuba would certainly benefit American farmers who
already grow what Cuba buys, such as rice, chicken, wheat and animal
feed. I'm not bullish about tree fruit, though.

It's hard to see a humid country with unreliable electricity and
inadequate chill facilities buying apples, pears or cherries from the
Pacific Northwest.

On my visit, I didn't see apples for sale in any of the markets I
visited. Some Washington apples were shipped to Cuba years ago, with
much fanfare and expectations, but there's been little activity since.

"Our focus is really Asia," Rebecca Lyons, international marketing
director with the Washington State Apple Commission, told me in an
interview. She ticked off all the challenges with Cuban trade, such as
credit restrictions. "If those things are overcome, there's potential
there in the medium- and long-term," she said. "One of the greatest
things is economic development of the Cubans themselves. They have to
have money to buy things."

Change is coming to Cuba, but not quickly. •

– by O. Casey Corr

Source: Cuba's next chapter? Not so fast | Good Fruit Grower - Continue reading
When Castro destroyed home for one child of Cuba
December 8th, 2016by Michael Smerconish

I was worried that I'd offended Carlos Eire.

The Yale professor of history and religious studies authored the
definitive narrative of Fidel Castro's destruction of Cuban family life
with his 2003 memoir, "Waiting for Snow in Havana."

Born into an upper-middle-class family—his father was a judge whose
avocation was the collection of antiques—Eire spent his 1950s childhood
catching lizards, going to the movies, chasing the pesticide jeep
spraying DDT, setting off firecrackers and celebrating friends'
birthdays. But the music literally stopped on Jan. 1, 1959, when Castro
overthrew Fulgencio Batista.

In 1962, Eire and his brother Tony were two of 14,000 children who fled
the island nation, part of Operation Peter Pan. Their mother would
eventually join them in the United States, but they would never see
their father again. Not since the day they sat in the Havana airport
separated by glass in the "fishbowl" departure lounge erected by the

Eire's book was both a National Book Club winner and a One Book One
Philadelphia selection. His memoir unfolds against the backdrop of his
boyhood neighborhood of Miramar and his family home.

"Rumor has it that our house collapsed about two years ago. I really
don't give a damn about that house anymore," he writes. "If it did
indeed fall down under its own rotten weight, good riddance. If it
didn't, the first thing I'll do when I return to Havana is rent a
bulldozer and raze it to the ground all by myself. Or better yet, I'll
stuff the house full of dynamite and blow it up. My final firecracker
surprise for the old neighborhood."

But the book contains no photographs of the residence, leaving it to
readers to conjure its structure. And nowhere in the manuscript is the
address identified.

The closest Eire comes to pinpointing the actual locale is his
revelation that Che Guevara lived three blocks away, in an estate that
encompassed an entire city block. And that Batista's kids were Eire's
classmates at El Colegio la Salle de Miramar, "the finest primary school
in Havana." Moreover, despite the vast attention this literary
masterpiece has received, nowhere is that property easily located online.

In August, our family traveled to Cuba for a series of person-to-person
exchanges and while en route, I reread Eire's book. The more I read, the
greater my desire to see the exterior of his boyhood home to add texture
to my mind's eye of his youth. At dinner in Havana, when I shared with
my family my intention to email Eire and inquire as to the address,
there was uniformity of opposition. It would be in poor form, everyone
agreed. "If he wanted readers to know the address he'd have put it in
the book," said a family member.

Undeterred and armed with an internet access card, I sat in a public
park and emailed Eire from Cuba. A day or two later I repeated the drill
and I checked my account. Nothing. And upon return, still no reply. For
five months, I assumed those familial cautions had been well-founded.

Then, late last month, I interviewed him on SiriusXM radio about Cuba's
future. Specifically, I wanted to know whether he agreed with Donald
Trump's suggestion that the rapprochement begun by the Obama
administration should be reversed. Two days after Castro's death, Trump
had tweeted:

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the
Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal."

Eire told me he agrees.

"I hope he rolls it back all the way to how it was before Obama took
office, because there was no deal," he said. "It was a complete
surrender to the Castro regime, and I hope, I sincerely hope, that
President-elect Trump does deliver on his promises."

Eire wants all sanctions restored and an effort to do likewise with the
world's nations.

"If Cuba became a pariah nation just like the old South Africa and the
entire world cooperated in boycotting Cuba, that regime would collapse
very quickly, just like the old South African regime collapsed," Eire said.

Then I turned to the more sensitive part of our conversation. I asked
why he never responded to my email. Had I offended him?

"Oh, no. No, and I never got your email 'cause I freely give out (the
house's) address. I've given it out to everyone who's asked," he said.

I've had so many people ask for it, including several years ago, the
British ambassador to Cuba, who said: 'Oh, you know, I'm living in your
neighborhood. Could you please send me your address?'"

"So what's the address?" I asked.

"It's 2708 Calle, which is Street, 22."

Only Eire's not going any time soon, at least not while things remain
the same. He said he is regarded as "an official enemy of the state." In
Cuba you can be arrested for potential dangerousness, like the Tom
Cruise movie "Minority Report," where people are arrested before they
commit crimes.

"I can't even look at the pictures (of the house) without crying. It was
so unnecessary. It didn't have to be that way."

Source: When Castro destroyed home for one child of Cuba | Texarkana
Breaking News - Continue reading
Voces de la oposición en la isla juntan fuerzas en Miami 09 de octubre de 2016 – 18:10 – Por JESÚS HERNÁNDEZ “Es una gran manifestación pública, en la que se reunirán músicos, artistas, intelectuales, miembros de la oposición y el pueblo en general, para exponer la necesidad de llevar la democracia a Cuba, tras […] Continue reading
Residents of hurricane-ravaged eastern Cuba say they need help

Matthew's winds had scarcely subsided in eastern Cuba Wednesday when
Msgr. Wilfredo Pino Estévez, bishop of the Diocese of
Guantánamo-Baracoa, set off at 5 a.m. to see what the hurricane had
wrought on Cuba's northern coast.

Representatives of Caritas Guantánamo, a Catholic charitable
organization, accompanied him, but they could only make it about halfway
to Baracoa because of the muddy, impassable roads. The bishop continued
on in a Jeep over a mountainous road where Matthew's heavy rain had
loosened mudslides before reaching the city of about 82,000 residents.

Father José Espino, left, pastor of San Lazaro Catholic Church in
Hialeah, is a liaison for Caritas Cuba, a Catholic charitable
organization. He's shown at an Archdiocese of Miami news conference with
Father Reginald Jean-Marie, pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti in the
background. C.M. GUERRERIO
The journey took him 16 hours — even though a trip between the city of
Guantánamo and Baracoa usually takes about two hours and 15 minutes.

What he found in Baracoa, where Matthew's eye exited Cuba early
Wednesday, was a city with ruined roads, a damaged communications
system, and neighborhoods up to three blocks away from the sea reduced
to rubble by storm surges and high winds.

The devastation along Cuba's eastern tip prompted the Catholic Church to
issue an immediate call for aid to help Cuba recover from Matthew's

"Right now we're trying to negotiate a point of entry for aid," Father
José Espino, of San Lazaro Church in Hialeah, said Friday at an
Archdiocese of Miami news conference. He was in touch with Pino by phone
Friday morning when the bishop returned from Baracoa. Both the airport
and port in Baracoa were damaged. The seaport at Santiago, which wasn't
damaged during the storm, is the nearest major port.

The Archdiocese of Miami is asking for money and food donations, as well
as offers to transport goods by air or sea, for hurricane victims in
both Cuba and Haiti. The most immediate needs are canned goods,
especially proteins, and rice and beans — preferably on pallets and
ready to go, Espino said.

"Crops have been affected [by Matthew], and food is critical," he said.
In Cuba's Caujerí Valley, 448,000 banana plants and eight million tomato
seedlings were damaged.

Contributions can be made through the Miami Catholic Charities website
by clicking on the "you are supporting" option and selecting Disaster
Relief-Hurricane Matthew.

The archdiocese is also asking its Miami pastors to hold a special
collection this weekend during all Masses to aid those affected by
Matthew in the Caribbean and the United States.

Mirta Kaulard, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development
Program in Cuba, said the U.N. also is coordinating with the Cuban
government to offer humanitarian aid.

On Thursday, helicopters carrying Cuban authorities and journalists
arrived in some of the towns that had been cut off by impassable roads
and downed communications systems since the hurricane passed through
Guantánamo province.

Aerial images from Maisí showed that the majority of homes had lost
their roofs, and those from Baracoa showed flooded areas, destroyed
homes and fallen trees. Entry to Baracoa is limited by mudslides along
La Farola highway, a ravaged coastline and a partially collapsed bridge
over the Toa River.

"When we saw the helicopters, it filled out hearts with joy because it
was a sign aid was arriving. We hope that they give us every
assistance," a woman in Baracoa told Cuban television.

Some residents of Maisí put up a Cuban flag amidst the rubble. They told
the Guantánamo newspaper Venceremos that they raised the flag because
they were revolutionaries and wanted authorities to know they were there
and needed help.

Despite heavy damages, so far there have been no reports of
storm-related deaths in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of residents of
eastern Cuba were evacuated to storm shelters or sought refuge with
family and friends. The Civil Defense system even evacuated some
residents of Maisí to caves in the nearby mountains where they sought
shelter for three days.

"Thanks to this we are alive, because when we returned to our homes,
they were half full of water, and all of them, except mine, had no
roofs," Julio César Romero told a reporter from the Juventud Rebelde

Maisí, Imías and Baracoa remained without power and telephone service at
midday Friday. Government efforts focused on restoring fiberoptic cable
service to the communities. About 112,000 residents of Guantánamo
remained without running water.

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this report.

Source: Residents of hurricane-ravaged eastern Cuba say they need help |
In Cuba Today - Continue reading
Convocan al exilio cubano al acto “Todos por Cuba Libre” Tendrá lugar el próximo 11 de octubre Jueves, septiembre 22, 2016 | CubaNet MIAMI, Estados Unidos.- La Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana, el Foro de Derechos y Libertades y activistas del exilio, han convocado a “diferentes generaciones decubanos junto a todo amante de la libertad”, […] Continue reading
Organizaciones del exilio y el Foro DyL convocan el encuentro ‘Todos por Cuba Libre’ en octubre DDC | La Habana | 22 de Septiembre de 2016 – 16:13 CEST. La Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana, y el Foro de Derechos y Libertades (ForoDyL) entre otras organizaciones opositoras tanto del exilio como de la Isla, convocan […] Continue reading
Exilio cubano convoca: “Todos por una Cuba libre” septiembre 05, 2016 Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana y el Foro de Derechos y Libertades convocan a celebrar el acto “Todos por Cuba Libre”. La Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana y el Foro de Derechos y Libertades convocan a diferentes generaciones de cubanos, y a todos […] Continue reading
Un crimen que aún permanece impune Cuatro familias no paran de implorar el irrenunciable derecho a juzgar a quienes conspiraron o cometieron el horrendo asesinato de los pilotos de Hermanos al Rescate CONMEMORACIÓN MIAMI.- JESÚS HERNÁNDEZ @hesushdez Al cumplirse 20 años del derribo de las avionetas de la organización humanitaria Hermanos al Rescate por […] Continue reading
There Isn't Enough Beer For So Many 'Yumas' / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
Posted on February 6, 2016

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales and Havana, 6 February 2016 – First they
ran out of water bottles, then packaged juices became scarce, and now it
is difficult to find fresh fruit. This is how a hostess of tourist rooms
in Viñales describes the situation there with the significant increase
of tourism in Cuba and the problems of supplies.

During 2015, 3,524,779 foreign visitors arrived on the island, according
to the latest official figures, an increase of some 17.4% over the prior
year. However, the number of hotel rooms and private homes offering
accommodation has not grown just as quickly. Other services, such as
airports, food services and transportation, have also appeared to be
overwhelmed by the flood.

The beautiful valley of Viñales, with its attractive mogotes and range
of nature tourism, has experienced months of great demand. "Now we have
more tourists here than locals," exaggerates Paco, an 81-year-old who
owns a house near the well-known Indian Cave. From his doorway he can
see the incessant caravan of buses that brings visitors to the beautiful
underground attraction.

"Before I sat down here," he notes from his wooden armchair, "I saw at
least ten To one side of his house, a family that owns a private
restaurant reinforces Paco's view. "We are struggling to maintain our
menu, because between the shortages and the number of tourists that are
coming it's getting very difficult," says Zoila, the restaurant's cook.

The market stalls show the effects of the increased demand. Every day
5,000 tourists visit Viñales, slightly more than one-sixth of the number
of residents. They come looking for products like fresh fruit, lobster,
shrimp, rum, beer and, of course, the local tobacco. "Sometimes we have
to go to other towns to find papayas and oranges for breakfast," says a
woman who rents rooms to tourists.

She acknowledges, however, that she is "happy" with the surge of
visitors. "Bring more, we're profiting," she repeats a very popular
phrase exuding optimism, although she would like to improve the town's
infrastructure, "to solve these bottlenecks."

There are 60 private sector restaurants in the Viñales valley with a
high demand for vegetables, fruits and meats. A good share of them are
supplied by the illegal market and buy directly from the farmers. "We
only have imported beer," says a sign outside one private restaurant.
The local beers, Cristal and Bucanero "are not available because the
'yumas' [foreigners] arrive very thirsty," a waiter comments jokingly.

A few yards away, a young man offers horseback rides through the valley
for five convertible pesos for twenty minutes. "All my animals are busy
now," he tells some Canadians want a little cross country trot. "I'm
full up, you'll have to wait for the ones making the tour now to
return." The man started with four horses, and now has nine and is
expecting to have fifteen this year.

In Havana, Obispo Street is buzzing at two on a Saturday afternoon. Some
pedestrians choose parallel streets such as O'Reilly or Obrapia to avoid
the crowds. Tour groups walk slowly with their guides, stopping to take
pictures and marveling at an old woman smoking an enormous cigar or a
woman dressed up in colonial-era clothing.

The whole place seems like a great Tower of Babel with the different
languages heard. Among the millions of visitors who came to the island
last year were some 125,000 Canadians, 36,000 Germans, 35,000 French,
32,000 British, 30,000 Spaniards and 26,000 Italians, among other

With the beginning of Air China flights, there are also a lot of Chinese
tourists beginning to arrive. "I can't complain," says Lucia, who rents
two rooms near Plaza Vieja in the historic center. "Last year my rooms
were occupied almost the whole time. I have spent a long time in this
arena and have never seen anything like it," she said.

The problem, points out the self-employed woman, has been that "the
supplies in the stores and the markets haven't kept up." Her family has
had to search everywhere to buy toilet paper, milk, soap and alcoholic
or sweetened drinks, these latter to fill "the minibars in the rooms,"
she said.

"Sometimes we have to go out at the crack of dawn to guarantee that
there is bread for breakfast," details Lucia. "This neighborhood has
collapsed, there is no way we can maintain quality service if we don't
have an improvement in supplies," she points out. A simple stroll
through the most important stores in the area, among them the centrally
located Harris Brothers, confirms her words.

"No, we haven't had small bottles of water for weeks," says a clerk on
the ground floor when asked about that product. "They are bought by the
boxful by the people who rent rooms," she adds. The same thing happens
with "beer, large bottles of Cola, and toilet paper," she emphasizes.

Old Havana still has its chronic problems of water supply, and with the
flood of customers in state and private accommodations, the prices
charged by the water trucks have also risen. "There are days when even
20 CUC isn't enough to get my water tank filled," comments Lucia.

For Maria del Pilar Macias Rutes, general director of Quality and
Operations of the Ministry of Tourism, there is "a challenge to continue
to improve quality systems in order to meet the demands of the boom in
tourism," she declared this week on national television. Among them, are
"programs to improve the situation in food and beverages, entertainment
and shopping," she explained.

"Havana can't take any more," jokes the keeper of a private restaurant
near Havana Bay when asked about the volume of foreign visitors who come
to his place. "We have already renovated three floors in the place and
we still can't cope," the man comments proudly, dressed like a gentleman
of the eighteenth century to attract more tourists.

The increase in visitors is also noticeable in the availability of
transport. A couple of years ago there were few people waiting at the
Havana Bus Tour stops, but now the lines are almost like those "for the
buses to go to work," laughs the driver of one of these double-deck
buses. For five convertible pesos, the route provides a two-hour tour of
the main tourist sites in the city.

The country currently has just over 60,000 rooms, of which 66.5% are in
four- and five-star hotels. By 2020 there are expected to be 85,500
rooms with international standards, according to the Minister of
Tourism, Manuel Marrero, but the signs are that the growth will have to
be faster than programmed. For 2016 barely 3,700 tourist rooms will be
added, and 5,600 will be renovated or improved, particularly in Havana,
Varadero and Northern Keys.

In the private sector, there is a total of 28,634 licensed housing
units, rooms and spaces, but some of them are intended for Cubans or are
premises rented for services.

Nor do the airport terminals escape the congestion and saturation of
passengers. In the Havana airport, travelers can expect to wait between
an hour-and-a-half to two hours from the time their plane lands until
they get out the door with their suitcases. The lines at the passport
checkpoints "at times are so long they almost stretch to the steps of
the plane" says a customs worker.

Customers complain about the stifling heat while waiting at the baggage
claim because the air conditioning in Terminal Three, the most modern in
the country, barely cools the room. "There is no toilet paper in the
bathrooms, and no place to even buy a bottle of water here," a recently
arrived Argentine tourist complained this weekend.

The situation could worsen throughout the year, during which the number
of visitors is expected to exceed 3.7 million, according to Deputy
Minister of Tourism Mayra Garcia Alvarez; this would be 175,200 more
tourists than last year.

Just outside the Havana airport the taxi drivers no longer fight for
customers, it is the latter who have to try to get to one of the
Panataxis as they are approaching the terminal from the street. Two men
were arguing over a cart to carry their luggage. "I saw it first,"
protested one, with a French accent. Finally he managed to hang on to
it, but it had a broken wheel.

Night falls and tourists are pouring out of the airport to visit a
country that cannot cope with meeting their expectations.

Source: There Isn't Enough Beer For So Many 'Yumas' / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mata | Translating Cuba - Continue reading
After a 45-minute flight, we land on the cracked-concrete runway of José
Martí International Airport, walk off the plane onto a seemingly
deserted airstrip, and are greeted by a white bust of revolutionary José

In old Havana there is a tree that's said to be older than the city
itself. It was here, though it was very young, when the Taíno people
would worship, venerate, and respect her as Ancient Mother. It was here
too, though a little older now, in 1519 when the Spanish first
established a settlement. The land was claimed, right beside her growing
roots, as San Cristóbal de la Habana. She provided shade for the first
mass and bestowed a breeze for the first council meeting. And as she
reached toward the heavens, so did a city. Becoming resilient and
strong, prosperous and wealthy, devout and ideological—she soon had a
home overlooking churches and plazas, statues and mansions that rivaled
those of Europe. She felt the breeze of independence and briefly felt it
taken away from her. As times changed, though, she witnessed the plight
of the Cuban people under a dictatorship and felt the mumblings of
revolution brush through her leaves. Then, in 1959, as winter drew to an
end she was here still to feel the rumbling of a tank shake her roots to
usher in spring and a new hope for her land. More than half a century
later, the wind again sways her branches and one of her leaves falls in
2014, twirling like a Sky Dancer, landing flatly on my head.

I am about to visit Havana, Cuba for a whirlwind three-day trip, and I
decide before boarding a charter flight from Miami to José Martí
International Airport, to drop the veil on my parochial American
upbringing, to observe and reflect on a country that has persevered
through difficult times, and embrace (not criticize) its convictions. Of
course, actually being in Havana, exploring, and meeting the people, I
am forced to modify this original declaration. Havana lends itself to
open-minded tourists who should be curious about the political system,
who want to question the state of the city, and who will dig deeper into
the country's modern-day ethos while understanding its past. And once
you find yourself sharing a mojito with a local, you may be surprised to
see just how open and honest they are about their lives and their
country. As my journey unfolds, I find the city to be a living testament
of its history and ideals, and I meet a proud people who have the
strength to overcome obstacles that the modern-day traveler may not
realize still exist.

I am able to visit Cuba because of loosened travel restrictions on
citizens of the USA thanks to a recent change in policy encouraged by
President Barack Obama. Now, tour companies are allowed to operate in
the island nation as long as they are licensed through the juggernaut
education-based travel program called People to People. My trip is
booked through Pride World Travel, a member of the IsramWorld portfolio
of brands, which is beginning their LGBT-focused tours of Cuba in 2015.
Because these are educational trips, Americans are still at the mercy of
the Cuban government that works to organize specific itineraries for
each group. If you don't feel like going along with the plans, too bad.
As long as the official government itinerary is in play, you're required
to be with your group. But as I learn during my trip, there is a
leniency depending on your guide. Luckily, my itinerary is relaxed and
filled with a steady stream of good food, fascinating people from the
LGBT community (including my guide), and even time to relax at the gay

I highly recommend visiting through a well-established tour company like
Pride World Travel. The company handled every little detail of the trip.
Having all the correct documents is especially nerve-wracking for
Americans visiting Cuba. The night before we depart from Miami, a
representative hands me a packet with everything I need. From a formal
letter granting me access and a visa to the required Cuban-issued health
insurance— everything is organized. Also, I receive the VIP treatment at
the Miami airport when, instead of waiting in line for the charter
flight, a representative greets us, takes our bags, and hands us all the
required customs forms that we'll need to enter Cuba.

After a 45-minute flight, we land on the cracked-concrete runway of José
Martí International Airport, walk off the plane onto a seemingly
deserted airstrip, and are greeted by a white bust of revolutionary José
Martí. Once through the doors, we are escorted into a flickering
neon-lit room filled with guards. I am so glad I have the paperwork in
order. The buildup and anxiety are unnecessary. The pleasant (and
handsome) agent takes my whole packet, stamps my passport (though I am
told you can request a separate sheet to be stamped), and I walk through
the door into the baggage claim area. Only one person in my group is
taken aside for further questioning (this is routine), but he rejoins us
a few minutes later.
Our on-the-ground tour company, Havana Tours, which is government owned,
whisks us through customs and takes us straight to a van. "Welcome to
Havana," shouts our guide, Oscar, who will be with us for the entire
trip. He quickly begins pointing things out, but it's hard to pay
attention. I'm in CUBA, keeps repeating in my head. CUBA! The old 1950's
American-made cars rumble by us, but they aren't exactly like the ones
in pictures. Most are beat-up, rusted, and loud, but they are still so
sexy and filled with men and women cruising with the windows down.

"Here's a school," he says pointing to a Creamsicle-orange building with
kids in white uniforms playing tetherball in the clay ground surrounded
by a lush baseball field. A propaganda billboard proclaiming "We Have
Socialism" with a picture of revolution leaders serves as their
backdrop. "All education up to a master's is free in Cuba," he proudly
exclaims. We all collectively shake our heads thinking of our enormous
student debts.

Then, we drive past the obelisk-like monument in Plaza de la Revolución
and whiz around the iconic images of Che Guevera ("Until the Everlasting
Victory, Always") and the lesser-known revolution leader Camilo
Cienfuegos ("You're Doing Fine, Fidel").

When we exit the turnabout plaza the street becomes a gorgeous,
Spanish-inspired boulevard with a tree-lined pedestrian median. Here is
where I get my first glimpse of the effects of Cuba's political and
economic climate. Each side of the avenue is lined with one stately
mansion after another even-more-impressive mansion. Large gates open to
reveal overgrown tropical flora and gorgeous Italianate-like buildings.
Each, though, has been weathered by the climate forcing their colors to
fade, but their beauty, and significance can easily still be admired.
"The people who lived here," our guide half-smirks, "Weren't too happy
about the Revolution." And you can understand why. "Oh, what the gays in
New York could do to this street," one other guest quips.

As the avenue curves toward the sea, we see our massive hotel, Meliá
Cohiba Hotel Havana.

Through the tour company, we have VIP service and are brought to "The
Level," a special check-in area with a private concierge (you'll be able
to exchange your US dollars here for the local currency, the Cuban
Convertible Peso or CUC). My accommodations are unexpectedly large; it's
a corner room with surrounding windows. I open the curtains, running
around my room pulling them to reveal a stunning view of the sea. A
large bed, two televisions (which get international channels), a Jacuzzi
tub, and most amenities one would expect, including Wi-Fi (for a hefty
price), from a modern hotel. We also take delight in the multiple
restaurants, the outdoor pool on the second floor, the large gym/sauna,
and the attention-to-every-detail customer service.

Celebrating our first night, we literally feast at a palador (privately
owned restaurant) called La Moraleja. We walk down a lighted, trellised
path to an indoor/outdoor dining area. The owner happily greets us and
lets us see his extensive wine collection. Importing more than a couple
bottles is illegal so this assortment has taken him and his father many
years to collect. Havana Tourism representatives meet us and, in a grand
show, we dine on chicken, lamb, lobster, traditional rice and beans,
fried yucca, clams, shrimp, and fried cheese. It's obvious, knowing a
bit about the food rationing that the socialist system in Cuba uses,
that our local company doesn't normally dine this way (of course, we
don't either). I'm hesitant to talk about it, but a fellow traveler
outright asks, in a non-disrespectful way: "You're not used to eating
like this are you?"

"No!" they all say laughing. Their candid response gives us our first
glimpse at the openness of the Cuban people. Our hosts freely explain
the ration books and what that gives them: rice, beans, and eggs. Taking
a bite out of a lobster tail one says: "It's why we are so lucky to have
been placed in tourism." It's a sobering moment, and we consider asking
for our food to go so we can share it with others. "No, no, no," they
insist, "You can leave it for the staff at the restaurant."

The conversation never treads on awkward, which is refreshing. We
compare apartment prices, talk about their travel restrictions, the new
iPhone, if they ever figured out how Whitney Houston died, and if New
York is just like the movies. The owner is happy we're visiting too. To
show his appreciation, he lights us Cuban cigars and brings us beautiful
rum. Taking a pull on the cigar, I think to myself: I could get used to

After dinner, according to our official program, we're to meet an
activist group. So I am surprised when we arrive at a nightclub named
after the award-winning Cuban-produced gay movie Strawberry and
Chocolate called Café Fresa y Chocolate. Inside, there is a band waiting
for us called Aceituna sin Hueso. This café by day is attached to the
Cuban Film Institute and is a regular hangout for the arts community
(a.k.a gay), but at night, particularly once a month, the band (not
exactly an activist group) performs. "It's a place where everyone feels
safe," the bombshell lead singer Miriela Moreno tells me. By looking
around, you can see many more lesbian couples than gay men sitting at
the tables drinking Crystal beer. For non-Spanish speakers, Moreno's
music is still easily understood through her palpable soul-crushing
passion and the get-up-and-dance beats by her band. The group, who has
traveled abroad to Spain to perform, uses their lyrics to send
anti-homophobia and anti-prejudice messages, she tells me. I quickly
develop a straight crush on her as I gulp down several Bucanero beers
while watching them completely turn the small café into a Miami
Beach–style club.

A driver picks me up in the morning in a 1950's canary-yellow,
convertible Buick Dynaflow—it's that Havana moment I've read about. He
honks his horn to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw" as we drive down the
waterfront street called the Malecón. His horn pulsing to the rhythm of
the sea attracts the attention of the early-morning fishermen who turn
their attention away from their poles and give us a wave. The Cuban flag
proudly waves in front of a grand monument to Cuban Independence hero
Antonio Maceo Grajales who sits tall on his horse looking over the city.
The car breezes past the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform, the site
of tense anti-American protests, particularly during the Elián González
affair. We pass the statue of González's father holding a small Elián
and pointing to the United States Interests Section's glass-covered
building. Even while pointing it out, our guide is never awkward about
US and Cuban relations.

I take in my first views of the famous buildings along the Malecón.
Weathered by time, the buildings seem different depending on how the
early-morning sun hits them. The sun's struggling to pierce through the
dark clouds overhead, and the lighting reveals splendid patterns,
architectural accents, and varying states of decay and renovation. But
most of all, I think, it reveals a color spectrum that my eyes are
unaccustomed to seeing in New York. It reminds me of the colors from a
PAAS Easter egg coloring kit, each egg always turned out to be a new and
exciting shade. The row of buildings is peppered with new projects,
including a new government-owned hotel, which gives me hope that this
once-grand waterfront will be revitalized.

We then turn onto an unassuming street. In accordance with our
itinerary, we're to "Visit Paloma Project which promotes gender equality
(part of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry and
meet with the Director Lizette Vila." A woman, no taller than 5'2″,
reaches her arms out for a hug as we reach the wrought-iron arched
entrance, and a lumbering dog lifts his head at the upcoming excitement.
She hugs each of us like a long-lost relative and leads us through the
well-manicured front garden and into the building. Trinkets (witches,
clocks, sage, figurines) and old photos (Castro, trans* activists,
famous singers) dot the walls, and we carefully try not to disturb the
large Santaria (local religion) shrine on the floor that's filled with
hopes, dreams, and prayers. We're brought into a small room and offered
tea and cookies, and we kindly accept (it is considered bad form not to
enjoy specially prepared food).

One by one, new people enter and sit with us in a tiny windowless room.
We form a circle and exchange those awkward first-meeting smiles.
Lizette Vila enters the room and goes around introducing everyone. "This
is Milena and Juani Santos," she says pointing to an older gentleman and
a young lady. "Juani is the first transgender person in Cuba, and Milena
has recently transitioned and is the focus of an upcoming documentary,"
she nonchalantly shares as our jaws nearly hit the floor.

She then continues and introduces Isabel Blanco, a famous ballerina who
now teaches acceptance and empowerment through dance; Ingrid Leon, who
produces documentaries about woman's rights and has just completed the
documentary about Milena; and Teresa de Jesús Fernández who works for
the government's gay-rights agency, Cenesex.

For a gay journalist, this room is a jackpot. I am ready to fire off
question after question, but it never becomes a structured interview, it
becomes a wonderful discussion that doesn't lend itself to an
uncomfortable middle-of-the-room recorder. We drop formalities, and we
talk, connecting with each other, undistracted like pre-iPhone days. We
learn of Juani's struggles growing up as the only girl among boys and
how he has found acceptance from his brothers after having pioneering
surgery in Copenhagen. Milena tells us about being kicked out of her
home and finding the government-supported resources and
government-provided medical treatments to make her into the woman that
she always knew she was. Ingrid discusses the difficulties of creating
documentaries in Cuba and the thrill of watching her controversial
pieces air on the state-run television channel and her hopes to show
them at international festivals.

It is Lizette Vila, whose passion for her work, her openness, and her
intelligence that captivates my attention most. Moving her hands with
wild gesticulations, reminding me of my Italian grandmother, she
discusses each person in the room's successes and troubles. Her empathy
and her understanding go far beyond the goal of the organization, which
is to advance equality through the arts. While her ideas on feminism and
the LGBT community seem quite progressive, even radical, she insists
that they are in line with the beliefs of many other people in the
country, including Mariela Castro, the director of Cinesex, and the
daughter of President Raúl Castro.

She likens Cuba to a strong, fertile, and beautiful woman whose
resilience in the face of revolution and embargoes continues to inspire
her and the arts community. And while she is lucky to travel around the
globe and meet with LGBT and feminist leaders, she continues to thank
socialism. "It's because of socialism and the Cuban government that we
exist," she tells us while placing her arm on my shoulder.

After long hugs and countless photos, our driver and Oscar have to
nearly pull us away, despite the excitement of our next stop, the gay beach.

Apparently, it is highly unusual for the government to give visitors who
are part of a planned tour such free time. After realizing that there
may be some leniency in their rigid schedule, I beg, like the literary
nerd I am, that our driver stop by Ernest Hemmingway's home where he
wrote Old Man in the Sea. I am told that after Hemmingway's children
came to see it recently, they closed it for renovations. As our van
heads down a village street, I begin to smell the salt water. Little
shops and restaurants dot the street, and men and women walk carelessly
through the middle of the road with fishing poles. In front of us is an
old and crumbling Spanish fort, long docks that seemingly stretch to
nowhere, and a round, baby-blue plaza with a bust of Hemmingway. A man
sings "Guantanamera" alone, children run up to us shouting "amigo," and
an old woman sits, legs crossed, dwarfed by the fort, gazing out. "This
is Cojimar, where Hemmingway was inspired to write his novel." Oscar
tells me. Sitting here by the bust, as I hand Tootsie Pops to the
children to quiet them, and watch fishermen row back into the docks
looking miniscule compared to the ocean, and I can see how Hemmingway
fell so in love with this town, the mysteries of Cuba, and, more
importantly, the sea. "But the old man always thought of her as feminine
and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild
or wicked things it was because she could not help them," he wrote in
Old Man in the Sea in 1952.

I've made everyone late to the beach (by Cuban standards) as people
usually begin leaving around 4 P.M., but it's still filled with
fresh-face tanned youths sipping Cuban rum, and parsnip-colored tourists
lounging in rented chairs protected by rainbow-colored umbrellas. "Mi
Cayito is a place where the gay community can really be free," Oscar
tells us as a couple of transwomen walk by topless. We find a comfy spot
and make our way into the crystal-blue Caribbean waters while the locals
ogle at our foreignness. Unlike other gay beaches in the Caribbean, this
feels empty and safe (though I would, of course, use common sense). We
begin to recognize a familiar cast of characters who proudly promenade
up and down the sand runway sporting everything from thongs to one
pieces, holding hands, swigging glass rum bottles, kissing, and
celebrating life. We easily chat with locals who are interested in why
we're visiting, and we excite them when we say how much we have always
wanted to visit Cuba, their home.

As the sun begins to set, it casts that oh-so-picture-perfect tint of
colors only found in the Caribbean.

That night, Oscar takes us for a stroll along the Malecón where under
the moonlight miles and miles of men and women sit along the waterfront
during the weekend. The massive crowds and the people's carefree no-rush
attitude impress me. The whole idea of hanging with friends to just sit
on a ledge and talk the night away seems so foreign. As cell phones are
quite expensive and most social-media websites are blocked, nobody is
looking at tiny computer screens. They are engaged, interested, and more
importantly valuing each other's time together. Gay groups sit among the
straight couples, and you'll easily notice them by their not-so-discreet
gazes. As we walk to another "cruising" area, every crevice or ledge is
filled with people. We rest under a dark and Sleepy Hollow-esque statue
of "Don Quixote in Vedado" and eavesdrop on Spanish conversations (my
Spanish teacher would be so proud I picked up the word bottom, pasivo).

Havana's gay scene and nightlife doesn't just take place on the streets.
Oscar takes us to a place called Café Cantante below the Nacional
Theatre that's hosting an event called il Divino. First, I visit the top
of the building that overlooks the lit-up Plaza de la Revolución where
an illuminated Che Guevera and Camilo Cienfuegos act as guardians over
the cars rolling around the circle. Downstairs, tables are set up, and,
slowly, people begin to trickle in. It's illuminated like a 90's roller
rink, and we're hardly expecting much modern music, or much at all. Then
the DJ plays US Top 40 with videos projected on both sides of the stage,
and by half past midnight, the oh-so-sexy crowd has overtaken the seats
and the bar is packed. A host comes on speaking machine-gun Spanish,
getting the crowd fired up. He shouts out to us few Americans, Germans,
Spanish, and then a dance number ensues. We're mesmerized and watch a
string of performances, while doing our best talking to the locals. I
learn quickly that buying a beer is way more effective than
chitchatting. We ask when the famous drag queen will hit the stage, and
we're told 5:30 A.M., and I am afraid my tired eyes will lose this
battle with Father Time.

Old Havana is crumbling," our guide tells us. "Over one building a day
currently collapses in the city, but it's because of tourism that we're
slowly beginning to rebuild and restore," he adds. The parts we
experience sing of Spain and most of the buildings in the tourist areas
are still in good condition.

When we arrive in the tourist-heavy part of Old Havana, it looks just
like I had always imagined. I'm standing adjacent to the old lighthouse.
Here, a young guard sits reading a book, she brushes her newly dyed red
hair out of her eyes and she angles her head up and uses her book as a
visor to see the clouds rolling in high above the centuries-old
buildings and trees. A wind whips their delicate leaves, and they fall
to the cobble-stoned plaza. Still green and still with much more time to
be had catching Caribbean sunlight, they become part of the sediment
that has held the stone together for centuries. They are pushed farther
into the ground by opened-toed tourist sandals belonging to curious
visitors and re-smushed by handed-down Nikes belonging to local vendors
hawking Che Guavera trinkets. One of the tree's wide-base roots
stretches far across to the El Templete monument and curves, snake-like
toward a bust of Christopher Columbus. The branches touch the
neo-classical monument gently brushing the façade like a grandmother
smoothing the cheek of her new grandchild.

"A storm is coming," the guard tells me while collecting ten CUCs and
placing the bill into her fanny pack. "Just a few minutes," she says
opening up the faded-white doors of El Templete. "I will have to shut
the doors if it rains." Inside El Templete there are three massive
floor-to-ceiling canvases by the French painter (who later moved to
Cuba) Jean Baptiste Vermay. The exquisite pieces give a first-hand look
into the importance of Cuba. They show, and more importantly allow me to
feel, the power, wealth, and divinity that came from the establishment
of the European New World.

Stepping out from the tomb-like quiet of the monument onto one of the
three main squares in Havana, Plaza de Armas, reveals a bustling scene.
I manage to make it around to a few vendors at the Second-Hand Book
Market, where eager salesmen who are trying to pawn off mostly
Spanish-language books about the Revolution quickly surround me. As I
settle a deal for a five-CUC paperback of The Old Man and the Sea and an
assortment of old prayer cards, I spot a raindrop stream down a graphic
novel, Revolucion Cubana. The vendors parachute plastic tarps over their
stands with such routine indifference I can only imagine how many times
this happens. I stroll with my group around the square. Drop. "It's just
a light drizzle," we convincingly repeat.

Drop, drop. Through the rain, we dodge into little shops, taking in the
local characters, and make our way through two more major plazas. Each
reveals an other-worldly, different-time charm. A young girl in an
orange quinceñera dress floats out of an old church, her parents
snapping photos, as she poses against the beautiful stonework, British
boys stumble through centuries-old courtyards with cigars and rum and
Cokes, and old women whose dresses are wet and sandals are worn sneak up
behind tourists begging for a CUC.

We make it to Plaza Vieja and duck into a microbrewery called Factoria
Plaza Vieja and sample the beers made on the premises and watch the
lively cast of characters. An old woman dances alone in the rain and is
joined by little children, while small dogs step across the cobblestone
square and weave through the modern sculpture of a rooster. The once
droplets have turned into monsoon-like conditions, and I watch the water
flow rapidly through the Old City. "The city has seen much worse," our
guide tells us, reflecting on past hurricanes. Through Spanish columns
an image of Che Guvera looks almost dystopian in the near-zero visibility.

The rain luckily subsides, and we are back in Plaza de Armas. The guard,
protected by a small umbrella, with near-perfect dry red hair, is still
waiting by the monument under dripping leaves. "They say," Oscar notes,
"This tree has been here since the founding of Cuba." I look up at the
branches still moving like a flag from the ocean winds. He takes my hand
and places it against the trunk. "See how smooth it is?" he says as I
brush my hand against an almost sanded-down ring on its trunk. "Each
year, people line up all the way down the street to celebrate the birth
of the nation, and we walk around the tree while still touching it," he
says like an old prophet. "Touch the tree and think of a wish, dream,
hope, or something you're thankful for and walk around three times, and
with each time drop a coin at the base."

One. I trace the tree first with my eyes closed thinking hard about a
personal wish that I send up through the trunk, and I open my eyes while
carefully stepping and see the square as it may have appeared in the
beginning and see the hopes and dreams of a colonizing people. Two. I
come around again and thank the tree for modern-day Cuba for the people,
for their hospitality, and I wish that they too will find answers for
the problems that they live with each day. Three. I come around for a
final time and think of Cuba's future, and I thank the tree that I am
already a small insignificant part of it.

Source: Uncovering Gay Havana, Cuba -- PASSPORT Magazine - Continue reading
Virginia governor promotes pork, wine, seaport in Cuba
Laura Vozzella and The Washington Post
The Washington Post

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, playground for Hollywood stars and mobsters
in its pre-Cuban Missile Crisis heyday, played host Sunday night to a
visibly peeved Virginia governor.

Over a dinner at the start of his three-day trade mission here, Gov.
Terry McAuliffe (D) learned that when Virginia-based Smithfield Foods
sells pork to this island nation, it ships the meat from Florida instead
of the Port of Virginia.

"You truck it all the way to Jacksonville?" McAuliffe asked the
Smithfield vice president sitting across from him. "Dumbest thing I ever

McAuliffe traveled to Cuba on Sunday, at a moment of historic
rapprochement between Cold War foes, to pitch Virginia products to the
communist nation. But first he found himself having to promote
Virginia's port to Virginians.

And so, in the patio restaurant of the famed hotel, when he should have
been swooning over pork, black beans, good cigars and ocean breezes, the
72nd governor of Virginia was barking.

"I do not want to hear about one more Smithfield pork [product] shipping
out of Jacksonville," he said loudly enough to be heard at the next
table. "How do we fix that?"

The governor's aggressive efforts to expand and diversify Virginia's
defense-heavy economy have taken him to the Middle East, Asia, India and

And now they have led him to visit Cuba, the fourth U.S. governor to
come here in the 13 months since President Barack Obama announced plans
to begin normalizing relations with the country.

McAuliffe and his 30-member delegation will spend all day Monday in a
series of meetings with Cuban ministry officials, hoping to sell them on
products ranging from modest roofing to high-end flooring. State
officials are also hoping to announce deals - one between the Port of
Virginia and Cuba's Port of Mariel, another between Virginia
Commonwealth University and the University of Havana. Details of those
announcements remained under wraps.

Sunday was devoted primarily to seeing a few sights and getting to know
some of the private business people exploring the potential for trade.
McAuliffe does not usually play tourist on trade missions. A world
traveler long before he took office, he has often been there, done that.
But he did a little touring Sunday in Havana, he said, for the sake of
the larger-than-normal delegation accompanying him.

"Usually when I do trade missions, we generally don't take anyone with
us," he said. "Our last trip was 135 meetings. I like to go, go, go, go
- meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting. This one's a little different
because it's a brand-new opportunity for folks. So this one, since it's
really virgin territory for so many American companies and Virginia
companies, we put out the word, 'If you want to come down, we can help
you open some doors.' "

With a Cuban architect as a tour guide, McAuliffe and the delegation
strolled past Old Havana bars where Hemingway drank. They admired
crumbling architectural gems, such as the 18th-century limestone palace
that had been home to colonial governors.

"Lot bigger than the one I live in," McAuliffe said. "The Spanish knew
how to do it."

The group lingered before a street performer who, perched motionless on
a cobblestone street and smeared in dark makeup, looked uncannily like a
weathered bronzed pirate statue. The buccaneer came to life after
McAuliffe placed $1 in his tip box, pretending to threaten the governor
with his sword.

In a funny coincidence, McAuliffe ran into Luis Avila, 32, of San
Francisco, a former Northern Virginian who had volunteered for the
governor's campaign.

Tour guide Ayleen Robainas pointed out a 1906 hat factory gutted down to
its ornate facade, the rest of it too ruined to be saved. When she said
it was being turned into a hotel, McAuliffe smelled an opportunity. He
asked if any private partners would be involved.

No, Robainas said. The Cuban government has had lots of offers, she
said, but it wants to do the hotel on its own.

Even so, McAuliffe believes the island is teeming with other opportunities.

"I just think it's a huge potential for us for many years to come," he
said afterward. "We're coming here to plant the flag."

McAuliffe found a way to promote his state as the tour wound down. He
presented a bottle of Virginia wine to Warnel Lores, of Cuba's Foreign
Ministry. The bottle - a 2014 Barboursville Vineyards viognier - was one
of the state's best, McAuliffe said.

"Excellent with lobster," Todd Haymore, Virginia's secretary of
agriculture and forestry, piped up.

"Excellent with everything," McAuliffe said. "You fire that up and think
of Virginia. You forget those other 49 states."

Virginia - one of Cuba's top three U.S. trading partners since
Washington lifted the ban on agricultural exports more than a decade ago
- does not face competition from other states so much as from the rest
of the world. While other countries allow Cuba to buy products on
generous financing terms, the United States still requires Cuba to pay
in cash before goods leave U.S. ports.

"This is ridiculous," McAuliffe said. "As I like to say, you look at
Vietnam - 57,000 Americans were killed over there. We've had an embassy
there for years. This is a country that we actually came over and
invaded. We've got to put the past behind us."

Among the businesses participating in the trade mission are Perdue
Agribusiness; Virginia Natural Beef; Forever Oceans, a high-tech,
sustainable fish-farming outfit spun off from Lockheed Martin; T. Parker
Host shipping; roofing firm Onduline North America; and Mountain Lumber Co.

Participants from those firms paid their own way for the trip, at a
price of about $3,000 per person. Taxpayers will pick up the tab for
sending McAuliffe, first lady Dorothy McAuliffe and the state officials
accompanying them. The administration has not yet calculated the cost.

Members of the state delegation include McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy
and two cabinet secretaries besides Haymore: Bill Hazel of health and
human resources and Karen Jackson of technology.

Additional state staff members include the deputy agriculture
commissioner and a special assistant; a member of the state's economic
development authority; an official with the Virginia Port Authority;
three from Virginia Commonwealth University; and the director of the
state-supported Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Three people with the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which helped
organize the trip, are traveling with the delegation as well.

Also along for the trip are two members of the governor's executive
protection unit, who accompany the governor wherever he goes, and two
pilots for the state plane.

Although most of the delegation arrived via charter flight, the Cuban
government extended a special privilege to McAuliffe by allowing him to
land his state plane at Jose Marti International Airport. Cuban
Ambassador José R. Cabañas offered that favor to McAuliffe in a
face-to-face meeting in Washington about two weeks ago, and the governor
took it as a good sign.

"There's a whole different feeling I can tell, even from last time I was
here," said McAuliffe, who traveled to Cuba once before, in 2009, as a
volunteer pitchman for Virginia apples and wine. "Much more open
feeling, much more willingness to do business."

Source: Virginia governor promotes pork, wine, seaport in Cuba - Daily
Press - Continue reading
Old Havana reflects a new era in Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: November 21, 2015 | Updated: November 21, 2015 at 09:02 AM

HAVANA — Imagine block after block of buildings as grand and historic as
the Cuban Club in Ybor City, except the verandas, balustrades and
high-arched windows are crumbling and boarded up from age and neglect.

But peer inside and you'll spot scenes that belie the decay — apartments
and businesses that, though modestly furnished, are safe and stable,
clean and comfortable, showing signs of a vibrant life.

Old Havana, in many ways, tells the story of change in modern Cuba.

The brick buildings are falling apart as their owner, the communist
government of Cuba, struggles into its sixth decade to find the
resources needed to restore or even stabilize the structures.

Meantime, on the inside, people who lease from the government — or for
the first time are allowed to own their spaces — take advantage of new
opportunities from an emerging private sector to pay for upgrades.

A tour of Havana reveals these changes and more compared with the
capital city of five years ago, just before President Raul Castro moved
to encourage more private ventures and personal freedoms for a Cuba
still reeling from the 1991 fall of its sponsor, the Soviet Union.

The Tribune this month joined one of the growing number of U.S.-based
tours of Havana, this one conducted by Insight Cuba of New York, and
came away with these highlights:

♦The Internet, once a rarity in a country where outside influence was
discouraged, now is widely available, promising to transform commerce
and communication as it has throughout the rest of the Western
Hemisphere. Cafes across Havana advertise Web access, and tourists tap
into WiFi while lounging in hotel lobbies.

♦Same-sex couples hold hands on romantic strolls down Havana's signature
waterfront street, the Malecón. This wasn't the case five years ago, as
a taboo lingered long after open expression of homosexuality was
legalized in 1979.

♦The private sector is growing. An estimated 200,000 Cubans found work
in the island nation between January and May alone, said Daybel Panellas
Alvarez, a professor of social psychology who spoke to the Insight tour

❖ ❖ ❖

One example of Havana's inside-out changes are its paladares, private
homes turned into restaurants through the owners' own hard work and
opportunities now provided by the Cuban government.

Some of the new restaurateurs continue to live in part of the building.
Others were able to afford a new home with the money they now make.

"Five years ago there were probably a dozen paladares in Havana," said
Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, during a phone interview. "Now
I'd guess there are over 100."

The city's historic borough of Old Havana buzzes with construction
projects that are restoring buildings up to 500 years old. As many as
half of the district's historic structures are expected to be
refurbished by 2019.

This renaissance extends beyond Old Havana and into the capital city of
2.14 million people. That's about 1 in 5 of Cuba's 11 million people.

"Cranes are everywhere," Popper said. "Buildings have been knocked down
and new ones built. The city is changing."

These government projects primarily are funded through a growing tourism
industry. The state-run newspaper Granma reported that registered
visitor arrivals reached 3 million by Nov. 16, which was 45 days before
it hit that mark in 2014.

The tourism industry, Granma reported, has contributed more than $2.5
billion in revenue this year.

A growing share of that money comes from U.S. travelers.

Five years ago, American accents were scarce in Cuba. Now, in part
because President Barack Obama has moved to normalize relations between
the two nations, they are dominant in some Havana hotel lobbies.

According to Granma, 88,996 Americans arrived in Cuba between Jan. 1 and
July 26, compared with 57,768 during the same period in 2014. The figure
doesn't include 164,368 Cuban-Americans visiting their native land
during the 2015 period.

Many arrive from Tampa — 71,462 so far in 2015, compared with 61,408 in
all of 2014.

"It is common for Americans going to Cuba for the first time to have
preconceived notions due to so many years of negative propaganda,"
Popper said. "They think it is a military state and the people are
miserable. Then they see it is actually a beautiful Caribbean nation
with people going to work, kids going to school and families having fun."

Arturo Watlington, a Virgin Islands resident who was one of 23 people on
the Insight tour, expected to find Cuba overrun by uniformed men
carrying automatic weapons.

"I didn't even see military at the airport and see very few police on
the streets," he said. "I see less armed security in Cuba than I see in
the United States."

❖ ❖ ❖

Tour member Aida Gilroy, of Sarasota, is a native of Cuba who had not
been back since her family left in 1966 over philosophical differences
with Fidel Castro's communist government. She was 10 then.

Gilroy was surprised at the conditions she found after hearing for
decades that Cuba was spiraling toward doom.

"It is showing signs of improvement," she said in Havana. "My family who
lives here struggles but say they are doing better."

The Insight group was licensed under a people-to-people educational trip
— one of the 12-reasons allowed by the U.S. government for citizens to
visit Cuba. Other ways include athletic competition and research.

The tour group spent up to eight hours a day learning about Cuban
culture through visits to a hand-rolled-cigar factory, a food co-op, a
music studio, botanical garden and private restaurants.

The architecture, even that of the blighted buildings, is
"breathtaking," said Kent Hughes, of Maryland, another member of the
tour group.

Live music seemed to emanate from every bar, cafe and restaurant, as
well as from street corners and plaza squares, lifting the spirits of
all in the group.

Still, many parts of the Cuba experience remain less than welcoming.

Stays at the legendary beach resorts are off limits to Americans because
of U.S. law, and the people-to-people tours limit free time to late
afternoons and evenings.

Tourists are warned not to drink water from a sink or even use it to
brush their teeth.

A handful of short blackouts occurred in the Melia Cohiba, where the
tour group stayed, perhaps because too many room air conditioners were
turned to high.

Compared with U.S. standards, many Cuban citizens live in poverty,
earning an average salary of $25 a week.

Phone communication between the U.S. and Cuba remains difficult.

❖ ❖ ❖

Tour members Julie and Michael Fair, of Denver, have a 20-year-old son,
Jimmy, who is spending a semester abroad at the University of Havana.
Phone reception is so bad they seldom speak.

As a high school student, their son spent time in Uganda, 8,000 miles
from the U.S., compared with the 90 miles to Cuba, the Fairs said.
Communication was easier with Uganda.

Cuba's version of history hasn't changed, so some Americans may take
offense at the way relations with the U.S. are presented.

For example, in much of the U.S., those who left Cuba are considered to
have fled communism. But in Cuba, they are said to have abandoned their

While visiting family in her native town of Bauta, 25 miles southwest of
Havana, Gilroy, of Sarasota, was denied entry to her former school
because she left Cuba.

Signs painted on government-owned Havana buildings bear the slogans, in
Spanish, "Still in combat" and "Long live the revolution," rallying
cries for support of the effort that brought communism to the island.

Books sold in hotel gift shops and in plaza squares that attract
tourists primarily are about Fidel Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and how
the revolution saved Cuba.

Lobby walls in state-run hotels are covered with photos of Castro giving
dramatic speeches or greeting children.

Many Cubans call this patriotism, whereas anti-Castro factions see it as

One Cuban citizen, upon learning he was speaking with a U.S. newspaper
reporter, criticized the U.S. for failing to sell more food to Cuba or
send passenger ferries and cruise ships. When told the U.S. already has
approved such measures and that the holdup may be the Cuban government,
the Cuban laughed, declaring, "American lies."

Public pot shots are taken at the U.S. as well.

For example, outdated photo displays hang on walls of hotels demanding
that the U.S. free the remaining three members of the "Cuban Five," a
reference to Cuban intelligence officers who were arrested in September
1998 and convicted in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage. They were
released from prison in December as part of a prisoner swap for a U.S.
intelligence agent.

In these displays, the Cuban prisoners are called heroes who were trying
to protect their nation from the "terrorist" United States.

❖ ❖ ❖

Watlington, the tour group member and lawyer, noted Cuba's reputation
for harboring other nations' criminals.

One is a former client of his, he said, who was serving life in prison
for the shooting deaths of eight people on a St. Croix golf course when
he hijacked a plane to Cuba during transport in 1985.

Watlington would not share the name of the former client, but his
description fits that of Ishmael Ali Labeet, a Virgin Islands man who
has been seen living in Cuba's Holguin province.

News outlets here continue to broadcast reports when government
opponents are arrested by police, but people also seem more comfortable
criticizing the government.

"I've been shocked at the ease many talk about the government," said
American Jimmy Fair, who joined his parents on the Insight tour.

For instance, Alvarez, the social psychology professional, spent much of
her time during the tour in discussions on how women and black Cubans
still do not receive equal treatment in the workforce.

Alvarez also said the financial gap between the rich and poor in Cuba is
higher than ever under communism. People in the upper class earn an
average of $1,400 a month, Alvarez said, and those in the lower class
bring home $100.

"Our challenge now that we know we're not equal is how to live equally,"
Alvarez said. "That is something we don't have answers to."

A cabdriver in Cuba who would not share his name, saying only that he
has a son in Tampa who works off-camera for a television news station,
thinks the answer to improving Cuba's economy simply is time.

Raul Castro announced his major economic initiatives in 2011. If
improvements are noticeable just four years later, the cabdriver said,
"imagine what can be accomplished in another 10, especially now that
relations with the U.S. are normalized.

❖ ❖ ❖

Even Insight tells each group that what they find in Cuba may differ
from what a previous group found.

The recent group was told that Verizon and Sprint customers reported
inconsistent roaming services in Cuba despite the two companies saying
it is available for the first time. Yet tour member Martin Quandt, of
Portland, was able to use Verizon service throughout the trip, although
at a premium rate of almost $3 a minute.

"Those calls I made to my wife may make this my most expensive trip
yet," Quandt said with a laugh.

Quandt enjoys traveling to countries other U.S. citizens may fear visiting.

He also has toured North Korea, Vietnam, Iran and Myanmar, as well as

The reason: To support his theory that people around the world are the
same no matter their country's political idealism.

Amid all the changes Cuba is undergoing, Quandt considers this a constant.

He told of an experience in Palestine, when a young guard sneered at him
during a search at a checkpoint.

Qaundt said he smiled and asked the guard, "So, you have a girlfriend?"
The guard's cold exterior melted away. He laughed and replied, "I hope I
still have one. She is very mad at me right now."

"He was like a 20-year-old in the U.S. Cubans and Americans have
similarities, too. That's what you learn by actually going to other
countries — people are people. It's why I travel. You learn these things
for yourself."

Source: Old Havana reflects a new era in Cuba | and The Tampa
Tribune - Continue reading
Tampa LGBT leaders join cruise to explore community in Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Updated: September 3, 2015 at 07:05 AM

TAMPA — It's a time of rapid steps toward equality for the Tampa area's
LGBT community — the once-resistant Hillsborough County commission
signed a Tampa Pride proclamation in March, the U.S. Supreme Court
legalized same sex marriage in June, and the next day a quarter million
people jammed the streets of St. Petersburg for its annual Pride Parade.

Now, some local LGBT leaders are planning to carry the momentum with
them to Cuba.

At least 50 people from the Tampa area, including prominent LGBT
leaders, will join a gay-themed cruise in January for education and
outreach with members of the Cuban LGBT community, including discussions
on the campaign to achieve equality in both nations, said Al Ferguson,
owner of Sarasota's, which is planning the trip.

"Cuba is just 90 miles away from Key West but might as well be on the
moon," Furguson said. "Much of our gay community knows little about
Cuba's and they may know little about ours. I am a firm believer that
travel can lead to change. Visiting Cuba can open dialogue between us
and help us both."

Though same sex marriage remains illegal in Cuba, the island nation can
point to its own advances toward equality from the times when gays and
lesbians were rounded up and sent to work camps. The LGBT lives and
works openly there today.

The eight-day, seven-night excursion leaves Jan. 15 from Montego Bay,
Jamaica, and flights to Montego from Tampa International Airport are
part of the package deal.

The ship will sail around Cuba, stopping at ports in Santiago, Havana,
Maria la Gorda and Cienfuegos. Passengers will take tours of each area
for educational purposes — one of 12 categories of travel to Cuba that
are legal under relaxed U.S. rules — and experience Havana's gay
cultural scene.

❖ ❖ ❖

The tour group will meet with leaders of Cuba's LGBT community and
Ferguson will be a guest on radio and television programs to discuss the
equality movement in the U.S.

At the end of each day, as many as 1,200 passengers return to the ship
for dining, dancing and parties.

The State Department has approved cruises to Cuba from the U.S., and
Carnival Corp. has announced plans to offer trips from Miami soon, but
travel via a third nation remains the only cruise option today.

The cruise will be among the first with a gay theme since President
Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba in December
after five decades of a U.S. travel and trade embargo. has more Cuban cruises planned from Montego on Feb. 26
and April 8.

Furguson began planning the cruise shortly after Obama's announcement.

His travel company is a major financial supporter of both the St.
Petersburg and Tampa pride events as well as the Tampa International Gay
and Lesbian Film Festival. The company also promotes the Tampa area as
one of the best vacation destinations anywhere for the LGBT community.

Carrie West, founder of Tampa's GaYBOR District Coalition, called
Furguson a good ambassador for Florida's LGBT community.

"He is world travelled and is known around the country as being
supportive of pride events," West said. "I think he will make a great
first impression. He supports the gay community everywhere he goes.
Adding Cuba to that list seems right."

West welcomes the chance to join one of the cruises later in the year —
after finishing a home renovation project.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity to have fun and make a difference,"
he said. "I'm jealous of those going."

❖ ❖ ❖

Reaction from the LGBT community has been equal parts excitement and
caution, Ferguson said.

The roundups occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Cuba doesn't have the best human rights record by any stretch,"
Furguson said. "But it is improving."

Byron Motley, who is writing a book on Cuba's LGBT history, said cruise
passengers have little to worry about.

"Gays and lesbians are now allowed to live openly in Cuba," said Motley,
who also authored the photo book "Embracing Cuba."

"The people are very respectful and there are very serious consequences
for harming tourists. Of course, as anywhere in the world, travelers
were advised to be mindful of their surroundings.

"Nowhere is 100 percent safe for anyone, gay or not," Motley said. "But
as for being part of a hate crime — there should be no concern."

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979, gay-themed art is no longer
censored, movies like the modern western "Brokeback Mountain" air on
government-run television, gay bars are opening in the cities and the
national healthcare system has provided free gender-reassignment
surgeries since 2008.

"It is much more open and liberal than many people would realize,"
Motley said.

❖ ❖ ❖

Fidel Castro has even apologized for Cuba's past treatment of its LGBT

In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper "La Jornada," Castro called
it a "great injustice," adding, "If anyone is responsible, it's me. We
had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life and death. In
those moments, I was not able to deal with the matter of homosexuals"

This swing in Cuba's philosophy, said author Motley, arises primarily
from the campaign's leader — Mariela Castro, niece of Fidel and daughter
of President Raul Castro.

Mariela Castro is heterosexual but thought her government's treatment of
its LGBT community was so unfair that she decided to use her family
status to lobby for change.

As director of the National Center for Sexual Education, she helped
establish Cuba's LGBT pride event, held each May since 2008. She also
persuaded the government to cover gender reassignment surgeries.

Learning about these positive steps in Cuba will be part of the
travelers' experience, Furguson said.

"Our government has approved of travel to Cuba so we can better
understand the county," he said.

Still, Cuba has far to go on equality for the LGBT community.

Legalizing gay marriage is at the top of the list, said author Motley,
and he believes it will happen sooner rather than later.

Activists in Cuba also point out there is no official recording yet of
hate crimes against the LGBT community in Cuba, there are no laws
prohibiting LGBT discrimination in the work place, and few sexual
reassignment surgeries have actually been approved by the government.

But Motley said the U.S. has much to do before achieving true equality
for the LGBT community.

That, said Furguson, is why these cruises to Cuba are so important.

"The message I want to share with Cuba's gay community is you are not
alone or isolated," said Furguson. "America's gay community thinks a lot
about you. Your desire for equality is not a Cuban issue. It is global.
Let's work together."

Source: Tampa LGBT leaders join cruise to explore community in Cuba | and The Tampa Tribune - Continue reading
How Cuba's State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana
June 25, 2014
Isbel Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – After participating in the congress of the Association of
Latin American Studies in Chicago, I returned home to Cuba this past
June 20th, following a one-month stay in the United States. I arrived at
terminal 2 of Havana's Jose Marti International Airport to be received
by Cuban State Security agents. Customs officers then proceeded to take
away my cell phone and other belongings.

I was detained at the airport for three hours and all of my personal
belongings were meticulously inspected. The officials were chiefly
interested in all of the documents I carried with me and all electronic
devices that could store information.

As such, in addition to my phone (which stored all of my personal
contacts and private notes), two external hard disks and their cables,
two cell phones I had brought my nephew and my boyfriend as gifts and an
SD memory with family videos were confiscated, even though the
authorities didn't know what their contents were and didn't even take
the trouble of asking.

All of these devices were classified as items for personal use by the
customs authorities themselves – the number of items didn't exceed the
limit established by Resolution 320 / 2011, which establishes what
imports are of a commercial nature, nor did their respective prices
surpass the limits established in the Value List published under
Resolution 312 / 2011.

It is therefore quite evident that these confiscations are the result of
the arbitrariness and excessive monitoring that all Cubans with
free-thinking postures that are critical of the country's
socio-political reality are subjected to.

The fact that Lt. Colonel Omar, a well-known State Security officer,
came in and out of the premises, reveals that the reasons behind this
incident are clearly political.

I was given absolutely no explanation as to why my belongings were being
confiscated. I was only referred to the customs resolution that empowers
these officials to retain what they see fit. The contents and scope of
the said resolution were not explained to me either.

What was explained to me were the reasons they confiscated several of
the documents I carried with me. According to the Confiscation and
Notification document, they "tarnish the country's morals and customs."
The documents in question were:

- Historian Frank Fernandez' classic El anarquismo en Cuba ("Anarchism
in Cuba"), a book the author had sent to the Cuban Anthropology
Institute (as the dedication he had handwritten attested to). Fernandez
had learned that a group was studying the issue at the institute and he
wanted to contribute to the work with his research on Cuba's workers'
and anarcho-syndicalist movements.

- The open letter dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua had addressed to the
Association of Latin American Studies, to which all Cubans who
participated in this year's LASA congress had access.

- A page from a New Herald newspaper with part of an article dealing
with the LGBTI community on the island and showing a photograph of the
Day Against Homophobia activities organized every year by Cuba's
National Sexual Education Center headed by Mariela Castro. By chance,
the page also showed a photo of dissident Yoani Sanchez. This
immediately piqued the interest of the customs official, who labeled the
document "anti-Cuban propaganda" without having read the article.

The only item that could in any way be construed as an affront on Cuban
morals and customs is the photo of the Day Against Homophobia
activities, which shows several people wearing colorful feathers singing
on a Cuban stage. This homophobic posture must be condemned by our
community on the island.

I publicly denounce this violation of my rights and abuse of power
before the international community, and know that I will demand the
immediate return of my cell phone and the rest of my belongings, all
acquired legally.

I am not the first person who suffers this type of violence and I will
probably not be the last, not while the Cuban political police continue
to enjoy the prerogatives and privileges they do now.

Source: How Cuba's State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana -
Havana - Continue reading
Santiago de Cuba: Post Sandy Reconstruction Brings Contrasts & Questions
October 25, 2013
By Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — The morning of October 25, 2012, will be an unpleasant
memory for the people of Santiago de Cuba for a long time to come. The
horror of hurricane Sandy caused the loss of human lives (not many,
thank God) and all types of material damage.

No precautions sufficed against the nefarious onslaught of the winds.
Our first photo feature, completed some hours after the devastating
incident, gathered truly sad images across the city.

For several days, the city was without electricity, communications and
drinking water. Little by little, all services were restored. Many
houses and apartments, however, weren't so lucky.

In a second piece on the incident, written exactly six months after the
tragedy, I wrote (and it is well worth remembering) that, while recovery
efforts were undertaken promptly, they were by no means complete.

Today, exactly one year since the hurricane struck the province, the
provincial head of Housing, Alfredo Torres, reports that 54 percent of
the damage to houses remains to be repaired and only 10 percent of the
cases involving the complete collapse of the dwelling have been addressed.

It is said that, in ten years, more than 29 thousand homes for those
affected by the hurricane will be constructed and unsanitary conditions
in different neighborhoods will be eliminated through the use of modern
construction technologies.

Though local and foreign construction brigades are working in different
parts of the city to erect buildings for the families who lost their
homes to the hurricane and the State is covering fifty percent of the
costs of the building materials sold to the victims, recovery efforts
are still not enough.

The fact of the matter is that there is something of a pebble in many
people's shoes: if so much damage was done to people's most prized
possession, their homes, why were so many resources destined to other

Though it is true that many facilities and establishments built or
repaired through these initiatives make the city prettier, it is also
true that a considerable quantity of construction materials and labor
were destined to the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the assault
on the Moncada garrison this past July.

One case in point was the major repair of the Hotel Rex, undertaken for
the simple reason that a number of the individuals involved in the
attack on the garrison stayed there at one point.

The monumental art gallery located near the former garrison, the
reconstruction and modernization of the Abel Santamaria park (where the
military hospital was once located) are other examples.

Other establishments whose facades or interiors were restored or
renovated have opened around the city, like the hard-currency (and
perennially empty) chocolate shop.

The most questionable initiative was building a curious restaurant
(shaped like an airport, and fitted with a plane), in the neighborhood
of San Pedrito, one of the most severely damaged in the city.

Thus, among other things, I would like to share with you these photos,
which contrast the still-damaged houses with the recently opened State

Source: "Santiago de Cuba: Post Sandy Reconstruction Brings Contrasts &
Questions - Havana" - Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 10.14.13

Cuban government supporters 'repudiate' the Ladies in White

Cuban police and a pro-government mob Monday shut off the area around
the Havana home where the dissident Ladies in White were marking the
anniversary of the death of their founder, and police reportedly
detained 22 group members who tried to reach the home.

"The government brings the mob, paid by them, to silence our words,"
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said by phone from the home of
founder Laura Pollán, which became the group's office after her death on
Oct. 14. 2011 at the age of 63.

Loud music and chanting could be heard in the background, coming from
the loudspeakers set up by government officials to amplify the shouts by
the more than 100 government supporters crowded since 2 p.m. just
outside the front doors of the home on Neptuno Street.

About 50 Ladies in White were gathered in the home to mark Pollán's
death but another 22 were detained by police Monday to keep them from
attending the ceremony, Soler said. Such detentions are usually ended
after an event ends.

Police closed off the one block of Neptuno in front of Pollan's house to
vehicular and pedestrian traffic since early Monday and installed a
"large stage" for the event against the women, according to a report by
the Spanish EFE news agency.

At least six police vehicles and several police agents, most of them
women, could be seen on Aramburen street, on one end of the closed-off
block of Neptuno street, EFE added.

The Cuban government regularly organizes such "acts of reputation" to
harass and intimidate dissidents and to prevent them from staging street
protests against the island's communist system.

Soler said the Ladies in White gathered in the home had no intention of
going out into the street and hoped simply to mark Pollan's death by
showing a video celebrating her life and reading some of the letters she
wrote giving her support and encouragement to other dissidents.

Another 82 members of the Ladies in White were detained around the
island over the weekend as they tried to reach ceremonies honoring
Pollán, Soler said. All were believed to have been released by Sunday night.

Pollán was one of the main founders of the group, made up of the wives,
mothers and daughters of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown known
as Cuba's "Black spring," to demand the release of their male relatives.

Some of the 75 were released early for health reasons, and the last of
the men still in prison were freed in 2010 and 2011 by the Raúl Castro
government after meetings with leaders of Cuba's Catholic Church. All
but a dozen or so went directly from prison to the Havana airport for
flights to exile in Spain.

The Cuban government reported Pollán died from a heart attack, brought
on by a respiratory crisis complicated by a bout with dengue fever and
her diabetes. Some of her followers have said they suspect she was
poisoned but offered no evidence.

Pollán died nine months before another top dissident, Oswaldo Payá, and
supporter Harold Cepero were killed in what Cuban officials called a
traffic accident. Payá's family maintains the fatal crash was caused by
a State Security vehicle that rammed their car.

Source: "Cuban government supporters 'repudiate' the Ladies in White -
Cuba -" - Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 08.26.13

Cuba reports more cholera among foreign visitors

Cuba-born New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez says it was bad
enough that he contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana this
summer. Then he got a bill from the government hospital -- $4,700.

Gómez' complaint came as Havana reported that a total of 12 foreign
tourists and 151 Cubans have come down with cholera in recent months –
though Gómez says his hospital ward alone had six to 15 foreigners on
every one of the six days that he spent there.

The Havana report on cholera, the second in August alone, seemed to hint
at a growing transparency by Cuban officials who previously kept quiet
about the disease in a bid to avoid damaging the island's $2.5
billion-a-year tourism industry, experts said.

A bulletin Friday by the Pan American Health Organization said Cuba that
same day had reported 163 cases in the provinces of Havana, Santiago de
Cuba and Camagüey. PAHO, the hemispheric branch of the World Health
Organization, indicated that those cases took place this year but gave
no specific time frame.

Among those cases were 12 persons who had travelled to Cuba from other
countries – three from Italy, two each from Germany, Spain, Chile and
Venezuela and one from the Netherlands, PAHO noted. Cuba had reported
six of those cases to PAHO earlier this month.

Independent journalists and visitors like Gómez have been reporting
hundreds more cases never confirmed by Cuba, where the state-run news
media virtually never uses the word "cholera" and instead refers to
cases of "acute diarrheic diseases."

Gómez, 49, who left Cuba in 1997 and now teaches math at the William
Nottingham High School in Syracuse, N.Y., said he and two relatives were
hit by intense diarrheas two days after they ate together at a state-run
restaurant in Havana in late July.

Doctors at the Manuel Fajardo Hospital told them they had cholera, Gómez
said, and transferred him to the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical
Medicine, where the fourth floor of the hospital is reserved for
foreigners who contract the disease.

Gómez said at least six and up to 15 foreigners were on the floor each
of the six days he spent there, Aug. 4-10, receiving antibiotics and
intravenous fluids for the disease, which is easily transmitted through
water and can kill through dehydration.

That same week more than 60 Cubans were being treated in Kouri hospital
wards reserved for island residents with cholera, he said, and a nephew
told him that a large number of people had been struck by the disease in
the Havana suburb of Mantilla.

The treatment fore foreigners at the hospital was very good and much
better than the treatment for island residents, he added, but problems
started when the foreign patients received huge bills as they were about
the leave the hospital.

He heard two Spaniards on the phone with their insurance companies in
Madrid trying to figure out how and what to pay, Gómez said. And he was
pressured strongly to pay his own bill with his credit cards or through
his U.S. health insurance policy.

"They really want to charge me, and they tried by all means that I
should pay," he said in a phone interview from Syracuse. "It was a rude,
abusive attitude. They would not let met leave without paying."

The bill he was shown was for $4,700 but he left without paying, he
added, arguing that the U.S. embargo banned him from paying and that in
any case his bill should be paid by the government-run restaurant where
he contracted cholera.

Cuba technically requires all visitors from abroad to obtain separate
Cuban health insurance policies, which usually are purchased on arrival
at an airport. It is not clear why those policies would not have paid
for the foreigners' stays at the Kouri hospital.

Cholera reappeared in Cuba last summer, after a 100-year absence, with
the return of Cuban medical personnel who had worked in Haiti, where an
epidemic has killed more than 8,200 people since 2010. Havana has
confirmed only three deaths on the island, although independent
journalists have reported dozens more.

PAHO's statement Friday meanwhile said Havana had reported 47 cholera
cases after Hurricane Sandy swept over the eastern part of the island in
October, and another 51 cases in the province of Havana at the beginning
of this year.

Havana's report lacked details "but they seem to be trying to be more
public," said Sherri Porcelain, a University of Miami lecturer in global
public health and senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban
and Cuban-American Studies.

Cuba "reported that prompt and appropriate control actions were
implemented in response to these outbreaks," PAHO added, without
mentioning the state-run news media's refusal in most cases to use the
word "cholera."

"Per the information received, Cuba continues to develop and implement
cholera prevention and control plans, to strengthen awareness of
preventive measures by the public, to control food preparations sites,
and carry out epidemiological surveillance of acute diarrheal diseases,"
PAHO said.

"Public health awareness campaigns were intensified during the summer
season; particularly those related to hand washing, chlorinated water
intake, safe food preparation (and) washing of fruits and vegetables.

Source: "Cuba reports more cholera among foreign visitors - Cuba -" - Continue reading
Response to Ricardo Alarcon / Eliecer Avila Posted on July 18, 2013 This morning I was awakened by a call from a friend to tell me that finally señor Ricardo Alarcón had uttered words referring to our encounter*. I immediately started to make arrangements to see where I could download this post, but nothing worked. [...] Continue reading
Interview with Rosa Maria Paya / Lilianne Ruiz, Rosa Maria Paya Posted on June 18, 2013 By Lilianne Ruíz HAVANA, Cuba, May, Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, returned to Cuba after finishing a tour with the main objective of promoting an international investigation to clarify the [...] Continue reading
June 11, 2013, 2:42 pm Cuban Blogger Who Reveres Castro Pushes for Reform By NATALIE KITROEFF Elaine Díaz may be the most important Cuban dissident you’ve never heard of. But that is perhaps because she doesn’t even call herself a dissident. Ms. Díaz is a leader of a group of Cubans who are opening a [...] Continue reading