Saturday, June 10, 2017

Havana: a city of colour and surprises

Havana: a city of colour and surprises
The buildings in Cuba's capital may be crumbling yet there is a great
sense of civic pride
Conor Horgan

Cuba is full of surprises. On my first morning in a Havana casa
particular (room in a private home), where all the hangers in my
wardrobe were homemade, the young woman who brought breakfast invited me
to accompany her into work.
Her name was Yvette, and as far as I could understand her job was
playing oboe in some kind of band. She flagged down a pre-1959, fixed
route taxi collectivo and 50 cents brought us to the centre of Vedado,
the newest part of Havana.
We hopped out beside the Cuba Libre hotel, opened as a Hilton in 1959
then commandeered a few months later by Fidel as his command centre
during the revolution. Around the corner was Yvette's job, and my next
two hours were spent in a crammed rehearsal room thrilling to the
glorious noise of the 60-piece Cuban State Television Orchestra, with
the highlight of their extensive repertoire being a swinging salsa
version of the old Strauss classic El Danubio Azul.

Afterwards I made my way along 17th Street, admiring the succession of
majestic, crumbling Deco houses, each more beautiful than the last. I
couldn't help but wonder how long it will be before most of them are
snapped up by pimply tech millionaires from Palo Alto now that Cuba has
been opened up for tourism from the US.
There certainly were a large number of tourists from el Norte around,
and when I went to hear some world-class jazz in legendary club La Zorra
y el Cuervo (The Fox and the Crow) it was hard to ignore the bunch of
well-oiled retirees from the Midwest clapping along out of time. They
did settle down after a while, as I imagine Cuba will once it gets over
the shock of a sudden influx of Americans and their money.

The signs are good – there is a great sense of civic pride in Havana,
and the Office of the City Historian, a huge state department of
architects and planners tasked with renovating the many near-derelict
buildings, makes sure that each part of the city remains properly
mixed-use rather than turning it into some kind of Cuban theme park.

Laps of the square
This means that the local equivalent of Grafton Street has a maternity
hospital (on publicly-owned land, naturally) and the Old Town's Plaza
Vieja hosts a primary school, where the pupil's gym class has them
running in between the tourists as they do laps of the square.

I did see another side to the story when I visited Harris Brothers,
reputedly the best supermarket in the city. They had limited stock on
offer; not much more than bottled water, rum, shampoo and jars of
mayonnaise on otherwise empty shelves. Directly opposite, beside an
abandoned van with no wheels, workmen were putting the finishing touches
on a Mont Blanc fountain pen shop.
The plan was to spend a few days in Havana then strike out for the
country, but I quickly discovered that despite the relaxed pace of life,
leaving things to the last minute doesn't really work in Cuba – there
were no bus tickets to be had, and I didn't particularly feel like
spending six hours in the back of a truck.
Accommodation was the same – figuring that all the casas in the
guidebook would be well booked out I tried Airbnb, only to discover it
doesn't take bookings from inside Cuba. Thankfully, the landlady of one
of the booked-out casas was happy to figure out what I was trying to say
in broken Spanish and found me an alternative.

Havana is made up of three distinct cities, more than interesting enough
for a 10- day trip. I started in well-to-do Vedado to the west, before
moving to the Old Town in the east, all the while exploring Centro in
the middle.
Centro is the barrio, the roughest part of Havana – a dimly lit,
forbidding looking place with lean youths on bikes flitting through the
shadows and wheezing Russian Ladas carefully negotiating gaping
crevasses in the street. This was another surprise – in any other
country no tourist would dream of venturing into this part of town,
especially after dark. But I don't think I've ever felt so safe, even
with a camera.

Friendly and polite
Cubans are so friendly and polite that even the hustlers are easy to
deal with – I was regularly asked if I wanted a chica, cigarro, internet
card or all three, and when I demurred I'd get a big smile and best
wishes for the rest of my evening.
As time passed I was glad that my very basic level of Spanish started to
improve – one night while photographing a gang of youths in Centro, one
of them said "Tu no entiendes Español, coño?" (You don't understand
Spanish, coño?) and I was able to give him a big smile and reply in
Spanish "I understand 'coño'." His friends thought it was hilarious. If
you don't understand the word "coño", a quick viewing of Scarface or any
episode of Narcos will put you right.

Surprises around every corner makes the city a photographer's paradise -
it's not just the vivid colours and amazing light but all of the events,
the richness of life being lived in full view. Trying to capture
everything from a girl emerging from a cloud of white smoke to a
policewoman in mid-argument, my camera rarely left my hand.

There's so much to see on the streets, so many pictures to take, that
the whole time I was there I only made it to two museums – the first was
the Museum of Chocolate, which happily turned out to be just a great
chocolate shop with a few glass cases of implements.
Bullet holes
The second was the Museo de Revolucion, which I found unexpectedly
moving. From the bullet holes in the marble staircase left when the
rebels stormed the building to the armour-plated tractors in the
courtyard, the museum told the story of a small bunch of young men (and
Raúl Castro, looking about 15 in the pictures from the time) who set out
on a near-certain fight to the death and to their surprise ended up
liberating the country. Pride of place goes to the yacht that carried
them from Mexico, the Granma, now housed inside a giant glass box,
making it look like some kind of revolutionary Damian Hirst installation.

Cuba is pricier than I expected: while accommodation is cheap, getting
around does add up (after a few days I was politely informed by an
American that the taxi collectivos are reserved for Cuban citizens). I
tried one of the bright yellow, egg-shaped tuk-tuks, but one trip was
enough to convince me that walking and official taxis were a far better
option. As it zipped between the hulking 1950s cars at terrifying speed
I took little comfort from the fact that at least the helmeted driver
might survive the spectacular crash that was surely around the next
corner – there wasn't much hope for his bare-headed passenger.
I had also been warned to lower my expectations of the food, and with
good reason; if you want to eat anything much better than a Cuban
pressed sandwich (ham, Swiss cheese, roast pork, pickles and salami)
you'll pay a fair bit for it – such as the small plate of lobster
risotto I treated myself to at the rooftop bar of legendary restaurant
La Guarida, a beacon of fine dining in the middle of Centro.

Splurging like this meant I needed to use ATMs more often than I'd
expected, and I quickly discovered they had their own, particularly
Cuban temperament. "La máquina está loca," grumbled an old woman in the
queue beside me, encouraging me to keep trying – it worked on the fifth

Fever dream
Another price to be paid in Cuba is an inevitable bout of food
poisoning. Whatever it was that didn't agree with me put me in bed for
an uninterrupted 18-hour fever dream, which actually wasn't all that
unpleasant. Coming to the following morning, I looked up and saw I
hadn't hallucinated it – there really was an ace of hearts stuck to the
ceiling above the bed. The landlady explained that this was because I
was staying in the habitación matrimonial or bridal suite.

Aside from the heat, the light, and the colours, the best part of the
entire trip was experiencing the openness and incredible spirit of the
Cuban people. I hope nothing will take it away, and I also hope I can
get back there soon to experience even more of it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Should US Entrepreneurs Make Their Way to Cuba?

Should US Entrepreneurs Make Their Way to Cuba?
Entrepreneurs: this could be big.
By James Paine
Founder, West Realty Advisors@JamesCPaine

There's a new possible hotspot for entrepreneurship that might surprise
you: Cuba.

Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba are warming up, many
entrepreneurs see the island nation as an intriguing choice. When former
President Obama announced that he'd like to open up relations with Cuba,
thoughts of tourism and trade arose.

For entrepreneurs, Cuba could be a land of untapped potential.

Cuba has a struggling economy, but it also has a population of roughly
11 million -- and is a short flight from Florida.

Not long after Obama's announcement, companies started to dip their toe
in the Cuban market. While trade policies have been slightly relaxed,
it's still not a situation where a U.S. company could open up in Cuba.

Tourism rose roughly 20 percent after Obama's 2014 announcement and more
than 94,000 U.S. tourists visited Cuba in the first quarter of 2016, but
it's still a complex web for businesses.

In 2015, American companies such as PepsiCo, Caterpillar, Boeing and
American Airlines were present at the Havana International Fair, an
event usually sparsely attended by the U.S.

However, the hurdles toward building a successful business in Cuba are
endless. In addition to the lack of infrastructure in Cuba (it's still
largely a cash-based society, with little availability for plastic), the
U.S.-Cuba embargo remains in place.

There are still avenues for a determined American entrepreneur, though.

Experts have said that entrepreneurs who visit the island are more
interested in real estate opportunities, the hospitality industry and
establishing small factories in a 180-square-mile "free zone" outside of
Havana. Foreign entrepreneurs are able to own and operate businesses in
that zone, but only after being granted approval from the Communist Party.

Right now, most of the entrepreneurship is happening natively, as Cubans
start to gain more economical power thanks to the influx of tourism
dollars. The country's policies are still very insular, leading
Americans and other foreigners to work more with entrepreneurial Cubans
than trying to curry favor with the Communist Party in order to own a

Still, the seeds are being planted. Largely popular airline Southwest
recently opened up routes to Havana, and Carnival Cruise Lines docks in
the capital city, as well. It may take years for Western companies to
operate out of Cuba, but these are promising steps toward that future.

There are ways for entrepreneurs to gain a foothold within Cuba, but it
takes some coordination and teamwork. Americans are able to go into
business with Cuban entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas as they are known.
The Cuban government allows these cuentapropistas to operate taxis,
shops and restaurants.

Right now, they are the best conduit for American entrepreneurship in
Cuba. Working with a cuentapropista is a great first step for the
determined entrepreneur wanting to learn more about business operations
in the island nation.

As more tourism comes to Cuba, that revenue could fuel a change in
thinking. Currently, the Cuban government and the Communist Party
strictly prefers that Western business practices stay away from the
island. But with an influx of tourism money, that could change,
especially if Cuba uses this money to build out infrastructure.

While it might be easier now (though still an arduous process) to travel
to Cuba as a tourist, it does not seem that the land is totally open for
business yet.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not
those of


Source: Should US Entrepreneurs Make Their Way to Cuba? | -

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Activista desmiente a prensa oficial y alerta sobre precariedad en comunidades de Guantánamo

Activista desmiente a prensa oficial y alerta sobre precariedad en
comunidades de Guantánamo
junio 03, 2017

"La prensa está informando una cosa, pero la vida real es otra cosa",
aseguró el activista Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz, líder del Proyecto
Juan Pablo II, en el programa Cuba al Día de Radio Martí.
Más de 500 viviendas afectadas por el huracán Matthew han sido
recuperadas hasta el momento mediante la colaboración de la Gran Misión
venezolana Barrio Nuevo, Barrio Tricolor, en Maisí, provincia de
Guantánamo, publicó el periódico oficialista Granma.

Pero el activista cubano por los derechos humanos, Francisco Luis
Manzanet Ortiz, líder del Proyecto Juan Pablo II, dijo en el programa
Cuba al Día de Radio Martí, que "eso que comenta la prensa es poco
confiable" y que varias familias en Baracoa siguen esperando para
reparar sus viviendas.

"Lo que si es cierto es que un gran número de personas están todavía en
una situación crítica de hacinamiento con respecto a esta situación de
la vivienda que produjo más del 80 o 90% de afectación en el fondo
habitacional el paso del huracán Matthew el 4 de octubre de 2016", señaló.

Manzanet dijo que no caben dudas de que "el municipio de Baracoa está
viviendo una situación muy precaria por el hacinamiento en facilidades

Indicó que existe una gran incertidumbre en la población de Baracoa por
lo que podría ocurrir, porque desde el 1 de junio de 2017 comenzó de
nuevo la temporada ciclónica y el Gobierno no ha solucionado las
necesidades básicas de las personas que viven en ese municipio.

Manzanet, miembro de la Alianza Democrática Oriental, dijo que muchas
personas en la zona se preguntan qué ha hecho el Gobierno con cerca de
18 mil colchones que el Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia
(UNICEF) donó a las víctimas del huracán en Cuba.

"Los afectados, los que perdieron totalmente o parcialmente sus
viviendas no han recibido todavía (los colchones). Quiere decir que la
situación es crítica. La prensa está informando una cosa, pero la vida
real es otra cosa", agregó.

Manzanet especificó que la situación es muy mala en Alegría, Mosquitero,

"Hay personas que están viviendo una crítica situación; no tienen nada,
lo perdieron todo y hasta la fecha están viviendo en facilidades
temporales que ha dado el Gobierno para que vivan ahí".

(Redactado por Jorge P. Martínez, con información de Radio Martí)

Source: Activista desmiente a prensa oficial y alerta sobre precariedad
en comunidades de Guantánamo -