New US rules promise legal Cuba travel for many


HAVANA – The forbidden fruit of American travel is once again within reach. New rules issued by the Obama administration will allow Americans wide access to communist-led Cuba, already a mecca for tourists from other nations.www.cubaluxuryrent.com

Within months or even weeks, thousands of people from Seattle to Sarasota could be shaking their hips in tropical nightclubs and sampling the famous stogies, without having to sneak in through a third country and risk the Treasury Department’s wrath.

“This is travel to Cuba for literally any American,” said Tom Popper, director of a tour operator, which took thousands of Americans to Cuba before such programs were put into a deep freeze seven years ago.

But it won’t all be a day at the beach or a night at the bar. U.S. visitors may find themselves tramping through sweltering farms or attending history lectures to justify the trips, which are meant, under U.S. policy, to bring regular Cubans and Americans together.

So-called people-to-people contacts were approved in 1999 under the Clinton administration, but disappeared in 2004 as the Bush administration clamped down what many saw as thinly veiled attempts to evade a ban on tourism that is part of the 49-year-old U.S. embargo.

Some familiar voices on Capitol Hill are already sounding the alarm about the new policy.

“President Obama and the administration continuously say they don’t want more tourism and that’s not what they’re trying to do. But that’s exactly what’s happening,” said Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who was born in Ft. Lauderdale to a prominent Cuban-exile family. He argued that more travel does nothing to promote democracy on the island.

“The only thing it does is provide hard currency for a totalitarian regime,” he said.

If permission comes from Washington, it could begin trips in as little as six weeks, Popper said. Based on previous numbers, he believes he could take 5,000 to 7,000 Americans each year.

In the past, people-to-people travel has included jazz tours, where participants meet with musicians during the day and take in jam sessions at night. Art connoisseurs could visit studios, galleries and museums. Architecture aficionados could explore Havana’s stately, but crumbling cityscape.

“Soon Americans can go salsa dancing in Cuba — legally!” trumpeted a recent press release for one would-be tour operator.

“You can go on forever,” said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who represents several groups that have applied for licenses to operate the trips. “The subject matter is virtually limitless.”

Many approved tours will likely be run by museums, university alumni associations and other institutions. They will target wealthy, educated Americans who can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a 10-day tour.

Tens of thousands went each year under people-to-people licenses from 2000 to 2003. Anyone is eligible if they go with an authorized group.

Cuban officials say privately they expect as many as 500,000 visitors from the United States annually, though most are expected to be Cuban-Americans visiting relatives under rules relaxed in 2009. That makes travelers from the United States the second biggest group visiting Cuba after Canadians, with Italians and Germans next on the list.

Academic and religious travel from the U.S. is also increasing.

The guidelines published by the U.S. Treasury Department say people-to-people tours must guarantee a “full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction” with Cubans.

But a previous requirement to file itineraries ahead of time is gone, possibly making it difficult to police whether tours will follow the spirit of the law.

“It’s more liberal than in 2000-2003 in a lot of senses,” Popper said.

Still, it’s a far cry from the pre-revolution days when Havana’s mob-controlled nightclubs and casinos were a playground for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Greta Garbo. Back then, cheap ferries and flights from Florida meant tourists could party through the night and leave in the morning without bothering to rent a room.

Academic visits already under way give an idea of what may be allowed.

A recent group of Iowa State University students who came to study sustainable food and development had an itinerary packed with activities like visits to farms, a coffee plantation and an environmental reserve. They also managed to stroll Old Havana on a guided tour, visit an art museum and take in a performance of “Swan Lake” by Cuba’s acclaimed National Ballet.

Agronomy professor Mary Wiedenhoeft said the cultural experiences were key for students to understand Cubans and therefore an integral part of their study.

“We didn’t come here to be on a Caribbean beach; we came to be on farms,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I didn’t even pack a bathing suit.”

When the Bush administration shut down people-to-people visits in 2004, it cited allegations the rules were being abused.

“You had these groups going down and they would miraculously end up in Varadero (a popular beach resort) or at Hemingway’s home, or they’d end up at cigar factories,” said John Kavulich, senior policy adviser to the nonpartisan U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “It wasn’t something that was easy to defend when the State Department made inquiries.”

The Obama administration would almost certainly come under pressure from anti-Castro members of Congress if a rash of Americans start posting Facebook photos of themselves smoking Cohibas and sipping Havana Club on the beach, Kavulich said.

So college kids looking for a bacchanalian spring break should probably stick to standbys like Cancun and Daytona Beach.

U.S. officials vow to weed out frivolous trips.

“If it is simply salsa dancing and mojitos, no. That doesn’t pass the purposeful-travel criteria,” a State Department official involved with the policy said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

If the new travel rules are politically sustainable, they have the potential to be “a big business opportunity,” said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, which offers licensed flights between Miami and Cuba and is expanding in anticipation of a surge of travelers.

“Hopefully (the U.S. government) will be issuing the licenses in a timely way and processing them quickly, and people will be able to begin going down. And we hope we can help them,” Guild said. “It’s a significant change.”

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Survey: 75% of U.S. consumers interested in Cuba visit


Sun Sentinel:

Would you consider a trip to Cuba if restrictions on U.S. travel to the island were lifted?

www.cubaluxuryrent.com

Visit Cuba, visit Havana with Marysol Travel Services

A U.S. consumer survey released Tuesday found that 75 respondents would visit or at least consider a trip to Cuba, if Americans were allowed to travel freely there.

Another 1.7 percent said they’d already traveled to Cuba, according to the survey of 953 consumers conducted  by the Travel Leaders travel agency network from March 10 to April 10 across the United States.

The survey comes as the Obama administration issues new rules that make it easier for U.S. religious groups and educational groups to travel to Cuba with U.S. government approval. Most Americans are effectively barred from travel to the island under Washington’s nearly 50-year embargo on Cuba.

“Culturally and historically, Cuba fascinates a large number of Americans.  Physically, it’s amazingly close to the Florida coast, yet so far away because of continued restrictions for most citizens,” stated Roger E. Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group in a statement.

“Like the traveling public, our Travel Leaders experts would welcome the opportunity to experience the country for themselves – the food, the music, the architecture, the beaches and the people – and then assist their clients in realizing a trip of their own to this forbidden destination that has been off-limits for nearly a half century,” he said.

The study found that when asked, “If all travel restrictions are lifted, how interested would you be in traveling to Cuba?”  U.S. consumers surveyed had these responses:

I’ve already been:  1.7 percent.

I’d go immediately: 20.2 percent.

I would go as soon as I believed Cuba was ready for Americans: 21.8 percent.

I might consider going: 33 percent.

I have no interest in going: 23.2 percent.

www.cubaluxuryrent.com

Cuba travel gets new look, but ban stays


(CNN) — Word that the U.S. government could soon loosen travel restrictions to Cuba may have some American travelers imagining New Year’s in Havana or a spring break on the island’s famed Varadero Beach.

Not so fast.

The proposed changes would essentially reinstate measures that were in place under the Clinton administration — a far cry from an end to the travel ban, which would require an act of Congress.

Obama administration preparing to loosen rules on Cuba travel

Talk of the new rules also comes as Cuba has agreed to free 52 political prisoners by mid-November, but it’s not necessarily a signal that a complete lifting of U.S. travel restrictions is near.

“It certainly could indicate that the climate is more appropriate than it was before the prisoner release started,” said Shasta Darlington, a CNN international correspondent based in Havana.

“[But] one is an executive decision and the other is a legislative decision. I don’t think you can tie them together too closely.”

‘Frisson of the forbidden’

For now, Washington is focusing on “people-to-people” exchanges under which academics, corporations, humanitarian groups and athletic teams could travel to Cuba as a way to promote cultural exchanges and programs with universities.

In a sign of how politically sensitive the issue is, the move is already drawing criticism from some lawmakers.

Cuban-American politicians against loosening travel, aid rules

So while European and Canadian visitors continue to flock to Cuba for its tropical climate, Spanish colonial architecture and exotic flair, the island officially remains off-limits to U.S. tourists.

Not that that’s ever stopped some Americans from going anyway, bypassing the restrictions by hopping on a flight to Havana from Canada, Mexico and other destinations.

“It’s partly the frisson of the forbidden; the fact that it is off limits and there’s some kind of excitement quality for a lot of tourists,” said Christopher Baker, a journalist who has visited Cuba dozens of times and is the author of the “Moon Cuba” guidebook.

“At the same time, I run into quite a number of Americans who are kind of thumbing their nose at what they consider inappropriate, unconstitutional restrictions.”

The curiosity factor

Washington severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and has had an economic embargo in place since 1962. Americans seeking to travel to the island nation must obtain permission to do so and must fit into special categories, like journalists or people visiting a close relative.

Last year, more than 67,000 U.S. citizens obtained approval from the U.S. government to enter Cuba by air, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

iReport: Send us your photos of Cuba

Supporters of the ban say it needs to continue to put the pressure on the Castro regime, but an April 2009 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that 64 percent of Americans thought the U.S. government should allow citizens to travel to Cuba.

Travel agents report getting a fair amount of interest from clients about the island, though the only help they can offer is to refer them to operators outside the United States. Some travel agents say U.S. tourists are eager to see Cuba as it is now, before any major loosening of restrictions.

“Americans aren’t going for the beach vacation. Americans are going to Cuba out of curiosity,” said Terry McCabe, national director of leisure for Altour in Paramus, New Jersey.

“Once you leave the resort areas along the beach, Cuba is a time capsule. I think within 18 to 24 months after they open it up for [U.S.] tourism, some of that will start to change.”

It’s estimated that up to 500,000 additional U.S. tourists could pour into Cuba the first year after the lifting of the travel ban, according to a study prepared for the Cuba Policy Foundation. That number would almost triple five years after the end of the restrictions.

“We’re 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and there are very few Americans here. That would clearly change quickly,” said Darlington, the CNN correspondent.

Cuba’s splashy marketing

But even without a significant number of U.S. travelers, tourism is a vital industry for Cuba.

The country welcomed more than 2.4 million visitors in 2009, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. About 38 percent were from Canada, 34 percent were from Europe and 28 percent were from other regions of the world.

Havana devotes “significant resources” to building new tourist facilities and renovating historic structures for use in tourism, according to the U.S. Department of State.

It also markets itself aggressively to visitors. The Cuba Tourist Board in Canada, for example, offers a splashy web page tempting tourists with Cuba’s “breathtaking beaches and scenery; fascinating history; rich culture; ecological wonders and more.”

That’s something American travelers might see if some lawmakers have their way.

Earlier this year, the House Agriculture Committee approved a bill that would end the travel ban on Americans to Cuba. The legislation appears to be stalled in the House of Representatives, but it received the thumbs up from the American Society of Travel Agents, which says Americans should be allowed to globetrot without restrictions.

Time: Will the White House fight to end the Cuba travel ban?

“Were the American people allowed to travel to Havana, as they currently are allowed to travel to Pyongyang, Tehran, Khartoum and other cities whose nations’ leaders are publicly opposed to American interests, they could serve as ambassadors of freedom and American values to the Cuban people,” said Colin Tooze, the group’s vice president of government affairs.

For now, that will have to wait.

www.bachelorpartycuba.com

Hotel Riu Varadero to open later this year


Hotel Riu Varadero

The Hotel Riu Varadero is located facing one the best beaches the Caribbean has to offer. White powder sand and turquoise waters are the perfect setting for a large number of water sports or simply to lie down and enjoy the privileged surroundings. This modern complex has excellent sporting facilities (tennis, multipurpose field, gym and a golf course nearby), great restaurants and a wellness centre.

Location

  • Beachfront
  • 40 min from Varadero International Airport
  • 47km / 8.7m to Varadero
  • 2 hours to Havana

    Hotel Riu Varadero playa

Dining & Entertainment

  • 2 buffet restaurants and 6 à la carte restaurants
  • 9 bars including Swim-up bar, Pool bar
  • Disco

Accommodation

All accommodation has:

  • Air-conditioning
  • Satellite TV
  • CD player
  • In-room safe
  • Iron
  • Balcony or Terrace
  • Hairdryer
  • Mini-bar
  • Coffee maker
  • Max occ 4 up to 3 adults

Hotel Riu Varadero habitacion

Hotel Room has 1 king or 2 double beds
Superior has 1 king or 2 double beds

  • Ceiling fan
  • Sitting area

Royal Junior Suite has 1 king or 2 double beds

  • Ceiling fan
  • Living area
  • Full bathroom with Jacuzzi tub

Additional room categories available. Please inquire.

Included Features

  • Round trip flight, transfers to/from hotel and accommodation
  • 3 meals daily
  • All drinks (Domestic brands, Domestic beer, 24 hours)
  • Drinks at disco
  • Windsurfing
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Evening entertainment

Special Offers


Royal Section Exclusive Amenities
• All Junior Suites section
• Exclusive Steak House Restaurant
• Exclusive Pool
• Exclusive Cigar Bar
• Closet section to the beachRIU Palace Resorts offer the ultimate luxury retreat for discerning travelers. Lavishly appointed spacious accommodations, gourmet and specialty a la carte dining,decadent spa services,and exchange privileges with other nearby RIU resorts.

– Welcome cocktail upon arrival

– 24-hour room service

– In-room Mini-bar stocked daily

– In-room Safe

– Liquor dispenser

– Coffee Machine

– Beverage service by pool

– Nightly Turn Down Service & use of bathrobes and slippers

– Unlimited Premium brand drinks

– Spa Discount of $20 US per person (min. 50 minute massage)

– Unlimited à la carte dining

– Daily Champagne with breakfast

– Free Wi-fi access in the lobby

Wedding!

RIU Royal Wedding Package includes: • M.I.C.E. Manager to help plan the special day • Decoration set up for the ceremony location • Bridal Bouquet • Matching boutonniere for the groom • CD or recorded music during the ceremony • Semi private dinner for the couple and wedding guests at one of our specialty restaurants • Wedding cake for the couple and 15 wedding guests or less • Sparkling wine for the couple and 15 wedding guests or less (during the main toast only) • Special decoration in the room • Witnesses if required • Judge service • Marriage certificate • Complimentary room upgrade for the wedding couple subject to availability upon arrival (External Jacuzzi Suites are not included) • Riu “T- Shirts” for bride and groom • Surprise gift • Romantic massage for bride and groom Royal Wedding Package costs: • Civil Ceremony $ 1,395 USD • Prices are subject to change without prior notice. * In order to have a wedding at our RIU Hotels & Resorts, the couple and the 80 percent of the total amount of the wedding guests must stay at the Riu Hotel where the wedding will be performed. This is a strict Riu policy we must follow. * This package is valid from January 1st, 2011 – December 31, 2011. For more information on the required documentation, please see our frequently asked questions at http://www.weddingsbyriu.com. To reserve your Wedding Package, please  submit your request. If you have further questions or require additional information, please contact us via email at sales@marysoltravel.com
RIU Free Wedding Package includes:

* M.I.C.E. Manager to help plan the special day

* Decoration set up for the ceremony location

* Bridal Bouquet

* Matching boutonniere for the groom

* CD or recorded music during the ceremony

* Semi private dinner for the couple and wedding guests at one of our specialty restaurants

* Wedding cake for the couple and 10 wedding guests or less

* Sparkling wine for the couple and 10 wedding guests or less (during the main toast only)

* Special decoration in the room

* Witnesses if required

Judge fees & documentation are not included, therefore the couple must cover the following amount for those services:

• Civil Ceremony $720 USD

* Prices are subject to change without prior notice.

* Restrictions apply in the wedding package.

This package is valid from January 1st – December 31, 2011.

To reserve your Wedding Package, please submit your request. If you have further questions or require additional information, please contact us via email at sales@marysoltravel.com

Policy: For all weddings booked at RIU Hotels & Resorts, the wedding couple and 80 percent of the total number of guests must stay at the RIU Hotel where the wedding will be performed, otherwise it will be canceled. We regret that there can be no exceptions to this RIU policy and ask for your understanding and cooperation.

* IN ORDER TO QUALIFY FOR A FREE WEDDING PACKAGE YOU MUST BOOK 5 OR MORE ROOMS AT THE RIU HOTEL WHERE THE WEDDING WILL BE HELD.

www.particularcuba.com

Cuba slow to ease its grip on shopkeepers


FT.com:

Three years after Cuba’s Rebel Youth newspaper published “The Big Old Swindle” – a scathing series calling for reform of a state-managed retail sector beset by poor management, corruption and abysmal service – debate is still raging over liberalisation. The authorities have yet to act.

Rumours abound in Havana that the state will soon cede control over its thousands of barber shops, cafeterias, bakeries and domestic appliance and car repair businesses, opting to regulate and tax rather than administer, along the lines of the Chinese or Vietnamese model.

Yet the state appears to be doing the opposite, remodelling and opening numerous restaurants, shops and other retail outlets in city after city.

Raúl Castro, president, has insisted that Cuba’s Soviet-style command economy needs fixing. He has hinted that ways must be found to reform the retail sector since taking over from his ailing brother, Fidel Castro, two years ago.

“State companies must be efficient and so must have resources to be so. The rest should adapt to more adequate forms of property given the resources available,” stated a report by the economy ministry last year soon after Mr Castro replaced the minister and his top deputies.

Mr Castro has been short on specifics. However, commentators, economists and analysts propose raising the small number of family businesses and allowing employees to form co-operatives like those long established in agriculture.

There is apparently fierce resistance within the ruling Communist party, especially in the provinces.

“Cuba is not Havana,” a provincial-level party official in eastern Cuba quipped when asked to square the new government-run retail outlets with the idea that the state should get out of the sector.

Pressed, he conceded that the state did not need to run some services, such as every barber shop. But he opposed letting go of larger establishments, such as car repair shops.

“Most cars and trucks in this country are owned by the state,” he said.

A mid-level party cadre who administered eateries in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba insisted the retail sector’s poor performance was not systemic but subjective. Fixing it was just a matter of improving party discipline, she said.

Cuba’s second city has opened more restaurants, bars, stores and other establishments during the past year than any other.

The administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the province’s new party leader, Lazaro Exposito Canto, had improved the sector. “Since his arrival the retail sector has been completely turned round. It is a matter of caring about the people and being demanding with subordinates,” she said.

The debate has spilled into the pages of Granma, the Communist party daily, which has carried letters to the editor for and against reform. “We have to shake off the stereotype developed over many years that private property is always evil,” González de la Cruz wrote in a recent edition.

“Property, state or private, is valid when it serves a social purpose,” he said.

The opposing view was best expressed in Granma by Guerra González, another correspondent.

“The solution of creating new owners and co-operatives and making current employees into supposed collective owners [in the retail sector] will only lead to uncontrolled free competition and capitalism,” he wrote, adding, “this would represent not only an economic step backward but a political, social and ideological one”.

For the first time since all retail activity – right down to shoe-shine boys – was nationalised in the “revolutionary offensive” of 1968, licences are being handed out to food vendors in the interior who have played cat-and-mouse with police in city streets for decades, saving residents a long walk to state markets.

But that appears to be part of reform already under way in the agriculture sector, where decision-making and food distribution has been decentralised and state lands leased to more than 100,000 farmers.

Authorities, in an apparent concession to popular frustration, are also granting family farms and cooperatives permission to sell a part of what they produce directly using kiosks and horse and bicycle-drawn carts. But not a single state-run retail outlet has been handed over to employees as a co-operative, let alone privatised.

www.bachelorpartycuba.com – Bachelor party in Cuba

Cuba’s sweet 15 endures in crisis


Havana, Cuba (CNN) — A gaggle of photographers, relatives and fashion advisors traipse after Yuniesky Collazo as she twirls for the camera in a rented pink ball gown in one of Havana’s picturesque plazas.

She is celebrating her quinceanera, or 15th birthday, a sacred rite of passage in Cuba and much of Latin America.

“I’m so emotional, you can imagine,” she gushes as she steps into a horse-drawn carriage for the next shoot. “It’s the most important moment of my life.”

The elaborate festivities are also a drain on family finances, often costing more than a year’s salary.

Yuniesky’s parents say they opened a bank account as soon as she was born and have been saving ever since for this day.

“It was a big sacrifice,” she admits. “They had to work hard to give this to me.

In Cuba, a girl’s sweet 15 often starts with a photo and video shoot showing her transformation from teenage princess to a young adult.

If her family can afford it, she dons traditional dresses, lace gloves, parasols and tiaras – and poses in front of colonial churches or in the back of 1950s convertible cars.

And then she sheds most of those clothes for more risque portraits that might make some parents squirm. Some romp in the waves in a bikini while others don thigh-high boots and black leather.

And for the better off families, the big day ends with a dress ball more elaborate than a wedding.

“Parents, especially mothers, enjoy this day,” says wardrobe assistant Daisy Gonzalez. “They make sacrifices. They want the best for their girls. One dress isn’t enough, they want three or four or more.”

Cuba travel, party organization, bachelor party

A running joke explains it like this: In Cuba, you’ll get married numerous times. But you only turn 15 once.

A blow-out quinceanera can set parents back $2,000, a fortune in a country where salaries average $20 a month.

The global economic crisis has taken its toll on Cuba. But it hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for this beloved coming-of-age.

“All girls have this dream, to celebrate their 15th,” says proud father Roman Gonzalez. “Whether they’re poor or rich, they will celebrate it.”

Photographer Enrique says his business hasn’t been affected. Many families have been saving for years, and others receive money from relatives living abroad, he says.

“No matter what, parents are going to do it,” he says. “One way or another, there’s always a helping hand.”

That wasn’t always the case. During Cuba’s worst financial crisis in the 1990s, known as the “Special Period”, not only did parents scale back celebrations, many stopped having kids.

But Yuniesky’s parents say even during those dark days, they managed to set a little money aside every month for their only daughter’s sweet 15.

www.bachelorpartycuba.com – Cuba bachelor party. Fiesta in Cuba!

Houston’s port has a Cuba connection


Chron.com: For the first time in nearly half a century, a shipping line will provide weekly transport from Houston’s docks to Cuba. Local officials view this as the beginning of increased exports to a Latin American nation that still faces a partial trade embargo with the U.S.

“What we’re witnessing is the important first step,” said Jeff Moseley, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

Shipping company CMA CGM of Marseille, France, recently began hauling food, medical products and other items allowed by the U.S. government to two Cuban ports from Houston. Every week, the vessels will stop in Kingston, Jamaica, before moving on to Havana and Santiago de Cuba from Houston’s Bayport terminal.

“This would definitely be easier for our people to get their product to Cuba out of the port and into a potential other market,” said Ron Hufford, executive vice president of the Texas Forestry Association, which hopes to sell railroad ties, utility poles, furniture and other items. Two years ago, a top Cuban official toured Texas mills to see the state’s wood products, Hufford said.

CMA CGM received a U.S. government license through October 2011 to move cargo to Cuba from the U.S. Texas officials have been urging a carrier to seek such approval for years.

For Texas, this means another market for some goods, and for Cuba, the new shipping route means faster delivery of products. Instead of waiting weeks or months for goods from other continents, Texas goods can arrive in Cuba much sooner.

‘Just-in-time delivery’

“Shipping from Texas, they can pretty much do just-in-time delivery of produce,” said Cynthia Thomas, president of Dallas consulting company TriDimension Strategies. She’s visited Cuba 40 times with clients and trade missions.

She said Texas companies can market their goods as fresher than their competitors’ products, which may have sat on a boat longer.

Prior to this new route, Texas producers seeking regular service had to haul their Cuban-bound products to Florida ports. That added costs and delays. Or companies had to charter an entire vessel for the occasional shipment to Cuba.

“That would make them less competitive,” said Ricky Kunz, the port’s vice president of origination.

“That would make them less competitive,” said Ricky Kunz, the port’s vice president of origination.

In 2000, the U.S. began allowing Americans to sell agricultural and medical products to Cuba. Since then, food makers, exporters and port officials have traveled there to try to convince Cubans to buy from them.

“When a marketplace opens up, everybody wants to get into the action,” said Port Chairman Jim Edmonds, who represented the port on a trade mission in 2005. “Cuba is attractive to us from the standpoint of its proximity.”

Port officials have visited Cuba a few times already and plan to attend a Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance meeting that will be held at the partnership in March.

The island, 900 miles from Houston, was once a buyer of Texas rice and other agricultural products until the Kennedy administration imposed a trade embargo.

In 2008, $143 million worth of food and agricultural products moved to Cuba through Texas ports, nearly 50 percent higher than in 2007, said Parr Rosson, extension economist of the Texas Agrilife Extension Service. But exports from the U.S. to Cuba slowed because of hurricanes that pummeled the island in 2008; the decline in prices of nickel, one of Cuba’s exports; and a decline in tourism because of the global economic slowdown.

In 2008, 274,000 tons of goods were shipped from Houston to Cuba. That’s a “minuscule” amount of the port’s business, Kunz said, since 225 million tons typically move through the port annually. But the port hopes to expand that business.

With the Obama administration already easing some of the restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba, Moseley said: “We’re very optimistic that the embargo could be lifted during the first term of the administration, if not sooner. The effect is going to be tremendous.”

If the embargo is lifted, he predicted Houston companies would sell goods for Cuba’s energy business and the rebuilding of its roads and homes.

Castro’s regime

However, Cuban exiles still oppose easing trade restrictions because of their opposition to Fidel Castro’s communist regime and its human rights record.

“We’ve always seen that as the only way to protest,” said Houston business consultant Andres Puello, who left Cuba 40 years ago. “There’s going to be no benefit for the Cuban people. I don’t think because they make these concessions there will be an improvement in Cuba.”

www.bachelorpartycuba.com – Cuba travel, cuba holiday