Revolutionary Cuba Now Lays Sand Traps for the Bourgeoisie


MEXICO CITY — One of Fidel Castro’s first acts upon taking power was to get rid of Cuba’s golf courses, seeking to stamp out a sport he and other socialist revolutionaries saw as the epitome of bourgeois excess.

Now, 50 years later, foreign developers say the Cuban government has swung in nearly the opposite direction, giving preliminary approval in recent weeks for four large luxury golf resorts on the island, the first in an expected wave of more than a dozen that the government anticipates will lure free-spending tourists to a nation hungry for cash.

The four initial projects total more than $1.5 billion, with the government’s cut of the profits about half. Plans for the developments include residences that foreigners will be permitted to buy — a rare opportunity from a government that all but banned private property in its push for social equality.

Mr. Castro and his comrade in arms Che Guevara, who worked as a caddie in his youth in Argentina, were photographed in fatigues hitting the links decades ago, in what some have interpreted as an effort to mock either the sport or the golf-loving president at the time of the revolution, Dwight D. Eisenhower — or both.

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who maintains close ties with Cuba, has taken aim at the pastime in recent years as well, questioning why, in the face of slums and housing shortages, courses should spread over valuable land “just so some little group of the bourgeois and the petit bourgeois can go and play golf.”

But Cuba’s deteriorating economy and the rise in the sport’s popularity, particularly among big-spending travelers who expect to bring their clubs wherever they go, have softened the government’s view, investors said. Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment, but Manuel Marrero, the tourism minister, told a conference in Europe this month that the government anticipates going forward with joint ventures to build 16 golf resorts in the near future.

For the past three years, Cuba’s only 18-hole course, a government-owned spread at the Varadero Beach resort area, has even hosted a tournament. It has long ceased to be, its promoters argued, a rich man’s game.

“We were told this foray is the top priority in foreign investment,” said Graham Cooke, a Canadian golf course architect designing a $410 million project at Guardalavaca Beach, along the island’s north coast about 500 miles from Havana, for a consortium of Indians from Canada. The company, Standing Feather International, says it signed a memorandum of agreement with the Cuban government in late April and will be the first to break ground, in September.

Andrew Macdonald, the chief executive of London-based Esencia Group, which helps sponsor the golf tournament in Cuba and is planning a $300 million country club in Varadero, said, “This is a fundamental development in having a more eclectic tourist sector.”

The other developments are expected to include at least one of the three proposed by Leisure Canada, a Vancouver-based firm that recently announced a licensing agreement with the Professional Golfers Association for its planned resorts in Cuba, and a resort being designed by Foster & Partners of London.

The projects are primarily aimed at Canadian, European and Asian tourists; Americans are not permitted to spend money on the island, under the cold-war-era trade embargo, unless they have a license from the Treasury Department.

Developers working on the new projects said they believed Cuba had a dozen or so courses before the revolution, some of which were turned into military bases. Cuba and foreign investors for years have talked about building new golf resorts, but the proposals often butted against revolutionary ideals and red tape. Several policy changes adopted at a Communist Party congress in April, however, appear to have helped clear the way, including one resolution specifically naming golf and marinas as important assets in developing tourism and rescuing the sagging economy.

“Cuba saw the normal sun and salsa beach offerings and knew it was not going to be sustainable,” said Chris Nicholas, managing director of Standing Feather, which negotiated for eight years with Cuba’s state-run tourism company. “They needed more facets of tourism to offer and decided golf was an excellent way to go.”

The developers said putting housing in the complexes was important to make them more attractive to tourists and investors, and to increase profits.

Still, John Kavulich, a senior adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said Cuba had a history of pulling back on perceived big steps toward freer enterprise and might wrestle to explain how such high-dollar compounds could coexist with often dilapidated housing for everyone else.

“Will Cuba allow Cuban citizens to be members, to play?” he said. “How will that work out? Allowing someone to work there and allowing someone to prosper there is an immense deep ravine for the government.”

But Mr. Macdonald said political issues were moot, given that Cuba already had come to terms with several beach resorts near Havana that generally attracted middle-class foreign travelers.

“It’s not an issue for them,” he said. “It’s tourism. It’s people coming to visit the country.”

If the projects are built as envisioned, the tourists will enjoy not just new, state-of-the-art courses and the opportunity for a second home in Cuba, but shopping malls, spas and other luxury perks. Standing Feather, which calls its complex Estancias de Golf Loma Linda (Loma Linda Golf Estates), promises 1,200 villas, bungalows, duplexes and apartments set on 520 acres framed by mountains and beach.

The residences are expected to average $600,000, and rooms at the 170-room hotel the complex will include may go for about $200 a night, a stark contrast in a nation where salaries average $20 a month.

Standing Feather said that to build a sense of community and provide the creature comforts of home among its clientele, the complex will include its own shopping center, selling North American products under relaxed customs regulations.

“It is in the area that Castro is from, in Holguin Province,” added Mr. Cooke, the golf course architect.

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Cuba attracts foreign interest in building golf courses


Xinhua: Cuba was making progress in attracting foreign investment in 16 planned golf courses, Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said here Tuesday at opening of the International Tourism Fair Cuba 2011.www.cubaluxury.travel

Marrero said negotiations were progressing with foreign companies interested in forming joint ventures to build the courses.

Cuba last year adopted a strategy to attract foreign investment and develop the tourism of marinas and golf courses with international capital.

The island now has only one golf course in Havana and another in Varadero.

Mexican Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara said her country was very interested in the program and several companies were “exploring the possibility of investing”.

Tourism is the second biggest source of Cuban revenue, contributing more than 2.2 billion U.S. dollars to the country in 2010, according to National Statistics Office data.

www.cubaluxuryrent.com

Cuba to open tour of sunken Spanish-American War vessels


HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba plans to open underwater excursions to view six sunken vessels wrecked in 1898 off the island’s shores during the Spanish-American War, the state-run Cubatur tourism firm said Friday.

From October 1, visitors will be able to dive around the wrecks of five Spanish warships that were trapped in Santiago bay in southeastern Cuba and sunk by US warships in a running naval battle on July 3, 1898.

The five Spanish ships were the cruisers “Cristobal Colon,” “Almirante Oquendo,” and the “Vizcaya,” and the destroyers “Furor,” and “Pluton.”

The sixth sunken vessel was the US steamer “Merrimac,” which the Americans scuttled at the mouth of the bay to block the escape of the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish suffered 371 dead, 151 wounded and 1,670 prisoners, including Spanish admiral Pascual Cervera, who called the mismatch “a sacrifice as sterile as it was useless.” The US side suffered one dead and two wounded.

Tourism is Cuba’s main earner, ahead of medical services in other countries. The island receives 2.4 million tourists annually, who bring in some two billion dollars in revenue.

www.particularcuba.com – Cuba travel agency

Russian says Cuba relations now “truly strategic”


HAVANA (Reuters) – Newly warmed relations between Cold War allies Russia and Cuba have become a “truly strategic association,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday as he launched a visit to the island his country kept afloat for 30 years.

He and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed accords committing to bilateral talks through 2011 and agreeing to jointly celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of their renewal of diplomatic relations following the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Russian officials have said Lavrov and his large delegation would discuss strengthening economic ties in areas including the electric power industry, transportation, pharmaceuticals and high technology.

“All this has enriched and strengthened our relationship and permitted us to convert it into a truly strategic association,” Lavrov told reporters.

Rodriguez praised “five decades of brotherhood” with Russia and said Cuba “will never forget its generous contribution to our development.”

The Soviet Union supported Cuba financially and militarily for 30 years in a Cold War alliance against the United States.

Their alliance took the world to the verge of nuclear war in 1962 when the Soviet Union placed missiles on the island, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis with the United States.

WARMING RELATIONS

The showdown ended with the Soviets withdrawing the missiles and the United States agreeing never to invade Cuba.

The alliance ended after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, which cooled off relations until recent years.

Lavrov is the latest in a long line of Russian officials to visit. Cuban President Raul Castro went to Russia last year.

A number of accords have been struck, including Russia’s promise to modernize the Cuban military, which is still using dilapidated Soviet equipment.

In December 2008, a Russian warship sailed into Havana Bay for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In November, Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft signed contracts to explore for oil along Cuba’s northern coast.

Russia has said renewing ties with Cuba is part of an effort to strengthen its economic and political interests in Latin America. Lavrov will go to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico after leaving Cuba on Saturday.

On Thursday evening, he was to open the annual Havana International Book Fair, which features Russian writers.

On Saturday, members of Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet will perform in Havana’s Karl Marx theater, its first appearance in Cuba since 1980.

www.cubaluxuryrent.com – Cuba luxury vacation rental

XII Festival Habano 22 – 26 2010 Havana, Cuba


XII Festival del Habano

Del 22 al 26 de Febrero 2010, Cuba vuelve a ser escenario del mayor encuentro internacional para los amantes del mejor tabaco del Mundo: el Habano. Como cada año, el evento estará homenajeando las marcas de Habanos, especialmente a Cohiba y Romeo y Julieta, así como un evento especialmente dedicado al Habano y la mujer. Los asistentes tendrán el placer de saborear en exclusiva las nuevas vitolas que Habanos S.A. lanzará al mercado en el 2010, y experimentar los secretos de una tradición acumulada durante siglos. Habanos S.A. le invita a disfrutar de una semana de placer y deleite entre amigos, que mantienen un vínculo en común: La pasión por los Habanos

El programa del Festival del Habano mantiene sus tradicionales actividades durante esta inolvidable semana como:

-Visitas a emblemáticas Fábricas de Tabaco Torcido
-Feria Comercial
-Seminarios
-Degustaciones y maridajes
-Concurso Habanosommelier
-Clase Magistral de Torcido
-Visitas a plantaciones de tabaco

El día 22 inicia el evento con la Noche de Bienvenida y las Nominaciones al Premio Habano del Año mientras la clausura del mismo será en la noche del 26 con la Cena de Gala y la Tradicional Subasta.

Feria comercial

La Feria Comercial del Festival del Habano se desarrollará de manera simultánea con el Seminario como parte inseparable del Festival, siendo el momento ideal para los  intercambios  técnicos y comerciales entre hombres de negocios, productores y proveedores. Pueden exponer y vender en espacios rentados por una empresa, países u organizaciones: los empresarios, artesanos, artistas, comerciantes o productores  que se relacionan con:

–  Productos asociados a la agricultura tabacalera
–  Maquinarias
–  Artesanías
–  Pinturas
–  Bibliografías
–  Artículos para el fumador
–  Artículos de lujo
–  Productos Gourmet

-Precio por Stand de la Feria Comercial / Prices for stand
– Stand modular: 110.00 CUC x  m2 (Espacio mínimo 9 m2)
– Espacio libre: 90 CUC x m2 (Espacio mínimo 9 m2)

Las entidades nacionales que no comercializan en divisas pagan en moneda nacional (CUP); las que comercializan en divisas pagan al 50%.

Durante la Feria, los expositores podrán vender sus productos al público y realizar actividades promocionales previa coordinación con el Comité Organizador. El diseño del stand de las firmas expositoras debe reflejar su relación directa o indirecta con los productos del tabaco.

More info: info@cubaluxuryrent.com

Future looks bright for Cuba’s Varadero Beach


USA Today:

VARADERO BEACH, Cuba — This 13-mile line of mainly all-inclusive resorts and dazzling stretches of white sand is a well-known budget destination for Canadians and Europeans. And, if travel regulations ever change, hoteliers are hoping for a wave of Americans.

The resort complexes on a skinny peninsula about 90 miles east of Havana are similar to those in Mexico’s Cancun/Riviera Maya area and the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana, though generally less lavish. Varadero —Cuba’s No. 1 beach destination — has more than four dozen lodgings and more than 17,000 rooms. The sea and sports are the lure, not genuine Cuban culture.

Developers planning new resorts are “getting ready for the U.S. market,” says Toronto-based hotel consultant Charles Suddaby. “The hotel capacity is not there yet … but I think Cuba can be a powerful force (among American vacationers) in the Caribbean.”

Cuba already is No. 2 in foreign air arrivals, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization: 2.3 million in 2008, behind the Dominican Republic’s nearly 4 million.

Canadians are the No. 1 single-country market for Varadero, but the much-closer USA, with masses of sun seekers, is viewed as a natural tourist source. Varadero has an airport, golf and is a quick flight from Miami.

“There’s overwhelming interest,” in Varadero and other Cuban areas, says Scott Berman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a top U.S. Cuba hotel analyst. “It’s a question of readiness” to handle what Cuban officials and hotel analysts say could be 1 million to 2 million Americans the first year of a lifted embargo.

Some of Varadero’s resorts have taken a beating in reviews on TripAdvisor.com for outdated rooms, so-so food and lackadaisical service. But its grander all-inclusives, such as the 490-room Meliá Varadero and the Blau Varadero Hotel, are on a drive to improve. They’re similar to other Caribbean all-inclusives and could appeal to Americans.

The Meliá Varadero, Cuba-owned and managed by Spain’s powerful Meliá chain, features a grand atrium, salsa lessons by the pool, nightly shows, a bar pianist playing the theme from LoveStory in addition to Besame Mucho, a fine-dining restaurant with string quartet and rooms with satellite TV typical of three- to four-star beach accommodation in the USA. You can stay for $120 a person a day this time of year — meals, activities and all-you-can-drink included. The food, mainly buffet fare, still could use upgrading, though.

Out on the beach, Cuban Rodolfo Carballosa, 32, and Italian bride Maila Maceratesi, 26, proclaim their bliss with their names and wedding date written in the sand. They met when she visited a resort where he waited on her. And he hopes for the day when U.S. tourists can freely sit at his tables, too.

Americans “want to change our government,” he says as the couple lunches on roast chicken and Cuban Buccaneer beer.

“Respect me, and I will respect you. If you want to be my friend, you don’t say, ‘You have to do this.’ You come here, and you will see peace. Maybe one day the president of the USA will change things.”

www.particularcuba.com – Hotel booking in Varadero

Cuban Hotel Wins International Prize


DTCuba: Havana.- The Paradisus Río de Oro Hotel, in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín, won the TUI Holly Award granted by that major European tour operator.

The establishment is among the top 100 hotels, according to clients, who chose them from 12,000 hotels all over the world.
The award acknowledges that guests’ think very high of the hotel’s services, facilities, food and drinks. The Paradisus Río de Oro Hotel also won the TUI Holly Award in 2001, 2002 and 2007.

Hotel Paradisus Rio de Oro

Hotel Paradisus Rio de Oro

It is TUI’s second award to the Paradisus Río de Oro Hotel, which won the Travelife Silver Award in June, as an acknowledgement of the establishment’s contribution to protecting the environment.

The Paradisus Río de Oro Hotel is located at the Bahía de Naranjo Natural Park, on Esmeralda Beach. It offers 300 rooms and is run by the Spanish group Sol Meliá.

www.particularcuba.com – hotel booking in Cuba