First new U.S. airport gets go-ahead from Cuba


Cuba Standard: Tampa International Airport is poised to become the first of a series of additional U.S. airports that will be able to offer flights to Cuba.

Miami-based ABC Charters, a company that has been offering flights from Miami to Cuba, has secured landing rights in Cuba for flights from Tampa, the airport said in a press release. Tessie Aral, president of ABC Charters, told the airport that the first flight from Tampa to Cuba could start as early as Sept. 10.

In March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection allowed all U.S. airports with “adequate customs and immigration capabilities” to host Cuba flights. More than a dozen airports have received approval from USCBP, but Tampa is the first to have secured a carrier service provider with landing rights in Cuba.

Aral said at a press conference in Tampa that ABC would offer once-a-week flights to Havana, with frequency rising to twice a week in October, on American Airlines-provided Boeing 737-800s. ABC Charters currently flies seven times a week to Havana and three times a week to Holguín from Miami, usually in larger jets.

At least two other travel providers are vying to offer Cuba flights from Tampa, including Air MarBrisa and Island Travel & Tours, Ltd.

Tampa is the U.S. city with the second-largest Cuban population, following Miami. There are nearly 140,000 people of Cuban ancestry living within 90 minutes of Tampa International Airport.

In Atlanta, Delta Airlines said it is already licensed to operate charter flights to Cuba. In Fort Lauderdale, Airline Broker Co., which also has a license, is vying to offer twice-weekly flights. Other airports that have expressed interest in offering Cuba flights are Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Chicago, San Juan, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.

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Cuban Tourism: A Single Strategy of Stability and Growth


Havana (PL) The development of the Cuban tourist industry is a focus of attention for the government on the island, and its impressive growth was recently reiterated by Carmen Casals, director of communications of the Ministry of Tourism.

During a meeting with communicators from six Latin American countries at Havana´s José Martí International Institute of Journalism, the expert predicted a promising future for this sector.

She said that there have been many changes in Cuban tourism since 1961, because at that time it depended on the United States, and after the economic barriers imposed by Washington against Havana, which are still in force, the industry was seriously affected.

Between 1979 and 1989, the development of new holiday resorts started, along with the essential one in Varadero, 140 kilometers away to the east of the capital, and the country´s main recreational hub.

By the 1990s, with the demise of the socialist camp, Cuba opened up to international tourism as an industry as well as to new investment processes.

A country like this archipelago, with a 25 degree-centigrade average temperature, 11.2 million inhabitants, 800 thousand university graduates, a road network of 46 thousand kilometers, a 78-year life expectancy and 300 beaches, has many attractions, she stressed.

Nowadays, the main recreational hubs are Varadero, with 35 percent of all tourism on the island, Havana with 23, Jardines del Rey with nine percent and the eastern region of Holguín with 10 percent.

Other tourist destinations include such interesting places as the westernmost province of Pinar del Río or the southern area of Cayo Largo. Right now, officials are involved in enlarging the recreational industry by making the most of every site.

Cuba is connected by air to 39 cities in the world, by means of 90 airlines, either on regular or charter flights; ten international airports are in operation and the flow of visitors is steady.

She added that there are 3 cruise terminal stations, in Havana, the central province of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba in the east. In addition there are ten international marinas, including two in Havana.

Hotel accommodation has grown significantly at a rate of 7.5 percent since 1990, and, at the moment, there are 52 thousand rooms in 334 hotels, 62 percent of them being four-and-five-star.

There is foreign participation by means of 65 managerial contracts for 28,854 rooms, through the Cuban companies Cubanacán, Gran Caribe and Gaviota.

These businesses involve 13 foreign hotel chains; among them Sol Meliá, Iberostar, Riu, Barceló, Occidentales Hoteles, Hoteles Blau and Hoteles C.

Concerning employment, tourism provides jobs for 110 thousand people, 60 percent of whom are high-school graduates and 22.3 percent university graduates; one third of them are under 35 years of age, 42.8 percent are women, and 31.5 percent are blacks and mixed.

Formatur, the tourist training system, is made up of 13 schools for upgrading, training and preparing staff, by means of different courses such as post-graduate, specialty and university training, among a large range of them.

This development makes things easier for the country´s economy, even though the U.S. economic barriers against Cuba, since 1961, have affected the sector with losses amounting to more than 22 thousand million dollars.

Casals added that in less than three years Cuba moved to the third position as an outstanding destination in the island Caribbean, and since 1990 has welcomed 30 million tourists.

She revealed that for some years now more than two million travelers per year have been received, and that figure is expected to reach 2.7 million visitors for the first time by the end of 2011.

She mentioned Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Mexico, in that order, as the main sending markets to the island.

Among her ministry´s priorities, she indicated, are improving marketing methods, developing the Auténtica Cuba promotion campaign, and recreational navigation.

She emphasized the importance of giving continuity to increasing the quality of the tourist product, spreading the training system and turning each hotel into a high-quality school, apart from plans for repairs and new constructions.

She wound up by mentioning the development of golf, the recovery of heritage facilities under the name of Hotels E (for encanto, or charm) and other projects supporting the strategy of a peaceful, healthy and safe tourism, one that protects the environment and gives prominence to culture.

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Cuba to consider term limits for leaders: Castro


HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba will consider placing term limits on its leaders to assure new blood in the goverment, President Raul Castro said on Saturday in a speech kicking off a Communist Party congress on the island he and his brother led for more than five decades.

He said the government does not have “a reserve of well-trained replacements with sufficient experience and maturity” to replace the current leaders, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s.

“We have reached the conclusion that it is advisable to recommend limiting the time of service in high political and state positions to a maximum of two five-year terms,” he told 1,000 delegates at the congress, where economic reform is the main agenda item.

Castro, 79, said he would not be excluded from the limits, which will be discussed not at this congress, but a party conference next January.

Cuba’s geriatric leadership has been a topic of concern for a government intent on assuring the survival of Cuban socialism and new faces could be elected to high party positions during the congress.

Long-tenured officials have been a trademark of Cuba since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

Fidel Castro, who is 84 and did not attend the congress, ruled for 49 years and younger brother Raul Castro was defense minister for the same amount of time before taking over the presidency in 2008.

In the line of succession, first vice president Juan Machado Ventura is 80 and second vice president Ramiro Valdes is 77.

“It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century,” Castro said.

“Although we kept trying to promote young people to senior positions, life proved that we did not always make the best choice,” he said.

Raul Castro was expected to be elected the party’s First Secretary, a post he has filled unofficially since Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006. Fidel Castro only recently disclosed that he had left the post.

NEW BLOOD

Closely watched for any signs of new blood will be the selections for Second Secretary, the post Raul Castro has held, and for the Central Committee and Political Bureau.

Due to the “laws of life,” this is likely the last party congress for Cuba’s aging leaders, President Castro has said.

He told the congress, the party’s first in 14 years, it would consider 311 proposed reforms during the four-day meeting, all aimed at remaking Cuba’s creaking, Soviet-style economy.

The changes will reduce the size of the state and expand the private sector, while maintaining central planning.

Many of the changes are already in place, including a program to slash more than a million jobs from state payrolls, cut subsidies and allow more self-employment.

He said more than 200,000 Cubans had taken out licenses for work for themselves since October.

Castro said more than 8 million Cubans had attended pre-congress meetings to give input on the reform guidelines, with a proposal to end Cuba’s universal monthly food ration getting the most comment.

Many Cubans fear the social and political consequences of ending the ration, or “libreta,” but Castro made it clear that eventually it will go only to those in need.

The ration has become “an unsupportable burden for the economy and a destimulus of work,” he said.

Before the congress convened, Cuba staged a military parade to mark the 50th anniversaries of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion and the declaration of Cuban socialism.

On April 16, 1961, fearing U.S. invasion was imminent, Fidel Castro finally told Cubans what the 1959 revolution he led from the Sierra Maestra mountains was all about.

“What the imperialists can’t forgive us … is that we have made a socialist revolution right under the nose of the United States,” he proclaimed in speech paying tribute to victims of pre-invasion bombing raids the previous day.

On April 17, a force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles, backed by U.S. ships and planes, came ashore at the Bay of Pigs 100 miles southeast of Havana in a bloody attempt to spark a counter-revolution.

Castro rallied tens of thousands of troops and citizens to the battle and two days later declared victory as the attackers fled or were killed or captured in the botched invasion.

The triumph by tiny Cuba versus the superpower 90 miles away won Castro favor at home and abroad and is portrayed by Cuban leaders as one of their greatest accomplishments.

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Tampa-Cuba Ferry Proposed


WUSF:

TAMPA (2011-3-15) –

President Obama recently allowed flights from Tampa to Cuba. Now, two companies are vying to establish what would be the first regularly-scheduled ferry service to the communist country.

But first, some hurdles have to be overcome. The biggest is getting permission from the U.S. Treasury Department, which regulates contact with the island nation. One of the companies is United Carribean Lines, based in Orlando. Company president Bruce Nierenberg wants to take advantage of newly-relaxed rules on cultural and educational tours in Cuba for Americans.

“Since the Cuban-Americans who go quite often take a lot of stuff with them – clothing, electronics, medicines, to friends and relatives in Cuba, a ferry would make it much more capable for them to take as much as they like, and without it costing a lot,” he says.

Nierenberg says the cost of tickets without a cabin would be a fraction of the cost of an airplane ticket. He hopes to start the ferry service from the Port of Tampa early next year.

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U.S. approves eight more airports for Cuba flights


HAVANA (Reuters) – The government has given permission to eight more airports to offer direct charter flights to and from Cuba in the latest small opening in the 49-year-long trade embargo against the communist island.

Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday Cuba flights would now be allowed from airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Previously, Cuba flights could be flown only from Miami, New York and Los Angeles. It was not yet known when flights would begin from the new cities.

President Barack Obama said in January Cuba charter service would be expanded. At the same time, he announced a loosening of restrictions for some groups on U.S. travel to Cuba.

The embargo, imposed since 1962 with the aim of toppling the communist government put in place after a 1959 revolution, prevents most Americans from going to Cuba. Only charter flights, not regular air service, are allowed to operate on U.S.-Cuba routes.

Obama has said he wants to recast U.S.-Cuba relations. He previously removed limits on Cuban American travel to the island located 90 miles from Florida and on the sending of remittances.

Cuban Americans have flooded into the country, packing the flights available and making Americans among the top nationalities numerically to visit Cuba.

Under Obama and President Raul Castro, the longtime ideological foes also have initiated talks on migration issues and the possible resumption of direct mail service.

Some Cuban American leaders and groups have opposed Obama’s measures, saying they help the Cuban government that was run by Fidel Castro for 49 years before his younger brother Raul Castro succeeded him in 2008.

Progress in the long-hostile relations came to a halt in December 2009 when Cuba arrested U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross for working in a U.S.-funded program to promote political change on the island.

The approval of the new airports comes as a Cuban court decides Gross’s fate following a two-day trial last week for what prosecutors said was his involvement in “subversive projects” to “defeat the Revolution.”

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

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Varadero’s Architectural Charm Threatened by Tourism


HAVANA, Mar 2, 2011 (IPS) – Important architectural works from the Modern movement in Cuba appear to be doomed as a result of the expansion of massive hotel complexes, which threaten to take over the landscape in Varadero, this country’s most famous beach resort.

The alert was first sounded in 2010 when rumours began to spread about the demolition of the Hotel Internacional and the Hotel Club Cabañas del Sol, two 1950s structures located in a prime area of Varadero, which is 140 km east of Havana, in the province of Matanzas.

Two statements issued by the ICOMOS National Committee, the Cuban branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, in May and November have received no response, architect Jorge Fornés told IPS.

Fornés is chair of the National Committee of ICOMOS, an independent international non-governmental organisation of professionals dedicated to the conservation of the world’s historic monuments and sites, which works closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“Independently of any decisions, I have no doubt as an architect that it is not necessary to eliminate something valuable to build something new,” he said. “If there is interest in preserving a valuable piece of heritage, there is always a way to do so,” he added, citing cases like the conservation of the colonial fortifications in Old Havana.

Nor have demands from intellectuals and academics, mainly circulated by email, received an official public response from representatives of the Tourism Ministry or coverage by the media. An employee at the Hotel Internacional told IPS, “The decision has already been reached.”

“There are contradictory versions,” Roberto Fernández García, a poet who lives in Varadero, said in an email message that sums up the results of his inquiries and those of others interested in the case, posed to the Tourism Ministry’s provincial authorities.

Tourism Ministry officials in Matanzas said “The Hotel Internacional, which opened on Dec. 24, 1950, is very old, small and old-fashioned, with few rooms, and no longer meets the requirements of today’s tourism,” according to Fernández García’s message.

He said the 161-room hotel would be demolished to build, on the same site, a modern 800-room structure. Cabañas del Sol, other tourist installations from the first half of the 20th century — when architects of the Modern movement were seeking a fresh expression of the Cuban identity — and buildings in the old city in Varadero are also apparently facing the same fate.

But the Matanzas office of the historian offered a different explanation. According to a message circulated by the Cofradía de la Negritud, a non-governmental association of black people, in this case the response was that “The hotel’s plumbing system is in a state of collapse, so it is more economical to demolish it and build from scratch, than to repair it.”

But tourism authorities did not mention poor structural condition to the hotel’s employees. “They told us the hotel would be demolished because of environmental regulations, and that it was useless to turn to Eusebio Leal to save the hotel,” one worker told IPS.

Supposedly Leal, a national lawmaker and the head of the ICOMOS National Committee, would be unable to do anything to preserve a structure built on a sand dune, like more than 100 other buildings and thousands of metres of walls and fences that will have to be demolished, according to environmental studies.

Alfredo Cabrera, director of the office in charge of the management of Varadero’s beaches, had ensured IPS in 2007 that before a decision was reached about a demolition, his office took into account “the cultural heritage or historical value of the structure,” and whether it served “an important social function.”

An employee at the Varahicacos ecological reserve, meanwhile, who a few years ago experienced the “breakdown” of the management of that protected area due to the construction of a mega-hotel, told IPS that in the case of the Hotel Internacional, environmental and heritage interests should be reconciled.

Sources close to the Tourism Ministry confirmed that the Hotel Internacional has reached an agreement with another country to build a modern hotel, similar to so many others built in Varadero in recent years near the Internacional and Cabañas del Sol hotels.

Half of the over two million tourists who visit Cuba every year go to Varadero, which has more than 18,000 rooms in 49 hotels on 22 kilometres of beach.

The municipality of 26,600 people, which includes Varadero and two neighbouring towns, received a record of more than 31,000 visitors in one day in February, in the context of the expansion of resort tourism in Cuba.

“This is a preview of what could be about to hit us on a much, much larger scale, because the country needs money urgently,” Mario Coyula, winner of the National Architecture Prize in 2001, told IPS, without directly mentioning the complicated economic situation the country has been in since the early 1990s.

Above and beyond architectural questions, Coyula, an architect and urban designer, pointed out that “for many people these two hotels are distinctive features of the local landscape, which are fast disappearing in Varadero, as is coexistence (between the tourists) and the local population, which is increasingly marginalised and isolated.”

Architects, artists, writers and journalists who have called for saving what is left of the Varadero of the 1950s point to the enormous potential for the promotion of cultural tourism, with an offer that differs from “the standardised sun and sand tourism in all-inclusive resorts” that can be found on any Caribbean island.

“I see this as a natural result of excessive centralisation, which stands in the way of dealing with thousands of small and medium investors who could generate more stable and balanced wealth,” Coyula said. “And the most important thing: small-scale investors cannot impose their own conditions.”

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Cuba’s Deepwater Oil Exploration Could Be a Game Changer See full article from DailyFinance: http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/cuba-deepwater-oil-exploration-game-changer/19865273/?icid=sphere_copyright


Dailyfinance.com:

People who follow the oil industry are closing watching a pair of news items, both involving drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration said Noble Energy (NBL) could restart drilling operations at its Santiago well in the Gulf. The announcement will make Noble the first company to resume drilling in the region since last April’s BP (BP) Deepwater Horizon disaster — and the first since the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf was lifted last October.

The other bit of news is that a semi-submersible oil rig, originally due to arrive in Cuban waters this month, will reportedly be delayed until late summer.

Working Around U.S. Trade Embargo

The rig is a multinational project: owned by an Italian oil service group, constructed by a Chinese firm and funded by a consortium led by the Spanish energy company Repsol (REP). The delay is being blamed on technical problems — but “part of the delays were originally that the [rig’s] works were going to have more than 10% of U.S. technology, which is not acceptable to the U.S.,” says Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

That 10% figure is a part of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, now in its sixth decade. But the possibility of a good-size oil find off the Cuban coast could be a major game-changer for both Havana and Washington.

A 2004 assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey reported that about 4.6 billion barrels of oil — as well as substantial deposits of natural gas — might lie trapped in the sediment just north of Cuba.

Some preliminary explorations of the site have shown promise, but the oil deposit is hardly a sure thing — especially since it’s in water even deeper than the BP Deepwater Horizon site. But given present concerns over oil supplies, “the idea is to eventually export [oil] in the area or for Cuban consumption,” says Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former political analyst for the Cuban government and now a research associate at the University of Denver.

Transitioning From Oil Importer to Exporter

“It could create a significant change in Cuba’s economic wherewithal,” says Benjamin-Alvarado, who recently co-authored a book on Cuba’s energy sector. He notes Cuba currently produces about 90,000 barrels of oil daily, or about half of its overall needs — with the rest being imported from Venezuela. But with the possibility of Cuba transitioning from an oil importer to a modest exporter, there’s been a dramatic increase in foreign direct investment in Cuba in recent years — as international companies invest in the country’s oil production infrastructure.

“About 88% of all the oil reserves in the world are already spoken for,” Benjamin-Alvarado says. “Only 11% are open and available for purchase by the international oil companies.” With that in mind, he says, “oil would solidify Castro’s effort to remain viable with the Cuban people, to satisfy their material needs. The Cuban people would take the trade-off. But over the course of 10 to 15 years, that may change.”

There are also some practical concerns about possibly having Cuban oil wells operating less than 90 miles from the Florida coast. A recent report by advocates for more U.S. engagement with Cuba suggests the U.S. government should start direct talks with Havana over energy and environmental issues — to prevent any future Deepwater Horizon-like spills in the Gulf.

That suggestion is getting a lot of push-back from anti-Castro groups in Florida, as well as state lawmakers. But according to the report, by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the current trade embargo “restricts Cuba’s access to knowledge and associations that would help it plan for or react to a spill. The embargo prevents meaningful participation by U.S. private sector firms in planning for reaction, containment or remediation efforts.”

“The extent to which the U.S. can get on the stick and put forth a working agreement on environmental drilling will be very important, to be able to monitor very closely what the Cubans will be doing,” says Benjamin-Alvarado. “This won’t solve our energy problem, but it gives the U.S. an opportunity to have an imprint in the direction of the energy developments that are presently at play in Cuba.”