Cuba can service U.S. tourists if ban is lifted, officials say


Miami Herald:

Cuba’s tourism industry will have enough capacity for the surge of American travelers expected should U.S. lawmakers lift restrictions on visits to the island, said Miguel Figueras, an advisor at Cuba’s tourism ministry.

Cuba agrees with an estimate by the American Society of Travel Agents that 835,000 U.S. tourists a year, excluding cruise ships or Cuban-American family visitors, would come after an end to the travel ban, Figueras said. Cuba aims to build 30 new hotels with 10,000 rooms and 10 golf courses by 2014 without counting on changes in U.S. policy, he said.

”The Americans are welcome here,” Figueras said this week in Havana’s historic Hotel Nacional. “You have to be prepared for that, but you can’t make your development plans depend on whether this happens.”

U.S. lawmakers may consider an end to the ban on travel to the communist island, which has been under a U.S. trade embargo for almost five decades. President Barack Obama in April loosened travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans visiting family members and lifted caps on money Cuban-Americans may send relatives there. But he maintained the overall embargo, which forbids most commerce and financial transactions between the United States and Cuba.

”This issue is being discussed in an absolutely brand new environment, which is drawing support that it has lacked in the past,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who co-sponsored the bill to lift the travel ban.

An end to the travel ban might erode other aspects of the embargo such as the ban on bank relations, which keeps travelers from using U.S. credit or debit cards in Cuba, Figueras said.

After Obama announced changes to travel rules for Cuban-Americans, Figueras said, the number of passengers flying to Cuba from the United States doubled to about 20,000, compared to a year earlier.

Still, the global economic crisis is cutting total tourism revenue as visitors spend less money and fewer days on the island, he said. Revenue dropped 14 percent in the first quarter from the same period in 2008, while the number of visitors rose 2 percent to 809,937, according to the National Statistics Office.

The tourism sector represents 7 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product, Figueras said. Revenue increased 11 percent to $1.8 billion last year from 2007.

”Every month an American company comes,” Figueras said, citing talks with U.S. companies about hotel and golf course projects that might be possible should the embargo end.

”The Americans are missing out,” said Juliette Sibson, a British tourist sipping frozen daiquiris at El Floridita, a bar in central Havana made famous by Ernest Hemingway. “The history is amazing.”

Claudia, 22, a Cuban tour guide who declined to give her last name, said she hoped the U.S. will build on Obama’s recent changes by allowing all Americans to visit. ”It would be good because it would bring more tourists,” she said in Havana’s Parque Central square. “I have family in Miami and they’re coming more.”

If U.S. travel restrictions were lifted, the number of Americans visiting would more than triple from 171,000 in 2005 to between 554,000 and 1.1 million, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Last year, Canadians accounted for 818,246 of the 2.3 million tourists that visited the island, the Cuban statistics agency said.

The Dominican Republic, another Caribbean resort destination, housed 4.4 million tourists in about 60,000 hotel rooms in 2006, according to its tourism ministry website.

Many Americans who visit Cuba arrive on flights from Canada or Mexico and ask Cuban customs officials not to stamp their passports to avoid fines for violating the travel ban.

Cuba has about 48,000 hotel rooms, Figueras said. There are 15 hotels under joint venture contracts with foreign companies, and 49 hotels managed by international partners. The foreign companies include Sol Melia, the world’s largest resort operator, and Accor, Europe’s largest hotel company.

Eusebio Mujal-Leon, a professor of Cuban studies at Georgetown University, said the Cuban government might use visas to control the flow of U.S. tourists because it lacks sufficient hotel capacity.

”They’re not going to have massive entry,” Mujal-Leon said. “They don’t have the infrastructure for it.”

Figueras, however, said there were no plans to limit the number of Americans who can visit Cuba.

The number of American visitors in Cuba would increase slowly if the travel ban were lifted because it would take time for U.S. airlines to develop new routes and for travel agencies to develop tourist packages for the island, Figueras said.

”This isn’t an American tsunami that would happen overnight,” he said. “It takes time.”

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Declaration of the Government of Cuba


Granma: In an act of unusual historic significance, the OAS has just formally buried the shameful resolution which excluded Cuba from the Inter-American System in 1962.

That decision was despicable and illegal, contrary to the declared aims and principles of the OAS Constitution. It was, at the same time, consistent with the trajectory of this organization; with the motive for which was created, promoted and defended by the United States. It was consistent with its role as an instrument of U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere and with Washington’s capacity to impose its will on Latin America at the historic moment in which the Cuban Revolution triumphed.

Today, Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing another reality. The decision adopted at the 39th session of the OAS General is the fruit of the will of governments more committed to their peoples, with the region’s real problems and with a sense of independence that, unfortunately, did not prevail in 1962. Cuba acknowledges the merit of the governments that have undertaken to formally erase that resolution, referred to in that meeting as “an unburied corpse.”

The decision to rescind Resolution 6 of the 8th OAS Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs constitutes an unquestioned disrespect for the U.S. policy on Cuba followed since 1959. It pursues the aim of repairing a historic injustice and is a vindication for the Cuban people and peoples of the Americas.

Despite the last-minute consensus achieved, that decision was adopted against Washington’s will and in the face of intensive moves and pressure exerted by governments in the region. In that way, it dealt imperialism a defeat using its very own instrument.

Cuba welcomes with satisfaction this expression of sovereignty and civic-mindedness, while thanking those governments which, with a spirit of solidarity, independence and justice, have defended Cuba’s right to return to the organization. It also understands the desire to free the OAS from a stigma that has remained as a symbol of the organization’s servility.

However, Cuba once again confirms that it will not return to the OAS.

Since the triumph of the Revolution, the Organization of American States has played an active role in Washington’s policy of hostility against Cuba. It made the economic blockade official, ruled on the embargo of weapons and strategic products, and stipulated member countries’ obligatory breaking off of diplomatic relations with our revolutionary state. Despite the exclusion in place, over the years it even tried to keep Cuba under its authority and to subject it to its own jurisdiction and that of its specialized agencies. This is an organization with a role and a trajectory that Cuba repudiates.

The Cuban people were able to resist the aggressions and the blockade, overcome the diplomatic, political, and economic isolation, and face, on their own, without yielding, the persistent aggressiveness of the most powerful empire known to the planet.

Today our country enjoys diplomatic relations with all the countries of the hemisphere apart from the United States. It is developing broad links of friendship and cooperation with the majority of them.

Moreover, Cuba has won its full independence and is marching unstoppably toward a society that is more just, equitable, and full of solidarity every day.

It has done so with supreme heroism and sacrifice, and with the solidarity of the peoples of the Americas. It shares values that are contrary to those of neoliberal and egotistical capitalism promoted by the OAS, and feels that it has the right and the authority to say “no” to the idea of joining a body in which the United States still exercises oppressive control. The peoples and governments of the region will understand this just position.

Today it can be understood more clearly than in 1962 that it is the OAS that is incompatible with the most pressing desires of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, that it is incapable of representing their values, interests and genuine yearning for democracy; it is the OAS that has been unable to solve the problems of inequality, disparities in wealth, corruption, foreign intervention, and the predatory actions of transnational capital. It is the OAS that has remained silent in the face of the most horrendous crimes, communes with the interests of imperialism, and conspires against and subverts governments genuinely and legitimately constituted with demonstrable popular support.

The speeches and declarations of San Pedro Sula have been more than eloquent. Well-founded criticisms of the organization’s anachronism, given its divorce from continental realities and its disgraceful record, cannot be ignored.

The demands to end, once and for all, the criminal U.S. blockade of Cuba reflect the growing and unstoppable sentiment of an entire hemisphere. The spirit of independence represented there by the many that spoke is the one with which Cuba identifies.

Aspirations for the integration and coordination of Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly manifest. Cuba is actively participating in, and proposes continuing to do so, the representative regional mechanisms of what José Martí called “Our America,” from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, including all of the Caribbean islands.

Strengthening, expanding and harmonizing those bodies and groups is the path chosen by Cuba; not the outlandish illusion of returning to an organization that does not allow reform and that has been condemned by history.

The response of the people of Cuba to the ignominious 8th Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the OAS was the Second Declaration of Havana, approved in a mass assembly on February 4, 1962 by more than one million Cubans in the Plaza de la Revolución.

The declaration textually affirmed:

“…Great as was the epic of Latin American independence, heroic as was that struggle, today’s generation of Latin Americans is called upon to engage in an epic which is even greater and more decisive for humanity. For that struggle was for liberation from Spanish colonial power, from a decadent Spain invaded by Napoleon’s armies. Today the call for struggle is for liberation from the most powerful imperial metropolis in the world, from the most important force in the imperialist world and to render humanity an even greater service than that rendered by our predecessors.

“…For this great humanity has said, “Enough!” and has begun to march. And its march of giants will not be halted until they conquer real independence, for which they have died in vain more than once.”

We will be loyal to these ideas which have made it possible for our people to maintain Cuba free, sovereign and independent.

Havana, June 8, 2009

Cuba’s health system prioritizes senior citizens


DTCuba:Cuba’s health system prioritizes senior citizens, who benefit from excellent treatments provided by highly-qualified medical and paramedical staffs at geriatric centers.The Center for Research on Senior Citizens (CITED) is in charge of designing policies aimed at that sector of Cuba’s population.

Nearly 17 percent of Cubans are over 60 years of age, accounting for 1.8 million people.

By 2025, one-fourth of the island’s population will be over that age, so Cuba will be among the world’s top ten countries with the highest aging rate.

In that regard, the CITED is improving medical services and developing geriatric surgery, among other actions.

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Obama just keeping campaign promise: Cuban speaker


Havana, May 12 (EFE) The speaker of the Cuban parliament Tuesday said US President Barack Obama’s decision to end restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the island was rooted in Washington’s domestic politics.
“What he did has nothing to do with Cuba,” Ricardo Alarcon told reporters, “it was an electoral promise he made during the campaign.”

“He made it (the promise) in Miami, it helped him win Miami for sure, and Florida,” he said.

Obama “has been characterised up to now by his attempts to fulfill the promises he made and that was one of them, it was a promise to the voters of South Florida,” Alarcon said.

He added that Cuba is not expecting “any real gesture” from the US government.

About the possible elimination of a ban on Cuba accessing a US undersea fiber-optic cable that runs near the island, the parliament speaker said that Obama “did not mention that, as he didn’t speak of (raising) the (economic) embargo.”

He recalled that Obama spoke of the possibility of authorising US telecom companies “to access” the Cuban market, but “on what terms” still has to be specified and regulated, the politician said.

Almost with one voice, Latin American leaders – including US allies such as Mexico’s Felipe Calderon – are calling on Washington to end its 47-year-old economic embargo on Cuba.

But Obama appears unwilling to even consider scrapping the embargo unless Cuba releases the estimated 205 political detainees serving prison terms in Cuban jails and makes other moves toward democratisation.

President Raul Castro has publicly offered to free political prisoners in exchange for the five Cuban intelligence agents serving time in the US for espionage, and Alarcon said Monday that Obama has “a magnificent opportunity” to put an end to the case against the five.

Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino and Fernando Gonzalez were arrested in Florida in September 1998. A federal court in Miami judged them guilty of undermining US national security and sentenced them from 15 years in jail to life imprisonment.

Cuba has acknowledged that the five “heroes” are intelligence agents, but says they were sent to South Florida to spy on the Cuban exile community in the wake of terrorist bombings on the communist island that were allegedly masterminded by Miami-based anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles.

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Cuervo Y Sobrinos Watches To Open Shop In Havana, Cuba


Luxist.com: The modern version of Cuervo Y Sobrinos was started in the late 1990s, but is based on a Cuban watch brand that started, and was popular, in the pre-communism days of Cuba. In the late 1950s when Cuba’s government changed and Fidel Castro entered power, the original Cuervo Y Sobrinos watch brand was no longer. With the name, comes the taste and style of old Havana in all new Cuervo Y Sobrinos watches – each watch even comes in a humidor. Regardless, today Cuervo Y Sobrinos has no actual presence in Cuba – but that is about to change.

Cuervo y Sobrinos and Cuba Luxury Rent

Cuervo y Sobrinos and Cuba Luxury Rent

The new Cuba, while still communist, is opening up its doors again slowly. Havana might never be the play city for the rich and famous as it used to be, but signs of new life can be seen. In a few months, now Swiss watch maker Cuervo Y Sobrinos will open up a new boutique store in Havana. Finally the original Cuban watch brand returns to Cuba in the city that helped make it famous. Pictured above is a Cuervo Y Sobrinos Esplendidos Monopulsante watch. Prices for the brand range from about $2,500 and way up.

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We are working to strengthen relations between Laos and Cuba


Granma:

PRIME Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic affirmed that his country’s Party, government and people are working to strengthen and deepen relations of friendship and cooperation with Cuba.

During an event Tuesday morning at the Casa de la Amistad in Havana, Bouphavanh emphasized the honor signified by his visit to the island and thanked Cuba for its cooperation since times of war, when Cuba sent doctors to attend to the Laotian people.

That aid is maintained today and has spread to other sectors, as well as the training of human resources, he said.

For his part, Doctor Julio López, a member of the first group of Cuban doctors that worked in Laos in 1973, said that they had made their own the cause of friendship between the Laotian and Cuban peoples.

The friendly encounter was presided over by Commander Faure Chomón, president of the Cuban Parliament’s Laos Friendship Group; Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), Deputy Foreign Minister Marcos Rodríguez and other officials.

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Early Briefing: Looking to Cuba


Washington Post:

Virginia and Maryland trade officials, sensing winds of change in the tempestuous relationship between the United States and Cuba, are hustling to build markets for their goods in the event two countries normalize relations further.
Virginia agriculture has already benefited from the relaxation of the 47-year-old trade embargo with Cuba, increasing exports from less than $1 million dollars to $40 million in five years. Maryland has been developing farm trade in Cuba, though so far on a more modest scale. Last year, Maryland spent $6,000 on a trade mission that sewed up a $12.8 million deal on soybeans.

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