Cuba Holds Allure As U.S. Tourist Destination


Npr.org:

For many American tourists, Cuba is the Caribbean’s forbidden fruit.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would lift the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. Travel industry officials estimate that as many as 1 million Americans might visit the island each year.

The question is whether Cuba is ready for a huge jump in foreign visitors.

The island nation has much to offer.

The lack of development under communist rule has left parts of the country resembling a land from a time warp to the 1950s — a welcome change of pace for many foreign tourists.

Cuba is close — Havana is only as far from Miami as Boston is from New York. And the country has beaches, mountains and a rich history.

Attractions Abound

The central Cuban city of Camaguey offers travelers labyrinth-like streets, which were laid out in the 1500s to be intentionally confusing to attacking pirates.

Tourists can go snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs, or lounge on the white sand beaches along the north coast that was favored by Ernest Hemingway.

In the city of Remedios on Cuba’s northern coast, the main church was built in the 16th century. Estaban Augustin Granda Fernandez, 87, used to play the organ at the church. Now, he is the caretaker and shows visitors around the sanctuary.

He points out the timbers in the ceiling, the original Spanish tiles in the floor and the statue of the Virgin Mary, who appears to be dancing the flamenco.

Granda also points out that the statue has a bulge in her belly. It is the only image of a pregnant Virgin Mary in Cuba, he says, slapping his own stomach.

Roberto Maseo, who works in a dive shop in the beach town of Santa Lucia, says Cuba’s main tourist market is Canada, because of its proximity. Flying time from Toronto to Santa Lucia, or from Montreal to Camaguey, is about three hours, Maseo says.

Santa Lucia has a series of two- and three-star resorts that sell all-inclusive package vacations. Maseo calls it a value resort. Scuba-diving excursions — all equipment and transportation included — cost about $35.

Maseo is currently preparing for a shark show. “We feed the sharks. No protection. Shark is actually swimming over you, over your heads. People can actually touch them. No problem,” he says with a laugh.

Economic Benefits Of Expanded Tourism

In 2008, tourism was Cuba’s second leading source of income after nickel exports. It’s a growing source of revenue that the communist regime wants to expand.

There are plans to open 30 new hotels across the island in the next five years.

While Cuban officials say they’re not banking on Washington lifting the travel ban, hundreds of thousands of additional visitors from across the Florida Straits could pump much-needed cash into Cuba’s flagging economy.

“For us, the American market is a big opportunity,” says Dario Fernandez, general manager of Hotel Melia Havana, a Spanish-run luxury hotel in the capital city.

The hotel has 400 rooms, seven restaurants and the biggest pool in Havana. It is jointly owned by the Cuban government and a group of foreign investors, and is managed by the Spanish resort chain Sol Melia.

Fernandez says about 3 percent of his guests are from the United States, but he estimates that number could rise to 50 percent without the travel ban. Last year, the hotel had an average occupancy rate of 82 percent — considered good in the business.

But there are challenges to running a five-star hotel in a communist country where ordinary citizens earn just $20 a month. For instance, the reason Melia Havana has seven restaurants is that few dining options outside the hotel meet foreign tourists’ standards. The Melia runs its own fleet of buses for its employees because the city’s transportation system is so unreliable.

American Tourists’ Historical Connection

The Hotel Nacional in Havana abounds with shared history. The Nacional was built in 1930 and modeled after the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla.

In 1946, American mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano held a convention at the Nacional of American gangsters plotting to turn Havana into a second Las Vegas. In 1951, Hollywood stars Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner stayed there on their honeymoon.

After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, he shut down the hotel’s casino and installed Soviet anti-aircraft guns along the front lawn — under which a bomb shelter, built during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, still remains.

But if guests don’t want to think about the moment the world was pushed to the brink of nuclear war, mafia gambling rackets or the clash between capitalism and communism, they can sip mojitos at an outdoor restaurant, looking north across the water toward Florida.

Jesus Noguera Ravelo, a tour guide, says Cuba’s infrastructure is not ready for a huge influx of American visitors. He notes there aren’t enough buses, rental cars, quality restaurants or hotel rooms.

“But if you ask me about the will of the Cuban people, I would say, yes, we are ready. We would like to have more exchange with the American people coming from the U.S. to Cuba,” he says.

Noguera says the American visitors who do come have much more interest in Cuban history than other tourists — in part because the two countries have such a long, intertwined relationship. He says if he tries to give Canadians or Europeans a one-hour talk about the Cuban revolution, their eyes start to roll back in their heads. But Americans, he’s found, are eager to hear about it.

“That is telling you that we have a lot in common. And we have to know each other a lot more,” Noguera says.

www.particularcuba.com – Travel to Cuba with us.

Diabetic Patients in Holguín Treated with HEBERPROT-b


DTCuba: Havana.- Health authorities in the eastern Cuban province of Holguín are administering HEBERPROT-p to treat ulcers in diabetic patients.

More than 200 patients have benefited from that medication, which is also called Recombinant Skin Growth Factor.

HEBERPROT-p is also administered in general hospitals in the municipalities of Gibara, Banes, Mayarí and Moa, and has been used gradually in outpatient services at primary healthcare centers.

The medication, which is injected in the affected area three times a week, has proved to be highly effective to speed up cicatrization.

This therapy has been successful to treat lesions that did not responded well to traditional treatments, thus preventing the amputation of limbs in most cases.

www.particularcuba.com – Flights to Cuba

Program in Havana 30 September – 6 October


MARTES

30 de Septiembre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana SON YORUBA CHARANGA FOREVER
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO ENRIQUE ÁLVAREZ
Casa de la Música Miramar HABANA DE PRIMERA PEDRITO CALVO Y LA NUEVA JUSTICIA
Piano Bar Tun Tun CERRADO ALEX DE LARA PGAO
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” ARNALDO Y SU TALISMAN ESPECTÁCULO RIVAL
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

MIERCOLES

1 de Octubre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana AZÚCAR NEGRA LOS PARIENTES
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO ENRIQUE ÁLVAREZ
Casa de la Música Miramar PAULO FG Y SU ÉLITE ADALBERTO ÁLVAREZ Y SU SON
Piano Bar Tun Tun CERRADO TRIÁNGULO OSCURO
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” LEONI TORRES Y SU GRUPO 5.SON
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

JUEVES

2 de Octubre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana HABANA DE PRIMERA CHARANGA LATINA
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO LOURDES LIBERTAD
Casa de la Música Miramar CHARANGA FOREVER SUR CARIBE
Piano Bar Tun Tun CERRADO NG LA BANDA
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” MANOLITO SIMONET Y SU TRABUCO SON DEL NENE
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

VIERNES

3 de Octubre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana PUPY Y LOS QUE SON SON SALSA MAYOR
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO YUNIER DÍAZ
Casa de la Música Miramar CHISPA Y LOS COMPLICES NG LA BANDA
Piano Bar Tun Tun ROCKOTEMBA DEL TUN TUN GRUPO GENS OSMANY GARCÍA
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” TUMBAO HABANA COMBINACIÓN DE LA HABANA
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

SABADO

4 de Octubre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana SONIDO HABANA ADALBERTO ÁLVAREZ Y SU SON
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO VANIA BORGES
Casa de la Música Miramar GRUPO GENS BAMBOLEO
Piano Bar Tun Tun OSMANY GARCÍA SALSA ÚNICA
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” DISCO FIESTA CON WALDO MENDOZA JUEGO DE MANOS
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

DOMINGO

5 de Octubre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana ALBERTO HERRERO NELSON MANUEL Y LA CORTE
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO DUO EBANO
Casa de la Música Miramar BAMBOLEO HABANA DE PRIMERA
Piano Bar Tun Tun DISCOTEMBA GRUPO LOS TAKSON LOS PAPINES
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” GRUPO LOS KENT NG LA BANDA
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

LUNES

6 de Octubre de 2008

TARDES

NOCHES

Casa de la Música Habana COMBINACIÓN DE LA HABANA KLIMAX
Piano Bar Habaneciendo CERRADO CERRADO
Casa de la Música Miramar TUMBAO HABANA GARDY Y SU GRUPO
Piano Bar Tun Tun CERRADO TRAJE NUEVO
Café Cantante “Mi Habana” ACDACHE Y LOS MUÑEQUITOS DE MATANZA MAYKEL BLANCO Y SALSA MAYOR
Delirio Habanero CERRADO CERRADO

Jardines del Rey Tourist Destination Already Operates at Full Capacity


Jardines del Rey, (King’s Gardens), the important tourist destination located north of Ciego de Ávila province, at this moment is already operating at full capacity after all the problems caused by hurricane Ike, as expressed by an official report.

The note of the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) indicates that the tourist complex, made up of the Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo resorts, currently holds 3 620 rooms in 12 hotels and four five-star villages.

The hotel facilities of the cays, some 530 kilometres east of Havana, suffered from minimum damages because of the hurricane; however the access causeway, the water pipelines and the communication means were seriously damaged.

Several services, indicates the report, were re-established in record time by construction and telecommunications brigades, which facilitated to recover the operation dynamics both at the airport and the hotels.

After the path of Ike, a flight from England arrived with tourists for Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. In a few days the arrival is expected of other 800 European travelers.

(PL)

www.particularcuba.com

Bloodied, but unbowed


Desperate for international aid, hurricane-torn Cuba turns down any relief from its old foe, the United States

“NEVER in the history of Cuba have we had a case like this,” President Raúl Castro lamented after two powerful hurricanes, barely a week apart, struck the island, severely damaging crops and leaving some 200,000 homeless. Miraculously, Havana, the capital, was left virtually unscathed, as were the main tourist resorts, the oil industry and nickel mining. But with estimated losses of $5 billion, one of the world’s last communist regimes is facing a daunting task.

The enormous damage sustained to the island’s food supplies, housing and electricity grid raises big questions about Cuba’s ability to get by without massive international aid. Two of the island’s most valuable export crops, citrus and tobacco, suffered big losses. Luckily, the tobacco harvest was already in, but some 3,000 curing sheds where the leaves are stored were damaged. Almost half the sugarcane fields were flattened. The coffee harvest in the east has also been badly affected.

The government has admitted that it cannot cope alone. “It is impossible to solve the magnitude of the catastrophe with the resources available,” said Carlos Lezcano, director of the National Institute of State Reserves. “The reserves are being tested. We shall have to prioritise.”

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike could increase pressure on Raúl Castro to accelerate reforms to loosen the island’s centrally-controlled economy, much as his brother, Fidel, was forced to do in the early 1990s after the collapse of Cuba’s subsidised trade with the Soviet Union. Back then, reforms briefly opened the economy up to private enterprise, but Fidel Castro slammed the door shut again once the economy had recovered.

Since his brother fell ill in July 2006, Raúl has stressed the urgent need for Cuba to raise its domestic agricultural production to substitute for increasingly expensive food imports. To that end, he has introduced measures to redistribute idle land and allow farmers more autonomy. After years of decline, the agricultural sector had begun to show signs of modest recovery, with output up 5.5% last year. Citrus production rose 20%, having fallen by 41% over the previous three years. Sugar cane was also making a comeback.

In the aftermath of the storms, Cuba’s main allies leapt to the rescue. Russia sent four large cargo planes carrying 200 tonnes of relief supplies. Brazil and Spain sent smaller shipments. Venezuela is expected to make a big contribution, though details are not yet known.

But not even hurricanes of this ferocity could break down the lack of trust between Cuba and its old foe, the United States. Instead, the two have plunged into yet another round of political argy-bargy. The Bush administration offered Cuba $100,000 in immediate relief aid, later raised to $5m, but Mr Castro turned it down, demanding instead that America lift its trade embargo to enable it to buy urgently needed reconstruction materials. (In neighbouring Haiti by contrast, where the storm damage was worse, the United States promptly dispatched a helicopter-laden warship to help relief efforts, as well as pledging $19.5m in aid.)

In Havana, food markets are already running out of supplies and prices have shot up. Although some Miami-based Cubans may be eagerly anticipating anti-government protests, analysts do not consider this is on the cards—unless the government bungles the relief effort. “It’s rather unlikely that sweating and starving Cubans go rioting in the streets, even less so against a government that has been effective in disaster preparation and response,” said Johannes Werner, editor of Cuba Trade and Investment News. “Cubans have a track record of coming out stronger in far worse situations,” he noted.

Economist

Unfortunate loss of seven human lives in Ike’s aftermath


THE Revolution’s efforts to protect human lives from the devastating Hurricane Ike have been gigantic. The figure of more than 2.5 million people sheltered and the use of some 10,000 means of transport without a single accident being reported is a demonstration of the exemplary discipline of our people and the effectiveness of the measures taken, even when their implementation involved challenges and risks.

In all honesty, the loss of seven human lives in the aftermath of the recent hurricane was essentially not just a direct consequence of the effects of Ike, but failure to strictly observe measures established by the Civil Defense system. That was confirmed, in every case, by the combination of reasons resulting in that fatal outcome. The victims were:

Pascual Villafaña Rivera, 35 years old, resident of the city of Camagüey, who decided late at night to leave the house of a relative where he was being sheltered and return to his own home, which did not meet the conditions to provide safety. At that moment, a tree fell, causing a wall to collapse on top of him.

Carmelina Diéguez Santiesteban, 74 years old, of Holguín province, lived in a very vulnerable house and refused to be evacuated to a safe place, despite the insistence of local authorities who tried to persuade her of the danger of remaining in that place. The effects of the winds caused the house to collapse, resulting in her death.

Antonio Mendoza Peña, 55 years old, a resident of Santiago de Cuba province. When he left the house of a neighbor where he was being sheltered, he was warned by those present that he was committing an imprudent action. He did not obey their appeals, and flung himself into a creek that had risen, and drowned.

Pedro Corso Soto, 76, and Angel Sánchez Cabello, 35, of Villa Clara province, who were taking down the antenna from their home, but were not affected at that time by hurricane winds. It was determined that the cause was the fall of the antenna onto the electrical cable, immediately electrocuting both.

Pedro Pablo Gutiérrez Cervantes, 55, was trapped under rubble after the collapse of a old three-story building on the Malecón seaside promenade in the Centro Habana neighborhood of Havana. The preliminary investigation of this incident showed that González Cervantes and his family were evacuated opportunely, and without waiting for the appropriate authorization returned to the building where they lived, where this unfortunate accident later occurred.

Carlos Velázquez Pérez, 53, a resident of Puerto Padre in Las Tunas province, and who was on the evacuation committee, headed for home to rest on the evening of Sunday the 7th. She took a pillow and lay down under her bed, where she fell asleep. When the winds became strong, the wall that was being built on the top floor of her neighbor’s house fell, killing her. Her body was found by a nephew on Wednesday when he passed by on the 10th.

The Cuban Civil Defense system, recognized for its effectiveness in dealing with meteorological events of this magnitude, guarantees the protection of the entire population and their economic resources; however, the causes of the unfortunate events described here demonstrate the necessity of following with discipline the measures that have been established and reiterated by Civil Defense authorities with the objective of avoiding these painful human losses and the mourning of families that follows.

General Staff of the Civil Defense

Source: Granma