Sunday, December 29, 2013

University Conference in Havana February 10 - 14

Universidad 2014

“For a Socially Responsible University”  

Cuba’s 9th International Congress on Higher Education, February 10-14, 2014

Every other year Cuba holds a conference that brings together representatives of all tertiary institutions in the country, including those affiliated with different ministries (Higher Education, Education, Agriculture, Health, Culture).  Like the NAFSA conference, it includes intellectual content, a “trade show” with informational booths and displays, and an unequaled opportunity for informal and spontaneous contacts.

The Cuba/US People to People Partnership had a booth in 2012 which was visited by more than 100 representatives of national and regional universities, specialized offices and the Minister of Higher Education, now First Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel.   We will have a booth also in 2014 and welcome in-kind (via promotional materials) and in-person partnership with US schools.

Primary topics

Specialized workshops  (The agenda of each workshop can be downloaded.)

If there is interest, we will request a post conference program of visits to Cuban universities wishing to partner with US institutions as well as to service learning opportunities with the Fundacion Nunez Jimenez, a Cuban environmental NGO. 

Please contact John McAuliff,, 914-231-6270, if you wish to participate.

FRD booth at Universidad 2012

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Perspective on the President's Opportunity to Expand Travel

President Obama has opened the door part way for travel to Cuba.  

His remarks in Miami in November suggest the White House is preparing to take the next step:  “we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies” 

Ten days later Secretary of State Kerry, in his speech to the Interamerican Dialog program at the hall of the Organization of American States, added this specificity
“We are committed to this human interchange, and in the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.” 

Last January Cuba gave greater freedom to it citizens than Americans possess when it abolished rules requiring government authorization of travel.  

Will the President respond and open the door further for us in the New Year?

It is estimated that 350,000 Cuban Americans returned to their homeland under a general license in 2012 which does not require application to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  It is assumed that most of the 98,000 other Americans who traveled used the people to people specific license obtained from OFAC although some were covered by a general license for universities and religious organizations.  (OFAC does not release figures on the number of specific licenses issued, nor the names of the recipients, and has no data on the use of general licenses.)  

The authorization and renewal process for a specific license is unpredictable, unconscionably slow and expensive in terms of staff time and/or for lawyers.  OFAC staff are required to evaluate the motivation of trip promoters and the likely experience of Americans in a country about which they have limited often prejudicial knowledge and no direct experience.  

Each decision on a specific license is subject to scrutiny by members of the House and Senate who oppose all travel.  They suffered a melt-down when Beyonce and Jay-Z were seen in Havana, just as they erupted when Presidents Obama and Castro politely shook hands at a high level people to people occasion, the memorial for Nelson Mandela.

OFAC licenses require tightly programmed group travel that can only be undertaken through Cuban government sanctioned receiving agencies and  guide/interpreters.  The existing tours provide invaluable insight for first time travelers and channel useful contacts, but are inappropriate for families, young people, others on a limited budget, and persons who want to create an independent itinerary.  Follow-up trips to deepen personal or professional relationships are virtually impossible.

Most OFAC regulations have not been changed since the Bush Administration.  They are punitive (no souvenirs), discourage normal access by Americans to counterparts (at conferences), and counterproductive, inhibiting spontaneous and informal contact.  It is virtually impossible to stay in privately owned bed and breakfasts, rent cars or use public transportation, options available to everyone else in the world.

Licensed US not-for-profits (including my own) and commercial tour operators, travel service providers and charter carriers were responsible for organizing and transporting virtually all legal American visitors.  Based on our experience over the last three years, the President should consider modifications in US policy and regulations such as are listed below. Some are in the economic self-interest of current providers; some are not. As a package they will contribute to the goals set forth by the President:

1)      Make clear to the Senate-House Appropriations Conference Committee that House language that seeks to destroy people to people travel and cripple family travel is completely unacceptable and will prompt a veto.

2)      Address the problem of banking by Cuba’s diplomatic and consular institutions in the US by ending sanctions against Cuba’s international dollar transactions.  (This will assure normal issuance of visas and passports for US citizens and residents and not incidentally benefit transfers affecting the operation of the US Interests Section and sales of US agricultural produce.)

3)      Ask Cuba in return to remove the linked 10% surcharge on dollar-CUC exchanges, thus increasing the value of remittances and payments by licensed US visitors. 

4)      Authorize US banks to arrange credit and debit card use in Cuba and US mobile phone companies to establish roaming agreements.

5)      Extend to all Americans engaging in purposeful travel to Cuba the same self-qualifying general license now provided to Cuban Americans, universities and religious organizations.  (A lesser but still welcome reform would be to authorize general licenses for all IRS recognized not-for-profit 501c3 organizations.)

6)      End the privileged and encumbered status of licensed Travel Service Providers (TSP), and allow all US travel agents, tour operators and organizations to promote and book programs for legally authorized travelers.  (Currently most TSPs are Cuban American companies located in Florida or New Jersey.  In addition to broadening the geographical outreach of promoters and providers, and creating hundreds of jobs nationally, this will eliminate exceptional administrative costs TSPs  currently pass on to travelers.)

7)      Remove all prohibitions on Americans organizing and participating in educational, cultural and professional conferences in Cuba.

8)      Allow authorized travelers to bring Cuban products home with them for souvenirs and personal gifts, precluding only commercial quantities for resale.

9)      Permit Cuban musicians to receive normal compensation for performances in the US, just as is available for Cuban academics.

10)    Clarify that US higher education institutions can provide full scholarship and living expense grants to graduate and professional school students from Cuba.  

11)    Initiate discussions with Cuba to establish Fulbright fellowships even before economic and diplomatic relations are normal, as occurred with Vietnam.

These steps will take an administrative, political and psychological burden off the limited staff of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.   They can concentrate on serious commercial violations of embargo law, including any effort to commercialize sun and sand all inclusive holidays. 

Opponents of all travel will complain that general licenses permit cheating.  No doubt some travelers will slip off for a day or two of relaxation at Playas del Este or Cayo Santa Maria, but that is far offset by the benefit of opening grass roots American interaction with Cubans.  No one knows how much time general licensed Cuban American travelers actually spend with family, or even if they have any that qualify, beyond their check of a box on the TSP reservation form.

The elimination of bureaucratic operational costs for current people-to-people organizers and Travel Service Providers will allow them to charge less to clients.  Existing businesses and organizations are well positioned to compete in an open market based on their experience and knowledge even as they lose the advantage of a government induced oligopoly. 

More significant relaxation of travel restrictions will also open Cuba to a far wider range of our “best ambassadors”, including minorities and others who cannot afford current cost levels, and travelers who do not wish to limit their contact with the Cuban people to group tours vetted by both governments.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Arriving by Private Boat

Foreign Boats Now Have Easy Access to Cuban Marinas

HAVANA, Cuba, Dec 24 (acn)

Foreign yachts cruising near Cuba, which would like to moor at any Cuban marina may do so by just filling out a form available on Cuban web sites.

The requests may be filled at the and websites, according to the Cuban Tourism Ministry, explained that once a yacht owner registers at any of the websites and receives authorization to dock his boat, he is authorized to visit other marinas on the Island without any further authorization.

The marinas offer fuel and repair services, as well as stores to replenish food and drink stocks in the boats.

In order to ease procedures for foreign boats dispatch at Cuban marinas, the Cuban Council of Ministers
adopted a Decree last October which rules the management of maritime and harbor services in these facilities.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Labor Seminar Offers Lowest Cost Visit

Cuban Labor Seminar in Cuba- May Day,     April 27 to Sunday May 4, 2014  

Price of the labor seminar for one week $1,300
Include round trip airfare (from Cancun, Mexico to Havana, Cuba to Cancun, Mexico)

23 anniversary of the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange.

US/Cuba Labor Exchange

Join the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange to participate in the Cuban Labor Seminar  to Cuba
Sunday April 27 to Sunday, May 4, 2014
Price of the labor seminar for one week $1,300
for two weeks $1,750
Sunday April 27 to Sunday, May 11, 2014

A week of Cuba Labor Seminar-On Cuban education

Uniting America's Working Class and Increasing its Influence
Promote people to people contact

This delegation will be in Havana, Cuba from Sunday
April 28 to Sunday May 5, 2013

 Our hosts will be the CTC Confederation of Cuban Workers. We will visit hospitals, schools, and worker centers and participate at the Workers May day celebration, International Solidarity with Cuba Conference,
and the International labor Meeting of Our America. ESNA
The price of the trip will include: round trip airfare (from Cancun, Mexico to Havana, Cuba to Cancun, Mexico) hotel in Havana (double occupancy), 2 meals per day (breakfast and dinner), internal transportation to and from the program, translation, visas and the program.* The price of $1,300 is good until the end of February 25, The price may increase for any application made after that date.

A group of trade unionists and workers are exercising their constitutional right to travel to Cuba, to gather educational information and to have an exchange of ideas with other workers of the world. These rights are guaranteed by the US Constitution and by the International Human Rights declaration of the United Nations.

" has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental. The freedom to learn. Has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever we may think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn." - W.E.B. DuBois, "The Freedom to Learn." (1949)

All questions MUST be completed. PLEASE PRINT neatly and/or type.
The original application must be submitted, with a copy of your passport attached and $300 deposit made payable to the Labor Exchange. All information will be kept confidential

Legal Name (as it appears on the passport):_____________________________________________


City_______________________________ State ______________________ Zip Code___________

Phone/Fax _____________________________e-mail: ____________________________________


How/from whom did you learn about the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange ___________________________

Passport#_________________________________ Expiration Date_________________

Date of birth__________________________ Place of birth __________________ _______________

Please mail your application to:
US/Cuba Labor Exchange
P.O. Box 39188
Redford, MI 48239
Phone/Fax; Email to:,

Friday, December 20, 2013

Global Volunteers Tour

Discover Cuba With The People-to-People Experts

"Exhilarating. Thought-provoking. Fun. Global Volunteers’ Cuba NOW! program penetrates the Cuban mystique with an itinerary that weaves an intriguing tapestry of a fascinating and complex country and culture. Every day meeting with the Cuban people was better than the day before!"
~ Maria Micale, 2012 participant

Cuba People to PeopleGlobal Volunteers offers the most authentic and affordable people-to-people educational travel to Cuba available. Cuba NOW! centers around the Cuban people. Meet with local students, teachers, artists, farmers, clergy and/or community leaders to learn first-hand about daily life on this island nation - and share American culture, government, education, sports and daily life with local Cubans.

Call 800-487-1074 program details. Click for Cuba NOW! Program Itinerary

Round-trip Airfare from Miami to Havana Included
Trained Global Volunteers Group Leader Included
Eight Day and Seven Night Itinerary Included
Visa and Required Health Insurance Included
Four Nights in Havana 4-Star Hotel Included
Three Nights in Ciego de Avila Tourist-class Hotel Included
All Meals – Authentic Cuban Cuisine Included
Daily Immersion in Cuban Life Included
Daily Conversations with Cuban Students, Teachers, Artists, Farmers, Business Professionals, Clergy & Community Leaders Included
Walking tours with Cuban guide to Old Havana, Che’s Memorial Included
Customized Group Events in Ciego de Avila and Moron Included
Deluxe, Air-Conditioned Coach Transportation Included
Double Occupancy Included. Single Occupancy Available (additional $400 cost)

“ What a wonderful time we had in Cuba. I'm convinced that the only way to really learn about Cuba, the old and the new, is through Global Volunteers. For Shirley and me, it was the trip of a lifetime.”
~ Jim Herman, 2013 participant

Register online now or print and mail/fax/email a text registration. Fax 651-482-0915, Cuba NOW! 375 E. Little Canada Rd. St. Paul, MN 55117

Program Costs and Accommodations

Travel to Cuba is highly limited; only selected organizations are authorized to conduct people-to-people programs. Our license (CT-2012-293344-1), issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, permits U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba on Global Volunteers' Cuba NOW! Program.

You will stay in four- and five-star hotels in Havana, enjoy authentic Cuban cuisine, and most importantly, have the opportunity to engage the Cuban people. This eight-day and seven-night program is double occupancy, and includes seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners as well as your round-trip flight from Miami to Havana, all local transportation and entrance fees to educational events. Single rooms - limited by availability - are $400 additional. Cuba is not a typical "tourist" destination, and flexibility is essential. Cuban hotels are comfortable, food is healthy and enticing, and local people are engaging and accommodating. Unlike Global Volunteers Service Programs abroad, Cuba NOW! is not a tax-deductible program.

A Unique and Exceptional Educational Exchange Program!

You can rely on Global Volunteers' recognized high standards of program management and in-country cultural immersion. Travel with family and friends (minimum age 15) and share unprecedented first-hand access to learning opportunities in a wide variety of settings.

Meet with "ordinary" Cubans. Engage students, educators, farmers, artists, business professionals, and religious leaders in discussions on U.S. and Cuban culture, traditions, and history.
Share ideas, values and life stories. Education, sports, economics, music, theater, health care systems, history and business are all potential topics.
Discover Cubans' interests. Local people are well-versed in current affairs, and eager to engage in personal discussions.
Learn about Cuban community theater, art and/or music. Visit Teatro D' Morón to participate in theatrical performances and to talk with artists.
Explore Cuban national and regional history. Learn about the roots of Cuban culture and traditions at UNESCO World Heritage sites and/or university workshops.
Experience local living conditions. Become familiar with Cubans' daily activities through personal visits with community members.
Discuss U.S. culture, traditions, history, and lifestyles.
Global Volunteers is a private, non-profit organization working at the invitation and under the direction of local leaders worldwide. Since 1984, we've engaged "average" people in direct people-to-people initiatives to cultivate international understanding and respect. You'll benefit from our vast expertise in program management, cultural sensitivity, and global educational exchanges.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Irish and Celtic Heritage Tour with Niall O'Leary April 21 - 27


an Irish/Celtic cultural 
and educational tour 
with Niall O’Leary

April 25-28, 2014
April 25 - May 8
(combined with introduction to Cuba program)

Niall O’Leary with  dancer from Cuban Educational TV, CeltFest 2013

“Two island peoples in the same
sea of struggle and hope:
Cuba and Ireland"

a plaque on Old Havana's
O'Reilly Street

Hundreds of tours bring US citizens to Cuba legally every year for its Caribbean and Latin history, culture and people to people contact.  Only this trip adds a unique window through the Irish diaspora.

Irish and Cuban ties go back to the 17th Century, reflected by names on streets, sugar estates and buildings. The 19th century brought Irish-American railroad workers, engineers and teachers to Cuba; plus gun runners for a hunger and disease wracked independence struggle that paralleled Ireland’s. 

Celtic music is preserved today among descendants of Spanish immigrants from Asturia and Galicia.

Accompany famed Irish and Irish American singers and dancers in their artistic encounters with Cuban counterparts. 

Discover a long forbidden neighbor, plus the little known legacy of centuries of interaction between Cuba, Ireland and Irish Americans.

Join the 5th annual CeltFest where traditional musicians from Ireland and the US share stages and sessions with local bandas de gaitas. 

Highlights of Cuba’s Irish history    

 (translation from above slide by Rafael Moya, CeltFest 2013)
  Irish in the railroad.     Daniel Warren, married to Honora Ryan, was authorized to create a society responsible for helping sailors in transit and workers in the construction of the Havana-Guines railroad. The first railroad accident  happened on that route in 1842, for which the engineer Patrick Doherty was found guilty.   

Irish Heritage Tour

An Unforgettable Three Days

Enjoy an unequaled combination of Cuban and Irish music and warmth!

  • Hear local experts on the Irish presence in Cuba from the 17th to 19th centuries 
  • See Irish linked homes from the 18th and 19th centuries in Havana. 
  • Meet with international journalists and Cuban academics

Slide from talk by Dr. Margaret Brehony

CeltFest Cuba

The 5th annual CeltFest has been reduced in scope and will take place April 25 to 27. Because of Culture Ireland's budget constraints only the piper Gay McKeon is coming to do workshops.

A concert is planned for April 26th with Naill O'Leary and the Asturian band pictured below. 

Session at CeltFest 2012 with Irish and Cuban pipers

Introduction to Cuba

We are offering an opportunity for participants in the heritage tour to join a program that has been designed for travel professionals from April 28 to May 8.  It will cover much of the same geography without the Irish focus, and add five other destinations.  The additional cost will be approximately $1500 plus some meals and incidentals with most accommodations in five star hotels.  An overnight will not be required in Grand Cayman. Information at

Banda de Gaitas de La Habana. CeltFest 2012


Participants will depart New York on Friday, April 25, leave Cuba on April 28, overnight in Grand Cayman and return to New York on Tuesday, April 29th.  A registration fee of $250 is required as a confirmation of interest.  Estimated ground price and program cost in bed and breakfast for 3 nights, $400; round trip air from Grand Cayman to Havana $400 + $200 if overnight on return.)  

Please contact us as soon as possible with questionsor for a PDF registration form:   914-231-6270. 

Festival and tour background


Write for form

Session at CeltFest, 2012

Another opportunity in the fall of 2014

If you can't join us in April, our full Irish Heritage Program in Cuba is planned for November 15-23, 2014 with the participation of Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis, Niall O'Leary, and Billy McComiskey  (details here).

The itinerary will include visits to Irish sites in Havana and adjoining provinces.  Mick and friends will do concerts and workshops for Cuban audiences.  They will also offer presentations at academic and cultural venues about the role of music in the Irish immigrant experience and about today's traditional music and dance scene in the US.  We hope to create opportunities for tour participants to meet Cuban counterparts. 

Write to for dates, costs and a registration form.

Slide from talk by Dr. Margaret Brehony

Cuba/US People to People Partnership 
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
145 Palisade Street, Suite 401
Dobbs FerryNY  10522
(914) 231-6270

Graphic Society of Cienfuegos
Cruise ship leaves Havana for sail around Cuba


The cruise ship LV Louis Cristal set sail from Havana on Monday on the first of its round-the-island trips, marking yet another effort to establish Cuba as an attractive and profitable cruise industry destination.
Cuba Cruise, based in Calgary, Canada, chartered the vessel this year for weekly sails through March 24 that will take on passengers in Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica, for 7-day circumnavigations of the island for $746 and up.
The 1,200-passenger vessel will make stops in Havana, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos and Punta Francés on the Isle of Youth, and offer tours of beaches, nightclubs and colonial-era fortresses and architecture.
The Cristal, built in 1980, is owned and operated by the Cyprus-based Louis Cruises, which operates largely in the Mediterranean. Cuba Cruise was founded in January by cruise businessman Dougald Wells.
Several previous attempts to establish Cuba as a regular cruise destination have failed, in large part because of economic sanctions by the United States, which forbids U.S. tourism in Cuba and bars any ship that docks at Cuban ports from entering the U.S. for six months thereafter. The U.S. and Canada are the source of an estimated 70 percent of Caribbean cruise passengers, and most cruise ships plying Caribbean waters are based in South Florida.
Asked if Cuba Cruise would allow U.S. tourists to board the ship in Jamaica, Melissa Medeiro, media coordinator for Bannikin Travel and Tourism, a Canadian consultancy representing the company, said it was not up to Cuba Cruise to check on passengers.
“We encourage everyone to check with their local authorities,” Medeiro said. “But Cuba does not impose any restrictions [on U.S. tourists], and Cuba Cruise does not discriminate against any nationality boarding the ship.”
After decades of rejecting mass tourism, Cuba began opening its doors in the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its massive subsidies to the island’s communist government.
Spain’s Sol Melia company launched one attempt in 1996, using the 840-passenger Melia-Don Juan for sailings from Cienfuegos on the south-central coast. The ship’s Cuba itineraries appear to have stopped in late 1997.
The Russian-operated cruise ship Adriana, capable of carrying up to 300 passengers, sailed around the island at least four times in 2011. On one stop in Santiago, it disembarked 62 passengers, according to a Cuban news media report. There has been no mention of further dockings since then.
The 54,000-ton Thomson Dreams, capable of carrying up to 1,132 passengers, has made several ports of call in Havana in recent years with mostly British and other European passengers.
Cuba’s cruise tourism business peaked in 2005 with 122 ships reportedly delivering 102,440 visitors — an average of 840 per ship. But it has been in steady decline since then, according to the National Office for Statistics (ONE)
ONE reported 30,000 cruise ship arrivals in 2006, 7,000 in 2007, 5,000 in 2008, 4,000 in 2009, 2000 in 2010 and a mere 1,000 in 2011.
Cuban officials have never explained the plunge in cruise arrivals. But Fidel Castro’s comments in 2005 that cruise visitors spent little and left behind “rubbish, empty cans and paper” may have made Cuban officials less interested in dealing with cruise lines.
José Antonio Lopez, then general manager of the state company that runs the country’s four cruise terminals, told the Reuters news agency in 2008 that Cuba has the port capacity to receive one million cruise ship passengers and 600 ships a year. Havana alone can dock several ships of up to 70,000 tons, he added.
U.S. cruise industry officials have estimated it could take at least four years to update Cuba's ports so they can handle today’s 150,000-plus-ton mega cruise ships. The world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, weighs in at 225,000 tons and carries up to 5,400 passengers.
Cuba’s tourism industry has been stagnating after steady growth since the early 1990s, with 2.3 million foreign visitors in the first 10 months of this year, representing a 1.2-percentage-point drop from the same period in 2012, according to ONE.

Read more here:

My comment:

The problem with one of the European cruise lines serving Cuba was that it was purchased by a US company and therefore had to abandon the destination..

Road Scholar is using the ship as a base for its licensed people to people trips.

If non-licensed Americans board in Jamaica, they will have a wonderful time.

They still have to decide whether to put on their US immigration and customs form that they visited Cuba.

In any case, OFAC hasn't gone after individual travelers since the last year of the Bush administration when the appeals process ground to a halt.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Elon Students Compare Caymans and Cuba

Elon students headed to Cuba

Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 19:12 PM.
ELON — Some Elon University MBA and law students will get a lesson in globalization and economic contrasts with a trip to the Cuba and the Cayman Islands.
“We get to see all the aspects of globalization,” said Kevin O’Mara,professor of management at Elon’s business school, “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
O’Mara and Art Cassill, Elon professor of accounting, will take 14 law and MBA students to the Caribbean countries to study their contrasts.
The Caymans, O’Mara said, practice a raw form of capitalism, with a huge international financial industry, next to no taxes and a large percentage of expatriates living and working there.
The financial industry in the Caymans gives the country of about 50,000 people a gross domestic product of about $44 per person. The GDP per person in the United States is about $43, O’Mara said, and about $15 per person for the rest of the Caribbean.
But keeping the industry means extremely low taxes. The government makes most of its money from fees imposed on expatriates living there.
This leaves the country with a weak infrastructure, poor education system and limited options to improve.
For example, O’Mara said, the popular tourist destination cannot afford to build a dock for cruise ships coming to visit. As those ships get bigger, it is harder to ferry tourists to shore, and more of those cruise-ship companies are threatening to stop visiting.
The poor education system means bringing in people from around the world to work in that giant financial industry and to do other work.
Cuba has the opposite problem. The economy is getting more liberal, O’Mara said, but is still mostly under government control. On the other hand, the education system is excellent and the communist country exports doctors and lawyers.
It is still hard for Americans to get to Cuba, O’Mara said, but education groups are one of the exceptions to U.S. Government travel bans to the old Cold War enemy.
As most of his students were not born until 1990, the Cold War is a generation or more in the past to them. It is the same for a lot of the Cubans they will meet, O’Mara said.
The class leaves Jan. 9 and returns by Jan. 20.

Organic Agriculture February Trip

Visit Cuba February 14 to 24, 2014
Folks are just back from our November Organic trip to Cuba and all pumped up by what was a great experience.  As one person in the 19 member group wrote, “Life changing!  I gained a perspective of the social, economic and political conditions in Cuba so valuable for understanding sovereignty and justice in a globalized world.”  Now we are announcing a February repeat of the experience.  To join it you have to act fast since there is a January 15 deadline for applications.
Two decades ago Cuba was the first country to convert from industrial agriculture to organic agriculture.  Today it is converting a major part of its economy to cooperatives.  Learn how this island nation is striving for food sovereignty as it reorganizes its economy.  Visit organic gardens and cooperatives, both urban and rural, an ecological zone, a community project.  Participate in the International Permaculture Conference. Talk with specialists in sustainable agriculture, the Cuban economy, its health system, US-Cuban relations, and more.  Experience Cuban culture and the vibrancy of its people in this 10 day trip hosted by Havana’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center.  Sponsored by the Center for Global Justice and Via Organica along with Organic Consumers Association.  
This trip is open to all who have a professional interest. Estimated cost of $1500 plus airfare (from either Miami or Mexico City) includes dormitory style accommodations and all meals at MLK Center, translation, guide, transportation and a full program of activities. Does not include flights, visa, health and travel insurance, tips, airport exit tax ($30 USD), or souvenirs and other personal items.
Application and non-refundable $100 deposit due by January 15.
Limited scholarships are available.
For applications and further information, contact

Monday, December 9, 2013

Semester at Sea Returns to Havana

'Floating university' docks in Cuba for first time in nine years

A cruise ship sailed into Havana harbor this morning with 568 American college students on board, officially ending a nine-year hiatus from Cuba's shores.
After being prohibited from including Cuba as a stop on its "Semester at Sea" program by the U.S. government due to increased restrictions in educational travel to the island nation, the University of Virginia, the program's current sponsor, was issued a U.S. Treasury license this year. 
Students from more than 200 U.S. schools are taking part in this year's program.
Between 1999 and 2004, the program made 10 stops in Havana and met with then-president Fidel Castro seven times.
But the Treasury Department revoked the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license that permitted the group to organize travel to Cuba, and it was eliminated from the syllabus.
The nautical study abroad program provides students with a campus aboard the 590-foot MV Explorer and anchors in 10 to 15 different nations throughout approximately four months in the fall and spring and two months in summer voyages. This fall, the list of nations students visited spanned three continents and included England, Russia, Spain, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. 
The "floating university" will be in Cuba for three days. The plan calls for the students to spend time at the University of Havana, touring the colonial part of the capital and meeting with local politicians and economists. During past trips, students also spent time smoking cigars, dancing to salsa music and absorbing the local culture.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the program, according to its website. Since 1963, more than 55,000 students have participated in the program. 
Daniella Silva of NBC News contributed to this report. 

SIUE offers photographers opportunity to tour Cuba

By   /   December 8, 2013  /   
The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Photographers Tour of Cuba is scheduled for March 9-15, 2014. It is the first tour to Cuba available to people in the greater St. Louis area since travel restrictions were loosened.
Catedral de la Habana in Havana, Cuba / Photo courtesy of SIUE
Catedral de la Habana in Havana, Cuba / Photo courtesy of SIUE
Travelers will experience a rare opportunity to explore Cuba from a photographer’s perspective. The tour is designed for amateurs, professionals and anyone interested in photographing the sites of the country. The group of 24 individuals also will meet with professional Cuban photographers.
A tour guide and translator will lead the group, who will be among the first Americans to travel to Cuba legally under the new licensing program established by the U.S. government.
Some of the highlights of the six-day excursion will be:
  • Staying at the historical Hotel Plaza in Old Havana and touring the city
  • Exploring the sites of modern Havana and the ancient Morro-Cabañas complex
  • Traveling to Ernest Hemingway’s picturesque fishing town of Cojimar
  • Traveling to the town of Regla and visiting the Church of the Black Virgin
  • Visiting the Fototeca, the Cuban photo archives
  • Meeting Cuban artists and historians
More information is available at
Prices are based on a Miami departure. It is the individual traveler’s responsibility to purchase and make flight arrangements to Miami in time for the scheduled flight to Havana on March 9 at 1 p.m.
Recommended arrival in Miami is the night before the flight to Havana. Recommended lodging is the Miami International Airport Hotel.
All prices are based on double occupancy: $3,000 for general community members; $2,800 for SIUE alumni basic members or SIUE faculty/staff; and $2,600 for SIUE alumni premium members or SIUE students.
A $500 nonrefundable deposit is due Jan. 9, 2014 to reserve a spot. Final payment is due Feb. 7. Payment should be made to SIUE Office of Educational Outreach. The trip is restricted to those 18 years old and older.
The trip is offered through a partnership between the SIUE Alumni Association and the SIUE Office of Educational Outreach.
For more information contact Cathy McNeese ( at 618-650-3208 in the SIUE Office of Educational Outreach or Photographers Tour of Cuba Coordinator C. Otis Sweezey ( at 618-650-2360.
- See more at:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Highlights of the Irish in Cuba

An abbreviated and selective history of the Irish in Cuba

The first report of Irish in Cuba dates to 1609 and speculates they were employed as sailors. 

Manuel A.Tellechea, a Cuban American from New Jersey, summarized the important role of Irish who came to Cuba via Spain in a blog post on St. Patrick’s Day, 2005:  [ ]

“The largest Irish migration prior to the Great Potato Famine of 1848 was to Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Irish, who were awarded Spanish citizenship on arriving in Spain as persecuted Catholics, joined the Spanish army's Hibernian regiments and became Spain's best soldiers and most famous generals. Many of these were posted in Cuba and married into the island's aristocracy, establishing our own great Irish-Cuban families (the O'Farrills, the O'Reillys, the Kindelans, the Madans, the Duanys, the O'Gabans, the Coppingers and the O'Naughtens).  Four Captains General of Cuba were of Irish origin (Nicolás Mahy; Sebastián Kindelán; Leopoldo O'Donnell and Luís Prendergast).”

Irish people served at high levels in government and in senior military positions.  The lighthouse at El Morro, the fort that guarded Havana Bay, had been known as "O'Donnell's Lighthouse", after the Spanish governor, a relative of Red Hugh O'Donnell.

The O'Farrill family came from Longford via Montserrat.  They rose to prominence as slave traders, importers and sugar plantation owners.  The family mansion has been restored as a beautiful boutique hotel.  O’Reilly Street was named after General Count Alejandro O’Reilly, a native of Baltrasna, County Meath.  He organized the black and mulatto militias and the defenses of Havana in 1763.  A statue in New Orleans memorializes his role as governor there under Spanish rule.  

The second wave of Irish came to Cuba via the US in the 19th century, as described in a comprehensive summary by Rafael Fernández Moya that was translated and published by the Society for Irish Latin American Studies.  Moya currently works with the internationally famed Historian’s Office of Old Havana and its tour company Habaguanex and teaches a new generation of university students.              [ ]

He tells contrasting stories of the Irish experience in the first half of the century:

Juan O’Bourke, who was born in Trinidad around 1826 and twenty-five years later took part in the armed uprising of July 1826 organised by Isidoro Armenteros, collaborator of the expansionist general Narciso López, lived in this city [Cienfuegos] from 1839. The young revolutionary Juan O’Bourke was arrested and later condemned to ten years in prison in Ceuta from whence he escaped and headed to the United States….

In June 1855 a boy named Juan Byrnes, whose father was Gregorio and his godmother Margarita Byrnes, was baptised in Havana. This surname became part of the heart of the intellectual community of Matanzas. Firstly, this happened through the educational work of Juana Byrnes de Clayton, the first headmistress of the school for poor girls. This school would later become the Casa de Beneficencia, founded in 1846

He writes that the Irish who came to build Cuba’s first railroad in the 1830s did not have an easy experience:

“The Junta de Fomento brought the technicians, foremen, superintendents and a group of workers made up of 273 men and 8 women from the United States under contract, among whom were English, Irish, Scottish, North American, Dutch and German labourers. However, they were all identified as Irish, perhaps due to the greater numbers of those of that nationality.

While the work was being carried out, the so-called Irish workers and Canary Islanders were subjected to hard labour beyond their physical endurance, receiving insufficient food in return. Nor were they assured the pay and treatment previously agreed upon. After some weeks putting up with mistreatment and hunger the “Irish” workers and Canary Islanders decided to demand their rights from the administration of the railway works and when these were not adequately met, they launched the first workers’ strike recorded in the history of the island. The repression was bloody; the Spanish governors ordered the troops to act against the disgruntled workers, resulting in injury and death.”

Other Irish coming via the US to Cuba found a smoother path.

“It has been said that the introduction of the steam engine and other improvements in the sugar industry, Cuba’s main economic activity in that period, was mainly the work of North American growers who had settled on the island, particularly in the areas surrounding Matanzas and Cárdenas, north coast districts which, according to the opinion of the Irish writer Richard R. Madden, had more characteristics in common with North American towns than those of Spain.

One of the growers who had come from the United States named Juan D. Duggan was, according to the Cuban chemist and agronomist Alvaro Reynoso, one of the first farmers in the country to plant sugar cane over great distances…. The introduction of the steam engine on the sugar plantations resulted in the necessity to hire operators or machinists in the main from the United States and England. After the administrator, the most important job in a sugar plantation was without a doubt that of machinist, who had to work like an engineer because, besides being responsible for all repairs, sometimes they had to come up with real innovations in the machinery.”

The democratic instincts of the American Irish confronted the colonial attitudes of the Spanish Irish in the Cuban aristocracy:

“Some of these foreign technicians living in the Matanzas region became involved in a legal trial, accused of complicity with the enslaved African people’s plans for a revolt, which were abandoned in 1844. Six of them were originally from EnglandIreland and Scotland: Enrique Elkins, Daniel Downing, Fernando Klever, Robert Hiton, Samuel Hurrit and Thomas Betlin.

The number of people arrested later grew and all were treated violently during interrogation. In November 1844 the English consul Mr. Joseph Crawford informed the Governor and Captain General of the island, Leopoldo O’Donnell, that the British subjects Joseph Leaning and Pat O’Rourke had died after being released. The doctors who treated them indicated that the physical and moral suffering they had endured in the prison was the cause of death. One of the streets in Cienfuegos was given the name of the infamous Governor of the Island, Leopoldo O’Donnell, who embarked on a bloody campaign of repression against the Afro-Cuban population and against the white people who supported their cause.”

Moya recounts the Irish role in Cuba’s ten year unsuccessful War of Independence against Spain (1868-1878):

“From the beginning, the Cuban Liberation Army had the support of patriots who had emigrated to or organized outside of Cuba, mainly in the United States where they raised funds, bought arms and munitions and recruited volunteers who enlisted to fight for the liberation of Cuba from the Spanish yoke. Among the foreign volunteers was the Canadian William O’Ryan.…Upon the US American general Thomas Jordan’s arrival, who was named Chief of the High Command and later Head of the Liberation Army in the Camagüey region, W. O’Ryan was named inspector and chief of cavalry, before attaining the rank of general. He was sent on a mission to the United States, from where he set out to return to Cuba at the end of October 1873. He sailed aboard the American steamship Virginius…. The Virginius was captured by the Spanish warship Tornado off Cuban waters and was towed into the bay of Santiago de Cuba on 1 December. Five days later, by order of the Spanish authorities, all the leaders of the revolutionary expedition were executed, O’Ryan among them. On 7 December the ship’s captain, Joseph Fry, and 36 members of the crew, were executed, causing a diplomatic and political conflict between Spain and the United States. In honour of the independence fighter O’Ryan a street of the Sagarra subdivision in Santiago de Cuba was given his name.”

The Ireland-Cuba Piano Project “Una Corda” noted these links:

One of the more colorful characters who fought for Cuban independence in the late 19th century was Captain John Dynamite O’Brien, who successfully ran guns and ammunition from the US to the independent Cuban forces. Revolutionary journalist and poet Bonifacio Byrne and writer Richard Madden were very much involved in espousing the cause of Cuban independence.  One of the founders of the Cuban Communist Party was Julio Mella, whose mother was an Irishwoman, Cecilia McPartland

Movement also occurred from Cuba to the US with a strong Irish dimension. The iconic Cuban intellectual, Father Felix Varella, "the leading educator, philosopher and patriot of his time", fled from Cuba to New York in 1823 to escape execution for his opposition to slavery and Spanish colonialism.  He gained fame as the priest to and defender of impoverished Irish immigrants, fluent in their language.,7327

While documentation is not conclusive, the grandfather of Ireland’s independence leader and President is said to have been Cuban, active in the sugar trade in Matanzas Province.  Juan Manuel de Valera reportedly sent his son Vivion Juan, an aspiring sculptor and music teacher, to New York to avoid the Spanish draft.  He married Catherine Coll from Bruree, County Limerick.  Their son Eamon de Valera was born in 1882 and sent to Ireland to live with his mother’s family after his father’s death from illness in 1885.  

Cuba's iconic revolutionary Che Guevara was from Argentina but his grandmother Anna Lynch hailed from County Galway

Among contemporary Irish links in Cuba are monuments in public parks to the ten deceased hunger strikers and John Lennon of the Beatles.


Potential Irish connections suggested by Rafael Fernández Moya that will constitute the basis for our educational program

For the Irish Connection and People to People we have the following subjects for the talks:

1) Irish presence in Cuban culture;
2) Priests and nuns in Catholic institutions of several orders (Jesuits, Ursulines
      from New Orleans, Carmelites, Saint Augustin from Florida);
3) Dynamite John and the struggle for independence;
4) Irish struggle for independence in José Matrti's chronicles in New York;
5) San Patricio farm in Limonar owned by George and Mary Gowen from Boston.

There are several places of interest  to show such as:

*  Cuban telephone company  Museum. Vesey T. Butler was the manager of the
      first network of the city
*  Central Railroad Station. Robert Orr from Glasgow was manager of The
       Havana United Rail Road
*  Alameda de Paula.   A part of it is known as O'Donnel Hall.
*  Plaza Vieja Brewery, formerly the home of Pedro Pablo O'Reilly
*  Carlos Finlay's statue. Father's family from Scotland and mother's from Ireland
*  Cecilia McParland's home in Obispo street. Mother of Julio Antonio Mella
*  The Bank of Nova Scotia in O'Reilly St
*  Captain General's Palace, in Plaza de Armas. Four of them had Irish origin
       (Mahy, Kindelan, O'Donnell, Prendergast)
*  Picture of piano player Ignacio Cervantes Kawanagh in Mercaderes Street
*  Cathedral Church. Built by the Jesuits. One of them was Thomas Ignatius Butler
      from Ireland
*  Archbishop's building. former property of José Ricardo O'Farrill y Herrera
*  O'Farrill Hotel, former property of José Ricardo O'Farrill y O'Farrill
*  Cristina Railroad Station museum. Irish workers in the history of the first line
      from Havana to Bejucal-Guines
*  Sevilla-Biltmore Hotel. Initial managers were Bowman and Flynn
*  Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. Church and school under the rule of  Saint
      Augustin of Florida missionaries
*  Casa Simón Bolívar. Former residence of James C. Burhnham, businessman 
      from Boston, whose three children owned the house till the end of the 19th 
      century. Their mother was Pamela Blakeley,  from Charleston, S.C.daughter of 
      Robert Blakeley,  from SavannahGeorgia and half sister of  the mulatto
      Charles Blakeley, also from Charleston
*  Calle Cárcel (Jail St.)  Remains of the prison built under Captain General
      Tacón, where Charles Blakeley was kept for several months.  He was
      involved in the freedom movement of the people in 1844, known as the
      Conspiración de la Escalera (Ladder Conspiracy).  He was the first non-white
      surgeon dentist with an official licence in Cuba. 
*  El Cotorro (The Parrot)  On the old road to Guines, now Central Road, at  
      kilometer number 20 at Loma de Tierra, Dr, Arturo O'Farrill, Chico
      O'Farrill's father, had a estate named "Finca Casañas" close to the lands of the
      Irish pioneer Richard O'Farrill O'Daly
*  Tapaste (x), (San José de las Lajas, Havana Province)  Town built on
      O'Farrill's lands. Its church was also built with the aid of this family.

Pinar del Río 
*  There is a museum Äntonio Gutierrez, born in Philadelphia and  son of Mary 
      Therese Holmes y Walsh, member of a revolutionary Irish family.

*  Casa de la Cultura "Bonifacio Byrne", a Cuban poet of Irish origin whose
      family is connected by marriage to another family of surname Daly
*  Streets named Tirry, O'Reilly, Byrne and Madan denoting the Irish presence
*  Casa de Beneficencia directed several years by Juana Byrne de Clayton
*  City jail built in 1840 at Fernando VII or Saint Francis Square
*  El Morrillo Castle where Amntonio Guiteras was executed
*  Limonar. South of Cárdenas. (x) Two coffee estates named San Patricio (St.
      Patrick) owned by Daniel O'Leary and George C. Gowen and his sister Mary
      Brooks Gowen, from Boston.  Another one named "Pamela", property of
      Robert Blakeley, from SavannahGeorgia.
*  San Antonio de Cabezas (x)  Among the founders of this town were the Valera
      family, headed by José María Valera, owner of a sugar estate named San 
      Antonio, known as San Antonio de Valera. He had several children, one of
      them named Juan Manuel, and a grandson named Juan Luís Valera Acosta. It is
      probably Irish President Eamon de Valera's family's home town

(x) Circled in the attached map