Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Waldorf High School Students Make Historic Trip to Cuba

03:05PM / Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Print | Email

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Five Berkshire high school students and three teachers from the Waldorf High School in Stockbridge made an historic visit to Cuba this month, traveling first to Cienfuegos, where they stayed with Cuban families, the first U.S. high school students to do so since at least the Carter administration.

After a week in Cienfuegos, the group traveled to La Habana (Havana) through April 22.

Traveling students were Sergei Carty (Lenox), Kosta Koufis (Great Barrington), Takoda Nordoff (Monterey) and Annabell O’Neill and Raphaela Seward-Mayer (both of Philmont, NY). Accompanying them were Spanish teacher Sonia Cintron, accompanied by Ann Marie Genco and Guy Nordoff, also teachers at the school.

In past years, Spanish language students at the Waldorf High School have traveled to Peru and Colombia for their real-world language training. According to Andrea Panaritis, a Waldorf High School parent and executive director of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, which supports work to strengthen contacts and understanding between US citizens and institutions and their counterparts in Cuba, the trip is special.

“The Waldorf High School’s trip is unique in that it takes advantage of a small opening in U.S. regulations made by the Obama administration, at the same time that deep social and economic changes are underway in Cuba,” she said.

Waldorf students not only lived with Cuban families during their stay — a first for American high school students — but worked directly with Cuban students doing community service, primarily in Cienfuegos rather than Havana.

“The students will take part in community projects such as trash collection, a visit to a local orphanage to play with the children and making art with artists with Down syndrome. We will stop at Playa Giron, the site where the famous Bay of Pigs invasion took place in 1961, visit the Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Cuban Art and La Finca Vigia, home of Ernest Hemingway, where he wrote two of his most celebrated novels, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea," teacher Sonia Cintron said prior to the trip.

Students also planned to visit Cuban musicians Magia Lopez and Alexey Rodrigues of "Grupo Obsesion," who performed the first fundraiser for this trip last October in Stockbridge. The Waldorf High School trip to Cuba was arranged through Cuban Educational Travel and made possible in part by a generous grant from the Alice and Richard Henriquez Memorial Fund/Youth World Awareness Program through the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. Arizona Pizza in Pittsfield also donated money for this trip, and students raised money by selling soup and baked goods.

While Spanish language students were in Cuba, German language students at the Waldorf High School were visiting their sister school in Munich, as they do every two to three years with their teacher, Ursula Wirth. The group will also travel to Vienna before returning to the Berkshires on April 25.

“These trips encourage real, practical foreign language learning,” says Waldorf High School Faculty Chair Stephen Sagarin. “Our slogan is, ‘Small School, Big World,’ and travel every other year broadens our students’ experience of the world we all share. There is no substitute for working and learning side-by-side with those who speak different languages and live in a different culture.”

New Miami Holguin Flights

Cuba Travel Services adds service from Miami to Holguin, Cuba

23 April 2014

Cuba Travel Services said it is now offering direct flights from Miami to Holguin, Cuba.

Cuba Travel Services arranges flights operated by American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines to popular destinations including Havana, Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba Travel Services arranges weekly, non-stop public charter flights between the United States and Cuba and is licensed by the US Treasury Department´s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as an authorized Carrier Service Provider specializing in travel to Cuba. The company offers full service travel arrangements to individuals, groups, families, educators, students, professionals and organizations, under specific or general licenses issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

For additional information, visit

Holguin was Christopher Columbus entrance into the New World. The city has a history of more than five centuries and some of the most picturesque scenes in Cuba.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Al Jazeeera Overview of P2P Travel



Dozens of companies offer mainstream Americans the chance to interact with citizens of the communist-ruled island
MIAMI — At first glance, the gaggle of American tourists gathered around a bar table at the Crowne Plaza near Miami’s airport are indistinguishable from holiday makers headed to Cancún or the Caymans for a break from punishingly cold U.S. weather. They exchange tales of previous trips to places like Australia and fantasize about dream getaways. But their destination is revealed when they begin talking about the vitamins and painkillers they were taking along for the locals.
Tourist travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens remains, theoretically at least, off limits under the embargo imposed by Washington half a century ago in the hopes of bringing down the regime of President Fidel Castro. But it is through one of many exceptions to the blockade — cultural trips — that the Friendly Planet educational group, among others, allows Americans to get ahead of the Joneses by visiting an increasingly desirable holiday destination.
But there’s already one set of Joneses aboard an American Airlines flight making the 40-minute hop to Cuba. Maynard Jones, along with his wife, Pam, and sister Marsha, are part of a “Soul of Havana” trip with a different group, In Touch with Cuba, which is just one of at least 140 U.S. organizations offering people-to-people tours since rules were relaxed by President Barack Obama in April 2011.
“We spent winters in Florida as children. Back then you could fly to Cuba for $10 or so,” said Marsha Jones, 70, of Harrisonburg, Va. “My parents always said we should go there, but we never did. Then it was too late … until now.”
U.S. citizens now make more than half a million trips to Cuba annually, a small share of the almost 3 million international visitors Cuba receives each year. And the numbers are growing. In 2013 more than 470,000 Cuban-Americans visited their ancestral home, in addition to almost 100,000 other U.S. citizens — many of whom pay $4,000 for a weeklong vacation. Despite the embargo, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issuesspecific licenses for travel to Cuba. But a further 50,000 Americans are estimated to visit “illegally,” each year, traveling via Mexico or Canada, countries that maintained relations with Cuba after the 1959 revolution.
U.S. citizens now make more than half a million trips to Cuba annually, a small share of the almost 3 million international visitors Cuba receives each year.
Originally from tobacco-growing country around Danville, Va., the Joneses felt at home with the aromas of Cuba. 
Elme Castillo
While the U.S. doesn’t consider people-to-people visits tourism, the Cuban government grants such travelers standard tourist visas. Washington’s extensive rules for these tours mandate an itinerary focusing on cultural activities and prohibit taking a whole day for mere leisure time spent sunbathing, for example.
Some conservative critics of the people-to-people concept see it as tourism that supports an authoritarian regime at best and as brainwashing at worst. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has referred to the program as a “charade" that “borders on indoctrination of Americans by Castro government officials.”
But defenders of the tours, given by companies ranging from National Geographic to Smithsonian Journeys, advertise them as opportunities to break down stereotypes and have unfiltered conversations between ordinary citizens. 
Some argue that U.S. authorities impose more restrictions than their Cuban counterparts do on these people-to-people interactions. Trip administrators must explain to the U.S. government how the exchanges “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society and/or help promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”
David Harvell, who leads people-to-people trips for the New York–based Center for Cuban Studies, said, “There’s the fear factor for Americans, who think that the Cubans are tightly monitored, controlled and will get in trouble for sharing their true thoughts with foreigners. The irony is that it’s U.S. regulators who are the strictest.”
Harvell told Al Jazeera there’s a common misconception among people he’s taken to Cuba that officials want to “impose things on them just because they’re U.S. citizens.”
“For so many decades, Cuba was portrayed a certain way in the U.S.,” he said. Before going, Americans “view it as a black-and-white thing. Yet most people in Cuba … see positive things about the revolution and have plenty of criticisms. You talk to 10 people and get 10 different opinions.”
“Of course, you’re going to get a line that leans more pro-government,” Harvell said. “[But it’s] no different than a group of foreigners who come to New York. They’re not going [on a tour] of the South Bronx to show you everything bad about the city. It’s not realistic just to meet with Cuban dissidents … And no one is with you 24 hours a day.”
Cuba merchandise
Cuba’s paradoxes may challenge American visitors.
 Ben Piven/Al Jazeera
Certainly “Juan” does not fit the picture of a spokesman for the government. The In Touch with Cuba group met the young Cuban — who was just 3 years old in 1993 when his father jumped onto a raft for a seven-day journey to Florida — on their first night. Juan, who asked that his real name not be used, has not seen his father since. But Juan feels lucky that his father, now a doctor in Ohio, survived the grueling balsero trip, during which two of his four companions died. They now stay in touch via Facebook, email and Skype — though glacial Internet speeds in Cuba make that tough.
Like many Cubans, Juan hopes to move overseas. With new rules, he can leave Cuba without a problem. But the issue is getting a U.S. immigrant visa, either through refugee resettlement or being claimed by a relative. Counting an exiled Black Panther among his friends, Juan said Cuba must make the next move in improving relations with the U.S. He even suggested that Havana might benefit from a commonwealth arrangement similar to Puerto Rico’s — an unusual point of view for anyone deemed a mouthpiece for regime propaganda to Americans.
During the eight-day journey, the group met a variety of Cubans — from ex-lawyers who drive taxis, bartend or do informal legal consulting to get by, to Yanet Valdez, a singer and Afro-Cuban santería priestess. A lawyer’s daughter, Valdez can earn four times her mother’s monthly wage in one night.
For Elme Castillo, the owner of In Touch with Cuba, it’s the locals who thus benefit the most from the tours, culturally and materially. “Every minute spent with Americans is learning about the world and opens [Cubans’] minds, because generally they’re not exposed to those [perspectives].”
At Atelier, a paladar, or private restaurant, that doubles as a contemporary art gallery, Castillo’s travelers met entrepreneur Niuris Higueras Martínez. A retired PR professional in the group advised Higueras to make business cards and post to TripAdvisor. Unbeknownst to the visiting Americans, the well-branded Havana hot spot's 100-plus reviewshad already attracted a New York Times reporter.
Tourism is in fact a vital part of the Cuban economy. But that has sparked a debate on what sort of visitors are coming and how to cope with the influx.
Experts say Cuba doesn’t have the capacity to rapidly expand the sector. “Cuba has much upside potential, but it needs many new hotels, a greater variety of facilities and much more for tourists to do,” said Paul Webster Hare, a Boston University professor and former U.K. ambassador to Cuba.
“The big prize would be if all Americans could travel [as actual tourists],” he told Al Jazeera. Yet there are “still only one-and-a-half golf courses in the whole of Cuba. The Dominican Republic has 35. And Cuba — a bigger country than the D.R. — still attracts only half the number of tourists.”
However, not every visitor to Cuba — nor every Cuban — wants the country to travel the same developmental road as its Caribbean neighbors when it comes to mass tourism. Even the visiting Joneses have their doubts.
“After we left, we went to Jamaica and the [Florida] Keys,” said Marsha Jones, after her family had returned stateside. “And I’d sure hate to see Cuba turn into one of those places, with Walmart and Starbucks. The tourism could just get overwhelming.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

U.S. is Cuba's No. 2 source market after Canada, study finds

By Gay Nagle Myers
Blue CarThe number of U.S. visitors to Cuba continues to rise, placing the U.S. market as the second-largest source of visitors to Cuba after Canada, according to a recent study by the U.S.-based Havana Consulting Group.

In the first quarter of 2014, 173,550 visitors from the U.S. traveled to Cuba on 1,048 flights from Miami and 109 from Tampa.

By comparison, England, Germany and France each had fewer visitors to Cuba for all of 2013.

The U.S. Q1 2014 visitor total topped the quarterly record of 159,450 U.S. visitors, set in the last quarter of 2013, according to data issued by Cuba's National Office of Statistics and Information.

"The push in the first trimester has been huge," said Emilio Morales, president of the consulting group. "Data confirms, although the Cuban government does not recognize it publicly, that the United States, even with the effect of the embargo, is the second greatest source of tourists to Cuba after Canada.

"We anticipate that 2014 will be a record year in the number of flights and U.S. passengers to Cuba," he said.

Canada remains the No. 1 country of origin for travelers to Cuba, sending 1.1 million visitors to explore Havana and environs in 2013, up 3.2% over 2012.

But the number of U.S. travelers has risen quickly, up from approximately 245,000 in 2007 to nearly 600,000 last year, according to the study. "To continue the current rate, the number of U.S. visitors could easily exceed 650,000 this year," Morales said.

Of last year's total, 470,732 were Cuban Americans visiting relatives, while 26,298 were returning Cubans and 102,396 were academics, lawyers, businessmen and travelers on cultural exchanges, such as the people-to-people programs.

On average, Cuban-American travelers spend approximately $3,200 per person during their stay, accounting for a major source of revenue for the economically strapped island.

The rapid growth in the U.S. market over the last seven years, even with the embargo still in place, reveals that the U.S. has the potential to become the top source market, according to Morales.

This scenario could change in the coming years "if the U.S. government enables some exceptions and allows tourism to Cuba under more flexible conditions," according to the study.

The continuing increase in U.S. travel to the Communist-run island comes five years after the Obama administration loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba.

In 2009, President Obama lifted a limit put in place by former President George W. Bush allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba no more than once every three years to visit relatives.

In 2011 the U.S. reinstated the people-to-people trips, enabling U.S. citizens to participate in educational activities that promote contact with Cubans in various walks of life.

Havana is the top destination for most U.S. travelers on group trips with licensed, authorized operators, followed by Santa Clara, Camaguey and Cienfuegos.

Licensed operators offering people-to-people programs reported a strong first quarter and are optimistic going forward.

Insight Cuba, for one, had a record first quarter, and company president Tom Popper noted that November and December tours are booking ahead of schedule.

Friendly Planet Travel, meanwhile, has added a third people-to-people program this year.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chadron State College

(Neb.)-CSC Offers Trip To Cuba With Class
By: Chris Fankhauser Posted at: 04/08/2014 06:57 AM
(Chadron)- Chadron State College will offer a course entitled Cuba Libré this coming fall semester. As part of the offering, the class will travel to Cuba from December 9th – 17th.
Cuba Libré promises a truly unique class and study abroad experience. It is almost impossible for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba on their own; however, CSC has obtained a special educational license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for travel to the island.
The trip is open to all students and can count for one to six credit hours of credit toward Essential Studies, General Studies, Elective, and select major and minor requirements. 
The cost of the trip has been worked down to approximately $3,000. 
People are invited to come to an Informational Meeting on Wednesday at 4 pm in Old Admin #227.
Other inquiries can be directed to Dr. Deane Tucker at or Dr. T. Smith  
-CSC Information Services

Monday, April 7, 2014

25th Annual Civil Disobedience of Travel and Trade Restrictions

The 25th Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba  
is 3 months away!
Learn all the ways you can get involved!
Caravan to Cuba 2014 Schedule
Ways to Participate in this year's Caravan!
Come to Cuba this summer aboard the Caravan!
The caravan application is ready!  If you want to participate in this year's caravan please email us for an application.  Contact us by email
Sponsor a Vehicle!
Are you interested in sponsoring a bus for this year's caravan? Bill Hill, our veteran caravan bus driver has agreed to scout for busses on behalf of any group or person that wants to send a vehicle to Cuba. Contact us by email
Host a Caravan in Your City!
Almost 50 cities are confirmed to host the caravan this year.  Would you like the caravan to come to your city?  Contact us by email at to be a host.
Have you already agreed to be a host?
GREAT!  All resources that you need to host the caravan are available on our website at Resources for Hosts.  Dowload them here.  Everything you need to organize a successful event and promote the caravan is there. Print as many copies as you like and distribute.  If you have any questions contact us by email at
Send Aid to Cuba!
This year, along with the usual medical aid, we are focusing on sending construction materials and bicycles to Cuba. 
If you are interested in sending aid you can download the material aid guide, labels, and application form here. If you have any questions contact us by email

Third Party Shipment

If you are sending aid as a third party shipment, please download the material aid guide and the third party application form here and submit it before May 15th. If you have any questions contact us by email

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cuba's Tourist Arrivals Up 7 Percent in First Two Months of 2014

International tourist arrivals to Cuba rose 7 percent annually in January and February to 636,146 travelers, accounting for 21 percent of the 3 million visitors the government expects to receive this year.
The number of foreign visitors in the year's first two months was up from the 593,344 tourists received in January and February 2013, National Statistics and Information Office, or ONEI, figures show.
The Tourism Ministry said Cuba is forecasting 3 million international visitors in 2014 after failing to reach that goal last year, when the Communist-ruled island received 2,851,000 tourists.
Canada remained the main source of international visitors to Cuba in January and February with a total of 155,622 tourists, followed by France, Germany and Italy, according to ONEI. Cuba is currently in its tourist high season, which runs from November to April.
The Caribbean island earned $1.8 billion last year from tourism, its second-leading source of foreign exchange after services exports.
Source: La Prensa (San Antonio)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Kansas City Community College Jazz Band

KCKCC Jazz Band raising money for Cuba trip

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- It might be months away, but the Kansas City Kansas Community College Jazz Band is ramping up fundraising efforts for its trip to the 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival later this year.

“This is a bonafide once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students,” said Jim Mair, professor of music and director of instrumental studies at KCKCC. “They will see the sights and hear sounds that can only be heard in Cuba. Authentic, non-pretentious and real.”

The KCKCC Jazz Band was invited to perform at the 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival in Havana, Cuba last fall. The festival is Dec. 17 to 22. The band was invited based on its long reputation as one of the premiere community college jazz ensembles in the nation.

The Havana International Jazz Festival started in 1978 when Bobby Carcasses and other Cuban jazz musicians had a concert at the Case de la Cultura de Plaza.

The following year, Chucho Valdes, now the president of the festival’s organizing committee, gave another concert. Those yearly concerts morphed into the festival as it is known today.

In addition to attending the festival, the jazz band will have the opportunity to take a guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Havana Historical Centre; tour Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts; visit the Institute Superior de Arte, the country’s top art academy; explore Finca Vigia, where Ernest Hemingway lived for more than 20 years; enjoy tap dancing and live jazz music at Pena de Santa Amalia and learn about the Cuban culture. Any U.S. citizen is allowed to travel to the small country with the appropriate license.

Donations are currently being accepted to help the KCKCC Jazz Band with the approximately $60,000 of travel expenses.

Checks can be made payable to KCKCC with “Cuba Trip” written in the memo area. These can be given directly to Mair or Patrick McCartney in the KCKCC Endowment Office for a tax write-off option. Other future fundraisers include selling merchandise at the Jazz Summit, church concerts, a big band dance and donations from the monthly Jazz by the Lake event.

The trip is also open to those within the Wyandotte and Kansas City area community.

Those who are interested in traveling with the jazz band are responsible for their own expenses and travel costs. Mair said he has received about 20 requests for information from interested community members.

For more information on the KCKCC Jazz Band’s invitation to the 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival and on the group’s fundraising efforts, contact Jim Mair at or call 913-288-7149.

Community members interested in traveling with the band should contact Bill Yeazel at