Monday, February 23, 2015

University of Alabama Creates Cuba Center

UA establishes new research center in Cuba

The University of Alabama Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Center for Cuba Collaboration and Scholarship at the University on Feb. 6. The new research center will build on the activities of the Alabama-Cuba Initiative, providing educational opportunities in Cuba for UA students 
and faculty.
The establishment of the Center comes at a historical time as the United States and Cuban governments work toward normalization of relationships between the two countries.
“For students this is a transformational experience. It is hard to see things in the same way once you step into the shoes of a Cuban student or teacher,“ said Bob Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Science. “Over the years I have taken six groups of students to work on collaborative book projects with Cuban artists and writers. Working sometimes in challenging situations, Cuban artists have adopted our Alabama students and shown them a world far apart from what a tourist may see. These experiences have beautifully matured 
my students.”
The Center provides resources for supporting University projects and expanding collaborations between the University and Cuban institutions. It will be led by two co-directors: 
professor of Spanish Michael Schnepf, who has spent every spring in Cuba for a number of years directing the study abroad program, and professor of library and information sciences Steve Miller, who has been involved in the Cuba Initiative’s activities.
The Center will have an advisory board of faculty members and administrators. It will be a resource for faculty who wish to conduct research in Cuba and for undergraduate and graduate students who wish to study in Cuba.
“This new center allows us to dive deeper into educational opportunities that are authorized under our educational travel license from the U.S. Department of Treasury,” Miller said. “The study of Cuba is indeed a growing research field, one for which we are prepared with our already established ties with our Cuban 
educational counterparts.”
More than 45 disciplines and departments, 85 faculty members and 75 graduate and undergraduate students have participated. 
As a result, the University is known in Cuba for its extensive and longstanding educational activities there.
Miller said they hope having the Center will help facilitate trips to the United States by Cubans for educational purposes because it has been one of the hardest things to do. The main obstacles are affordability and getting permission to travel abroad. The hope is that in the future Cuban undergraduates and graduates could come to the University to obtain degrees.
“I wish every student would seek out study abroad opportunities,“ Miller said. “So here we have a country just 1,000 miles away from our shores where our students can enter into an entirely different and rich culture. The same would be true of Cuban students 
coming here.”
Olin said he encourages faculty and students to consider working in Cuba.

“The University of Alabama is, I believe, the most respected university by Cubans because of a steady level of work there and the clear message that we are in this together,” Olin said. “We faculty and students come together with our Cuban friends in the middle. We learn as much from Cubans and they learn from us. It’s a 
great partnership.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Yacht Tour of Western Cuba


Cuba cruise tour on the yacht Panorama

(TRAVPR.COM) USA - February 19th, 2015 - It has never been easier to go back in time to a place so rooted in culture and history. Now, USA Citizens and all may circumnavigate western Cuba during 8 days aboard the 177ft, S/C Panorama motorsailer yacht.
The adventure tour company, Explorations, has recently announced the sailings and rates for the 2016 cruise tours. The People-to-People Cuba tour program allows you to step back in time to a country that been closed to most United States residents for half a century. The itinerary explores the western part of the island nation, which is famous for its culture, music, warm people, and art with daily tours while sailing from Havana to Cienfuegos.
Even though Cuba is only 90 miles from Key West, Florida, for many in the USA the island has remained mysterious. Closed to most travel by US Citizens for years, the island is an enigma in the Western Hemisphere. New regulations by the US Government effective January 16, 2015, make it easier than in many years for USA passport holders to visit and tour Cuba. There is no longer a reason to “sneak” to the island.
US tour operators with the proper US License can offer tours to Cuba under US Government’s sanctioned People-To-People cultural exchange programs. The program was started in 1999 and later banned from 2003 - 2011. The new 2015 regulations relaxed even more restrictions, such as you can legally bring back $100 worth of the famed Cuban Cigars to the USA! All that is needed is a valid passport good for 6 months after return date and a Visa from the Cuban Government. The tour package includes securing the Cuban Visa and supplying the appropriate People-to-People travel license and letter of authorization.
The S/C Panorama is a 3 masted Motorsailer which can accommodate up to 49 passengers in 25 cabins. The "Panorama" was launched in 1993 and has been renovated in 2008. In 2014, the Upper Deck cabins and Lounge, as well as the Main Deck cabin en-suite bathrooms and have been refitted. This state of the art motorsailer has performed several Atlantic Ocean crossings and has sailed from the Seychelles to Monte Carlo and from the Black Sea to Tunis and offers the highest standard of accommodation and comfort safety.
The Panorama's Cuba Cruise package includes: People-to-People interaction and meaningful exchanges with locals, Small-ship ambiance, Up close and personal cruising to unique ports, All outside cabins, Meals onboard and at local restaurants, A salsa lesson or two, Touring in Old Havana with its historic architecture, Guanahacabibes National Park with its archeological sites, Cayo Largo's mangroves and salt pans, the well-preserved Spanish colonial city of Trinidad, Cienfuegos with it’s cluster of Neoclassical structures, Mandatory Cuban medical insurance, Cuban visa, Round-trip airfare from Miami to Cuba, and no packing & unpacking to change hotels.
More information about the S/C Panorama Cuba Cruise and another Cuba tours can be found on Explorations' website of Founded in 1992, Explorations, Inc., offers educational adventures of discovery in Latin America, introducing discerning travelers to indigenous cultures and the natural world. Explorations’ staff are knowledgeable, sincere, and reliable.
- See more at:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Art Exhibit and Sale

  CUBA SOJOURN, an east-west fusion of contemporary Cuban art, is currently exhibiting over 80 original paintings at the prestigious Studio on Gulf and Pine, Anna Maria Island, Florida (near Sarasota).

The exhibit features some of Cuba’s outstanding artists on an international level as well as young, emerging artists with impressive talent yet to be discovered.  The exhibit closes March 1st.  Gallery schedule is: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 5 pm.
Oscar face If you cannot visit the gallery in person please take a moment to view a sampling of the exhibition in this PDF presentation:
You can order and purchase these and other paintings by the same artists.  Prices range from $75 to $5,000 with many paintings available for around $500.  All the paintings in this slide show are gallery-framed or stretched.

The Friendship Association, sponsor of this exhibit, is a registered, non-profit charity. All proceeds go to supporting the participating artists, and to our projects with the artists and ceramicists in Baracoa, Cuba.

If you are interested in purchasing works from this slideshow, or other works by artists in the exhibit, please contact Soledad at 904 806 1400 or email

This art is only available for a limited time.  Once the show is over, the remaining art will be returned to Cuba. If you are in the Sarasota area, make a point of visiting the Studio on Gulf and Pine. There is no substitute for viewing the CUBA SOJOURN in person!  Thank you!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

CIEE Faculty Development Seminar

New Summer Seminar - An Insider's Look at Cuba

06/10/2015 - 06/20/2015
Dear colleagues,

We're excited to announce that we're now offering a CIEE International Faculty Development Seminar (IFDS) in Havana this summer! As relations improve between the United States and Cuba, now's the time to explore this rapidly changing island nation. Go beyond the worn-out clichés and get to know the Havana that more than 2 million Cubans call home. 

Join us for "Contemporary Cuban Transformations: Social Inequalities and Social Policy" ( and:
. Explore the fascinating complexities of life in Cuba and the effects of reform on Havana's people
. Delve into current work by Cuban academics in a range of disciplines
. Meet Cuban colleagues and establish lasting relationships for future research collaborations between U.S. and Cuban institutions

Here's your chance to get a firsthand look at life in Havana, far from what tourists see. Join us this summer, then write your own story of Cuba! Get the details now, and feel free to email ( or call us at 1-888-628-9225 for more information. 

We look forward to hearing from you, 

Ashley Bamman
Marketing Manager

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Credit Card Use

Credit Cards

 A Cuban Travel Boom Approaches, But Are They Ready?

Comments 0 Comments
It’s not unusual for a Canadian travel agency to get a lot of calls during the winter, but recently, Jury Krytiuk’s phone has been ringing constantly.
“In the last couple of weeks, since Obama made his statement about easing restrictions, I would say the request that we’re getting is quadruple compared to what it used to be,” Krytiuk says, referencing President Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would begin a renewed diplomatic relationship. Previously, Americans had to apply for a license to travel to Cuba, but that’s no longer necessary. Travelers going to the island for one of the 12 existing categories of travel (which do not include tourism) can go to Cuba with a general license. The dollar limit on Americans’ spending in Cuba was also lifted.
Krytiuk has been selling Cuba travel for four decades and books thousands of tours of the island for Americans each year. Travelers have been telling Krytiuk they want to go to Cuba as soon as possible, not only because they believe it will be easier to go, but also because they’re concerned that American influence may change the landscape of the country.
It remains to be seen how much Cuba will open up its economy at large to U.S. enterprises, but no matter the impact of the changing relationship between the countries, one thing is clear: Demand for travel to Cuba is higher than ever. In his announcement, Obama named a number of changes, like allowing Americans to use their credit and debit cards on the island. For years, the roughly 500,000 Americans authorized to travel to Cuba did so with wads of cash, so this is a major shift.
The Treasury Department has already issued a long list of amendments to the sanctions on the island, but simply stating “travelers will now be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba” does not make it so. It’ll take more than a few magic words from the president and the Treasury Department to unleash the power of plastic in Cuba.

An Island Stuck in the Past

The U.S. arms embargo on Cuba began in 1958, when conflict escalated between revolutionaries (including Fidel and Raúl Castro) and then-president Fulgencio Batista. The Castros and their forces ousted Batista in January 1959, and actions taken to establish Communist rule prompted the U.S. to reduce or cut off various forms of trade. This culminated in the end of diplomatic ties between the U.S. in Cuba in January 1961. The terms of the relationship has changed from time to time, but this latest announcement is the biggest development in half a century.
Talk to anyone who’s been to Cuba and they’ll tell you about the frozen-in-time quality of the island. It’s not that Cubans have some sort of outstanding affection for midcentury goods and appliances, that’s just when they lost access to upgrades developed beyond their shores.
“Cubans are well-educated and have the ability to fix things,” says Sonja E. Kelly, a fellow at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. She researches global financial inclusion, particularly among vulnerable populations, like Cubans. Kelly visited Cuba two years ago for a conference. “I went to somebody’s home while I was there and went and had tea with him and his wife, and it was like my grandmother’s kitchen. All the appliances were so old and taken care of so well, because they knew they couldn’t get new ones.”
In a country where appliances and vehicles are often more than half a century old, it should be no surprise that the financial infrastructure lags behind. Credit and debit card processing isn’t very common in Cuba — not for Cubans, not for Canadians, not for anyone, including the emerging U.S. market.
“The U.S. has issued these regulations about how U.S. financial institutions are going to be allowed to operate in Cuba, but from the Cuba side, we still don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Kelly said. The independent, small-business economy in Cuba is growing, and it’s a segment highly patronized by American visitors, but those business owners have little access to financial services and credit. In other words, the casas particulares and paladares(private home accommodations and independently owned restaurants, respectively) that tourists want to experience while in Cuba are the least likely to have credit card terminals.

Major Potential for Growth

By openly starting to change the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, the U.S. government has essentially started lining up the dominoes needed to set off a huge economic transformation for the country. Setup is only part of it — there are key players in this potential chain reaction who have yet to fill in the gaps.
Congress is one domino, as it has the power to lift the trade embargo that remains in effect. Payment processing networks are another, though MasterCard announced it will remove its block on U.S.-issued cards in Cuba effective March 1, and others are expected to follow suit. In an email to, an American Express spokesperson said the company is planning on initiating business activities in Cuba. A Discover representative said the company looks “forward to providing our cardmembers with the opportunity to use their cards in any open market around the world.” Visa did not respond to a request for comment.
The issuing banks hold another domino — just because MasterCard will process payments doesn’t mean your issuer has signed on to facilitate them. Cardholders will have to check specifics with their card providers.
Let’s not forget who holds the biggest domino of all: Cuba.
“Nothing’s quick in Cuba,” says Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a nonprofit working to empower Cubans and effect change in the country. He says the Cuban government knows the economy needs to grow, but there’s a lot that needs to happen before card processing becomes widespread on the island. “They need to take advantage of the changes any way they can, which would provide an incentive for them to build up the infrastructure, but the infrastructure costs something.”
This development will have to work both ways, Bilbao says, with Cuba needing to open up its existing banking sector to foreign partnerships, allowing visitors to access their services while on the island. For example, there hasn’t been much investment in ATMs, Bilbao says, so there’s a long way to go before Americans may experience the ease of accessing money while traveling that they do in other countries.

What to Know Before You Go

There are 12 categories of authorized travel by an American to Cuba, and tourism remains excluded from that list, but it has certainly become easier to visit the island in recent weeks. As a result of the new financial policies, it’s also safer.
“It’s important to recognize that the White House took appropriate steps to ensure the safety of these travelers,” says Matthew Aho, an expert on the regulatory ins and outs of the Cuba/U.S. embargo and consultant with the Cuba Practice at Akerman LLP in New York. Because Americans had to travel with all of the cash they expected to use, they ran the risk of losing it or running out, which is not a good situation to find yourself in while abroad. The infrastructure isn’t quite up to speed, but at least Americans should no longer have to deal with legal roadblocks when trying to get money. Insurance companies are also now allowed to provide insurance services to Americans authorized to travel to Cuba.
Despite the fact that there aren’t many places to use a credit or debit card in Cuba, it’s helpful to have the option or at least carry the cards as a backup plan if you exhaust your cash resources while in the country. It’s crucial you check with your card issuer before you go about whether or not they’re facilitating transactions with Cuban merchants, and it is still in your best interest to prepay for much of your trip through a travel agency so you aren’t forced to carry a lot of cash.
Right now, the biggest mystery is how accommodating the Cuban government will be in bolstering its financial system so it can handle banking relationships with the U.S., credit card processing and ATM access.
“It’s very difficult to guess what the Cuban government is or is not going to do. It’s very dangerous to enter into speculation when it comes to Cuba,” Bilbao says. Given how much is uncertain, he advises U.S. travelers to plan ahead so you can patronize enterprises least likely to quickly adopt card processing: Small businesses. “Carefully planning your trip to take advantage of the better services or customer service and value that independent entrepreneurs in Cuba have to offer would greatly increase the enjoyment and value of your trip.”