Sunday, February 28, 2016

Embargo Still Exacts Pain

FEBRUARY 24, 2016 2:30 AM

Despite new Cuba relationship, U.S. fines persist against firms accused of violating embargo

A French company and two Halliburton subsidiaries were fined this week
Since the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., eight such fines have been imposed
Cuba says sanctions ‘incongruous’ with new relationship with U.S.

2015 Tourism Data

Cuban tourism boom seen slowing, but finding a room still hard

Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:44pm GMT

Tourists enjoy a ride in vintage cars in old Havana in this January 17, 2016 picture. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
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By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's tourism boom continues at a record pace but is expected to cool off during 2016 with the government forecasting nearly 6 percent growth this year after a 17 percent increase in 2015.
Amid the international buzz surrounding the country's detente with the United States, Cuba received a record 3.5 million visitors in 2015, then set another record for any single month in January 2016, officials said.
The influx has pushed capacity to the limit and forced many tourists to scramble for hotel rooms, raising questions about how Cuba will absorb additional visitors when scheduled U.S. commercial airline service starts this year.
The Communist government is rushing to increase hotel capacity in the capital Havana and the beach resort Varadero, the two markets under the most strain, said Dalila Gonzalez, deputy director of marketing for the Tourism Ministry.
Cuba has forecast 200,000 additional visitors this year, or 3.7 million total, which would be less than a 6 percent increase, Gonzalez said.
The January record of 417,764 visitors was up 12.7 percent from a year earlier.
"One of our priorities for this year is the construction of four- and five-star hotels, especially five-star hotels," Gonzalez told Reuters. "All you have to do is walk the streets of Old Havana to see a lot of construction under way."
Projects remain months or years from completion, meaning the hotel crunch is likely to continue, especially during the high season from November to March.
The Manzana de Gomez, an ornate building being converted into a luxury hotel, is due for completion by early 2017. It is a joint venture between the venerable Swiss chain Kempinski and the Cuban state tourism company Gaviota.
Construction recently began on a Sofitel luxury hotel on a prime parcel fronting Havana's famous malecon, or boardwalk. Refurbishing of out-of-commission rooms in ageing hotels is also under way.
Occupancy rates at four- and five-star hotels in Havana and Varadero surpassed 80 percent last year, Gonzalez said, a figure that includes the low season.
Because Americans are still banned from tourism under the U.S. trade embargo and only allowed on officially sanctioned visits, Americans concentrate in the capital rather than at forbidden beach resorts. That makes finding a hotel in Havana during the high season a challenge.
American visits last year rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans, and Gonzalez said a similar percentage increase was possible in 2016.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Experiential Education with Carpe Diem

After over a year of preparation and planning and many years of dreaming, Carpe Diem Education is thrilled to announce the launch of a three-month semester program to Cuba <>!

Carpe Diem Education's specialty is small group experiential education semesters abroad, focused on community, cultural immersion, service learning, and adventure.  Our student base tends to range between 17 and 23.  College credit and Financial Aid are available through our partnership with Portland State University.

The program will have the same underlying values and core elements of all Carpe Diem programs with a unique Cuban spin. Here are a few highlights:

• Trek the mountain where the Cuban Revolution was born
• Work side by side with Cuban farmers and learn how organic farming helped to save the country from starvation
• Study Spanish, then practice with Cuban students who have never before had a chance to make friends with people from the US
• Live with a family of campesinos and try your hand at making chocolate and cacao butter
• Help with daily life on the farm in the verdant fields of Viñales
• Reflect and explore yoga and meditation on the banks of a tropical river
• Learn the importance of conservation in a world confronting climate change
• Dive the one of the most vibrant reefs of the Caribbean

The momentum for this program is building as we have recieved loads of interest and have already begun receiving applications.

Carpe Diem Education offers two options for going abroad: a 3-month Group Semester or a Latitudes Year <> (3-month group semester plus an independent focused volunteer placement).  Our semesters run on the academic calendar: Fall and Spring.  In addition to Cuba we offer semesters in East Africa, India, Fiji/Australia/New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, and here in the States our Indigenous America Program!  

For a more detailed itinerary please visit the Cuba program <> page on our website <> or give us a call.

Brent Bellamy
Managing Director
Visioning and Outreach
cell: (541)335-9783 office: (877)285-1808

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Option on Travel Insurance


February 09, 2016

Starr Companies (Starr) is pleased to announce the availability of travel insurance and assistance services for travel to Cuba*.  These plans provide trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance as well as accident and sickness benefits.  In addition, the plans provide the coordination of medical and assistance services for travelers during their travel and visit to Cuba.
“With the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, we expect that an increasing number of U.S. citizens will visit the country. Starr is offering plans that meet both traveler demand and the U.S. legal requirements,” says Bridget Whalen, Vice President at Starr.
The Cuban government requires all individuals traveling to Cuba to have travel insurance or a medical policy that covers medical expenses that may occur while traveling in Cuba. All medical bills must be settled prior to leaving the country. Medical facilities in Cuba do not accept health and/or medical insurance plans, U.S. currency, credit cards or checks issued from the United States.
Starr’s travel assistance services are provided by Assist Card, a subsidiary of Starr. Assist Card is one of the world’s leading providers of emergency travel assistance, medical coordination and concierge services to travelers.  The organization has a global network covering more than 190 countries, including Cuba.
Whalen adds: “Assist Card’s ability to directly dispense payments to medical and assistance service providers in Cuba is just one way in which our plans meet the unique needs of travelers.  We are always looking for innovative ways to respond to the needs of travelers in such emerging markets.”
*Global travel insurance plans are not limited to Cuban travel and are available through Starr Indemnity & Liability Company for third country-nationals and United States residents who are authorized to travel to Cuba, subject to general or specific licenses from OFAC. 
For more information on Starr’s travel insurance and assistance products, contact Starr Assist at or 866-477-6741.
Starr Companies (or Starr) is the worldwide marketing name for the operating insurance and travel assistance companies and subsidiaries of Starr International Company, Inc. and for the investment business of C.V. Starr & Co., Inc. and its subsidiaries.   Starr is a leading insurance and investment organization with a presence on five continents; through its operating insurance companies, Starr provides property, casualty, and accident & health insurance products as well as a range of specialty coverages including aviation, marine, energy and excess casualty insurance.  For more information visit us as at
Leilani Brown

Update:  If you have a Starr Assist travel insurance & assistance policy you will have the proper medical benefit coverage to fulfill the Cuban government’s requirement for entry into Cuba.  If you have any questions on your coverage you may call 866-477-6741 or visit

Friday, February 12, 2016

Commercial flights begin in fall

U.S.: Flights to Cuba expected to begin by fall

WASHINGTON – U.S. airlines could begin more than 100 daily flights to Cuba by fall under an agreement to be signed Tuesday in Havana, officials announced Friday.
Airlines could fly up to 20 flights to Havana, and up to 10 flights at each of nine other Cuban cities prepared to receive international flights, under the agreement negotiated last year.
If airlines reach those numbers, it would mark a dramatic increase in travel between the countries. Cuba now receives 10 to 15 daily charter flights from the U.S.
“This provides for a very important sizable increase in travel between the two countries,”  said Thomas Engle, deputy assistant secretary for transportation at the State Department.
Engle called the move to expand travel "a key element of the president’s broader policy of normalizing relations."
"This is more people to people contacts," he said. "That’s just all to the good of mutual understanding between two countries that have had strained relations for decades."
Travelers must still certify their trip is for one of 12 purposes other than tourism. But scheduled flights are expected to make trip planning easier.
The demand for flights to Havana, at least, is expected to creation a competition among airlines seeking to provide the service.
The travel agreement is part of the resumption of diplomatic ties that began 14 months ago, shepherded by President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, after 53 years of estrangement following the Communist takeover of the island. During the last year, the countries have reopened embassies in one another's capitals and struck new business deals in medicine, tourism and communications.
“Unleashing the power of American travelers and their frequent flier miles gets us one step closer to eliminating the archaic restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has urged easier travel and trade between the countries.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Charles Rivkin, assistant secretary for economic and business affairs at the State Department, will sign the travel agreement with Cuban counterparts.
Under the deal, the Transportation Department will review proposals with an eye toward maximizing the benefit for the most travelers, according to Brandon Belford, the department’s deputy assistant for aviation.
“Our expectation is to make a decision and make it final sometime this summer about which carriers will have service into Cuba,” Belford said. “Flights will begin later this calendar year in the fall.
Negotiations between U.S. airlines and the Cuban government have already begun in anticipation of the opening.
Cuban airlines aren't expected to begin flying immediately to the U.S. because of lingering legal disputes. But U.S. airlines will be able to sell code-share tickets with their Cuban counterparts, Belford said.
“U.S. carriers have been very intrigued and interested in this potential opportunity since the president’s announcement in December 2014," Belford said. "We are aware that they have already had numerous trips and conversations all with the relevant authorities to grease the skids when this becomes an opportunity."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Too Limited Regulatory Change

Obama Needs to Stop Playing Small Ball With Cuba
Obama Needs to Stop Playing Small Ball With Cuba
On Jan. 26, the Obama administration rolled out a new slate of regulatory reforms that further relax the embargo against Cuba — the third such action since Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced their intention to normalize relations in December 2014. The goal is to stimulate commerce and create a constituency in the business community that will defend Obama’s legacy of better relations with Cuba — even if there’s a Republican in the White House in 2017.
The Obama administration’s recent moves lower some long-standing barriers to U.S.-Cuba commerce. The big changes include one that will license U.S. firms to privately finance authorized exports, and another to allow sales to Cuban state enterprises, so long as the sales “meet the needs of the Cuban people,” as determined by the Department of Commerce. Another obstacle that will disappear: the ban on letting Cuba buy U.S. products on credit, which has put U.S. exporters at a major disadvantage to competitors in Europe and Asia. Under the new rules, this restriction will now be lifted across all sectors of approved trade except in agriculture, where credits are still prohibited by the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act.
By allowing U.S. firms to sell to state enterprises so long as these sales benefit the Cuban people, the new regulations open a potentially wide field of exports, although the exact scope of what is permissible has been left intentionally vague. Among the examples of eligible goods are those for artistic endeavors, education, food processing, public health and sanitation, and residential construction — by no means an exhaustive list, but one can imagine that most consumer staples might be eligible for export.
But despite opening these important new avenues for business, the regulations did not go nearly far enough to calm the fears and remove the regulatory obstacles that still impede U.S. business deals with Cuba. Without some notable commercial successes, the business community could lose interest in Cuba and in lobbying Congress to lift the embargo, leaving Obama’s normalization project dead in the water.
Like the dog that didn’t bark, several anticipated regulatory changes were left out of the new package. The prohibition on U.S. investments (except in telecommunications) remains intact, as does the prohibition on almost all imports from the island, rendering trade with Cuba a one-way street that the government in Havana is loathe to accept as normal. From low-end commodities like sugar and nickel to high-end luxury goods like rum and cigars, Cuban products would find a ready market in the United States.
U.S. financial institutions are still barred from processing most international dollar-denominated transactions between Cuba and foreign firms or banks (so-called u-turn transactions). This extraterritorial extension of the embargo has led to billions of dollars in fines against foreign banks, hampered Cuba’s reintegration into the global economy, and angered U.S. allies. President Obama could have issued a general license for U.S. banks to process these transactions. That would ease the fears that many banks, both foreign and domestic, have of doing business with Cuba because the current financial regulations are so complex. Finance is the lifeblood of commerce; if funds cannot be easily transferred, business will not get off the ground.
In addition, people-to-people travel to Cuba is still limited to prepackaged trips by traveler providers like National GeographicRoadScholar Adventures, and Classic Journeys. Individuals cannot organize their own educational program or travel independently. To be sure, travel providers have concocted tours for every imaginable interest, but these package tours are not cheap. If, as Obama contends, “the best ambassadors for American values and interests are the American people,” they should be free to exercise their right to travel to Cuba with their own itinerary. The President could have issued a general license for self-directed people-to-people educational travel.
President Obama is proud of his opening to Cuba, mentioning it as a signal achievement in each of his final two State of the Union addresses. But this chapter of his legacy is not yet finished, and if he isn’t careful, a Republican in the Oval Office could write its closing.
Most of the Republican presidential candidates oppose Obama’s opening to Cuba — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz most stridently. On Jan. 26, Rubiodenounced the new regulations as “one-sided concessions” intended to give the Cuban regime an “economic windfall.” When the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations last July, Cruz accused Obama of “unconditional surrender.” (Donald Trump has hedged his bets, declaringthat a deal with Cuba isn’t necessarily a bad idea in principle — but that he, of course, would have gotten a better one!)
If a Republican wins the White House in November, his conservative instincts and his hard-line Cuban-American base in Florida will predispose him to roll back Obama’s opening to Cuba. And a new president could do it with the stroke of his pen? Why? Because all of Obama’s actions have relied on his executive authority, since Congress has done nothing in response to his calls to lift the embargo.
In my recent conversations with U.S. and Cuban officials, the one thing that both sides agree on is that deeper, broader commercial relations offer the greatest hope of creating powerful political constituencies in both countries willing to defend normalization — making rapprochement irreversible. “We have a window of opportunity here,” said David Sepulveda, State Department coordinator for international communications and information policy, during a recent trip to Cuba to discuss telecommunications. “We need to have some solid wins to give [U.S. business] confidence.”
Yet, very few deals have been signed so far, in part because of the limits on commerce still imposed by the U.S. embargo. That’s the political context in which the new regulations have to be understood: Obama is trying to jump-start business deals to forge economic ties between the two countries that will be hard for his successor or Raúl Castro’s (when he steps down in early 2018) to sever.
But time is short, and skeptical bureaucrats in Washington and Havana alike are slowing progress. In Havana, every business proposition is approached with suspicion, as if it were the Trojan Horse of capitalism. When Google offered to blanket Cuba with Wi-Fi at little or no cost, for example, Cuban officials were leery of entrusting their digital infrastructure to a U.S. company when Washington has tried repeatedly in the past to use the internet to foment opposition to the Cuban government. In Washington, meanwhile, every proposal to further relax the embargo is subjected to microscopic legal and political nitpicking inside the executive branch bureaucracy. Rather than pushing the limits of presidential executive authority now, so that commerce has time to flourish before the next president takes office, the Departments of Commerce and Treasury are rolling out piecemeal changes which are necessary but will not get the job done.
To break through the timidity of the Washington bureaucracy, the White House must stay on top of the issue, continually reminding officials from cabinet secretaries on down that advancing relations with Cuba is a presidential priority, and that their marching orders are to find ways to get it done, not find excuses why they can’t.
President Barack Obama has less influence over Havana’s bureaucracy, but there is one way he could put U.S.-Cuban relations at the top of the Cuban government’s agenda: Go to Havana to make the case in person.