Sunday, October 15, 2017

RESPECT Denounces Travel Warning

U.S. travel association opposes Trump administration’s Cuba travel warning and pullout of embassy staff


Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel • September 30, 2017

Meeting in Cuba, RESPECT*, the largest association of U.S. organizers of travel to Cuba, unanimously rejected the Trump administration’s Cuba travel warning and its decision to withdraw diplomatic staff from its Havana embassy.
The reaction came in response to Washington’s announcement that it is withdrawing 60 percent of non-emergency staff from the U.S. Embassy in Havana and is warning U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba. The justification for both is unexplained health problems that 21 Havana-based U.S. diplomats have reported.
In addition, unidentified U.S. officials said the Consulate in Havana would suspend issuing U.S. visas to Cubans, indefinitely. The U.S. Embassy will continue to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Cuba.
“Based on the evidence thus far and the fact that the State Department says no other U.S. citizens have been affected, we believe that its decision is unwarranted, and are continuing to organize travel to Cuba and encourage others to do so,” said Bob Guild, RESPECT Co-Coordinator and Vice President of Marazul Charters. He also stressed that U.S. citizens and residents can legally travel to Cuba under US law and that the State Department advisory in no way prohibits U.S. persons from traveling to the island.
RESPECT is joined by U.S. commercial airlines and others in the travel industry who have publically expressed their intention to continue Cuba travel. Gail Reed, RESPECT Co-Coordinator and MEDICC founder, noted: “Cuba remains a very safe destination for U.S. travelers.”
The U.S. Foreign Service Association, the powerful union that represents U.S. diplomats around the world, also opposes any decision to withdraw U.S. diplomats from Cuba. Association President Barbara Stephenson said, “We have to remain on the field and in the game.”
The U.S. complaint about the health issues originated almost a year ago during the Obama Administration when the two governments were working toward rapprochement. As acknowledged by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Cuban government responded immediately and initiated an investigation, inviting the U.S. government to cooperate.
At the invitation of Cuban authorities, the FBI went to Havana seeking evidence of what the U.S. described as “sonic attacks” resulting in hearing loss and other symptoms. However, its agents found no devices or other evidence to explain the mystery.
None of the 500,000 U.S. visitors to Cuba this year have reported similar health issues. Tillerson said this week, “We have no reports that private U.S. citizens have been affected…”.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, speaking at the UN this month, reiterated that Cuba takes very seriously the protection of all diplomats in its country and would never cause them harm or allow others to do so, in accordance with the 1961 Vienna Convention. He also urged the U.S. authorities to work more closely and effectively with the ongoing Cuban investigation, a point he raised again during his meeting with Tillerson this week.
Replying to the U.S. move to reduce its diplomatic personnel in Havana, Josefina Vidal, director general for U.S. Affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, called the decision precipitous and said it will affect bilateral relations and cooperation in areas of mutual interest. She noted that Cuba had urged the U.S. not to politicize the matter and insisted that Cuba needed the active cooperation of U.S. authorities to arrive at a definitive conclusion.
“We fear that such hasty action by the Trump Administration, independent of scientific evidence, may be motivated by politics rather than concerns for health and wellbeing,” said Walter Turner, RESPECT Co-Coordinator and President of Global Exchange. “Thus, once again we encourage all U.S. visitors to continue to travel to Cuba.”

* RESPECT (Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel) is a 150-member US professional association of travel agencies, tour operators, non-profit entities, and other travel service providers dedicated to practicing and promoting ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba. Founded in December 2016 on the anniversary of the opening announced by the US and Cuban presidents, RESPECT held a two-day meeting at the Meliá Cohíba Hotel in Havana this week, where its members hammered out a 2017 Action Plan to implement its 17 principles. These include ways US travel organizations and travelers can contribute to protecting Cuba’s environment as it adapts to climate change, commit to non-exploitative relations with all Cubans and respect the country’s cultural heritage and expressions. The Association also defends the right of all US citizens and residents to travel to Cuba and advocates lifting all US government travel restrictions to the island.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Personal thoughts about the state of US-Cuba Relations

AP has published a story with the copy of the sound that is alleged to have been targeted against US diplomats.  An earlier story indicated that they were US intelligence operatives using the customary diplomatic cover.

How can the sound have been recorded and the US not know what is generating it?  One would think if there is time to make a recording, that embassy and/or Cuban security could locate a source.  Is there a piece of consumer or professional equipment common to all the affected personnel that could be the accidental or intended vector of the sound?  Does the identity of the targets confirm intentional hostile action, or does it raise questions about the reliability of the accusers, the CIA having a rather checkered past in Cuba, including attempted assassination of Fidel Castro?

The Guardian cites experts disputing the thesis of a sonic attack on scientific grounds.  Similar doubts have been raised in the New York TimesCNN explored the possible use of infra or ultrasound and the advanced capabilities of Russia.

North Korea has a history of total disrespect for normal diplomatic protocol in Cuba.  Given President Trump's military threats and impetuousness, would such aggression provide a causus belli with Pyongyang?  That could be a reason to not want to dwell on such a possibility.

At the moment, I am agnostic about the nature of the problem and the cause.

The Miami ultras have an undeniable motive and are exploiting successfully the murky situation.  Their past practice of blowing up civilian targets in Cuba and creating the life endangering provocation of Brothers to the Rescue flights suggests they would not worry much about the human cost if it would derail normalization.

Is it reasonable to assume they had a mole in the embassy who could identify residences and hotel rooms?

I wonder whether the extreme reaction by the State Department was to forestall the even more extreme action that Rubio and four other Senators had demanded the previous week, the closing of  embassies?  Did the State Department realize that a big draw down of personnel would routinely require a travel warning?  Were they counting on push back from airlines, cruises, hotel companies, universities, AirBnB and tour organizers?

The termination of both immigrant and visitor visas will come back to haunt Rubio when grandma or grandson can't come for Christmas, or spouses are finally able to reunite.  If State is playing chess, could that be the intention of barring visas?

This history provided by a friend in Havana offers an interesting parallel:
Back in April 1997 a bomb went off in the Havana Melia Cohiba hotel, an unheard of event in the tightly controlled Communist-run country. They kept going off in hotels and restaurants into September when a Salvadoran tourist was arrested.

A few more went off or were discovered and the last was found in the Trash outside Havana's airport at the end of October. In all, five Central Americans were in custody. All testified they were paid a few thousand dollars per bomb and trained by a ring of Cuban exiles.
It had taken the famous and fully mobilized Cuban security services six months to crack the case which involved a group of amateurs.

As the bombing run went on and on speculation turned to rogue elements within the Cuban state. There was no other explanation for why the bombings continued in such a controlled environment. The Christian Science Monitor wrote…
"The failure to present any evidence in the blasts leads many Cubans to believe that the government doesn't actually have a clue as to whom is setting the bombs. But speculation runs in two directions: that it is either Cubans working with an extremist exile group opposed to President Fidel Castro; or that it is Communists, perhaps within the military, who are responsible.

That anti-Castro exile groups would act against the island's tourist industry follows a certain logic…

But some Cubans say there is also reason to believe that hard-line communists opposed to the island's economic opening are responsible - especially with the Communist Party's congress, the first since 1991, set for October…

Supporters of this theory say elements of the military might be involved because they would have access to materials needed to construct explosives, and because they might number among those most alarmed by the country's moral drift.?
There are both similarities and differences with the just as strange 'acoustic attacks' that have bedeviled the island this year and apparently injured a number of U.S. diplomats and family members.

However, the U.S. rationale being used to roll back detente, that even if the Cuban government is not directly to blame it MUST know what is going on, is refuted by the above events when arguably the security services were less degraded than they are today, faced, one assumes, by less sophisticated players and had real time access to crime scenes.
My largest concern is on the consequences for exchanges, intended or not.

One of the best institutional responses has come from a university exchange program in Mexico, raising for the first time the damage to the credibility of State Department Travel Warnings by politicization.

However that is not a US university.  I have heard that a Travel Warning affects insurance coverage and therefore the ability of US universities and corporations to send people to Cuba.

If the Travel Warning was simply triggered by a routine bureaucratic mandate, and is not intended for political pressure or worse, the State Department should find a way of removing it. 

From the Foreign Affairs Manual:
"When a post goes to authorized departure or ordered departure, a travel warning is issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  The warning routinely urges private U.S. citizens to consider leaving or avoiding travel to countries where authorized or ordered departure is in effect. "
This is the "or worse" from one of the smartest observers in Washington:
The administration is doing worse than reversing normalization.  The policies are based on the (incorrect) judgment that Raúl’s transition is vulnerable, and now’s the time to strike by shutting down the migration accords, stopping people-to-people, and expelling the Cuban Embassy’s commercial team.
A less apocalyptic interpretation is that an increasingly beleaguered and isolated President is trying to shore up hard core support against legal and constitutional threats to his tenure.

The crisis with Cuba is not as life threatening as President Trump's words and actions on Charlottesville, Puerto Rico, North Korea, Iran and affordable health care, but it is enmeshed in the same irrational inability to understand our national interest.

    --John McAuliff, 10/14/17

Additional resources

"Reckless hostility toward Cuba damages America's interests"
     by Harold Trinkunas and Richard Feinberg

"U.S.-Cuba: New Challenge to Normalization"
    by Fulton Armstrong

"Mass hysteria may explain 'sonic attacks' in Cuba, say top neurologists"
    by Julian Borger and Philip Jaekl

Associated Press stories

Petition to rescind the travel warning and restore visas

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mass Hysteria or Sonic Attacks?

Mass hysteria may explain 'sonic attacks' in Cuba, say top neurologists
·        Despite 22 Americans reporting symptoms no evidence of a weapon found
·        Experts suspect a psychosomatic disorder linked to high stress in Havana
Julian Borger and Philip Jaekl

Thursday 12 October 2017 13.20 EDTLast modified on Thursday 12 October 2017 17.53 EDT

Senior neurologists have suggested that a spate of mysterious ailments among US diplomats in Cuba – which has caused a diplomat rift between the two countries – could have been caused by a form of “mass hysteria” rather than sonic attacks.
The unexplained incidents have prompted the US to withdraw most of its embassy staff from Havana and expel the majority of Cuban diplomats from Washington.

The neurologists who talked to the Guardian cautioned that no proper diagnosis is possible without far more information and access to the 22 US victims, who have suffered a range of symptoms including hearing loss, tinnitus, headaches and dizziness

The state department has described the incidents as “attacks”, saying they began at the end of last year with the last recorded incident in August.
But US and Cuban investigations have produced no evidence of any weapon, and the neurologists argue that the possibility of “functional disorder” due to a problem in the functioning of nervous system – rather than a disease – should be considered.

“From an objective point of view it’s more like mass hysteria than anything else,” said Mark Hallett, the head of the human motor control section of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“Mass hysteria” is the popular term for outbreaks among groups of people which are partly or wholly psychosomatic, but Hallett stressed there should be no blame attached to them.

“Psychosomatic disease is a disease like anything else. It shouldn’t be stigmatised,” said Hallett, who is also president of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology. “It’s important to point out that symptoms like this are not voluntary. They are not a sign of weakness in an individual’s personality.”
Hallett said it was more common for such disorders to affect smaller groups of people, often in families, but he added that it was feasible for larger numbers of individuals to be affected, especially when they were working closely together in a tense and hostile environment.

“There are a very large number of individuals that have relatively vague complaints as far as I can see,” Hallett said. “There has been an exploration of possible causes for this and nothing has been found and the notion of some sonic beam is relatively nonsensical.

“If it is mass hysteria that would clarify all the mystery – and presumably normalise US-Cuban relations again,” said Hallett. “These people are all clustered together in a somewhat anxious environment and that is exactly the situation that precipitates something like this. Anxiety may be one of the critical factors.”

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that it had been provided audio tapes of high-pitched whining noises which some US embassy workers said they heard in Havana, but it is unclear whether the sounds were linked to the health complaints. The report noted that not all the Americans injured in Cuba heard sounds, and of those who did, it is not unclear if they heard the same thing.

Alan Carson, a consultant neuropsychiatrist and former president of the British Neuropsychiatry Association told the Guardian: “Typically what one gets in a functional disorder is some trigger. It is often relatively mild and non-specific, it can be a minor physical injury. But then a combination of a degree of anxiety and also belief and expectation distort that feeling.”

“If there is a strong enough expectation that something is going to happen, that will distort in an entirely real way the incoming information,” Carson said. “In certain circumstances that can be transmitted from person to person... If one person has that experience strongly enough and sets off that train of thought in somebody’s else’s mind, that can happen too.”

Many acoustics experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the range of symptoms reported could have been caused by any kind of sonic weapons.
Another theory was that the health complaints were caused by a surveillance operation that had gone wrong – but that has also met with scepticism from experts and a dearth of evidence.

The US has not directly blamed the Cuban government but said Havana had failed in its obligation to protect foreign diplomats on its territory. The Cuban government has denied conducting any form of attack and has offered its cooperation in discovering the cause of the symptoms.

“I don’t think the Cuban government is behind it,” said Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser, who was involved in negotiating the previous administration’s rapprochement with Havana.

“First, these things apparently started in December … At the same time the attacks were starting the Cuban government was frantically concluding agreements with us, signing business deals … in other words trying to preserve the relationship. So the notion that at the same time as doing that, they would initiate something that is so obviously designed to blow up the relationship doesn’t make any sense.”

Asked about the possibility of functional disorders, a state department spokesperson said: “We have no definitive answers on the cause or the source of the attacks on US diplomats in Cuba, and an aggressive investigation continues. We do not want to get ahead of that investigation.”

Donald Trump has struck a markedly more hostile tone towards Cuba than his predecessor, and in June announced a partial rollback of Obama’s rapprochement, tightening travel and trade rules with the island.

Jon Stone, a University of Edinburgh neurologist and the co-editor of a book on functional neurologic disorders, said that such disorders were very common, and the second commonest reason to see a neurologist.

“There is a misconception that only people who are weak-willed, people who are neurotic, get these symptoms. It isn’t true,” Stone said. “We are talking about genuine symptoms that people have of dizziness, of headaches, of hearing problems, which they are not faking.”

He added that the outbreak could have started with one or two people falling ill with headaches or hearing problems, and those spread in a high-stress atmosphere and then amid talk of a “sonic attack”.

“None of this makes sense until you consider the psychogenic explanation,” said Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist and the author of series of books on outbreaks of mass hysteria.

“American intelligence agencies are the most sophisticated in the world, and they reportedly don’t have a clue as to what’s causing the symptoms. I will bet my house that there are agents in the intelligence community who have also concluded that this is a psychogenic event – but their analysis is either being repressed or ignored by the Trump administration because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Mass psychogenic illness is by far the most plausible explanation.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

University Response to State Department Travel Warning

AUSM Update on Cuba Travel
The Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM) is aware of the travel warning for Cuba issued by the US State Department on September 29, 2017.  The following analysis explains the warning, events leading up to the warning, and our analysis of the situation.
For the Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM), our top priority is the health and safety of our students.  We compile information from a wide range of sources for our regular evaluations, including local staff and partner organizations who know local conditions well, reports by human rights groups and NGOs, media reports, consultations with local officials, and reports from the US State Department.
We’ve found over the decades that State Department reports are often slow to appreciate the seriousness of local safety issues.  For example, AUSM restricted student travel between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque in southern Mexico beginning in 2014 because of increased highway robberies, whereas the State Department issued a less restrictive advisory only recently.  However, the State Department reports, when used in conjunction with trusted on-the-ground sources, have generally provided helpful guidance.
In recent weeks we’ve seen a troubling series of events – the apparent politicization of a travel warning.  We refer to a recent travel warning issued for Cuba, a country that is widely recognized as the safest tourist destination in the world.  This week, Washington announced the withdrawal of 60 percent of US Embassy staff from Havana and is warning US Citizens to avoid travel to the island.  The justification for both actions is a series of unexplained and unconfirmed health problems reported by 22 Havana-based diplomats.  Patients report non-specific “sonic attacks” with generalized symptoms that include tinnitus (wringing ears), trouble sleeping, nausea, dizziness and headaches.  It should be noted that neither the US nor the Cuban governments officially use the term “sonic attack.”  This seems to be a term invented by the media as a shorthand way of referring to a series of unexplained events that may or may not be related.  To date, only embassy personnel, mostly from the US but including several Canadians, report these symptoms.  Not a single US tourist has been diagnosed with similar symptoms.  To date, the US is the only country to issue a travel warning, and no other country has recalled diplomatic personnel.
If these health claims are true, no one is more concerned than the Cubans.  In an unprecedented move, President Raul Castro invited FBI personnel to investigate the situation in Havana on three separate occasions.  Despite repeated investigations by US and Cuban officials, no source has been identified for the health problems.  No “attacks” have been reported since August.  No one in the US government is suggesting that the Cuban government is responsible.  The recent removal of US diplomats from Havana does not represent a change in diplomatic status between the two countries.  In fact, very little can be said with any certainty about the “attacks.”  See Wired Magazineand Snopes Fact-check for scientific evaluations of the known information.  For a political analysis of the deteriorating US-Cuba relations, see the Toronto Star.
The State Department issues travel warnings to discourage travel by US citizens under certain conditions.  The State Department web site notes, “Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Warning might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.”  None of these conditions is even remotely present in Cuba.
So why the travel warning?  The fact that we have to ask this question at all is disappointing.  State Department travel warnings should be apolitical, with the health and safety of US citizens as the only priority.
For AUSM, the most important question is the safety of our students.  There are five factors that weigh heavily in our calculations:
– Aside from personnel from two embassies, not a single foreign visitor has reported health problems from a “sonic attack”
– Canada and European countries have not issued travel warnings
– There are no claimed attacks since August
– All reported attacks have been in Embassy housing or a hotel, and our students live 20 minutes from downtown in private homes
– Cruise ships, airlines and other tourist travel are maintaining full schedules
We evaluate these measures by the Trump administration as internally inconsistent, unwarranted given the circumstances, and a misguided politicization of health and safety precautions that will cause travelers to pay less attention to State Department advisories and warnings in the future.  This erosion of trust is becoming all too common under the current administration.
We currently have students in Havana, with five additional programs scheduled between December, 2017 and May, 2018.  We plan to continue these programs, with certain precautions:
– Our students will not visit the US Embassy except in case of an emergency.  The Embassy continues to maintain phone lines for Americans facing emergencies in Cuba (+53 7-839-4100 and +1 202-501-4444).
– Our students will be instructed to avoid social or casual encounters with US embassy personnel.
– Our students will receive a thorough orientation on the signs of a “sonic attack.”
AUSM will continue to monitor the situation and will adjust our practices in accordance with new conditions, always prioritizing the health and safety of our students.  Given our 30 years of experience leading educational delegations to Cuba, we evaluate this particular situation as highly unlikely to result in a threat to student health.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Irish Music and Film Program in Holguin and Santiago

Finale of 2014 performance in Havana with 
Alma Mater dancers from the University

Tentative itinerary

Saturday, Nov 11
  fly from Miami on American ASirlines to Holguin, check in by 8:30. arriving midday; rest and sightseeing

Sunday-Monday, Nov 12-13  concert, presentations at university and music and dance schools, sightseeing

Tuesday, Nov 14  Drive to Santiago (two hours), sightseeing

Wednesday-Thursday, Nov 15-16 concert, presentations for academics, musicians, music and dance schools

Friday, Nov 17  Mick, Athena and Robbie return to Holguin for flight to Miami/New York/Providence; Niall flies to Havana and Mexico; Leni, Charlie and John remain in Santiago; session with local musicians? (optional to join Charlie and John for a showing of A Captain Unafraid and visit to site Dynamite Johnny landed ib south shore)

Saturday-Sunday, Nov 18-19  return to Holguin, option of remaining a day or two or flight to Miami with connection home; session with Cuban musicians?; showing of A Captain Unafraid and visit to site Dynamite Johnny landed on north shore

Monday, Nov 20  Charlie takes taxi to Ciego de Avila and then by bus to Havana; others welcome; John my go by taxi to Gibara to see friends impacted by hurricane

Tuesday, Nov 21  John returns to Miami/NY

Sessions and sightseeing and going to Cuban music will be scattered in as appropriate while all are together.  Holguin offers the option of excursions to location Columbus landed and to vast farming estate of father of Fidel and Raul Castro.  Santiago includes Moncada barracks and museum (failed first attempt to overthrow Batista by Fidel), San Juan Hill, museum of Cuban Spanish American war, grave sites of Fidel and Marti.

Music and film participants:

Green Fields of America: Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis, Niall O'Leary, Billy McComiskey, Robbie O'Connell, Leni Sloane

Charles O'Brien, filmmaker of the documentary about Dynamite Johnny O'Brien, "A Captain Unafraid"  Details here 

Others are welcome to accompany us to enjoy the concerts, Cuban music and dance experiences, with prime but limited historical and cultural sightseeing.  We can help make arrangements for additional paid excursions.  Observation of presentations to local musicians and students by Mick and his colleagues about Irish music and dance may also be possible but cannot be confirmed at this point.  

All air bookings must be done by the traveler, based on our itinerary.  Other costs will be in cash as required.  The expense of bed and breakfast lodging, meals and local transportation should be around $100 per day with special excursions extra.  A contribution to FRD of $100 should be made here to reserve a place and for administrative support.  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Comparison of Cruise Options

Which Cruise Should You Take to Cuba?

July 17, 2017
By Chris Gray Faust and Adam Coulter, Senior Editors

Cruising to Cuba has undergone great changes in just a few years. American cruise ships, which began visiting the Caribbean's largest island in 2016, keep adding more and more sailings, as regulations fall away. International lines, too, have been developing more itineraries in Cuba, due to interest.

Currently, the only thing stopping a U.S. mainstream cruise line from visiting Cuba is the country itself; there are no U.S. government regulations forbidding cruise ships from going, thanks to measures taken by the Obama administration. Although the Trump administration is tightening up individual travel, Cuba continues to approve cruise line sailings throughout 2017 and into 2018.

All nationalities can visit Cuba as tourists except Americans. Americans still need to travel under one of 12 approved reasons; the most common -- and the one used by cruise lines currently offering itineraries for Americans -- is the people to people visa. (For more details, read Cuba People to People Visa Options for American Cruisers.)

Below, we take a look at the cruising options in Cuba, so you can decide what's best for you. Note: There are several lines that are selling cruises to Cuba that still don't have final permission from that government to dock, including Viking Ocean and Grand Circle. We've left those out, for now.


What It Is: Owned by Greek-company Celestyal, Crystal was one of the first ships to make regular sailings in Cuba that were open to Americans; Cuba cruises began in 2014. The ship, renovated in 2016, carries 1,200 passengers and has most of the amenities that you'd find on a big ship. It also employs Cuban crew and offers several choices of shore excursions in each port.

Itinerary: Passengers board in either Havana or Montego Bay on a cruise that also stops in Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba and Isla de la Juventud for a beach day. Starting in 2017, the cruises will operate year-round.

American Friendly? Yes. Celestyal offers a people to people program for Americans, who make up a significant portion of the passengers.

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want some recreation thrown in with their history, as well as more choices at each stop.

Who Won't: Passengers who want an intimate expedition-style experience.

Pearl Mist exterior
Pearl Seas Cruises

What It Is: Operated by Pearl Seas Cruises, which began selling the sailings long before receiving permission, Pearl Mist is a 200-passenger ship offering a packed program of stops on the island. A sister company to American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas generally attracts a similar (i.e., older) clientele, with a slightly more luxury bent (and prices to match).

Itinerary: Passengers board in Miami for a 10-night cruise that has an overnight in Havana, as well as stops in Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba and Parque Baconao. Sailings began January 17, 2017, and run through April 2017; more Cuba cruises will depart from November 2017 into 2018.

American Friendly? Yes. Pearl Mist's program will follow people to people regulations.

Who Will Like It: Older passengers who still have the stamina for in-depth touring; there is only one sea day.

Who Won't: Passengers who like leisurely cruises with lots of down time, and budget travelers.


What It Is: Oceania Cruises became the first cruise line from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings to sail to Cuba in March 2017, with 1,250-passenger Marina. In fall 2017, Insignia will make six sailings; the line has also committed to Cuba in 2018 with sailings planned on Sirena and Regatta through the fall.

Itinerary: In 2017, Marina will sail from Miami on 10- and 14-day Caribbean itineraries that include either one day or an overnight in Havana. The fall itineraries on Insignia, as well as the 2018 sailings, are more in-depth, with the ships making stops in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, as well as Havana.

American Friendly? Yes. All Oceania ships will comply with people to people regulations.

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want a touch of the good life as they sail around the island.

Who Won't: People who are looking for a party hearty experience.

Azamara Club Cruises

What It Is: Azamara Club Cruises, the destination-immersive cruise line from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., made its first sailing to Cuba on the March 21, 2017, departure of 694-passenger Azamara Quest. The ship will return to the island in November 2017 for several cruises.

Itinerary: Currently, the ship's Cuba stop is merely an overnight on Caribbean sailings out of Miami. The line has said that it is looking to add more Cuba ports to other itineraries.

American Friendly? Yes. Azamara Quest will comply with people to people regulations through for-fee shore excursions.

Who Will Like It: Fans of smaller ships that are OK seeing Cuba as part of a longer itinerary.

Who Won't: Passengers who love the amenities of a large cruise ship.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

What It Is: Luxury line Regent Seven Seas will become the first classic luxury line to sail to Cuba on one of its 700-passenger ships, Seven Seas Mariner. Excursions that are included in your cruise fare include a city walking tour, a Cuban art tour, a rum and cigar tour, a Hemingway tour, a fort tour, a day trip to Soroa, a meal at Havana's first farm-to-table restaurant and a choice of evening performances of the Buena Vista Social Club, Cafe Taberna or a Parisian cabaret show at the Hotel Nacional. For-fee excursions are also available.

Itinerary: Two sailings from Miami in April 2017 will include overnight stops in Havana.

American Friendly? Yes. Seven Seas Mariner will comply with people to people regulations.

Who Will Like It: Upscale passengers who like all-inclusive cruising and have Cuba on their bucket list.

Who Won't: Budget-conscious cruisers or those who want a more immersive Cuba experience.

Royal Caribbean

What It Is: Royal Caribbean has earmarked 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas for Cuba travel. With its first cruise departing April 19, 2017, Empress will be the first true "mainstream" cruise ship to sail to Cuba from Miami. It will also be the first to offer cruises to the island that are shorter than a week.

Itinerary: The first Empress of the Seas sailing will be a five-night cruise from Miami that includes a day stop in Havana. Then in a twist, the ship will continue its Cuba sailings out of a second U.S. homeport, Tampa, through 2017. Empress will offer four-, five- and seven-night sailings; Havana will continue to be a one-day call, on Western and Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

American Friendly? Yes. Empress of the Seas will comply with people to people regulations.

Who Will Like It: Budget-conscious cruisers who don't have time for long cruises.

Who Won't: Passengers who want a more leisurely look at the island.

Norwegian Cruise Line

What It Is: Norwegian Sky, the line's popular alcohol-inclusive ship, has been cruising to Cuba since May 2017; Norwegian Sun will begin offering Cuba cruises May 2018 after a dry dock which also will restructure its fares to include soda, juice and alcohol. Like Royal Caribbean and Carnival, Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun offer shorter itineraries.

Itinerary: Both ships' itineraries include an overnight in Havana, and Cuba cruises will be available throughout the year.

American Friendly? Yes. Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun will comply with people to people regulations.

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want a quick look at Cuba in a big-ship, party-hearty atmosphere.

Who Won't: People who are looking for an educational, in-depth trip to the island.

Carnival Cruise Line

What It Is: After entering Cuba early with Fathom, Carnival Corp. comes to the island in June 2017 with Carnival Paradise. At 2,052 passengers, the ship will be the largest vessel sailing into Cuba in 2017; like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, the ship will sail shorter itineraries. Carnival Paradise sails from Tampa.

Itinerary: Four- and five-night cruises will begin on June 29, 2017, run through the fall and go into 2018. Some itineraries include an overnight stay in Havana, while others are just there for the day.

American Friendly? Yes. Carnival Paradise will comply with people to people regulations,

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want a "Fun Ship" experience to Cuba.

Who Won't: Passengers who are hoping for a more scholarly bent when they visit.

International Expeditions

What It Is: An expedition tour operator, International Expeditions has added Cuba trips that include time on land with time sailing around Cuba on a chartered ship, the 46-passenger Panorama. The small group lends itself to in-depth exploration with plenty of people-to-people cultural activities. You can't help learning in this environment.

Itinerary: IE's trips depart from Miami on chartered flights to Santa Clara, in Cuba's interior. Stops include Bay of Pigs, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Isla de la Juventud, Maria la Gorda and Vinales Valley before ending on an overnight in Havana.

American Friendly? Yes. This type of trip is the definition of people to people, with lots of educational opportunities.

Who Will Like It: Travelers who want to combine a cruise to Cuba with time on land, and also don't mind sailing on such a small ship.

Who Won't: Cruisers who are used to big ship amenities and multiple restaurants.

Lindblad Expeditions

What It Is: Lindblad Expeditions, the expedition cruising line that has a partnership with heavyweight National Geographic, began Cuba sailings on a small chartered ship, 44-passenger Panorama II, in December 2016 through March 2017. The program will begin again in December 2017 and run through March 2018.

Itinerary: After a flight from Miami to Havana, you'll spend several days in the capital before visiting the Bay of Pigs, Cienfuegos, Cayo Largo, Trinidad and Jarines de la Reina Marine Park on this 11-day itinerary.

American Friendly? Yes. National Geographic has operated people to people land tours in Cuba before, and the sailing will be a natural extension of that program.

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want to see Cuba with experts. (A team that includes a photographer, a naturalist and a cultural specialist will be onboard. Keep in mind that this doesn't come cheap: Fares start at $9,500 per person.)

Who Won't: Cruisers who are used to big-ship amenities or want only a cursory view of the island, as well as people on a budget.


What It Is: The French line Ponant began sailing Cuban itineraries in March 2017 on its 64-passenger three-masted schooner, Le Ponant. Besides the usual stops, Ponant has a few smaller ports on its itinerary, which might get passengers a better taste of the island overall.

Itinerary: Ponant's trips begin with a flight from Miami to Santiago de Cuba. From there, passengers board the ship and sail to Casilda (base for a trip to Trinidad), Cienfuegos, Cayo Largo and Punta Frances, before ending in Havana.

American Friendly? Yes. Ponant has activities that meet U.S. people to people requirements.

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want the intimacy of a small ship and less traveled ports.

Who Won't: Passengers who get motion sickness and only want the highlights.

Insight Cuba

What It Is: A tour operator that has been running trips in Cuba since 2000, Insight Cuba charters Variety Voyager, a 72-passenger vessel, for seven-night trips that leave from Cienfuegos and end in Havana. The company also offers sailing trips on the 46-passenger sailing yacht Panorama between January and April.

Itinerary: The trips on Voyager visit Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cayo Larga, Isla de la Juventad and Havana. On the sailing trips, you visit those same ports, plus Pinar del Rio, Maria La Gorda and the Vinales Valley.

American Friendly? Yes. Insight Cuba has operated people to people land tours in Cuba before, and the sailings are natural extensions of the program.

Who Will Like It: Passengers who want to travel with some of the country's most expert guides.

Who Won't: Passengers who are fine with a general overview of the island.

Tauck Small Ship Cruising

What It Is: Known for its land tours and river cruises, Tauck is expanding its focus on small ship cruising, with Cuba being a central part of its strategy. Beginning in 2018 and into 2019, Tauck will charter Le Ponant for 10-day journeys around the island.

Itinerary: Passengers will meet in Miami and then fly to Havana for a two-night stay. They will then board the ship and sail between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, with stops in Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

American Friendly? Yes. Tauck's tour will meet U.S. people to people requirements.

Who Will Like It: People who enjoy Tauck's all-inclusive approach to travel.

Who Won't: People who want a more a la carte cruise experience.

MSC Cruises

What It Is: Due to increasing demand, the Mediterranean line MSC Cruises has homeported two cruise ships in Havana. MSC Opera carries 2,120 passengers and has been in Cuba since 2015. MSC Armonia, a ship that carries 2,000 passengers, began Havana sailings in 2016.

Itinerary: Both ships spend several days in Havana before sailing to other Caribbean islands. Because MSC doesn't sell these cruises to Americans, the company can offer a wide range of shore excursions, including beach days and snorkeling.

American Friendly? No. MSC does not sell these cruises to Americans or offer people to people options.

Who Will Like It: Europeans who enjoy big ship amenities, are content with just visiting Havana and want to see Cuba before too many American companies come in.

Who Won't: Passengers who want a more complex trip to Cuba.

G Adventures

What It Is: A Canadian tour operator known for adventure, G Adventures offers several types of trips to Cuba, including sailing cruises on a 14-passenger catamaran to several off-the-beaten path islands.

Itinerary: The marine tour begins with several days in Havana before transferring passengers to Cienfuegos. There, people board the ship for a week visiting the Canarreos Archipelago, with nothing more on the agenda than snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, fishing and other watersports.

American Friendly? The company says that Americans can come if they can procure their own visas. The program is not compatible with people to people, however, so it's pretty unlikely many from the U.S. can go.

Who Will Like It: Laid-back sailors who are tired of the same old, same old.

Who Won't: People who like big ships and are prone to motion sickness.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

What It Is: The Norwegian-owned, but solidly British cruise line calls in at Cuba several times a year, both as part of a Caribbean cruise departing from Barbados, and also as part of a world cruise segment.

Itinerary: The line is one of the few that call in at a port other than Havana -- Santiago de Cuba, the country's second city -- on its Caribbean and Cuba cruise on Braemar.

American Friendly? The company says that Americans can come if they can procure their own visas. The program is not compatible with people to people, however, so it's pretty unlikely many from the U.S. can go.

Who Will Like It: Most of Fred.'s longer cruises are adults-only and the average age is 70+.

Who Won't: You are likely to feel a little out of place if you're under 50 or not British, though Fred. Olsen passengers are a welcoming bunch.

Thomson Dream
Thomson Cruises

What It Is: The German-owned, but solidly British cruise line calls at Cuba several times a year, as part of Caribbean cruises departing from Jamaica.

Itinerary: Thomson Dream includes an overnight in Havana as part of its Cuban Fusion cruise; it visits several times a season. It does not call at any other Cuban port.

American Friendly? Thomson only sells cruises in the U.K., so it's unlikely that U.S. passengers will be on the cruise. The company says that Americans can come if they can procure their own visas, but the nature of the sailing is not ideal for a people-to-people tour, preventing most U.S. citizens from hopping onboard.

Who Will Like It: Thomson is a very "British" cruise, so expect British touches (Marmite at breakfast, kettles in rooms, lots of tea and curry, etc.), so if you are an Anglophile, you'll feel right at home.

Who Won't: If you like big shows and lots of entertainment, you should skip this one.

Noble Caledonia

What It Is: The British company operates small luxury ships, which offer a comfortable, informal environment.

Itinerary: Noble Caledonia has only one departure to Cuba a year, but it is the only cruise line apart from Celestyal Cruises that operates a true circumnavigation of the island, calling at Havana, Maria La Gorda, Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

American Friendly? Again, if you're American and can finagle a visa, you're in; however, like the other British lines, the program is not people-to-people friendly.

Who Will Like It: Noble Caledonia sells almost exclusively to British passengers of a mature age, who are seeking an adventurous, culturally enriching cruise. You'll find a smattering of passengers from Australia and New Zealand, too. Most are couples, but there are also singles and groups of friends.

Who Won't: You will likely feel out of place if you are a family with young children or are looking for nightlife, Broadway-style entertainment or high-end spa treatments.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Santiago Conference on African and Afro-American Culture April 2018

                                AFRICAN AND AFRO-AMERICAN CULTURE
                                                      SANTIAGO DE CUBA
                     Dedicated to: Africa and its influence on the countries of the region
                                                   From 12th to 16th of April 2018
The Fernando Ortiz African Cultural Centre, the Romulo Lachatañeré Chair of Afro-Caribbean Studies, the Provincial Directorate of Culture, the Directorate of   International Relations of the CAP, the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Oriente and the UNESCO Chair in Afro-Ibero American Studies of the University of Alcalá, have the pleasure of announce the XVII International Conference on African and African-American Culture, to be held in Santiago de Cuba from 12th to 16th of April 2018.

The event proposes to bond experts, scholars and people interested in African and African American issues, opening a space for reflection on the most urgent problems of the subject, from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Researchers from the social sciences, artists, doctors, filmmakers, musicians, choreographers, dancers, priests and practitioners of folk religions of African origin and the public in general are convened to establish a debate on the following topics:
        Pre-colonial Africa: social, political and economic structures.
        The Atlantic slave traffic. Its treatment in the current historiography. The slave and forms of manumission. Palenque and maroons.
         Africans attitude facing the trading.
        Colonial Africa. Major European establishments. Creation of countries and nationalities in Africa. Wars of Liberation. Africa's relationship with the world.
        The African contribution as a component of the national identity of the Americas people and the Caribbean for an acknowledgement of our historical subject.
        Diachrony and synchrony in linguistic, philosophical, historical and literary studies on Africa, Afro-America and Afro-Caribbean.
        Culture and identity within the African continent.
        Gender, race and cultural identity.
        Africans and Afrodescendant in the New World.
        Multiculturalism, acculturation and re-Africanization as current trends to provide treat the African component in the New World.
        The political and cultural relationship among Africa and the peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean.
        African religions and its contemporarily en the New World
        Contemporary African and American religions.
        The so called universal religions in Africa. Catholic, Protestants, Islamic, etc.
        Current situation of the African traditional religions in the continent.
        Africa in the twenty-first century. The current cultural problems of the continent.
        Historiography written by Africans.
A- Workshop, "Color and Shape"
Dedicated to all manifestations of the visual arts where the African trace. Painters, sculptors, ceramists, engravers, photographers may participate and attend to theoretical works about the following topics:
        The African influence in the visual arts of the New World. Spheres of contacts and influence.
        The visual arts in the African continent.
        The artist's concept in Africa and America.
It may also participate with an exhibit of their work, with no more than three pieces, which will be displayed in a collective hall previously coordinated with the management of the event.
Registration regulations comply with the general regulations of the event.
B- Workshop "Images"
Dedicated to ethnological film and video, that collects the image and treatment given to the African influence on American culture, and to the African cinema.

Participants can show films, videos and present theoretical work on topics such as:
        Literature, film and video. Treatment of African descendants by the media.
        Ethnological video. Its contribution to the knowledge of African reality and its process of transculturation in the New World.
        Audiovisuals and cinema perspectives in Africa.
Audiovisuals reception will be until December 15th, 2017. Must include a thematic and technique summary of the play and the filmmakers data. Videos and other film materials may not exceed 30 minutes. The Committees decision is unappealable.

Registration regulations comply with the general regulations of the event.
C- Workshop "The Ancestral Rhythm"
Dedicated to music and dancing of African origin.
Choreographers, musicians, dancers, musicologists and scholars in general may participate; they will discuss the following topics:
        African music: history, evolution and current situation in the continent.
        The African influence in the music and dancing of the New World. Analogies, differences, changes and creation process towards the formation of the national music.
        The African element as a base for staging musical and dance works.
        Present times of the music and dancing in Africa.
Performances not exceeding 10 minutes, with no more than 4 dancers may be presented. In the case of groups that decide to participate in full, scenic areas of the city will be provided to perform, being understood that these functions are part of their exposure during the event and will not be charged.

Registration regulations comply with the general regulations of the event.
D - Workshop "Mask"
Dedicated to the theatre. The African influence, and the afrodescendant on stage, to a contemporary view.

Actors, theatre directors, set designers and students of theatre in general may participate; they can exchange experiences from the following topics under discussion:
        Presence of African elements in theatrical productions
        African descent on stage, both as subjects of history and as playwrights
        The theatre in Africa.
        African literature and its theatrical representation.
In the case of groups that decide to participate in full, they will be provided scenic areas of the city to perform, being understood that these functions are part of their exposure in the event, and will not be charged. Registration regulations are those general regulations of the event. In the case of theatre groups who wish to participate and prior coordination with the management of the event, a special registration fee may be established per group.
III- SYMPOSIUM: Medicine and Culture
A space dedicated to the relationships established between the medical sciences and disciplines of social sciences from the practice of the Cuban internationalist medicine and other health agencies, which also set intercultural contacts through the medical channel. A space dedicated to the medicine doctors, where they can present their experiences, both in the field of medicine, with works of their specialty and the challenges experienced  due to the cultural shock.

Papers could be presented on: 
        Traditional African medicine. Its evolution and relationship with others in the New World 
        Tropical Medicine in Africa and Afro-America 
        Homeopathic medicine.
        The Cuban medical experience in Africa. Relations among medicine and culture 
        Doctors without Borders and other similar organisations in their practice of medicine and culture 
        The World Health Organization and its role in Africa.
        Medicine, medical policies and human relationships.
        Endemic diseases in Africa and America.
        Disease and ethnicity.
        Epidemics, viruses and control of the spread of disease 

A- Reception of dissertations and communications
The papers should provide general information includding: title, full name of the author or authors, scientific degree, educational category, institution and country of origin, address, phone, fax, e-mail.
The papers may not have more than two authors and they may not appear in more than two publications.
The author or co-author who cannot attend the event will receive his diploma of speaker and a disc with the publication if he pays the registration fee.
In the case of the workshops, both theoretical works and photographs of art exhibitions, abstracts and records of filmic works and data of the exhibit must be submitted for inclusion in the Proceedings of the Conference.
They thesis may have a maximum length of 12 pages - if this length is exceeded, the paper will not be published - and 15 minutes of presentation. The papers will be published on a DVD, for which it must be delivered in digital format: double spacing, Arial 12 for the text and Arial 10 for bibliography and notes (the lastest will be placed at the end of the document and its extension does not count in the number of pages).
Papers will be accepted until 15 December 2017.
Only the papers that meet the above requirements will be published. The Organizing Committee is not responsible for the publication of the works that arrive after the deadlines provided as admission or do not meet the requirements of this announcement.
The verdict of the Scientific  Committee and the Editorial Department is unappealable and the it will be informed until the January 15th, 2018.
In the case of visual artists, they should send a short CV with no more than two pages and photographs of the exhibit they will present for inclusion in the Proceedings; also, playwrights and dancers will accompany the synopsis of their works, with a curriculum no more than one page; and if it is a group, information about its history no more than three pages
D- Tickets
The Organizing Committee is not responsible with the transportation from and to their provinces of origin.

E- Registration fee
Speakers and delegates: 200.00 CUC / MN
Students: 100.00 USD / MN
In the case of interested in participating during an specific moment of the event there will be a different fee coordinated with the direction of the event.
50.00 MN/CUC per workshop
30.00 MN/CUC per participation of one day during a work commission.

E- Accommodation 
There will be modules of affordable accommodations in hotels of the city, which may be requested through the Organizing Committee or the tour operator Paradiso Agency.
F- Languages
English, French and Spanish

G- Contacts
Dra. Marta E. Cordiés
Director: Fernando Ortiz African Cultural Centre
General Coordinator of the XVII Conference
Ave. Manduley No. 106 esq. A 5ta
Reparto Vista Alegre, Santiago de Cuba, CP: 90400
Telefax: (53-22) 642487
(53-22) 623893 (nights)
Lic. Maria Liduvina Bergues
Esp. / International Affairs
Lic. Martha Martinez Verges
President Scientific Committee
Dr. Luis Mancha
International coordinator
UNESCO Chair in Afroiberoamericanos Studies 
Professional Congress Organizer (PCO):
Commercial Specialist
Paradiso turismo cultural
Santiago de Cuba
Phone: 53 22 620214/654814
Note: Please send communications and acknowledgment through the three e-mail addresses to facilitate prompt communication.