Global_air_photo4-1-300x225Tragedy hit Cuba last Friday when a plane crashed shortly after taking off from José Martí International Airport killing 111 people on board. Fifty of the dead have been identified, and an investigation into the causes of the crash is ongoing. There are only two survivors, both in critical condition.

The crashed plane was leased to Cubana de Aviacíon, the country’s national air carrier, by Damojh. Damojh, a small charter airline based in Mexico had a fleet of three aircraft before the accident. Their license to operate was suspended in 2010 and 2013 because of problems with their planes. Additionally, the exact plane that crashed was banned last year from Guyanese airspace because the crew had dangerously overloaded luggage on a flight to Cuba.
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Marco_Rubio_24556513751-300x200In the first quarter of 2018, fewer than 100,000 tourists from America visited Cuba according to statistics published by the Cuban government. This represents a 40% drop compared to the first quarter of 2017 and is squeezing the burgeoning private sector in Cuba at the same time as the government has stopped issuing new business licenses to entrepreneurs.

After the initial détente in Cuban-American relations during the Obama administration, there was an influx of visitors from the U.S. “We had so many Americans coming that we didn’t know where to put them,” explained Matilde Portela, 73, who runs an Airbnb on the island.
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View_of_Havana_Cuba_25371249043-300x200Faced with an increasingly urgent economic situation, Cuba’s government estimates it will need to attract $2.5 billion in direct foreign investment per year to solve the crisis. At the same time, authorities have said only $600 million will enter the country this year.

Cuba’s need for foreign money is desperate. The tourist boom from the U.S., and the revenue it brought with it, is over. Aid from close ally Venezuela is drying up as that country plunges further into its own crises. Export revenues have dropped by over $4 billion in the last four years.
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Varadero_golf_courseIn the wake of the communist revolution, Cuba got rid of almost every golf course in the country. Today, however, the government is working with foreign companies to build at least 13 golf resorts. The plan is to develop Cuba as a golf destination for tourists. The government hopes to lure foreign visitors willing to spend freely and, in so doing, inject much-needed cash into Cuba’s troubled economy.

Golf was an important component of the tourism economy from the 1920s through to the late 1950s. Cuba’s courses were highly regarded. The Havana Open, held at the Biltmore Country Club, was an important stop on the LPGA’s Tour. At the same time, the Country Club of Havana played host to the PGA. In the 1950s, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg, and other golfing greats played at these two clubs. Continue reading

HavanaCuba has undergone its most significant political change since the 1959 revolution in electing Miguel Díaz-Canel as its new president. He takes office at a time of growing economic difficulties in the country. According to the World Bank, the economy is growing at its slowest pace since the 1990s.

In 2011, Raúl Castro implemented reforms to the communist system which allowed some Cubans to buy and sell houses as well as become self-employed. Today, there are over half a million self-employed Cubans. These entrepreneurs had advocated for further economic reforms to help the private sector grow.

However, the ruling Communist Party was unwilling for further changes to take place. Last year, Castro halted the issuing of most new licenses for private enterprises. In doing so, he took responsibility for what he described as his earlier “errors” in the reforms. Continue reading

Miguel_Diaz_CanelThe Cuban parliament has chosen Miguel Díaz-Canel as its candidate to take over from Raúl Castro who stands down as president on 19 April.

In 2006, Raúl Castro took over from his brother, Fidel, who had led the country since 1959. On 24 February 2013, Castro was elected to a second term as president. On the same day, Castro announced he would retire at the end of his second term as president.

Also on 24 February, Díaz-Canel was named First Vice President, a process which began his grooming for the presidency. Even before this, he had a distinguished political career in Cuba. It was when he was a college professor that he began building ties to the Communist Party. He became a liaison to Nicaragua in 1987 and later became party secretary in his local province back in Cuba. Continue reading

PhilipgoldbergOn the eve of the biggest political change in Cuba since the 1959 communist revolution, the number of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana has dropped to just ten people.

The U.S. State Department published an updated embassy roster on March 22, which showed there are no political, economic, public affairs, or cultural officers left at the embassy. The majority of positions remaining are focused on the internal functioning of the embassy, its security, or its maintenance.

The new embassy head is Philip Goldberg, who holds the title of Charge d’Affairs, an official who temporarily stands in for an ambassador. Goldberg is expected to remain in role for six months, when he will likely be replaced with another Charge d’Affairs and not a permanent ambassador. Continue reading

Miami-Dade_County_FL_USAThe U.S. Department of Transportation has provisionally approved new flight routes from the USA to Havana in Cuba. The proposals are currently open for public comment, and a final decision on these routes is expected by the end of April.

These new flights reverse the trend seen in 2017, which saw carriers reducing their services to Cuba. President of tour company Insight Cuba, Tom Popper, explains demand has recently been rising for U.S.-Cuba routes after the dip in interest last year. Continue reading

Cubana_aircraft_at_Havana_Airport-300x195Under laws passed during recent reforms in Cuba, it has become easier for exiles living in the United States to regain some of their rights in Cuba. If they do so, they run the risk of losing the benefits they gained in the United States.

In 2013, the Cuban government changed their migration laws to make it possible for people who fled the island to return. This process of “repatriation” as it is known gives returnees the ability to receive free health care on the island as well as buy a home, work, and even start a business. Continue reading

Raul-castro-2016-292x300The Cuban government has opened its first wholesale food market in Havana. The new market is intended to sell staple items to private-sector cooperatives.

By opening the Mercabal wholesale market, the government hopes to address concerns from the private-sector food industry that they had no alternative but to buy supplies from retail stores. This not only meant they were paying high prices, but it has also led to shortages in those stores for ordinary consumers.

Mercabal will sell a limited array of the products most in demand in cafes and bars. These staples include sugar, salt, beans, beer, chicken, and hamburgers. Products are sold at prices between 20 and 30 percent less than in retail stores.

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