Raúl Castro Attends Inauguration of the Cuban Parliament

Havana, Apr 18 (Prensa Latina) Cuban President Raul Castro is heading the inauguration session of the 9th Legislature of the National Assembly of the People's Power (Parliament) at Havana's Convention Center.

This day, the 605 lawmakers elected last March 11 by more than seven million Cubans are being sworn in for a period of five years, as established by the Cuban Constitution.

After the Assembly's inauguration, the legislators will choose by secret and direct vote to the Speaker of Parliament and the 31 members of the Council of State, including the President, the First Vice President and five Vice Presidents. The inauguration of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly takes place in the context of the 57th anniversary of the Cuban victory in Bay Pigs over a US-backed and led mercenary force.

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Cubans praise Raul Castro's 12 years in power

Changes in Cuba over the past decade are manifested not only in the thriving private restaurants and luxurious hotels, but also in its people, who are optimistic about their future thanks to the economic reforms launched by President Raul Castro in 2011.

Cubans had been grappling to overcome the hardships during what they referred to as the "special period" following the demise of the Soviet Union nearly three decades ago.

After Castro handed over power to his younger brother Raul Castro in 2006, the latter initiated sweeping political, economic and social reforms not seen since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, resulting in an improved living standard for the people.

As the younger Castro is set to step down from his second term as Cuban president, Cubans across the island and from all walks of life have been speaking highly of his 12 years in office.

"In recent years the standard of living of Cubans has risen in one way or another and this has been influenced by his determination to start updating the economic model," a young worker called Jorge Alvarez told Xinhua, praising the president as being very positive.

Alvarez said Castro, on the verge of turning 87 in June, was intrepid in taking that step and cautious when putting decisions into practice due to their complexity.

"He did just as he said, step by step without haste but without pause. He made important and far-reaching changes for the development of the country, such as promoting private property and allowing more foreign investment," Alvarez said.

Juan Triana, a professor in economics at the University of Havana, said one of Castro's greatest achievements was that he eliminated the suspicions of Cubans toward foreign direct investment (FDI).

Triana said FDI was perceived as "an enemy of our development process" in Cuba in the 1970s. As time went by, it was considered "something necessary but done in very timid manner."

"In the 1990s it was accepted as a necessary evil, later as a complement to the economy, and currently as a strategic need for the development of the country," he said.

Triana said extensive transformations are being carried out at all levels, politically, economically and socially.

However, a lot remains to be done as only 25 percent of the over 300 reform guidelines approved by the ruling Communist Party in 2011 have been implemented as of now.

The most important thing, Triana said, is the will to continue on this path, which has created an ideological foundation and a political platform that will allow the country to advance much further in the short term.

Although the target level of income of ordinary citizens hasn't been reached -- and neither have the planned growth rates -- there is a vision charting out specific steps to materialize the reforms.

In 2017 the Cuban economy grew 2 percent, only half of what was projected at the beginning of the year. There were multiple reasons for the slow growth, including domestic financial limitations, the continued crisis in its regional ally and main economic partner Venezuela, as well as damages by Hurricane Irma worth 13 billion U.S. dollars.

"Much progress was made in the idea that all sectors of the economy can and should contribute to growth, and that it is the government's task to pursue an appropriate legal framework so that everyone can contribute in one way or another," said Triana.

In that context, the academic also referred to non-state forms of management, specifically private or self-employed workers as they are known on the island and non-agricultural cooperatives.

As regards reforms in the private sector, the scholar said the process is pending since privatization is "something new for Cuba," adding, however, that the government will approve small and medium-sized private companies "in the near future."

Silvio Reyes, one of the nearly 600,000 private workers in the country, also highlighted the importance of deepening the reforms in an interview with Xinhua.

Reyes said the changes made by Castro have been significant because they've opened the possibility for citizens to embrace a new dynamism in their lives.

"I started working on my own several years ago and I believe that not only did my family income grow, but also my contribution to society through the service I offer and the taxes I pay," he said.

He also praised other measures, such as the new migration policy approved in 2013 which eliminated obtaining government permits to travel abroad, as well as the authorization of home and car purchases for ordinary citizens.

Lourdes Gomez, who works in the state-owned sector, thinks Castro says little but is more concerned about practical actions.

"He knew how to combine what had been achieved by Fidel Castro, whose legacy will last forever, and at the same time undertake the changes that were necessary," said Gomez.

She said sometimes the pace of implementation of the reforms was slower than what people desired, but it was understandable given the lack of resources and other short-term problems.

"There is also the negative impact of the economic blockade imposed by the United States, which is the main obstacle to the development of the country," she added.

U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to roll back the detente achieved during Barack Obama's presidency that saw the two bitter foes resume a diplomatic relationship with each other. Despite the setback, the reality is that Cubans have never expected benefits from Washington.

"The results of Raul's government are evident and without relying on the United States," said Juan Valera, an elderly man.

He said Castro was consistent with the policies outlined by his late brother Fidel and never gave up "the revolutionary ideals or the socialist process."

The younger Castro, Valera said, faced the challenges in the best possible way "with intelligence and solid principles," instead of sticking to the old development path.

A two-day parliamentary session starting on Wednesday will decide the composition of Cuba's ninth legislature, where 605 lawmakers will elect a new president and other senior government officials.

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Cuba Inaugurates Parliament with Wide Diversity

Cuba is inaugurating Wednesday the 9th Legislature of its National Parliament, a body of 605 members representing diverse sectors of society and being 53.2 percent of it women.

The new MPs are meeting Wednesday and Thursday at Havana Convention Center after being elected last March 11, an election day in which over 7,400,000 voters casted their ballots for an 86 percent turnout.

The Parliament's seats will be occupied by workers, farmers, teachers, doctors, scientists, writers, artists, religious leaders, students, political leaders, businesspeople, sportsmen, military and workers from the private sectors.

Furthermore, the legislative house is made up of 40.5 percent black and colored people, 13,2 MPs under 35 years, 86 percent university graduates and a average age of 49 years.

A relevant fact is that 47.4 percent of the legislators was elected in neighborhood meetings and that women make up 53.2 percent of its membership makes the Cuban Parliament the second in the world with most women sitting second only to Rwanda (61.3).

Prensa Latina spoke with several of the newly-elected lawmakers who will take the oath Wednesday for a five-year term, and they all stressed that a priority is to continue strengthening socialism, following the legacy of the historical leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro and the revolutionary generation of the process that began on January 1, 1959.

Jorge Luis Romero, a cobbler from Lisa municipality, in Havana, said people are aware of the need to preserving the social achievements.

'Just look at me; I'm a cobbler and I'll be sitting at the National Parliament; this only happens in Cuba where every single day I stay undisturbed when my children go to school or when someone in the family gets sick, because we have free quality education and health; this is why people defend the revolution,' said the self-employed cobbler.

After inauguration, the 9th Legislature will elect by secret vote the Assembly's Speaker for the next five years, and the new Council of State that is the highest governmental body.

In doing that, lawmakers will be electing the President who is head of State and Government, the first Vice President and five Vice Presidents, the Council's Secretary and the remaining 23 members of the Council of State, which represents the National Parliament in between its two ordinary periods of sessions a year.

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Cuba Is Attracting More Cruise Visits as Traditional Travel Gets Complicated

While Americans lost some of the ability to explore Cuba on their own due to restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, cruise ships are offering organized trips approved by the U.S. government. That seems to be working out well for operators, who are eager to increase their presence in the destination.
— Hannah Sampson

Nearly two years after cruise travel between the U.S. and Cuba restarted following a decades-long break, demand for the destination — at least as part of cruise itineraries — is showing no sign of cooling.

Cruise lines continue to add more visits, in some cases doubling the number of ships they send, and travel agents report higher interest among clients.

“Cuba has been terrific, I think, for the industry. For our particular company, it’s been very, very good,” said Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, at an industry conference last month. “I defined it as a home run — so much that we’re doubling capacity in 2018.”

The continued growth in cruising comes as the rules governing travel to the island have tightened under President Donald Trump, who last year resurrected some of the restrictions his predecessor eased.

U.S. citizens who travel to the island must go as part of organized groups that comply with rules that dictate the types of travel that are allowed; they are no longer permitted to take those trips on their own with just a promise that they will stay in compliance.

The number of American travelers in Cuba rose 18 percent in 2017 to 619,000. Citing a tourism expert at the University of Havana, the Associated Press reported that the number of cruise passengers visiting Cuba increased from 184,000 in 2016 to 541,000 last year, including many Americans.

But tour operators are predicting an overall drop in visitors this year under the stricter new regulations, USA Today reported.

The crackdown hasn’t been problematic for cruise lines because they offer tours that comply with even the recent rules. In fact, when the restrictions were announced last year, some in the cruise industry suggested the changes could actually be beneficial to the industry.

That suspicion appears to be proving true.

“The Trump administration tweaks that were made to travel to Cuba impacted the cruise industry very little,” Del Rio said during a panel discussion with other executives last month at the Seatrade Cruise Global event. “To some degree, we benefitted from that, though we didn’t need the benefit…because ships are full at good prices.”

Carnival Cruise Line announced this month that it is adding 20 more sailings to Cuba from Tampa on Carnival Paradise next year, on top of 11 that had already been scheduled for the ship. The brand had also previously announced 17 cruises on Carnival Sensation leaving from Miami in 2019.

The Cuban government granted Carnival the additional dates. Holland America Line, another brand in the Carnival Corp. portfolio, announced a handful of visits last year. And the operator is awaiting permission to visit with another line, a spokesman said.

In late 2017, Royal Caribbean International said it was adding a second ship, sending both Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas to Cuba. The line also added more destinations in Cuba to itineraries.

“Cruising remains the easiest way to visit Cuba, and with both Empress and Majesty sailing there in 2018 and 2019, we hope to make it that much easier for adventure seekers to experience the legendary island,” Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, said in a statement.

All cruise announcements come with destination-specific fine print: Cuba sailings offer excursions designed “to comply with the people-to-people educational exchange activities requirement as set forth in the U.S. regulations,” as Royal Caribbean put it.

Carnival’s recent release was even more specific, explaining that Havana visits comply with U.S. Treasury Department regulations and shore excursions “meet all U.S. government regulations and provide a convenient means for complying with the people-to-people requirements of cruises to Cuba.”

Lines must get permission from the Cuban government to visit the island, and today’s fleet of megaships — or even just semi-megaships — are not able to visit because of infrastructure issues. Major cruise lines have to send smaller — and in many cases older — vessels, which have been commanding higher rates than they would on sailings that did not include the island.

“We all wish we had more tonnage available to go to Cuba,” Del Rio said.

A report released by the Cruise Lines International Association earlier this month showed that nearly 43 percent of respondents said customers showed increasing interest in cruising to Cuba.

That interest was highest among baby boomer travelers, followed by Generation X.

Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner of home-based travel agency franchise Cruise Planners, visited Havana last year during Norwegian Cruise Line’s first visit and said she wants to go back to other ports.

“Cruise Planners agents definitely still seeing an interest in Cuba and not only are travel agents still booking Cuba, but travelers are increasingly realizing the value in booking Cuba cruises through a travel agent since these trips are sure to meet the regulations that can sometimes be confusing to a traveler,” said Garcia, whose company is affiliated with American Express Travel, in an email. “There is a pent up demand and we are hearing that people want to go there sooner rather than later before things change politically or it becomes too commercial.”

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Annie Garcés and the gift unsolved for everyone

Almost a year ago Annie Garcés sang in the National Theater of Cuba. That Sunday afternoon she did a travel by some ballad’s songs: she invited young singers and others very experienced ones, defenders of her same musical cause.

“She did it well, but she could do it better”, some people expressed while going out of the hot Avellaneda hall. “She is a very gifted girl and with a good future in the music”, the analysis of the concert, which was recorded in DVD format, concluded like that.

Some Saturdays ago, Annie Garcés sang in honor to women in the hall of the Building of Cuban Art Museum. That concert demonstrated, unlike what happened in the National Theater of Cuba, that the Annie Garcés’ confidence in her talent will make her to go forward in the Cuban music, and whenever it would be like that, the audience would be able to follow her wherever she sings.

Annie Garcés and the gift unsolved for everyone

People who attended to Annie’s concert in Bellas Artes enjoyed of a young woman with a control of the scene, with more confidence in what she said singing, with no stiffness in the wardrobe, whichmade her freer and less preoccupied of the poses at this time.

Annie Garcés danced a little in the Bellas Artes’ concert. She extended the hands, put them up, captured the sensitivities themselves and transmited them to the audience; she was seen enjoying more, she felt more motivated, less nervous, with no a lot of ornaments that maybe in the National Theater made her more beautiful and less expressive.

Annie will have the sincere applause of her audience while her shows have the sensibility and the simplicity of the paper butterflies placed in the walls as it happened in the Bellas Artes Museum’s concert and while her live repertoire has some song that moves her of her comfort zone and the audience realizes that.
If we make an analysis of the audience who attended to Annie’s concert in Bellas Artes we could have as a possible result that more than the half people which were there were older than thirty five or forty years of age. This conclusion, a priori, guesses that the artist has the support of a population group which according to the age, they have consumed music of artists from different epochs, and they can compare and determinate the best and the not so good things; however they follow the artist and fill the chairs of the theaters.

Annie Garcés and the gift unsolved for everyone

Then, the musical repertoire of Annie has to be analyzed, and probably could exist the possibility of her songs being singing also by the youngest which maybe recognize her talent, but they have lack of motivation for consuming her work.

We need a disc that compiles Annie Garcés’ music, a disc which the artist’s followers can have, and the directors of radio and television programs, in charge of spreading the work of our musicians, could use it for promoting the voice of this girl who sings so nice like the sound of a flute.

When that disc be finished, and we want it could be soon, surely there will be another concert in some theater of Cuba, and that achievement will be a gift for all.

By: Yoel Almaguer de Armas

  • Published in Culture

President Raul Castro Welcomes Cuban Delegation

Cuban President Raul Castro welcomed on Monday in Havana the Cuban delegation that headed Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to the 8th Summit of the Americas recently held in Lima, Peru.

On board were also representatives of the Cuban Civil Society, youth, deputies and business executives that participated in the Summit’s parallel forums.

Accompanying Raul Castro were members of the Political Bureau, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party; Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, First Vice President; and Esteban Lazo, President of the National Assembly of the People’s Power.

The Cuban President also welcomed a group of intellectuals, artists, athletes, among others that participated in the alternative Summit of the Peoples held last Tuesday to Saturday in Lima, Peru.

President Raul Castro Welcomes Cuban Delegation to the 8th Summit of the Americas

President Raul Castro Welcomes Cuban Delegation to the 8th Summit of the Americas

By Jorge Leganoa Alonso

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Cuba, Vietnam Favor More Cooperation between Vaccine Producers

Vaccine Institute (IFV) in Cuba and its Vietnamese counterpart, Vabiotech, signed a memorandum of understanding in this capital to boost cooperation relations.

The document establishes the access to new technologies and products in an advanced stage as a key aspect, as well as new markets and possibilities of development, IFV Deputy Director Yury Valdes told Prensa Latina.

As part of an ongoing negotiation, Valdes and his colleague, Nivaldo Linares, the IFV director of Clinical Research, visited the headquarters of the Vietnamese vaccine producing company and verified its high scientific and technological level, in addition to exploring future possibilities of cooperation.

The memorandum was signed by Valdes and Vabiotech President Do Tuan Dat, in the presence of Cuban Ambassador Lianys Torres; Vietnam's Deputy Minister for Science and Technology, Pham Cong Tac; and the vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Doan Duy Khuong.

Vabiotech is one of Vietnam's major vaccine producers and, according to Valdes, its relations with the Cuban institute have borne fruits.

This time we share the objective of consolidating those ties by identifying new possibilities of mutually advantageous collaboration, including the exchange of technologies, products and expanded markets.

Valdes and Linares traveled to Hanoi to represent one of 27 Cuban companies attending the 27th International Trade Fair of Vietnam.

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Cuba to Begin Session to Elect New President a Day Early

Cuba is bringing forward the start of the national assembly session where a new president will be selected to succeed Raul Castro.

Cuba is bringing forward the start of its national assembly session where a new president will be elected to succeed Raul Castro, Cuban state-run Radio Rebelde said Monday. The new assembly, selected in a March vote, had originally been set to meet Thursday but will now start its "constitutive session" at 9 a.m. local time Wednesday, April 18.

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Who Will be Elected Cuba's Next President? Speculation Mounts

“The State Council of the Republic of Cuba, making use of its conferred faculties, agreed to begin the Constituent Session of the 9th Legislature of the People's Power National Assembly Wednesday April 18, 2018, at 9 a.m. in the Convention's Palace in Havana.

The decision was made to facilitate the development of the steps that a session of such importance requires," Radio Rebelde said on its website. The report doesn't specify if the session will last only one day or if it will extend until Thursday.

The 605 representatives recently elected on the March 11 elections will meet to choose the next president, first vice president, five vice presidents and 23 members of the State Council.

The 86-year-old Raul Castro said he will step down as president at the next assembly session, after completing two successive five-year mandates.

Cuba's ruling Communist Party has yet to name any formal candidate, but several party offcials are seen as potential runners for the presidency. current First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 57, is seen as a likely candidate. 

Diaz-Canel would be the first president born after the 1959 revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Other possibilities include Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, the party's second secretary, who fought with guerrillas in the Sierra Maestro during the Cuban Revolution; and Ramiro Valdes, another former guerrilla who currently serves as vice-president of the State Council and Council of Ministers.

Cuba's 168 Municipal Assemblies of People's Power have held extraordinary sessions across the island to approve candidate selection for provincial delegates, according to Granma.

Castro, who was formally elected to the presidency 10 years ago after the end of Fidel Castro's term in 2008, will remain head of the Cuban Communist Party until the next congress in 2021.

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