Portugal, Chile, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia and Kazakhstan gather this week in Matosinhos, just north of Porto, where Portugal host the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Challenger Cup, starting Wednesday, to determine one team to gain promotion to the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

The winner of the Volleyball Challenger Cup, a new competition to complement the Volleyball Nations League, gets promotion to next year's edition, replacing the bottom-ranked of the Challenger teams in the VNL.

Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Korea are this year's Challenger Teams in the VNL. After Week 4 of the VNL, Korea are bottom of the table, with no chance of catching up with any of the other contenders in their last three remaining matches of pool play.

The six participating teams in the Volleyball Challenger Cup (1 host and 5 teams from continental VCC qualification tournaments - two from Europe and one each from Asia, South American and North Central America & Caribbean) will be divided into two pools of three. The top two of each pool will meet in crosswise semifinals, followed by the bronze medal match and final.

Pool A: Portugal, Estonia, Kazakhstan.
Pool B: Chile, Cuba, Czech Republic.

Full schedule of the 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Challenger Cup in Matosinhos (all times local, GMT+1):

Wednesday, 20 June:
18:00 - Cuba v Czech Republic
21:00 - Portugal v Estonia

Thursday, 21 June:
18:00 - Estonia v Kazakhstan
21:00 - Czech Republic v Chile

Friday, 22 June:
18:00 - Chile v Cuba
21:00 - Kazakhstan v Portugal

Saturday, 23 June:
15:00 - Semifinal 1A v 2B
18:00 - Semifinal 1B v 2A

Sunday, 24 June:
15:00 - Bronze medal match
18:00 - Final

  • Published in Sports

US-Cuba: Between Backing Down and the Willingness to Better Links

One year after President Donald Trump's decision to reverse much of the rapprochement with Cuba, two realities finally emerge: the backward step in links and the interest of many sectors to improve them.
The two countries' ties had already developed for two and a half years after their respective governments announced the beginning of a process of normalization of relations, but on June 16, 2017 the U.S. President announced that it would eliminate some of the progress made.
'With immediate effect, I am canceling the completely unilateral treatment of the last administration,' Trump said that day in a Miami theater before an unrepresentative group of Cubans whom the President addressed as if they embodied all the people born on the island.
Even when polls on the subject showed the majority support of the U.S. people to closer ties with the neighboring country, the Republican signed the Presidential National Security Memorandum on the Strengthening of the United States Policy toward Cuba.
This document announced future restrictions on travel by the Americans to the Caribbean nation and further obstacles to economic, commercial and financial transactions.
In a speech marked by numerous interventionist demands, the head of State ratified then the validity of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by Washington to Cuba more than 55 years ago.
Months after that speech, on November 9, the announced restrictions entered into force, including that people subject to U.S. jurisdiction are prohibited from conducting direct financial transactions with some 180 Cuban entities and sub-entities.
It was also determined that the trips of Americans to the island would continue restricted to 12 existing categories, none of them for tourist purposes, but the educational visits between individual citizens -without academic character- were eliminated, among other measures.
The Cuban government rejected such regulations and affirmed that the White House's decision confirmed a resurgence of the blockade, a policy condemned again in the UN by 191 countries only a week before.
At the same time, while some legislators welcomed the measures and others like Republican senator Marco Rubio said they had to go further, several Congress members and economic sectors rejected them.
Democratic representative Kathy Castor considered that such regulations are part of Trump's retrograde stance to return to failed isolationist policies against the island and its people.
Meanwhile, Republican congressman Mark Sanford said the ban on travel to Cuba, enacted at a critical moment of the Cold War, was outdated and an unfair limitation of American freedom.
Before the measures announced by the President in Miami take effect, another chapter began that also strongly affected bilateral ties.
Last August, the U.S. press released that diplomats from their country at the Embassy in Havana reported a series of health incidents forcing their departure from the island and an evaluation by medical personnel in the United States.
Although Cuba repeatedly stated that it was not responsible for the facts and complies with the provisions of the 1961 Vienna Convention regarding the protection of diplomats, on September 29 the State Department announced the withdrawal of more than half of its staff from the Caribbean country.
It also announced that the visa issuance from there was suspended, and published a Travel Alert in which it recommended to U.S. citizens to avoid visits to Cuba.
Those decisions, described as excessive by some Congress members and U.S. sectors, were followed on October 3 by the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from this capital, all measures remaining in force to this day.
No wonder then that this June 14, when the two countries held the 7th Meeting of the Bilateral Commission in Washington DC, the Caribbean country rejected the backward step imposed on the links and drew attention to its negative consequences for the two peoples, emigration and the regional and international environment.
The Cuban delegation reiterated that the blockade continues to be the fundamental obstacle to any prospect of improvement in mutual relations and denounced the resurgence of that policy.
It also urged to desist from the political manipulation of the alleged health cases, which Washington insists on describing as attacks despite acknowledging that their causes are unknown.
Despite the current context, the President of the Engage Cuba coalition, James Williams, recently told Prensa Latina that wherever they go they see more support for the improvement of ties.
The incumbent, whose organization promotes the lifting of the blockade, lamented that Trump's administration only listened to a couple of voices within Congress and took the wrong side of the story.
But that does not mean that the support of the American people and in the Capitol has decreased, I think it has intensified, he said.
The best proof of it was the creation on June 11 of the Pennsylvania-Engage Cuba State Council, composed of prominent leaders of the place and aimed at seeking support for the opening to the island and the end of travel and trade restrictions.
The state became the number 18 to join the Williams' organization, something previously done by Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Also this week, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp announced that the Senate Agriculture Committee approved an amendment introduced by her and Republican John Boozman to increase access to the Cuban market for U.S. agricultural products.
The provision, introduced in the Agriculture Bill of 2018, would allow the Department of this sector to use its export market development programs to create, expand and maintain a presence in the neighboring country at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.
That is one of the several legislative efforts defended by Congress members, which include the Agricultural Exports to Cuba Law with 64 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
In addition, during this period has actively continued the work of the organizations of solidarity with Cuba, which last October held their most recent annual conference in Seattle city, in the state of Washington.
Twelve months after the signing of a memorandum that harms bilateral ties, many people in the United States wish the same thing expressed this month in Havana by Republican Senator Jeff Flake: 'more cooperation, more travel, more communication anda better relationship' with Cuba.
  • Published in Cuba

Cuba opens Int'l convention to attract foreign investment

The Cuban government opened on Monday the 3rd Edition of International Convention and Exhibition of Cuban Industry (CubaIndustria 2018), seeking to attract foreign investors to revitalize the country's economy.

The Minister of Industry, Salvador Pardo, highlighted that the meeting is being attended by representatives from around 30 countries, including China, Russia, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Pardo stressed that the event is aimed at promoting Cuba's official portfolio of investment and to attract foreign capital and entrepreneurs, in order to establish joint ventures and develop strategic economic sectors.

With the participation of a Chinese business delegation, the official confirmed the "excellent" state of bilateral ties between Havana and Beijing.

Pardo said Cuba and China have signed relevant cooperation agreements in the spheres of renewable energy and transportation, among other important areas.

CubaIndustria 2018 includes a business forum at which Cuban officials will provide insights on the advantages of investing at the island's first Special Economic Development Zone, located at the megaport of Mariel, 50 kilometers west of Havana.

The Mariel Special Economic Development Zone is the largest infrastructure project executed by the Cuban government in the last decade and is expected to become the nation's main gateway for foreign trade.

Cuba needs over 2.5 billion U.S. dollars in foreign investments annually to achieve sustainable development, according to figures released by the Minister of Foreign Investment and Trade, Rodrigo Malmierca.

The arrival of foreign entrepreneurs is not only important due to fresh injection of capital into Cuba but also bringing in modern know-how and high technology that the country needs to update its economic model.

  • Published in Cuba

North American Composer Charles Fox to Perform in Cuba

Havana, Jun 19 (Prensa Latina) North American composer and singer Charles Fox, author of the hit Killing me softly with this song, will give a concert on July 1 at the Gran Teatro de La Habana ''Alicia Alonso'', organizers reported today.

The performance by renowned film and television soundtrack writer Fox, entitled Havana Dreams, is the first stop on a tour of several cities around the world to celebrate 55 years of his artistic career.

Fox will take a tour of his extensive repertoire, accompanied by several generations of local musicians.

Among the guests were Cuban diva Omara Portuondo, who will play Killing me softly with young Cristian Alejandro; trumpeter Juan Kemell, saxophonist and clarinetist Javier Zalba, and violinist Rafael Lay, director of the Aragón orchestra, among others, according to a statement sent by the organizers to Prensa Latina.

Prior to the concert, Fox will meet with artists from the island on June 24 at the Cultural Center on 31 and 2 Streets, located in Vedado Havana, and three days later at Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Fox's professional career began in the second half of the 1960s with arrangements for musicians from different sound fields, and curiously enough, his work for salsa icons Ray Barretto and Tito Puentes stands out at this stage.

However, it is in the composition of soundtracks for film and television that he becomes famous, and under his signature appears the music of the series Love, American Style, Happy Days, and Wonder Woman; and the films The Last American Hero, Foul Play, and The Other Side of the Mountain, among others,

His Grammy winning song Killing me softly with this song put him at the top of the charts, and since 1972, when he composed it, it has been performed by a long list of artists, the best known version being that of American singer Roberta Flack.

Fox is a two-time Emmy Award winner, nominated for an Oscar on an equal number of occasions, and a three-time Golden Globe winner, and has been a member of the Composer's Hall of Fame since 2004.

  • Published in Culture

Indian President to Talk to Cuban Autrhorities

Havana, Jun 19 (Prensa Latina) Indian President Ram Nath Kovind will make an official visit to Cuba on June 21 and 22, where he will have a dialogue with national authorities, the Cuban Foreign Ministry announced Monday.

Kovind will arrive in the Caribbean nation for the first time as part of a tour that includes visits to Greece and Suriname.

According to official sources, the President of India will hold talks with the President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, after arriving on the island in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where he will pay tribute to the historical leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro.

In addition, the visitor is expected to deposit a wreath before the Monument of the National Hero, José Martí, in the capital's Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square).

According to the agenda advanced in New Delhi, Cuba and India will sign several memoranda of understanding in the fields of biotechnology, traditional medicine, medicinal plants and homeopathy.

  • Published in Now

Need to save coral reefs

Flood damage would double without coral reefs, proves study

Loss of coral reefs around the world would double the damage from coastal flooding, and triple the destruction caused by storm surges, researchers said today.

Coupled with projected sea level rise driven by global warming, reef decline could see flooding increase four-fold by century’s end, they reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Without coral to help absorb the shock, a once-in-a-century cyclone would wreak twice the havoc, with the damage measured in the tens of billions of dollars, the team calculated.

“Coral reefs serve as natural, submerged breakwaters that reduce flooding by breaking waves and reducing wave energy,” said Michael Beck, lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy research and environmental group, and a professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz.

“Unfortunately, we are already losing the height and complexity of shallow reefs around the world, so we are likely already seeing increases in flood damages along many tropical coasts,” he told AFP.

Coral is also highly sensitive to spikes in water temperature, which have become sharper and more frequent with climate change.

Global coral reefs risk catastrophic die-off if Earth’s average surface temperature increases two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, earlier research has shown.

Combining coastal flooding and economic models, the new study calculated - country by country - the value of coral reefs as a barrier against storm-related wreckage.

Globally, seaside flooding is estimated to cause nearly USD 4 billion dollars (3.4 billion Euros) a year in damages.

With the erosion of the top metre (three feet) of coral reefs worldwide, that figure rises to USD 8 billion, Beck and his colleagues found.

“The topmost living corals will die and can break off very quickly,” said Beck. The countries most at risk from coral reef loss are Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Cuba, each of which could avoid USD 400 million in damage per year if reefs are maintained.

Saudi Arabia, the United States, Taiwan and Vietnam would also become significantly more vulnerable to flooding with severe coral erosion. “When we consider the devastating impact of tropical storms in just the past few years - Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Typhoon Haiyan - the effects would be much worse without coral reefs,” Beck said.AFP

Sunrise Airways Poised To Expand Services To Cuba

Port-au-Prince , Jun 18 (Prensa Latina) Sunrise Airways plans today to expand its trade routes with Cuba as part of the One Caribbean initiative, which plans to make Haiti a regional center.

Since 2012, the airline has been promoting the concept of safe, reliable and comfortable air transportation at an attractive price, and in the last two years has experienced a growth in the number of passengers from 69,000 in 2016 to 140,000 in 2017, with a projection of 200,000 this year.

According to the president of Sunrise Airways, Philippe Bayard, the excellent historical relations between Haiti and Cuba go back 200 years and have been a determining factor when choosing destinations in Cuba.

'We started flying in April 2014 with a Jetstream 32 (19 seats) to Santiago from Port-au-Prince and we operate 11 flights a week with an Airbus A320 (150 seats) to three destinations, Santiago, Camagüey and Havana,' the executive said.

By 2019, the airline plans to open two more routes in Santa Clara and Holguín, in Cuba, Kignston in Jamaica, and later on Santo Domingo and Curacao will join.

'We began talks with the Cuban Aviation Authority a month ago to establish an agreement between Cubana de Aviación and Sunrise Airways. This is an important step for us in line with our ultimate long-term goal of connecting the Caribbean directly or through a partnership between regional airlines: One Caribbean.

Bayard's goal is ambitious, to make Haiti the center of a system of feeding routes within the Caribbean, which will support the country's continued growth by stimulating trade and tourism.

According to the executive, there is an excessive dependence on the service provided by U.S. operators, particularly American Airlines, which is used as a distribution point for other areas in the region.

However, Bayard notes, the choice of Port-au-Prince are a bit premature, even with the new connections with Cuba and Santo Domingo, because Haiti's airport infrastructure is totally inadequate and unsuitable for mass market transit.

He also highlighted the excessive level of ticket and price taxes and the high cost of aviation fuel, among the highest in the region, as major disadvantages to the development of the aviation market in the Caribbean.

In 2018 the airline will invest in technology and a substantial change in accounting systems, website and booking systems.

'We gauge how technology is important today in the workflow to gain productivity at all levels of the customer experience. This is why we will limit the opening of new destinations in 2018. Only two in progress: Curacao Santo Domingo and Santo Domingo Havana. To open them, we will soon receive a new plane,' Bayard concluded.

  • Published in Cuba

Fernando Gonzalez: ‘To strengthen the links of friendship around the world, that is our role’

CUBAN Five hero Fernando Gonzalez may have spent 15 years in US prisons, but he wears his sacrifice lightly.

Along with the rest of the Five, Gonzalez was working in Florida monitoring Cuban exile groups planning terrorist attacks on his homeland when he was arrested in 1998. Like them, he spent 17 months “in the hole,” solitary confinement, before being convicted in a trial that drew international condemnation and locked up until February 27 2014.

Miami-based terrorists have killed thousands of Cubans since the 1960s in attacks such as that orchestrated by Luis Posada Carriles that brought down Cubana Flight 455 in 1976, killing 73 people.

Infiltrating such groups was clearly a dangerous mission, but Gonzalez says it “wasn’t hard” to decide to go when he was asked.

Born in 1963 and a proud “child of the revolution,” he served with Cuban troops defending the progressive Angolan government from Unita rebels in 1987-89.

He was with troops moving towards the border with Namibia — then occupied by apartheid South Africa, which was intervening on Unita’s side — at the time of the great battle of Cuito Canavale to the east, a victory credited by Nelson Mandela, among others, with the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola and which played its part in securing Namibian independence and even the final defeat of apartheid itself.

“When I returned to Cuba I was 26. I was asked if I was willing to go to the US and work on anti-terrorist activities.

“I knew about the historic terrorism against Cuba, the lives lost in attacks on our people and our embassies. I said: ‘All right, if you think I can do it, I’m willing’.”

He is not bitter about his arrest, though he notes that the FBI were “not sincere” in dealings with the Cuban government when asking to share information on terrorist cells in high-level exchanges that took place in 1998.

“The attitude of Cuba was to share information, though not, of course, its source,” he says. “But the FBI were already aware of the source. They were not transparent. Two months later we were arrested.”

The 17 months in “the hole” were “an effort to break us,” he acknowledges when I ask what kept him going over 15 years in jail.

“But I had a conviction that what we had done was right, that there was nothing wrong in saving lives or defending people — not just Cubans but people all over the world, because tourists were killed in attacks.

“And I didn’t take it personally. I knew the US had nothing against us personally. It could be Fernando Gonzalez behind bars or anybody else. What was happening was an expression of US hostility to Cuba, not to me.

“That perspective helped me cope — that it wasn’t about me and what happened to me was not the most important thing. Our sacrifice was part of the course of history, part of something much bigger.”

Gonzalez is effusive in his thanks to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and friends in this country who wrote more letters in support of the Five than any other. International solidarity, rather than any serious change in policy by the Barack Obama presidency, was what secured their eventual release, he believes.

“The Obama concessions were simply because Washington concluded that their current policy wasn’t getting them the result they wanted, so they looked at achieving their aim in a different way,” he says.

“In Cuba we were happy to see any improvement. We don’t gain anything from their hostility. We just want to be left alone.

“There was some improved co-operation on law enforcement, fighting drug smuggling, a few changes. But the blockade stayed in place.

“There was more rhetoric about lifting it than any real effort. Now Donald Trump is trying to roll back what advances were made.”

But following the historic meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, could there be hope of a similar easing of tensions with Cuba?

“Well,” he muses. “It’s very positive that Trump and Kim have met. It’s good for peace. It’s good for the Korean peninsula and the region.

“But it’s ironic when combined with increased aggression in Latin America. I hope it teaches the US that, if they are willing to negotiate with another country, why not Cuba where the issues are much less complex?”

But the present reality is almost the opposite. “The left has been losing ground in Latin America, that’s obvious,” he says, noting the congressional coups that removed left-wing presidents in Paraguay and Brazil, the right’s victory in Argentina, the current unrest orchestrated against the Nicaraguan authorities and the repeated bids to overturn the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

“When these countries were moving left, the US didn’t sit and wait. They began to develop a counter-offensive.

“What we’re seeing now is an offensive by the centres of imperialism, most important of which is Washington.

“They always find local actors, sectors of society who for reasons of self-interest are willing to work with the US, but the strategy comes from the centre.

“This didn’t start with Trump. As you say, his rhetoric is more hostile — openly talking of military action against Venezuela, for example. But the reality is the same.”

Gonzalez’s role as president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship and Solidarity sees him work with 2,000-odd organisations in 155 countries that promote solidarity with the socialist country as well as co-ordinate Cuba’s own solidarity to other countries, as expressed in medical missions, emergency responses and the many other acts of humanity that make this Caribbean island loom so large on the world stage. He was also elected to Cuba’s parliament in March.

“To strengthen those links of friendship around the world, that is our role,” he says, “as well as to campaign on political causes — a free Palestine, an independent Puerto Rico.”

This work is so important to him because of the role solidarity played in their release.

“The Cuba Solidarity Campaign played a key role and today” (I met him at the CSC AGM) “showed the organisation and planning that goes into this important work on ending the blockade, putting pressure on the US to end its occupation of Guantanamo.

“It is well organised and strong. You fought hard for us and in part that is why we were released — a victory for you as well as us.

“I include the Morning Star in that for publishing information about our case other papers wouldn’t touch. Reading it in prison showed us we were not alone and, when we passed the paper on, many inmates would come back to us and say: ‘Oh, we didn’t know that about Cuba.’ It played a very positive role.

“I want to thank the trade unions too for showing us such support – Unison, Unite, RMT, the National Union of Teachers and others.”

As George Galloway later tells the Cuba rally following the AGM, it feels odd to be thanked by a man whose sacrifice puts most of us to shame.

The Cuban revolution remains a beacon to socialists and opponents of imperialism everywhere, a living example that another world is possible. Gonzalez and the rest of the Five paid a terrible price for their work to protect their people and their revolution. It’s we who should be thanking them.

Fernando Gonzalez addresses the Solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela: No to Trump fringe meeting at Unison conference on Tuesday. Meet in Auditorium 2, Brighton Centre at 5.15pm.

  • Published in Cuba
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