Eric Caraballoso

Eric Caraballoso

Corresponsal acreditado de OnCuba en La Habana.

Photo: Jesús Rodríguez

Havana International Trade Fair: 35 Years Open to the World

Turned into the principal commercial mart of Cuba and the Caribbean, the Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV) will celebrate from October 30 to November 3, 2017 its 35th edition. The EXPOCUBA fairgrounds will again be the venue of this event established in 1983 and considered “much more than an exhibition of products or a forum specifically dedicated to business,” according to Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca. The organizers expect the fair will confirm the growth experienced in recent years, a reflection of the sustained interest by foreign investors and companies in the island. In 2016 FIHAV lived its all-time biggest edition with a record foreign participation. A total of 3,500 exhibitors from 73 countries were present. Around 150,000 professional visitors and the public in general toured the exhibition pavilions. The 2017 fair could represent a new record. This event will have several singularities. The 35th edition of FIHAV will be the last with Raúl Castro as Cuban president. His announced retirement from power in mid-2018 makes the fair a propitious moment to consolidate his economic legacy, marked by some reforms and the opening to foreign capital. It could also serve to outline – or at least...

The Floridita, Havana’s most famous bar. Photo: Lifestyle

Two centuries with the Floridita

In the Floridita you can have 17 types of daiquiris: coconut, strawberry, mint, kiwi, mango…are among the options for visitors to the most famous of Havana’s bars. Its bartenders even offer a non-alcoholic variant so the teetotalers and children can also leave the place pleased. “With no chauvinism, the best daiquiri in the world is made in the Floridita,” affirms Ariel Blanco, director of the bar-restaurant that currently belongs to the state-run Palmares chain. Located in the intersection of Obispo and Monserrate streets, in Old Havana, the establishment is celebrating this year two centuries of existence. Its fame, mainly associated to the figure of writer Ernest Hemingway and the excellence of its daiquiri, has turned it into an obliged site for tourists worldwide. More than a quarter of a million visitors arrive every year to the Floridita. Its director estimates that around 80 percent of the Americans who travel to Havana can’t resist the temptation of entering the bar. However, there are not many Cuban clients. Many on the island can’t afford the bar’s prices – around six dollars for the classic daiquiri. But the numbers, neither of Cubans nor of foreigners, say it all. To understand the meaning of...

Patricia Zulueta on a visit to Oxford in 2015, an experience she hopes to repeat this year as a graduate student. Photo: Courtesy of Patricia Zulueta Bravo.

A Cuban’s long road to Oxford

Her name is Patricia Zulueta Bravo and she dreams with studying for a master’s in Oxford. “From where I come that only happens in movies,” she said the first time it was suggested to her. But the wish was aroused in her. Patricia was born in Havana and she now lives in Hanoi, thousands of kilometers from the oldest English-speaking university. But at 30 she has already achieved half of her wish: she was accepted in Oxford to study for an MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. She doesn’t intend to go to the British university to study English. Strange as it might seem, her wish is to create a method that facilitates the learning of the Chinese language. Patricia is a professor of the language most spoken in the world: Mandarin. Her link with that language was by chance. She doesn’t have almond-shaped eyes nor does she descend from emigrants of the Asian country. In fact, her family roots are in eastern Cuba and her skin color is black. But she feels the Chinese language as her own. The MSc begins in October but before this, on September 28, Patricia must pay her tuition, some 25,000 dollars....

Photo: Courtesy of the hotel

Paseo 206 Boutique Hotel: An Embrace of Exclusiveness and Exquisiteness

There are places that shy away from classifications at a distance, which are an invitation to discover their exquisiteness based on personal experience. They encourage unique perceptions, they meet the most rigorous tastes. Havana has the Paseo 206 Boutique Hotel. On one of the city’s principal avenues, in an environment that harmonizes the rhythms of modernity with the beauty of the architecture, the hotel offers its clients personalized attention. The quiet comfort of a home with the splendor of a deluxe installation. “The word standard doesn’t exist for us,” underlined Andrea Gallina, owner of the Paseo 206 Boutique Hotel together with his wife Diana Saínz. Andrea is Italian and Diana is Cuban, which gives the place its own hallmark, born of the combination of both cultures. “A warm embrace between Cuba and Italy,” its owners like to say. Photo: Courtesy of the hotel The welcome to this impeccable combination is Ecléctico. Named for the architectural style of the building it shares with the hotel, this Italian ristorante takes to the table an unparalleled culinary concept in all of Cuba. Exclusiveness, care and inspiration are values that distinguish it. Andrea prefers the term creative cuisine more than...

Edgar Sanfeliz-Botta (standing). Photo: Florida International University/Facebook.

The incredible story of Edgar Sanfeliz-Botta

Edgar Sanfeliz-Botta’s story seems like a fairy tale. Or a plot born of the trained imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters. One day, while he was singing “Once Upon a Dream,” the well-known theme of the film Sleeping Beauty by Disney, the person who would change his life heard him. Edgar was working in a Miami McDonald’s and Roberta David had gone there to buy a Cesar salad. Roberta, professional director of choirs, immediately knew of the diamond she had found behind the window of that place. “Was that you?” she asked him in a hurry because of the cars that were following hers on the line. And Edgar, between confused and surprised, told her that it was him. The elderly lady confirmed that the young man with a red apron was a singer, a countertenor to be more specific, and she decided to do whatever was possible to channel him. What happened later has been trending for the Cuban community of Miami and for the press, to the point of making Edgar a celebrity, taking him by surprise. But he does not give importance to the will-o’-the-wisp of fame and prefers to thank the luck of having found Roberta in his...

Photo: Marita Pérez Díaz

Soccer ball Dauphin sets new record

Twelve minutes with the ball on the forehead. Twelve long minutes floating in the water, without his feet touching the bottom of the pool, maintaining the highest mental concentration and balance so that the ball wouldn’t fall from his head. This is Cuban Jhoen Lefont’s new Guinness Record, established on the morning of this Saturday in Havana’s Meliá Cohiba Hotel. The judges had set a limit of 10 minutes to consider the record, but the so-called soccer ball Dauphin pleased them with flying colors. In his first attempt in the pool he surpassed the record demanded and all the effort in his training and exercises became deserved satisfaction. “I feel very happy with having achieved the objective, which was to surpass the 10 minutes,” Lefont said after establishing the record. “Starting with the training sessions my aim was to get to the 12 minutes and I also achieved it, therefore the satisfaction is even greater. Thank God today there wasn’t too much wind and that helped me psychologically to established the record.” Before this success, the former member of the Cuban water polo national team had set other world records, among them the 1,513 head bunts of the ball in...

Víctor Manuel Moratón (left) and Fabián Ruiz, the NinjaCuba team.

Cuban ninjas

Víctor Manuel Moratón works every morning in his nearest WiFi zone. He always gets there very early, going from La Timba to the park on 15 and 16 in El Vedado, where he will spend close to an hour connected. He’s been doing this daily routine for five months, ever since on January 1, 2017 he started navigating on the Internet a site for freelance professionals which he is working on with his friend Fabián Ruiz: NinjaCuba. Víctor, who is 29, is an informatics engineer and Fabián, 33, is a designer. Both of them make up a team of a platform that today has more than 300 users registered free of charge. “The idea was to create a space where users could promote themselves as professionals,” Víctor affirms, “to show their knowledge, their skills, their work portfolio, which would allow them to apply for labor offers and directly contact clients, without intermediaries taking advantage of them.” The commitment with their peers was the principal motivation of the founders of NinjaCuba. They both work independently and know the vicissitudes of those who share their situation on the island. In fact, they are also users of the platform. “We want to support...

Prado and Neptuno, Old Havana: Photo: Jeff Cotner.

More luxury tourism: “Paying for Havana what Havana deserves”

All languages are spoken at a tourism fair. Or almost all. With the most unexpected accents, the most curious pronunciations: the guttural Spanish of a German, the Buenos Aires French of an Argentinean, the accelerated English of a Russian. Or of a Cuban or a Chinese. That is FITCuba 2017: a contemporary tower of Babel, a multilingual tide that tours the Playa Pesquero Hotel, to the north of Holguín. The first day of the fair is the most chaotic; the multinational murmur bounces in all the hotel’s walls. At the same time it is more organized. Everything has been previewed, everything has been programmed. The schedules are met with Caribbean rigor. But the tide doesn’t stop. The people crowd in the theater, in the lobby, in the bars and the hallways. Way after noon there are still persons being accredited, looking for one of the organizers for an explanation about one or another question. Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero’s adddress began a bit before 11:00 in the morning. It was the inaugural conference, which concluded with the formality of “officially inaugurating FITCuba 2017,” the 37th edition of the fair and the first held in eastern Cuba. Before this Holguín’s authorities...

Herbie Hancock in Havana. Photo: Gabriel Bianchini.

Herbie Hancock and the jazz embrace in Cuba

Herbie Hancock said it without flattery or smugness: “Cuba is the perfect place to celebrate jazz.” It could seem a set phrase. Generous. Obliged by courtesy. But the winner of 14 Grammy awards doesn’t need to spare words. That he’s not in Havana on vacation. Herbie Hancock traveled to Cuba as promoter of International Jazz Day, as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, as a legend of a genre that has shaken world culture for more than a century. In this scenario of supreme freedom that jazz is, Hancock does not need credentials. Chameleonic, rich, respectful and at the same time irreverent, he has practically experienced all the jazz styles of recent decades, from the hard and post-bop to jazz funk and electronic. As a keyboard player he has founded a unique style, an incomparable harmonic domain. This Wednesday he was in a tribute given by UNESCO to the Plaza House of Culture, in El Vedado. The Jazz Plaza Festival, the star jazz event in Cuba, was created there more than three decades ago. The Chicago-born 77-year-old musician did not perform during the ceremony; he did not place his hands on the piano as was the case,...

Photo by Yaniel Tolentino

Idania del Río, Clandestine in Havana

At first sight, Idania del Río looks like an adolescent. Slight, disheveled, with a clear look in her eyes, almost innocent. But once she starts talking her expression changes, her features harden, and then an unforeseen strength in her slimness comes to the surface. Born in Havana in 1981, Idania is one of Cuba’s most renowned young designers. After graduating from the Higher Institute of Industrial Design, she has accumulated a curriculum that includes international poster, book and magazine illustration exhibitions, the art direction of theater projects, animation works in Uruguay and awards like the Cubadisco for graphic design. “A stroke can have a great many meanings,” she affirms when I ask her about her vocation. “There’s nothing more exciting than being able to suggest, being able to transmit one or many ideas with an image.” Photo by Yaniel Tolentino She speaks without boasting, but with evident propriety. If the subject of the conversation is design, she shows the maturity of an acclaimed person. She appeals to the artistic vision materialized in her career. She walks on terra firma. She decries the lack of style of the designer, that it can only be the channeled between...

José Raúl Capablanca passed away 75 years ago.

Capablanca in his last game

The Manhattan Chess Club that night was visited by one of its most illustrious parishioners. He is sitting in a corner, following with an attentive, incisive look the movements of a nearby chessboard. He smiles. It is March 7, 1942. Everyone there knows what the smiles of he who is observing mean. Everyone there knows him and admires him. The players, keeping an eye on his presence, avoid looking at him out of the corner of their eyes. Knowing they are being assessed by Capablanca makes anyone bite their nails. During a pause, the Cuban champion talks with several of those present. He talks with Sidney Kenton about a possible quick chess tournament. A sudden heat consumes his body. His face reddens. A fatal whistle explodes in his ears. “Help me take off my coat,” he is able to say before collapsing. After a rapid medical checkup, an ambulance takes him to Mount Sinai Hospital. There will be no salvation. A cerebral hemorrhage caused by a galloping hypertension led to the death of the most genial of the chess players of his time. He was greater, undoubtedly, in the history of his country. José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera stopped breathing...

Alfredo de Oro. Photo: Harris & Ewing (1914)

De Oro

The public surrounded the table, expectant. Jerome Keogh caresses the tip of his cue and observes attentively his rival’s turn. Only nine balls separate him from the world billiard title in the modality of continues pool, while his opponent needs to pocket 63. But his opponent is Alfredo de Oro. With amazing aplomb, almost offhandedly, De Oro pockets one ball after the other. His movements are confident and elegant. The phlegmatic Keogh thrusts his cue on the floor. The breathless spectators control their exclamations. When there’s one ball left, a single ball, the Cuban pool player takes his time. He delays hitting the ball, delighting in the gestures; he stops time like a master of suspense. The public becomes impatient. The journalists, who had already picked the day’s headline, hurry up to change it: “The Champion Falls.” Keogh, astonished, doesn’t stop looking at the pocket. The decisive ball is almost a foot from the pocket and the cue ball one foot away, in a straight line. De Oro, uplifted by a growing murmuring, suddenly strikes. The white ball fully hits the other, which goes straight into the pocket. The crowd bursts into a scream. For Pearson’s Magazine there are no...

Alberto Salcedo Ramos. Photo: Triunfo Arciniegas

Alberto Salcedo Ramos: “Journalism is not a vase”

In Cuba Alberto Salcedo Ramos feels he’s in his element. He walks as if wanting to grasp everything, enjoy everything, and he greets those who pass by imitating the jargon and accent of the Havanans. He calls them “consorte” and provokes the conspiratorial smile of those alluded. He came to the island as a jury member of the Casa de las Américas literary award, whose winners were announced last Thursday, and since the first day he says he felt he was in a warm, familiar place. “It’s because of the Caribbean,” he says to those of us who met to interview him. “I feel closer to Cubans than to the people of Bogotá, because the latter belong to my country from the political point of view but the Cubans belong to my cultural homeland.” Salcedo was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and is proud of being Caribbean. Being born in that region has been key for his professional career, for his fighting tooth and nail to defend a journalism that privileges the narrative, life experiences, human aspects. “In the Caribbean we are born narrators. This is a mythical territory par excellence, with an enormous oral tradition and an incredible capacity for...

Kenneth Cole during his talk in Lab 26. Photo: Regino Sosa.

Kenneth Cole: “I would love to work in Cuba”

Kenneth Cole does not believe in barriers, neither for art nor for life. That’s why he started a successful fashion company more than 30 years ago and that’s why he has come to Cuba twice, convinced that opportunities are created with the will to search. The New York designer’s most recent visit to the island took place in the last week of December. At the time he came accompanied by his family and he took advantage to talk with colleagues and Cuban students in Lab 26, a place for architecture and design in Havana’s Vedado district belonging to the Espacios project. During his talk Cole defended the positions that have distinguished his career and commented about the potentials the current media context represents for fashion. “Fashion is a way of communicating,” he said, “a way of expressing who we are, how we are. And thanks to television, Internet, the social media…it can reach any part of the world at any time.” Kenneth Cole during his talk in Lab 26. Photo: Regino Sosa. This has favored, in his opinion, the irruption of a new era, of an extraordinary moment for those in his line of work. But,...

Fidel in Time magazine

Dressed in his olive green uniform, informally sitting sideways, almost irreverent, a still young Fidel Castro looks at the camera in a reflexive pose. He does not smile. He does not use his cap. He does not speak. He wears a flashy watch on his left wrist, while the fingers of that hand slightly caress his lips, his uncombed beard. This is no longer the Fidel of the Sierra but rather that of the Revolution in power. A calm and at the same time defiant Fidel, sure and at the same time iconoclast. He has nothing to do with a formal politician or of the formerly always animated and loquacious leader. A singular and at the same time paradigmatic Fidel, resuscitated now after his death, in the classic photo taken in 1971 by master Yousuf Karsh. This is the Fidel of Time magazine’s most recent cover. While alive, Fidel Castro appeared nine times on the cover of the U.S. weekly that started being published in 1923 and that today has a global scope. He has come out for the tenth time in the most recent edition and it is because Fidel has died in Havana at the age of 90....

“¡Cuba!” in New York

Cuba in the “handkerchief” of an anole, in a pouch that inflates in the reptile’s neck and attracts the attention of all eyes. The anole or chipojo (Cuban chameleon), as it is popularly known in this country, is above all green, but in its balloon there’s space for a wide-ranging image of figures and colors, of suggestions and even sensations. The image is the work of Michelle Miyares, one of the most renowned Cuban designers at present and it has served to promote the exhibition “¡Cuba!”, which opened its doors this Monday in the New York American Museum of Natural History. It offers a wide view of Cuban nature and culture, and is the first major exhibition dedicated to the island in the prestigious U.S. institution. Moreover, it is the museum’s first fully bilingual display. Miyares is also the creator of several of the posters chosen to make up the exhibition in a section its shares with other relevant designers like Giselle Monzón, Nelson Ponce, Edel Rodríguez (Mola) and Raúl Valdés (Raupa). Her selection pays tribute to the value of contemporary poster making within the extensive panorama of visual arts in Cuba. Michelle Miyares in the...

Oggún tractor in FIHAV 2015. Photo: Claudio Peláez Sordo.

Saúl Berenthal: “We want to be in Cuba”

Saúl Berenthal is a persevering man. Nothing seems to destroy his will to commercially establish his company in Cuba, where he was born. Berenthal, who emigrated in 1960, is one of the founders of Cleber LLC, a company based in Alabama trying to introduce on the island a small-size tractor model named Oggún, like the warrior deity of the Yoruba mythology. An exhibitor in Cuban commercial marketplaces, like the Havana International Trade Fair and the International Agribusiness-Food Fair, Cleber LLC presented an application to manufacture its tractors in the Mariel Special Zone, which was initially well accepted. Their persistence to establish their business in Cuba made them deserving of illustrative headlines that highlighted their role as a standard bearer against the U.S. blockade. However, after they got the necessary U.S. government licenses in February, their project in Mariel has been suspended by the Cuban authorities. The international media echoed this, underlining the lack of reasons for that decision and its possible connotations for bilateral relations. Even so, Cleber LLC was present in FIHAV 2016 and OnCuba went to meet Saúl Berenthal to find out, from his perspective, the interiorities and implications of what happened. Photo: Ismario...

Uncertainty by the time of the third debate

The U.S. election campaign is generating conflicting feelings. From passion to apathy cover the range of positions as November 8 gets nearer, a complex and defining spectrum seasoned by presidential debates like the one that took place this Wednesday in Las Vegas. That’s how U.S. university students visiting the island until next December commented on it. Part of an academic exchange program of the Consortium for Advanced Studies Abroad (CASA), whose venue in Havana is the Casa de las Américas, some of them watched the third debate in our magazine’s editorial department and did not remain impassive in the face of what both nominees said. Smiles of skepticism and irony broke out more than once during the debate. Photo: Ismario Rodríguez. Disappointed and amazed, that’s how they were after the more than 90 minutes of verbal combat between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a struggle that presented public opinion with a string of biting phrases. Their collective expectations were not high, according to what several of them had confessed before the debate because of what they had already seen in the previous exchanges and the projections sustained throughout the campaign. But none of that drove away...

Palm Coast, Florida. Photo: Carlos René Aguilera.

Florida, Matthew’s next destination

Carlos René Aguilera thought he would escape Matthew’s onslaught. On a visit to the United States, this renowned visual artist attentively followed the passage of the powerful hurricane through Cuba’s eastern region and breathed with relief because of the scarce impact on his native Santiago de Cuba. Now he is waiting for the meteorological event together with the family members with whom he is staying in Palm Coast, in Flagler County. He has even helped to secure the house and to buy the necessary supplies, in the mist of the madness that has taken over Florida as soon as the imminent threat was announced. “Look at that, coming here and getting a cyclone,” Aguilera commented, “precisely when I was taking some time off with my family.” After previously spending some time in New York, his plan is to resume in short his work in Miami before returning to Cuba. “Let’s see what happens now, I expect Matthew will be benevolent with us.” Like him, many Cubans residing or visiting Florida are already on hold prior to the arrival of the hurricane. “The people have already polished off the shops,” says Marcial Lorenzo Escudero, another inhabitant of Santiago residing in the...

Children fitted with ID wristbands in anticipation of earthquake

Jorgito shows his wristband off proudly. It has his name, identity number and his mother’s telephone number. "The teacher put it on me," he tells me between smiles, with all the innocence of his four years. “It’s for the tremors," his mum clarifies, "in case the big one comes. All the kids from kindergarten have to wear one and they are doing the same in the elementary schools." In contrast to her son, the mother’s face looks haggard and thrown-off. "I’ve hardly been able to sleep. The first few nights we went to Céspedes’ park and now at home I spend all night watching over the child." Jorgito runs around care-free in the entrance to playgroup. He greets his teachers mischievously and plays with the arriving children. There aren’t many. Photo: José Roberto Loo Vázquez "It was like this when I was in the park the other night," his mother tells me. "The adults had their hearts in their mouths, and he didn’t even bat an eyelid. Blessed childhood…" I ask why she is still bringing him to kindergarten. On balance, in the face of the current seismological situation many people in Santiago have opted to...

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