Watching, Rooting, and Supporting this thing called "The New Cuba" (Cuba Specialist | Production | Sensei)

Posts by Jauretsi

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For those who are constantly asking me about the subculture of surfing in Cuba, here is a project worth supporting. The Cuba Unknown is a travel and surf photography book about a cross-country journey through Cuba, in search of waves and understanding. If you choose to order this book on Kickstarter now, you can receive it US delivery by Christmas 2017. Here’s the story…

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A creative surf crew from Venice, California (original buddies from Maine) decided to follow some die-hard surfers around the country. Cuban surf leaders Frank Gonzalez and female Yaya Guerrero hold the authors hand through the unique terrain of embracing the sport in the island nation. Having learned that surfing was once illegal in Cuba, the author describes the renegade riders with pure awe. “These surfers took the sport into their own hands, passionately shaping surfboards out of refrigerator doors, ceiling tiles and whatever else they could find. They paddled out to score a few moments of freedom” reflects the writer. “They inspired us.”

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The book is told in journal fashion, with entries written by a curious visitor who’s truly engaged at the most raw level — living, eating, sleeping, and playing with these fearless Cubans. It’s funny because the new US Policy laws would probably prohibit traveling through Cuba this way now, which was previously filed under “Individual” People-to-People travel. Ironically, this is the most truthful way to experience Cuba, as opposed to the larger rigid bus tours. The narrative of this book is what I truly consider “engaging with the Cuban people”. We need more of these build-bridging projects, not less.

On another note, reading this book offers a bit of tips & tricks for traveling cross-country, namely hand signals on how to hail a local Almendron vehicle on the side of the road.

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The yearlong adventure coincidentally documented 2016, the actual year Cuban millennials experienced hope through the lens of warmed relations with the US (thank you, Obama). In addition to visual breadcrumbs of make-shift surfboards, roadtrip snapshots, and beat up skateboards, you’ll also see photos of the infamous Rolling Stones concert, or John Kerry’s friendly face on a static 60’s Russian TV set emanating through the walls of a Cuban countryside home. It was an overall year of high emotions, and this project recorded it all through the lens of the surfers.

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Take a look at the video for the full story, and drop your money in this bucket. It’s a project made from the heart, and isn’t that all we’re looking for? A Cuba project with soul and good intentions? Purchasing the book and supporting the project at any level helps the team finish their feature film, Havana Libre, which follows the effort to legitimize surfing in Cuba.

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Plus it’s a darling Christmas gift — be it for yourself or a friend. And to all the Cuban surfers, we urge you to “keep on keeping on”. The world is watching, and your hobby will soon be recognized as a professional sport. We’re rooting for you.

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As a foreigner in Cuba, I’m always fascinated with the trends taking hold of the once isolated island. Halloween, for example, is only recently catching on the last few years. If you google Halloween in Cuba, you’ll see zilch, maybe a few scattered pieces, but really, it’s not a big thing.

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(Trump finally makes a “better deal” with El Comandante)

In Havana, children certainly don’t wander the streets dolled up in outfits, ringing doorbells, amassing buckets of candy. In Miami, however, Cuban-American culture strongly embraces “Hah-Low-Weeen” with a latinized “Tric o Tri!”.

Just a mere 90 miles away from the States, but feeling like on another planet, I found myself crippled with ideas after being invited to a local bash. “Getting a costume can be a problem because there are no specialty stores and such parties are not a habit in Cuba”, resident Yunior explains to OnCuba Magazine about the usual limitations. “In the end you always manage to invent and some put on makeup that mimics a film character, others create a mummy with toilet paper or a ghost with sheets”.

This particular year exhibited laugh-out-loud archetypes clinking rum glasses in Roma, a breezy rooftop bar in Havana Vieja, with a party-train that followed to Bar EFE afterwards. The outfits were in full force. Here’s just a tiny taste of the faces out that evening.

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(Bank robber Robin Pedraja of Vistar Mag with Celia Mendoza as Blink 182’s naughty nurse)

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(Anonymous representing the Hackers)

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(Marla Recio Carbajal of Havana Reverie w/CET’s Collin Laverty)

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(Unidentified Ogre)

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(Plot Thickens. Russians in the house)

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(Cuba Educational Travel’s Isabel Albee doing her Amy Winehouse)

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(Religion is Back. And it’s pissed)

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(Airbnb provider Yasser, who offers Bike Tour experiences, and his wound to the chest)

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(The Bartending Squad)

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(Filmmaker Joey Carey & soon-to-be “cuentapropista” in Havana Vieja, Lauren Fajardo)

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(Luisa Ausenda of Arte Continua as Helen of Troy)

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(Twin Fridas. P.S. That’s me on the right. )

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(Marta Deus & Jauretsi of The New Cuba at Media Noche, San Francisco)

“This past week was truly phenomenal” gushed Kyle Maloney, founder of ChefMade, a startup that is trying to bring healthy economical meals delivered into homes of his island, Trinidad. Kyle was invited to Techcrunch DisruptSF by Project Binario, a San Francisco based company whose mission is to provide opportunities for thought leaders. “Being in San Francisco is very inspiring” explains Kyle. “Around every corner you get the opportunity to meet some very interesting people that are very passionate about their view of the world and the opportunity to do something that will be globally impactful”. He grins with the knowledge he can be the next Blue Apron of the Caribbean, “I dont think you get that feeling in high concentration anywhere else in the world”.

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(Invitees: Veronica from Barbados, and Marta Deus from Cuba at Techcrunch Disrupt SF)

It’s easy to see how young hungry tech minds get hooked into the city. Kyle’s “life-changing” week (I’m using his words, not mine), was part of a larger vision conceived by Eddy Perez, a Cuban-American with a burning belief that Caribbean tech talent is being overlooked by Silicon Valley. Thus the birth of the “Caribbean Pavilion”, a sort of greatest hits sampling of the most promising startups in that region assembled by his team at Project Binario. The mission? Identify talent, and invite them to participate in the worlds largest startup conference, Techcrunch Disrupt. This includes a trip to San Francisco, a trade show booth on the coveted floor, mentor conversations, meeting high-impact investors, pitch opportunities, and networking events. Below are the 5 startups chosen for this journey.

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Arriving one night early, Cuban entrepreneur Marta Deus and I decide to slip into town before the convoy began. To get warmed up, we get scooped up by Susanna Kohly, Google’s Multicultural Marketing maven, who was one of the figures responsible for Google Cuba, with visionary Brett Perlmutter. Words cannot describe the massive undertaking with installing Google nodes on Cuban soil this year, providing faster internet on all Google platforms for Cubans. This was an achievement of historical proportions between Cuba/US relations. As a celebration of our arrival, we toasted in the Mission District at Media Noche, a Cuban-inspired cafe (where else would you expect us to toast our arrival?). Susannah shared the story of her immigrant family leaving Cuba, with the will and determination to do great things in their new country, the United States. Half a century later, it’s poetic to be gathered with this young blood, still determined, pushing boundaries, and fostering innovation on the island. Marta shared her take on Cuba’s business culture today, and all the “cuentapropistas” she lends a hand to with her business Deus Expertos Contables. Marta is a fascinating figure because of her perspective on entrepreneurship in Cuba. The landscape is too broad and complex to summarize into one statement here, but for those interested, you can begin to scratch the surface through her magazine Negolution , the sum of “Negocio” (meaning “business”) and “Evolution”. I have my own exile story, full of restaurant history with Centro Vasco, and now a newfound attachment to the island through the lens or arts & culture via The New Cuba. It’s been a long road for us all. As we ramped up on this girls night, we waxed poetic for hours on the state of Cuba today, what we had hoped for, and where we dreamed it could be. Although all of our backgrounds varied, with a variety of upbringing, distinct hometowns, we still held on strongly to our roots over a scrumptious tropical cocktail, and toasted to the beginning of a fruitful week.

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(Cuban-Americans: Google’s Susannah Kohly, Mano’s Ric Herrero, Binario’s Eddy Perez)

The following day, was officially Day 1, when all the startups trickled into the city, and met each other for the first time. Eddy dutifully papa-beared the entire week starting now. Kyle of Chefmade joined 4 other startups who were invited to partake in the same perks of the week. There was Khalil Bryan and Veronica with their startup Caribbean Transit Solutions, paving the way to make Barbados public transportation easier to use. Second startup was Alfonso Ali, founder of the Cuban app called AlaMesa which has become a must-use application for both locals and foreigners on the island. Alfonso understood a few years ago that the most dire need in the Cuban market are “offline apps”, due to the disconnected nature of Cuban society, constantly chasing Wifi. The idea of having all the best Cuban restaurants, phone numbers, addresses, menus, and photos in the palm of your hand offline was a coup for the young entrepreneur. Alfonso is also active in Cuba’s programming community, having helped to launch Havana’s Linux group and he continues to be an advocate for open source technologies.

The next startup were women from the Dominican Republic named Katherine Motyka with Luci of Jompéame, an innovative crowdfunding platform aimed at social causes. Forbes selected Jompéame as one of the most promising businesses in her country. The charismatic Gordon Swaby attended with his startup, Edufocal, an innovative exam prep and testing platform, with thousands of users in his native Jamaica. BBC named Edufocal a “Digital Disruptor”, while the World Bank and IDB have already acknowledged the humble startup. Marta Deus joined the crew as a cherry on top, not as a tech startup, but more to represent in the field of Cuba’s young entrepreneurs with her magazine, which is akin to the Fast Company of Cuba. Marta is also responsible for bringing dreams to life with her firm Deus Expertos Contables, which handles accounting and advisor work in the nascent field of Cuba’s private sector. Google’s Susannah Kohly refers to Marta as “Bossbabe”, which I can easily concur describes the young business lady in Cuba today.

Upon arriving into San Francisco, Eddy and Caribbean Pavilion co-founder Meghan Stevenson assembled their invitees into a hip loft to self-introduce themselves, pitch their business to peers, and receive feedback and questions. I’d say by the second evening, the group began to let their hair down after a smartly held “Happy Hour” event at a place called Cigar Bar — cue the Cuban band & Binario cocktails specials, and now you have a tight crew. Added to the party were old friends that flew into town to join the “magical mystery tour” as Eddy described it. This included Ric Herrero, of Mano Organization, another urban support system who we wrote about last year for their support in Cuba Tech with 10X10K competition (which we covered last year). Add Jesse M. of the Latino Startup Alliance who would later invite us to visit the Impact Hub. Add a few boxes of Cuban cigars freshly flown in from the island (thank you, Obama, for lifting those restrictions), and voila, now we have a Caribbean souffle pumped for the week.

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(Rodolfo Davalos, AlaMesa’s Alfonso Ali. Marta Deus, Binario’s Meghan Stevenson,Jauretsi)

In addition to the three trade show days of “meet and greets” and pitch meetings, one of the cornerstones of the trip was the mentoring sessions led by a spectacular new person I’ve recently met named Jesse Sullivan. What can I say about Jesse? He is a ray of light and somebody born to execute an enormous vision. CNN named him “Most Intriguing Person of the Day” for his earthquake relief efforts with the Haitian Ambassador. But Jesse keeps moving, to places that need entrepreneurship the most and he doesn’t pick easy places. Think Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Haiti. Note: Alter is eyeballing Cuba now. Thank the Lord. Because we need it. His social venture aims to scale the champions of these countries to build their businesses efficiently. How do they do this? Alter finds leaders in these least developed regions and matches them with Silicon Valley resources, including sector experts, management training, talent recruitment, markets and capital. He’s almost like a business fairy knocking on your door, armed with the most seasoned advisors and investors from Silicon Valley. Jesse was accompanied by his colleague, Orlando Zambrano, who both opened up their hearts and rolodex to curate a robust day of mentor talks.

Among the meetings was a visit to Endeavor, an entrepreneurial organization who has Edgar Bronfman Jr as a partner. We met with Managing Director, Allen Taylor, who schooled us on how one focused company can transform the economy of a nation with a “mentor-investment-pay-it-forward” philosophy. For the disbelievers, he had a map to prove it.

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(Endeavor’s Allen Taylor. Caribbean Pavilion crew at Facebook)

Enter the map. Picture, if you will, the “Endeavor Multiplier Effect”, a sample of one of Buenos Aires’ Tech Sector, one of their work cities. At first the map looks like a calming geometrical post-modern piece of art, filled with circles encircling other circles. Big bubbles giving birth to baby bubbles. Upon closer inspection, you discover that each time an entrepreneur is cited as an influencer, their bubble grows. Endeavor builds a culture that encourages and accelerates this pattern. The key to their success is a dedicated group of entrepreneurs who, beyond scaling their business, is committed to supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Here is the general thesis of the map. From 2000 to 2010, Argentina experienced severe economic challenges, including the devaluation of its currency and double digit inflation. The tech sector in Bueno Aires, however, grew significantly to become one of the largest and most successful in Latin America. Hundreds of new companies launched in the city and Google opened its 3rd International headquarters office there. Several exits occurred too such as Digital Ventures sold to Fox, and MercadoLibre.com went public on the NASDAQ.

What the network map illustrates is that more than 90% of the companies connected to this network were founded by Endeavor Entrepreneurs or were influenced by their companies. Each of the bubbles had colored arrows pointing to other bubbles. The colored arrows represented how they influenced the other bubble, for example “mentorship”, “inspiration”, “former employee starting another venture”, and “investment”. The lesson learned here is that all these organized actions created companies that eventually employed 80,000 people (by 2010). Now picture them doing this in Instanbul, Cairo, Medellin, and Denver. This Endeavor model is leading the “high-impact” entrepreneurship movement around the world. Clearly, Endeavor is all about big bubbles.

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(Startups: Gordon from Jamaica, Kyle from Trinidad, Veronica from Barbados)

“I’ve learned so much this morning”, articulated an intrigued Gordon after the visit. “I’ve got insight into the future of innovation from companies in Silicon Valley and what they are working on”, said the Caribbean dreamer. “I’m going back to Jamaica to inspire my team to work on being better and doing better”.

Minds blown and tummy’s rumbling, we headed to Facebook campus for a personal tour, and then a feast. One of the perks of a cushy Silicon Valley job is the abundant lunch rooms, flowing endlessly with salad bars, international cuisine, and baked cookies. Back in the headspace for more, our crew headed to meet Scott Brady, one of the areas resident visionaries. One of Palo Alto’s heavyweights, Scott has served as CEO, Chairman, and Advisory Member to big league ventures. Suffice it to day, that Google’s Eric Schmidt looks to Scott Brady when picking top talent to invest in. Scott is also the Chairman of the MSx Advisory Board of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and a Member of the Advisory Council of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Did we mention he holds numerous technology patents? Scott Brady is king.

A pragmatist with a nose for passion, we’re graced with his presence for a solid hour. “Being tenacious is necessary” says Brady, “but not sufficient” to building a great business. As a Professor at Stanford with a class “Formation of New Ventures”, Brady shares a wealth of concrete tips, and healthy discourse about risks, failure, examples, the how and why. Once he makes his point, he opens the field to abstract thinking. Dream big, he tells our team.

We hear this term always, but how does that translate into actual business practices? Brady explained it this way. There is local way to solve problems and there is a global way to solve problems. Just jump in the game. “There is no clear path to find an idea, or fund an idea”. If you have no idea what the hell you want to do, just begin your journey and start incubating your big idea. Think of solutions to global problems, take lots of chances, create experiments, learn from them, and refine your process. According to Scott, the fabled “struck-by-lightning” phenomenon is a fantasy. “Finding a great idea is a process, not an event”. His message: Do not let the lack of an idea prevent you from being an entrepreneur. Scott also spoke about one of my favorite topics – Intuition, and the importance of it. Do NOT be paralyzed by your lack of what you DON’T know. Some of the best founders had no idea what their final product would be at the start.

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(Alter’s CEO Jessie Sullivan leads the group in discussion at Endeavor)

Other standout comments of Brady was his advice to be VERY careful when picking founding partners. I’ve always been surprised at how quickly some people jump into [business] bed with each other, sometimes upon meeting one weekend. But if you look at their marriages, think how long they dated their spouse before saying “I Do”. For business formation, marrying the wrong person could make or break you, so choose your founding partners wisely.

And the final golden nugget he offered. Always develop the skills of great storytelling. “This can advance you in moments of funding, recruiting, and selling”. If you want to move mountains with your words, sharpen your ability to tell a good story. I think we can all see this through orators like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson.

Brady was so captivating and magnetic in his talk that the whole team left on a cerebral high. It’s one of those experiences where one witnesses the force of words, encouragement, mixed with hard-boiled instructions. One can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of ventures Brady has doula’d over the years.

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(Alter’s Orlando Zambrano with Project Binario founder Eddy Perez)

After the last fruitful day of meetings, it’s clear the startups have all been bit by the Silicon bug. Dominican Founder Katherine echoes the sentiment “I have learned that my business [Jompeame] can be global and not local. I want to come home and I want to work hard to see if I can actually come here [to San Francisco] and expand and create something bigger than what I am creating now”. Her partner Lucy responded, “I literally had one of the best times of my life”.

Each of the mentor talks were truly mind-expanding. By the end of the trip, I asked Marta what she had gained these past few days. “The truth is I didn’t expect anything more than coverage for Negolution” she estimates, “but I didn’t expect to learn so much about innovation and about all the companies that are coming out now, the apps, the websites”. Marta, who is frequently quoted in international papers for her views on Cuba’s youth market, absorbed additional technique from watching pitch meetings. “So absolutely yes”, she laughs, “it was very productive and I felt very inspired”.

As we jump in the vehicle after the last meeting, I see Kyle quiet in the back seat, brewing in his head. He takes a deep breathe and sighs, “Mahn” he reveals in his Trinidadian island accent, “the projects [Brady’s] working on, or helping to catalyze through venture capital, are things that I can only dream of being a part of or investing in. Things that are really changing the landscape of how we as human beings interact, or how we access things, or how we are able to be more productive”. Kyle’s bar for problem-solving has just been set higher than 1 week earlier. “He embodies so much of what I want to become”, he says about Brady. “That definitely was major light bulb moment.”

Overall, mission accomplished. Tenfold. The Caribbean Pavilion marks the first official activity by newcomers Project Binario. Each of the 5 startups and the supporting teams are all heading back home a bit transformed for the better, thanks to the work of Eddy and Megan, sparking a deeper impact for world solutions. And an extra shout to all the Cuban-American minds merging with Cuban talent today, all part of this interlacing beautiful network I like to call “the new Cuba”. Keep heads up.

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(Facebook Lobby)

Thank you: Jacob Van Winkle for the Design/Logo for Caribbean Pavilion (another cool Cuban-American in support of “la causa”. Special Thanks to Project Binario, Caribbeans in Tech, Latino Startup Alliance and TechBeach for empowering entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean.

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CUMBANCHA_party

Recently, we wrote about the big Cumbancha Irma Relief bash we’re throwing in New York, with proceeds going to The New Cuba, featuring the best Cuban DJ’s floating around the big apple right now. It’s going to be a booty shaking set of Afro Cuban Deep house and a proper Latin & Cuban mashup of sounds that will keep you hooked on the weekly event. This one will take place at Trophy Bar, 351 Broadway, Brooklyn 11211.

The door funds will personally be distributed by me (Jauretsi) from Oct 25-30th in Cuba, as I embark on a 3 city tour with CubaOne Foundation into the cities most deeply affected by Hurricane Irma. The relief work will be held within 3 provinces — Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara. Signups are officially closed for that trip, but if you’d like to be involved in any other way, email lili@cubaone.org to inquire.

The DJ crew includes: BJoyce (CUBA), Mey (CUBA), Derek Turcios (USA/CUBA), Edgaro Gonzalez (CUBA), Mickey Perez (USA/CUBA) with friends equally committed to “la causa” Marcus Aurelius Rosario (USA/PR), Sabine Blaizin (HAITI), Andrew Licata (EUA), and RioBamba (ECU). Expect some live percussion as well.

Can’t make it to the trip? Imagine yourself in Brooklyn that night, play this mix at home, and deposit money into our GoFundMe campaign instead. See how easy that was?

The fund is our backup plan collector for those who are missing the party, but want to help. Anything counts — $5, $25, $50. All the money is coming to Cuba into direct hands. Sending mad love to all our supporters who have contributed so far, in each and every way.

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See you on the NY dancefloor, then Cuba. We shall document the progress report as it occurs.

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Ok. Let’s take a deep breathe before I begin my thesis. It has been a shocking week for all involved in Cuba/US relations. After witnessing a silver lining in the cloud of Cuba/US relations (2014 to 2016), the skies have grown dark once again with our current administration, who to be honest, has brought a dark cloud over several issues in US and abroad. Cuba is not exempt from the twisted narratives of the Trumpocalypse. I will remain hopeful for Cuba travel and keeping a close eye as events unfold. Let us begin.

6 reasons

Last year, it seemed that our Facebook feeds were filled with images of friends who finally made the leap to the elusive island. Maybe somewhere in your mind, you’ve been thinking “Dammit, I wish I could have gone during the good window”, when Obama and Raul Castro were shaking hands. We suspect somewhere inside, you’re also thinking, “but all this Trump ranting? Travel warning? Hurricane Irma? Well, maybe now is not the right time…”. STOP. Well, don’t cancel just yet.

Here are 6 reasons you should keep your plans to visit Cuba,
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(1) Because You Don’t Fall for Trump Propaganda

The past few days have seen a mass hysteria on the dangers of Cuba. First we begin with paying our respects to all those diplomats affected this mysterious case of “sonic attacks”. The symptoms are very real, and the health of a few has been compromised. The fact of the matter is that no US tourist has been affected. Many experts believe the travel warning placed upon Cuba was a premature move, considering that a drastic label of this nature is reserved for war-torn countries, such as Sudan and Afghanistan. Cuba remains to be one of the safest countries in the world. Please remember that this same administration attempted to pass two travel bans due to the “terrorism” of Muslims in the US, and the absurd pitch of putting up “the wall” to keep out the “murdering rapists” of Mexico. This is the same administration that is launching a red siren to the tune of “Cuba is dangerous” for all Americans. Most of it is attributed to political gains from a few buddies in Trumps circle (is this any different from his other agendas?). Please read between the lines. At the same time, we should pay close attention as investigations and new details reveal themselves, and not make any rushed decisions. Now is not the time to diminish our embassies. Now is the time to actually maintain them, and walk through this terrain carefully together. At least until we discover a little more on the case.

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(2) Because it is STILL Legal

This is one of the biggest questions I face from friends interested to visit. “Can I still travel to Cuba?”. The answer is YES. Trumps speech in Miami June 2017 confused many people with confrontational rhetoric, but the regulation changes were not that drastic. Under Obama days, OFAC had issued general licenses within the 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel-related transactions to, from, or within Cuba that previously required a specific license. The general license freed up travelers to self-certify their own travel purpose. It looks like Group People-to-People will remain protected while Individual People-to-People will be killed. The new announcement requires that you now “must be accompanied by an employee, consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization, who will ensure that each traveler maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”. There’s a few other granular changes, but for questions on arranging your next trip, please email at jauretsi@gmail.com.

One of the biggest restrictions announced was that Americans will soon be forbidden from staying at Military-owned hotels in Cuba. The State Department will be publishing a list of entities with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted. Based on the July 25, 2017 OFAC update, “the announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued”. This means that until OFAC releases the list of “no-go places”, that Americans are not beholden to this rule yet, providing they have a receipt, or email confirmation of the hotel reservation prior to the exact day that the new regulation is announced. When is this big day? Nobody knows because several positions in the new State Department is not hired yet. Personally speaking, I recommend the homestays at private B&B’s anyways which are a more of an authentic Cuban experience. So if this one new rule makes you jittery, just stick to home rentals, in which case you will be supporting a Cuban entrepreneur anyways… which brings me to my next point…

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(3) Because You’ll Help the Cuban People During a Tough Time

Although Havana was brushed by Irma, the big city bounced back very fast. Businesses are up and running, eager to receive visitors (as evidenced in this CET video). Cuba’s independent business owners, aka “cuentapropistas” are some of the most exciting places to visit, from home-run restaurants to creative bars tucked inside an old mansion, to private art studios. Mainstream media keeps posting various images of Havana drowning in ocean water (which of course were eye-catching images directly after the storm hit), but the truth of the matter is, the streets are now cleaned, Centro Havana is cleared, and the Malecon is re-opened. Visiting Cuba can mean helping an economy who needs a new kick, similar to New York City needing tourism post 9-11. Empower yourself with an enriching trip, and you will also empower a local Cuban with your dollars. Recent trip cancellations due to Irma fears have hurt many business-owners. I have personally seen the city of Havana bounce back fruitfully, and can concur, BUSINESS IS OPEN.

About the other cities east-side? Yes, admittedly, Irma wrecked tons of homes that are still trying to pick up the pieces. Consider it this way. Wouldn’t it be great to take a vacation, learn about Cuban history, engage in civil society, and *ALSO* help out a country recently affected by the storm? If you desire to visit Cuba for enjoyment, just fly directly into Havana, stay in “casa particulares” (aka B&B’s), and eat at Paladars (Home Restaurants). And if you wish to add a little hurricane relief to your trip, bring an extra suitcase of toiletries, supplies, or medicine. This is a good list to start with. Remember that Jetblue charges $35 for the second suitcase, and then $100 for the 3rd suitcase.  If you visit Cuba for a long weekend, perhaps just pack a bag of light sundresses, or thin dress shirts, which allows you to utilize suitcase number #2 or #3 as your “donations” suitcase. If you choose to bring a donations suitcase, please leave a comment below to activate pick up at your hotel or home rental upon arrival. I can deliver the stuff to the most affected cities during our relief mission October 25-30th. You see? Instant karma. And a fun trip. For the adventuring soul, if you prefer to roll up your sleeves to help first-hand, join me on this relief mission, and sign up at CubaOne, which The New Cuba is proud to partner with. Whichever level you decide, just know that if you choose the Havana experience only, that you will STILL be helping out a country in great need of American dollars (and global patronage too).

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(4) Because You are Curious about the History

Let’s think beyond the “trend” of Cuba for just a minute. Let’s discuss the lessons of history. This is where the Educational purpose in Cuba can be so enriching. Cuba can be a very fascinating place to visit whether you heavily agree or disagree with the current system. The history of Cuba is wildly complex, from Spain to Russia to US to Venezuela relations. It is a nation that has screamed for sovereignty for hundreds of years. There is much context to explore, deep historical perspective, various narratives, opposing viewpoints, and final decisions that have brought Cuba to the state it exists today. It is not something to be summarized in a quick blog post. To add to that point, since we carry so much influence with our nearby neighbor in the Caribbean, wouldn’t it be wiser to actually visit the island as American citizens? To gain knowledge as we vote for our leaders on this one topic. Visit for yourself, stay at Cubans houses, patron their businesses, ask lots of questions, and develop your own truth. The US holds a major key (not all the keys, but a major key) to affecting the future of this country stuck in its own narrative for various centuries.

Before you enter, read lots of objective books, then ask what the Revolution was all about, ask what it achieved, ask where it failed, but just ask. Learn what is fact. Learn what is propaganda. And learn the dangers of twisting these things around. This extends beyond Cuba travel, so I speak to the hungry globe-trotter, who can make educated conclusions of their own. We can all learn a thing or two about revolutions, the promises, the shortcomings, the things we wish for, and the societies we create for ourselves. Dig deep, and I promise you, Cuba will be an awakening experience that will shift your mindset.

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(5) Because Cuba is one of the Safest Countries

The American media has fallen into a fear-mongering spiral the last few days about Cuba. However, if you were to ask any tourist visiting the country right now, chances are they would all say they feel very safe walking the streets of Cuba, any time, any day.  If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has recently returned. It is important to note that there is indeed American diplomats from the Cuban embassy whose health was affected, most likely from within their own residencies (with 1 incident in a hotel that a diplomat resided in temporarily). Nobody else from the hotel, not one person, has reported damages — adding more to the bizarre-ness of it all. These isolated incidents in Havana Diplomatic residencies do not warrant a nation-wide travel warning.

Investigations are ongoing, and experts are baffled on both sides. It is not logical that Cuba’s motive was to hurt Americans, when in facts, the last two years witnessed the warming of relations, and potential trade which the struggling economy needed. From a pragmatic level, the small nation of Cuba is sinking into economic crisis (no longer funded by Venezuela like a few years back), and was just beginning to reap rewards from the US normalization talks. More importantly, who benefits from this abrupt downsizing of embassies?

Cuban Lung Cancer
(Cuban Lung Cancer Vaccine Could Come to the US)

Despite our difference in ideologies, both countries were beginning to exist in a space where we explored common concerns (environmental protection, drug trafficking, medical advances, etc) with agencies from both nations working together after 55 years of estrangement. Clearly, something shady is afoot and the theories are plenty (with a great new analysis in Washington Post)… but who is the culprit? Cuba denies any involvement. Tillerson wants fast answers. Frustration abounds. Fact-checking website Snopes.com recently wrote a report on the concept of a sonic weapon which further muddies matters. I am not claiming this is a conspiracy theory because real people were affected. I am simply stating that nobody fully understands the breadth of what these attacks truly are. Who, what, where, when, and how — it all seems to be on the table for investigation. To listen to a more level-headed perspective on the matter, travel expert Collin Laverty offered his thoughts to BBC this past week

This week alone, the US has expelled 60% of its diplomats from Cuba (understandably with the concern for their protection). Things went from bad to worse. Immediately, several Cuban diplomats from the Washington DC consular were kicked out of the US. Also, America has stopped issuing visas for Cubans on the island to visit America. Coupled with the already difficult reality that Raul Castro has hurt entrepreneur spirit by freezing “cuentapropista” licenses in August 2017, it is ultimately the Cuban dreamer who suffers the most in this treacherous ego battle between Cuba and US.

In the past, Cuba does indeed own some faults in the grand scheme of things, but I am ashamed as an American that our current US President has handled this fragile diplomatic moment like a “bull-in-a-china-shop”. Cuba is not full of killers out to get you. In fact, nobody even knows who the villains are yet. Just ponder on the ways that Trump has handled some foreign incidents and diplomacy, and I ask you to consider that maybe this new travel warning is a bit overblown. Time will reveal any impending dangers if they truly do exist (or not), and after weighing the facts based on evidence, then it would make sense to issue a travel warning (or not).

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The fact of the matter is (and I repeat)… that NO TOURISTS have been harmed, and Cuba remains one of the safest countries in the world to visit. I will even venture to say that as an American, I am shook at the recent shoot-outs ranging from Ft Lauderdale airport (Jan 2017) to the Vegas massacre this week, with 527 injured and 59 dead. I happen to frequent both cities, and the idea I could have walked into either gunfire is all too real for me, as most grieving Americans can relate to. The combination of easy access to guns mixed with how easily the mentally disturbed can purchase them is something I struggle with as an American citizen. Cuba has zero gun culture regarding residents owning arms. Gun ownership is a right reserved for the military only (which opens up another topic not related to this post). In essence, you will never read about a shoot-out in Cuba, or even the slightest “stick-up” moment with a tourist. Now tell me, which country seems safer right now?

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(6) Because of Recent Flight Deals

Now that we have addressed the safety standards, let’s move on to the pragmatic reasons to continue planning your trip to Cuba. Flight Deals. While Mr. Tillerson was issuing the Travel Warning, it was United Airlines who added another route to Cuba this week ($277 roundtrip). Jetblue and Alaska Airlines both have deals as low as $300-ish to Cuba from LA and New York. For those wishing to visit the Caribbean during high-season to avoid that freezing winter back home, take a look at flight deals from American brands who have remained supportive and loyal to the warming of relations. Think JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, United, and American Airlines. If you want to compare/contrast prices, Kayak is now offering this service as well. Contrary to all the scary stuff you’ve been reading the last 72 hours, American brands are remaining loyal to this budding relationship with Cuba, so don’t give up just yet. May we recommend Havana Film Festival or the Jazz Festival this December?

It is possible that when all this bad news dies down, the prices will eventually skyrocket back up on the day Americans can finally travel worry-free, but for those pioneers who pave the way to filling up these empty seats for now, you will be rewarded with hard-to-beat deals to the Caribbean. You’ll also be part of history by keeping this slow US heart beat alive and pumping towards a more stable, healthy renewal with the Cuban people.

That’s about it. For now. The news seems to be unfolding at lightning speed before our eyes. Nobody in the US/Cuba space believed it was possible to regress 10 years in literally less than 1 week. Until any further announcements are given by a very hasty US administration, book your trips now. The one trend we’ve noticed is that when US Gov alters the Cuba travel laws, usually any traveler who reserved a flight or hotel/home in advance of the announcement is “grandfathered” into the previous laws. And right now, it is *STILL* legal to visit Cuba. This may be your last window to experience a life-changing trip before the US draws in even darker clouds, and if we totally push Cuba away once again. Hoping for the best.

For now. Resist. Engage. Visit. Educate yourself. Stay Awake.

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The Cuban diaspora in New York is pulling together in full force to make a difference for our people on the island. Mark your calendars for Oct 19th. We’re doing the thing we do best, THROW A PARTY! To keep the flavor real, we invited several DJ’s that are very closely connected to Cuba.

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(DJ BJoyce)

The DJ crew includes: BJoyce (CUBA), Mey (CUBA), Derek Turcios (USA/CUBA), Edgaro Gonzalez (CUBA), Mickey Perez (USA/CUBA) with friends equally committed to “la causa” Marcus Aurelius Rosario (USA/PR), Sabine Blaizin (HAITI), Andrew Licata (EUA), and RioBamba (ECU). Expect some live percussion as well.

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(DJ Mey)

For our particular mission, the Cumbancha crew wants to hook up the children post-Irma. We plan to use the funds to buy school supplies, toys, and necessities for the kids. The NY party is on October 19, 2017 from 7pm until 1am. The donations given at the door will go towards purchasing and distributing kids goods that Jauretsi (of The New Cuba) will distribute during her mission with CubaOne from October Oct 25-20th, in Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara — the most affected cities.

The NY party will take place at Trophy, a cool spot in Williamsburg Brooklyn that normally plays vintage soul, Brazilian, deep house, and cosmic disco. On this particular night, the Cuba-centric fam is taking over with some Afro-Cuban-house.

To support the CubaOne Foundation trip (which The New Cuba is proud to partner with), sign up or donate at the Irma Relief Trip page. The trip is also spearheaded by respected companies like Cuba Educational Travel.
 Remember, the trip is October 25-30. We invite any curious friends to come to Cuba and join Jauretsi on the ground.

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(DJ Rio Bamba)

All these organizations and contributors are legit. We will be sharing photos of all our missions, the kid toys, the CubaOne journey, etc as they occur. Sending mad love to all the cohorts and co-conspirators for making this happen.

For any questions, please contact jauretsi@gmail.com

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It has been an intense Summer for Cubans. First, in mid June, President Donald Trump announced he would undo the Obama era of friendship with a bit of his antagonistic cold war language. Shortly thereafter, in early August, Raul Castro announced he would freeze any new business licenses , which tossed a wrench in the machine of a budding entrepreneurship that raised hopes for this generation. It’s been punch after punch for the Cuban people. Until now, the silver lining was that Cuba was headed toward “high-season” expecting a boost of travelers for the existing “cuentapropistas”, despite the fear of Trumps scary new travel regulations. It is after all, still legal to travel to Cuba with an authorized tour leader under one of 12 reasons.

Enter Irma. Boom pow. The utter blow. There’s no need to share the details. We’ve all seen the photos. It’s time to act fast to clean things up so they can get back on their [already fragile] feet. What is most important now is to lend support, despite all this good-guys-bad-guys rhetoric between US and Cuba. What I find more powerful is the amount of Cuban-Americans pulling together resources and contacts to make a difference. Moreover, I’m impressed by new individuals, non-Cuban, who have poured themselves into crowdfunding campaigns, and preparing to travel to Cuba with the funds as soon as this month. I’ve seen various mainstream NGO’s set up shop in the Caribbean. The island of Cuba, however, is extremely unique because, for starters, there is no UPS or FEDEX boxes between both US and Cuba. Telecommunications is a mess, and Cubans cannot text an American cell phone either. Checking internet requires a walk to a hotel lobby, or wifi park. Nothing is simple in Cuba. In addition to the barely slim NGO’s that the Cuban government allows on the island, it seems that humanitarian work in Cuba is essentially very grassroots, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor. I’ve heard many puzzled colleagues this week ask “How can I help in Cuba?”. Here’s a clean sweep of immediate actions:

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(Photo: Irma package from Cuban baseball player Yasiel Puig’s organization)

VISIT CUBA ON YOUR OWN

1-  What to Bring: This checklist is the best reference for a “care package” today. Since there is no shipping of boxes to Cuba, this is what creates the biggest sense of helplessness when aiding Cuba. We’re hoping that after this damn embargo is lifted, that US and Cuba can find a diplomatic place in their hearts to finally open UPS or FEDEX to Cuba.

2- Airport Restrictions: One more important thing to learn is the quantity rule at the Cuban airport. No more than 5 same items or above are allowed to pass into the country. That means if you try to fly in (for example) eight of these Pamper packs, the customs agents will grow suspicious that you are bringing in the diapers for commercial purposes, and creating a black market. Absurd, I know. Don’t get me started. We learned this the hard way when flying into Cuba with Questlove who so kindly carried in 50 free Okayplayer watches in a separate roll-away bag. The mini-suitcase never left the airport, and well, we got jacked by customs. Just be creative with how many things you buy. On a busy day with lots of flights, the overwhelmed customs agents will not notice or count your belongings, but just realize, this is a “hit or miss” moment, so be mindful of this rule.

IF YOU CANNOT VISIT CUBA

If you are not flying into Cuba any time soon, and since you cannot ship anything to the island, the next best thing you can do from the outside is send money. One of the brilliant ideas I’ve witnessed in the last few days of Irma is this organization called ADOPT A FAMILY. Their model includes shipping boxes to a family in St Thomas. Of course, this model cannot entirely be done in Cuba but there is one piece of this concept that could work well.

If any reader cares to “Adopt a Family”, remember that there are 3 ways to help any Cuban family directly from the outside:

1- Western Union – Send direct money into the hands of a Cuban family. Details here.

2- Cell Phone Credit – With a simple online payment via credit card (or Paypal) to DING, an American can add cell phone usage minutes for a local. Remember that in Cuba, there are no competitive phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint with monthly phoneplans. There is only one company — ETECSA, and all cell phones function as “pay by credit”. To do this, you will need the exact cell number of resident.

3- Internet Credit: This is credit that is donated so that a Cuban can spend more time online. It is paid to the same company as cell credit, but you will need the locals email address to add credit to their internet account. These final 2 things can greatly affect a family’s productivity for communicating with the outside world during a rough time. Visit DING to add credit to someones Cell or Email address (for internet time).

DING

If you need help finding a family to support, send me a note on this comment board to match-make you with a Cuban family. If you choose to do this process, it will require some patience for you to use these online platforms, but once you “get it”, you will move swiftly and supply constant credit. The best part is, you will be in daily contact with an actual Cuban family.

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VISIT CUBA WITH A SUPPORT GROUP

On the dates of October 25 through 30th, the CubaOne organization will be spending five days in Cuba helping out the communities most in need of cleanup and rebuilding. The stops include cities most affected by Hurricane Irma across three provinces (Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara).

This trip is open to anyone and everyone who wants to help. Just agree to 3 things:

1- Each participant must fundraise $1,500

2- Each participant must pack a bag of supplies

3- Each participant must be ready to get to work helping the Cuban people.

If you’re down to join the adventure with soul, sign up at Cuba One Irma Relief.

IF YOU CAN’T VISIT, LET THESE PEOPLE GO FOR YOU

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(Photo: Carlos Kako Escalona)

Cuban-based photographer Carlos Kako Escalona is flying to Cuba this Friday, Sept 15th. “We are raising money to buy basic supplies, food and water for their neighborhood” says Brenda Figueroa, his friend based in Miami. $10, $5 or even $1 counts. Carlos is heading to Cuba with the first round of funds made by Sept 15th. Him and Rachel Rojas will be handling the funds in Cuba, since they are very connected in the community and are highly trusted. They both live on the island. They want to mainly get help to the inner provinces where people have been most affected. The second round of funds (if more is collected), would be flown in personally by Brenda before the end of November.

To donate to this group of committed friends, visit Go Fund Me Aftermath

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Amanda Bjorn is heading to Cuba soon. She just launched a campaign with Rocio Yepez of Fisheye Journey, which reached way past goal of 2K this week, instead making $2247! Their new goal is $5000. They will be bringing down the funds to the island asap.

Rocio says “We will be using this money to buy supplies here in Florida and Texas, which we will then transport to Cuba as early as next Thursday, September 21, 2017. These supplies will be divided into various packages that we will distribute evenly to friends, clients, schools, and community leaders over the course of a week both in Havana and Caibarien, a northern coastal town that was hit the hardest by the Hurricane”. Visit their campaign at: GOFUNDME/CUBA

If you prefer to send a care-package, please send it no later than September 25th to:
Rocio Yepez at PO Box No. 111205 Carrollton, TX 75011
If you are in the LA area, email amandabjorn@gmail.com for any other goods to deliver.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Spring Training Media Day

Yasiel Puig Valdés, the Cuban baseball player with an incredible story, has a foundation called “The Wild Horse”, which is also his nickname. The moniker was given to him by legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball, Yasiel joins the Cuban Community in the greater Los Angeles area in helping to raise funds to provide relief to hurricane victims. Any donation is welcome and will be distributed to Catholic Charities USA Disaster Operations which distributes 100% of donations received directly to affected communities. Last I checked, his Irma campaign acted super fast with a deadline of Sept 11th, so please double-check via the site if his hurricane campaign has extended. If not, there are many other Cuba initiatives to support regardless. Visit his campaign here.
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Meet Pablo. This one-man campaign has the least infrastructure, but it comes from a hungry person ready to help, and more importantly, he is a body flying into Cuba to mule in the goods. Having received $685 out of his $5000 goal, this Cuban photographer named Pablo Diego is based in New York and has 11 days left on his Indiegogo campaign.

“Everyone that knows me knows that I’m really active when it comes to helping my beautiful island as much as possible” he writes. “With this fundraiser I’m trying to bring as much food, water, and basic necessities as possible to the most affected areas in Cuba. Even the smallest contributions make a big impact for these families in need who are now left with nowhere to go. I plan to fly myself down there to bring all your donations and the necessary help. Please, open your hearts and let’s come together to put food in their bellies, clean clothes on their backs, and give the communities strength to rebuild.” To donate, visit his page. I’m certain he would accept a care-package in New York to fly down to Cuba, as well.

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This other campaign is run by a Cuban actress living in LA (she was born and bred in Cuba). “My goal is to raise funds and help buy food, shelter and general supply for Cubans affected by the area facing El Malecon in Havana” writes Mariel Garriga. She has managed to raise $2028 of $5000 so far. She adds: “We want to support the community with water, food, shelter and supply. Any help counts. Because of the embargo isn’t easy to support the local community with easy transactions. We will personally handle the donations and be sure they will arrive to Cuba. We will post what we used the funds for as soon as the campaign is over.”

To donate or inquire more, check out her campaign at GoFundMe.


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This particular organization are run by OG women. They work with the church since 1999, but since 2005, Friends of Caritas Cubana has provided needed services to the Cuban people – all with transparency to both the U.S. and Cuban Governments. Some of their efforts on the island take place in private homes or basement churches. They go to Cuba, at their own expense, at least twice a year to visit programs funded, conduct resource audits, provide technical assistance, and assess needs on the ground.

Their words: “Our primary objective is to help meet basic needs-water, food, and shelter, and so, our immediate plan is to raise funds”. You can listen to their story in this introduction video. Visit their donation page at Caritas of Cuba /Irma Relief.


EVENTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

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In Cuba: The guys at Arte Corte are more than just a barbershop. Over its short history, it has evolved in vision and scope, starting a partnership with the Office of the Historian of the Havana City, transforming into what is today, a Local Development Community Nonprofit Organization.

“We are working to organize a concert next week in our community to raise funds for those in need.” says member Camilo. Stay abreast for details on their instagram and please tell all your friends in Cuba, both visitors and local.

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In New York: The NY based party called Cumbancha is currently locking up a bigger venue to throw a big Irma Relief night this month. The word “Cumbancha” refers to meetings that people attend for have fun, drink and dance. Usual party hosts are resident DJ’s BJoyce & Sabine Blaizin (Oyasound), with Okai Musik doing  live drumming. You’ll be donating to a good cause, plus shaking your booty to Afro-Cuban House, Latin, and funky beats. Stay tuned for details on the upcoming bash on their official Cumbancha Facebook page.

That’s it for now….

This is the general energy bubbling within Cuban circles on a grassroots level. The trick is to carry lots of donations into the island by hand, and this will require a solid well organized community. If you can’t give money, please share, or comment below, and join the discussion to lend tips, contacts, or resources. No es facil, pero no es imposible.

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