Watching, Rooting, and Supporting this thing called "The New Cuba" from the inside out (Consultant | Producer | Sensei)

CULT HERO

“With Cult Hero, I wanted to draw attention to the saturation that causes the image of Martí to be repeated everywhere. I do not think we need it in every workplace, in every block for the need to remember. I do not need to see the bust everywhere to think about it; and seeing it doesn’t makes me a better human being, because for me this belongs internally.”— Ernesto Sanchez, Director of Cult Hero

The new documentary, which won an Award at Cuba’s Muestra Joven Film Festival is summarized as this: “The tradition in Cuba is to pay homage to José Martí with busts and statues dating from the early twentieth century. Today many of his busts are produced in plastic through a complex manufacturing process. This initiative is part of the effort to keep his legacy and thoughts alive, but beyond achieving the objective, this action inserts Marti into a society that sees it as something so routine that it becomes an invisible object.”

This cerebral doc touches upon the wildly complex conversation about ideology and youth today, discussed through the beautiful vehicle of Marti busts. Keep your eye on filmmaker Ernesto Sanchez, a strong new voice in Cuban cinema. Trailer below:

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JETBLUE

In honor of this mornings epic Flight 387 Jetblue, from Ft Lauderdale (Florida) to Santa Clara (Cuba)… Kudos to the first commercial flight in over 50 years! Here’s a cheat sheet of upcoming flight routes:

Flights to Cuba from the U.S.

JetBlue – All flights originate in Fort Lauderdale (FLL)

• Beginning Aug. 31: Three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara
• Oct. 1: One daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara
• Nov. 3: One daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Camagüey
• Nov. 10: One daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Holguín

American Airlines
 – All flights originate in Miami (MIA)

• Sept. 7: One daily flight to Holguín and Cienfuegos
• Sept. 9: One daily flight to Camaguey and Santa Clara
• Sept. 11: One daily flight to Varadero

Frontier Airlines
• Oct. 27: Daily flights between Chicago O’Hare and Santiago de Cuba
• Dec. 15: Four weekly flights between Philadelphia and Camaguey
• Dec. 15: Three weekly flights between Philadelphia and Santa Clara
• Jan. 7: One weekly flight each from Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia to Varadero.

Silver Airways – 
All flights originate in Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
• Sept. 1: Daily flight to Santa Clara
• Oct. 13: Five weekly flights to Camagüey
• Oct. 21: Two weekly flights to Cienfuegos
• Oct. 27: Daily flight to Holguín
• Nov. 3: Daily flight to Santiago de Cuba
• Nov. 17: Three weekly flights to Cayo Coco
• Dec. 2: Four weekly flights to Varadero
• Dec. 8: One weekly flight to Cayo Largo del Sur
• Dec. 16: Three weekly flights to Manzanillo

Southwest Airlines – 
All flights originate in Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Tampa (TPA)
• TBD: Two daily flights to Varadero
• TBD: One daily flight to Santa Clara

Sun Country Airlines
 – All flights originate in Minneapolis (MSP)
• TBD: One weekly flight to Varadero
• TBD: One weekly flight to Santa Clara

(Source: Travel&Leisure)

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Unknown

Rumour mill says, MasterCard is now allowed in Cuba? It seems lots of American friends keep telling me MasterCard can be used in Cuba now. This is partly correct, and partly incorrect. Here is the real deal. Are you willing to change Banks? For those that remember, last year, a Florida-based bank named Stonegate rose to the occasion of saving and handling all domestic banking transactions for the Cuban Embassy in the States (after M&T bank dropped out of that role). This is the first US Bank to accept a relationship with Cuba’s Banco International de Commercio aka BISCA, since the 1960 embargo (as well as Banco Popular from Puerto Rico). Reported June 27th, Cuban ATM’s will now accept MasterCard cash advances, including those from Stonegate Bank. Irma Margarita, VP of Cuban Central Bank (BCC), confirmed MC is already being used at Cuban points of Sale. This must mean mostly at State Hotels and State restaurants. The Cuban Bank also admitted that the service is only offered in the Capital of Havana, but will be expanded t the whole island in the future. Irma confirmed her desire to expand to more US Bank-issued Credit cards to be authorized for use in Cuba.

From my experience, it’s possible to travel a whole week in Cuba without entering State businesses. If you’re the type to frequent only casa particulars (home B&B’s) and paladars (Home restaurants), and use taxis, etc, then these sellers only accept Cash. That means, if you are an American, don’t get to comfortable in your plastic. Continue bringing all cash as usual until this makes more sense. The new rules can perhaps benefit only those who visit Cuba frequently for corporate travel. A big plus is that the Cuban government plans to waive the 10% penalty exchange on US dollars if you use the Stonegate Card. Stonegate is creating a Limited Edition MasterCard, issuing only 1,000 cards at first, with Cuban painter Michel Mirabal’s art 96 artist which Usher recently visited in Havana).

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sheraton

Check out the new Sheraton Havana, located in the Miramar district (on Fifth Ave, between 76th and 80th). Reuters reports a fresh new sign posted on the wall — “Four Points by Sheraton”. This will make Sheraton is the first hotel in Cuba to operate under a US brand since the 1959 revolution (according to Cuba Journal). The area is chic, mostly residential homes with several world embassies. Room listings start at $249, just to further separate the “have” and “have-nots” on the island (just to make matters more confusing in this 2 tier economy). However more tourism means more money trickling into the local economy, including the new cuenta-propistas (Cuba’s private sector, and sort of their new middle class).

Time will tell how all these forces will converge to help Cuba. Starwood is the first US company to commit major dough to Cuba’s tourism sector. It’s important to know that all these deals are joint ventures with the Cuban state, which means it is a delicate dance in business control. The second Sheraton deal, announced last month, is the takeover of Hotel Ingalettera (much more centric to foreigners in the Habana Vieja area). Hotel Inglaterra will fall under Starwoods “Luxury Collection” end of this year. For now, the existing Miramar Sheraton will not close for renovations, which will take several months. Business is open as usual. Yesterday, some painters were spotted painting the lobby walls. Stay tuned.

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Everyone is asking us about the song which The New Cuba collective made for Showtimes’ (House of Lies) new episode filmed in Cuba, a remix made by our main man, Edgaro Productor en Jefe. Click above to hear the full track on Soundcloud.

It was a historic production because it was the first time a US Scripted TV show was granted permission to shoot in Cuba by the US State Department. The production was also greeted with warmth by the Cuban State who equally contributed production assistants, producers, actors, and extras — a true collaboration after so many years of cultural divorce between both nations. Watch the final episode of Season 5 to see it.

HOUSE OF LIES PHOTO 1
(Septeto Habanero & House of Lies Creator Matt Carnahan walking off the right side)

The track is a remix of a classic Cuban song “Casa de Chableta” performed by Septeto Habanero. The original plays throughout the episode as they enter Cuba. At the end of the episode, the characters hit a 2.0 moment in their life (no spoiler alerts) which is precisely when the party remix cues in. The local rappers spittin’ verses on top are Charly “Mucha Rima” and Ethian “Brebaje Man”.

House of Lies set cuba_6500
(House of Lies set in Havana)

Congrats to the whole Showtime team.
We had a ball dancing on set that night. Come again!

(Photos by: Jauretsi)

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mike-kelley-lax-composite

Hello America! Cuba is bracing for a mass influx of US Flights this Fall 2016, the first time U.S. is authorizing scheduled commercial services in more than five decades. The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved six airlines to schedule trips to 9 Cuban cities (not including Havana). The lucky airlines who won the rights are American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines.

In theory, passengers can take off from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Cuban destinations are Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba. This means that as early as this Fall, 90 roundtrips flights between the U.S. and nine Cuban international airports could be available every day. There is one hold-up: Exact flight schedules may depend on the availability of airport slots, AND the airlines have to be approved by the Cuban government. If and when approved by the Cuban state, most of the carriers plan to begin services later this fall, and will start selling tickets much earlier.

Now, what about the main city of Havana? The department is also allowing 20 daily roundtrip flights to Havana, HOWEVER, later this summer, officials will announce which carriers will make those trips and when they will begin. American airlines has already said it intends to start its first flights to the island nation on September 7, when it will launch nonstop service from Miami to both Cienfuegos and Holguín. Carriers won’t be able to advertise fares until they’re ready to put them on sale, which could happen within the next three to four weeks.

Photo: Michael Kelley

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