Make-A-Wish sends pediatric cancer patient to Cuba

Tyler Machado was allowed to make a wish. He could have asked for anything. But instead of a fast car or a meeting with his favorite rapper, he chose to visit his grandparents in Cuba. 

The Make-A-Wish foundation granted the 11-year-old non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient’s dream. Taylor thought he was on his way to a doctor’s visit in New Jersey when they surprised him with a red carpet and a limousine.

Tyler, a stage 2 cancer patient, remembers the surprise: “Once I saw the limo and the camera people, I was like ‘oh no!’ 

When Tyler arrived to Havana, he became the first child from the United States to visit the island with the help of the Make-A-Wish foundation since President Barack Obama lifted the travel ban. 

During his six-day trip, Tyler traveled to the small town of Caraballo, near Havana. He was in tears when he met his 92-year-old great grandfather Reynaldo Machado, who is visually impaired. 

Genesis Ramos, Tyler’s mom, said she was not surprised to see her son’s reaction.

“He has always wanted to meet his family here, see where he is from,”  Ramos said. 

Tyler has been working on his Spanish. His great grandfather, who doesn’t speak English, gave him some life advise: “To have a girlfriend and have a baby, so I can continue the last name and then he said have 5 girlfriends.”

The communications director for Make-A-Wish said the foundation is working on trips to Cuba for other children throughout the U.S.

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Cuban government looks to lure U.S. hoteliers with new projects

For decades, any private enterprise daring to do business in Cuba faced U.S. sanctions or loss through seized property. Now to lure U.S. companies, the Cuban government offers business partnerships. They even promise to honor property ownership rights in perpetuity to foreign investors with the proper permits. 

As the isolationist Cold War policies become a part of Cuba’s past, Starwood was the first U.S. hospitality company to risk operating the Four Points Sheraton in Havana’s Miramar district. Now Marriott and rivals Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham and Archipelago may also want in.

The U.S. hospitality sector had a strong presence at the Latin American Hotel and Tourism Investment Conferences held on Monday and Tuesday in  Havana. They are among those willing to bet that President Donald Trump will not be preventing U.S. investment in Cuba.

Like Starwood, the companies would require a special U.S. Treasury Department license. Arturo García, the founder of the event hosting some 250 companies, said he knew several U.S.-based companies were waiting for U.S. licensing to launch projects all over the island. 

The 10th annual conference also hosted the World Travel and Tourism Council and executives from Latin America, Europe and Asia at the Meliá Cohiba Hotel. Michael Maisel, of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based lobbying group in favor of lifting the half-century U.S. embargo, also attended the conference.

“For so long, we have been disconnected and finally these relationships are coming to bear fruit after 60 years of isolation,” Maisel said. 

During Republican campaign events in Miami, the pro-business candidate criticized President Barack Obama’s renewal of relations with Cuba. He criticized him for supporting policies that strengthened the authoritarian regime and perpetuated their reported ongoing human rights violations

Fidel Castro, who bedeviled 11 U.S. presidents before dying last year, welcomed some foreign investment and allowed small private businesses after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. His brother Raul Castro stepped up the efforts when he succeeded him in 2006.

After Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez died in 2013 and his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, faced the ongoing economic crisis, the Cuban government no longer viewed U.S. capitalism as a subversive enemy force.Castro allowed the Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces’ GAESA, a conglomerate of at least 57 companies, to turn into the gatekeeper.

Sarkis Yacoubian, a Canadian who did business in Cuba, works as a consultant for those looking into dealing with GAESA. Cuban authorities deported him three years ago, after he was accused of causing economic harm to Cuba. They held him for nearly three years on a 9-year sentence and seized assets valued at $20 million. 

GAESA’s Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, promotes a parallel economy with international partners managing more than 80 percent of their portfolio. Warwick International Hotels, Iberostar Hotels and Resorts, Blue Diamond and Valentín Hotels and Resorts are some of their partners.

Most recently, they allowed the Geneva-based Kempinski Hotels to operate a 246-room five-star hotel and luxury spa. The hotel will share a historic building in Old Havana above the Manzana de Gómez, Cuba’s first luxury mall since the 1959 revolution. 

While U.S. cruise ships and airlines have been doing business with the Communist island, the Cuban government reported the number of U.S. tourists increased at a rate of about 18 percent this year partially due to Obama’s relaxed travel restrictions. 

Some of the Cuban-American travelers have limited their transactions to the new class of “cuentapropistas.” The licensed entrepreneurs operate small private businesses including the “casas particulares,” the island’s expanding private bed-and-breakfast sector mostly reliant on a dysfunctional relationship with Airbnb. 

During the Monday inauguration ceremony of the Latin American Hotel and Tourism Investment Conferences, the focus was on catering to high-end customers. Alexis Trujillo, the Cuban vice minister of tourism, touted a portfolio of new opportunities including 30 golf courses, seaside resorts and high-tech theme parks.  

Cuban officials presented 21 new mixed-use projects and said the associated infrastructure was improving. There were projects in Ramon de Antilla Peninsula in the Holguin province, Cayo Cruz island in Camaguey, and Cayo Paredon island in Ciego de Avila. 

“Slowly but surely we are learning about the conditions here and our company is working together with the U.S. authorities in this process,” Louis Alicea, of Wyndham, told Reuters.  

Choice Hotels representatives were concerned about the competitive advantage that other countries had over U.S.-based companies. A spokesperson of the company based out of Rockville, Maryland, said they were “exploring opportunities in the market and following the regulatory framework in the U.S.”

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this story from Miami. 

 

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8 die in plane crash in Cuba’s western mountainous region

A Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside Saturday in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board, the government said.

Cuba’s military said in a statement that the Soviet-made AN-26 took off from the Playa Baracoa airport outside Havana at 6:38 a.m. and crashed outside the town of Candelaria, about 40 miles away.

The Aerogaviota airline’s AN-26 aircraft, which has a capacity for 39 passengers, vanished on Saturday morning. The plane, owned by the Cuban military, departed at 6:38 a.m. from the Playa Baracoa, a tourist destination about 30 minutes west of Havana.

The government-owned airline has a fleet of 22 planes and operates flights to Jamaica and charter flights to  Central America. It has been based out of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport since 1994. The Ukrainian Antonov State Co. modified the AN-26 twin-engined aircraft. It’s a retrofitted Soviet military bomber.  

The cause of the crash remained under investigation on Saturday afternoon, according to Granma, the state-run newspaper. 

In November 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in the country’s deadliest air disaster in more than two decades.

In 1989, a chartered Cubana de Aviacion plane en route from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.

This is a developing story. Refresh this link for the latest news. 

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8 die in plane crash in Cuba’s western mountainous region

A Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside Saturday in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board, the government said.

Cuba’s military said in a statement that the Soviet-made AN-26 took off from the Playa Baracoa airport outside Havana at 6:38 a.m. and crashed outside the town of Candelaria, about 40 miles away.

The Aerogaviota airline’s AN-26 aircraft, which has a capacity for 39 passengers, vanished on Saturday morning. The plane, owned by the Cuban military, departed at 6:38 a.m. from the Playa Baracoa, a tourist destination about 30 minutes west of Havana.

The government-owned airline has a fleet of 22 planes and operates flights to Jamaica and charter flights to  Central America. It has been based out of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport since 1994. The Ukrainian Antonov State Co. modified the AN-26 twin-engined aircraft. It’s a retrofitted Soviet military bomber.  

The cause of the crash remained under investigation on Saturday afternoon, according to Granma, the state-run newspaper. 

In November 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in the country’s deadliest air disaster in more than two decades.

In 1989, a chartered Cubana de Aviacion plane en route from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.

This is a developing story. Refresh this link for the latest news. 

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Airbnb’s relationship with VaCuba fails Cubans running ‘casa particulares’

Stefano Marzoli left his Italy for Cuba about four years ago. He runs one of the casa particulares in Havana that are struggling with Airbnb’s lack of payment. 

The digital platform, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia founded in San Francisco about nine years ago, started to connect Cubans with foreigners two years ago. Marzoli credits them for the growth of his business. 

“At least 30 to 40 percent more customers,” said Marzoli, a former sales man.

His relationship with Airbnb started to go sour with the late payments. Airbnb uses VaCuba, a Miami-based agency that exchanges dollars for Cuban currency. The Better Business Bureau reports VaCuba’s failure to respond to 12 complaints filed against them exempts them from a rating. 

On the Airbnb’s community section’s there are several pages of complaints about delays in payments that go back to Dec. 15, 2015. In March, a user claimed VaCuba changed their method of payment to a European bank account. An online community manager in London promised to report her ordeal. 

Marzoli’s complaints to Airbnb haven’t gone unanswered. Airbnb has acknowledged they owe cuenta propistas money and are working to execute a solution. But Marzoli said he is tired of the explanations. He just wants to get paid. 

Marzoli understands their challenge with the U.S. embargo, but he is concerned. Despite the backlog, Airbnb continues to advertise rooms in Havana starting at $35 a night. 

“$100, $200 in the U.S. isn’t much,” Marzoli said. But he added that for operators of casa particulares like him the sum is a small fortune. They have to pay the government taxes and a monthly licensing fee to stay in business. 

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this report. 

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Skateboarding team in Cuba? Toda Fuerza aims to open doors

From the California’s surf culture of the ’50s to the central plazas of town’s in Cuba, skateboarding has grown into a worldwide cultural identity.

Steven Garcia is passionate about the sport and about Cuba. His dad was born on the island and his mom is Cuban-American.

Last year, he traveled to Havana for the first time with the help of the CubaOne Foundation, a non-profit organization that sponsors trips to U.S.-born millennial of Cuban descent. He said the trip changed him. 

When Garcia returned to South Florida, he founded Toda Fuerza, Spanish for “All Strength.” The organization aims to help creative Cubans like Idania Del Rio, an entrepreneur, and Jorge Rodriguez Diez, a designer known as R10, with an online store

Toda Fuerza also recruited seven Cubans who love skateboarding to join a team and participate in amateur competitions. The hope is that one day Cubans will be able to benefit from the skateboarding industry. 

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