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Take a Walk Through the Streets of Cuba

TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev takes us to Havana

Cuba has light. Cuba has shadow. Cuba has decaying colonial grandeur. But what really matters is that Cuba has Cubans. Almost any place in the Caribbean contains the strains of African, Spanish and Anglo tradition that come together on its largest island. But nowhere else do they come together to such effect. Maybe it’s the land—after the Revolution uprooted the capitalists half a century ago, tobacco growers packed up seeds on their way out to plant them in Central America, but it turned out it wasn’t the seeds that made a cigar Cuban. It was the soil of Pinar del Rio, on the island’s western reaches. Apparently there is no place on earth like it.

The people are like that, too: Lively, sensual, verbal—the fastest-talkers in the Americas, some say—they project optimism as well as pride. Their country is poor and, without doubt, a security state, but also safe, literate and healthy. People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.

The question, now that the island is poised to receive Americans in substantial numbers, is whether Cuba itself will change. U.S. flags have begun showing up around Havana. Immigration to the States has been allowed since 2013, and remittances—cash via Western Union—accounts for a substantial portion of the economy. If reaction to U.S. meddling in Cuba was a factor in the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, a half century of defiant separation has done its work. The walls have been lowering for a while, the estrangement subsiding.

At this point, Cubans say they are ready to engage again. Yuri Kozyrev, a TIME contract photographer, spent 10 days there over the New Year holiday. The surprise of the Dec. 17 announcement by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro was still fresh, and hope was in the air. The Communist icons appeared a bit more iconoclastic after the news of impending change, the fading slogans a bit more faded. But the essential appeal of the place remained—nowhere more so than in Havana.

“A city is made by people,” Eusobia Leal, the official in charge of restoring the Old City, once told TIME’s Dolly Mascaernas. At the time, money was beginning to pour into Havana’s colonial core, funding restorations that pushed residents into the streets (where they had always half-resided anyway, the charm of a walk through Old Havana being life spilling out of the buildings on either side). Leal said a lesson was learned, one relevant to a country on the cusp of change.

”Beautiful buildings need life,” he said. “There is nothing more lively than the people that live in them. Cubans love the center of Havana. It is full of life and it will continue to be like that. There is no point in lifeless beautiful buildings. That is not a city, it’s a museum.”

Karl Vick is a TIME correspondent based in New York. From 2010 to the autumn of 2014, he was the Jerusalem Bureau Chief.

Yuri Kozyrev is a TIME contract photographer represented by Noor.

TIME Cuba

Cuba Gets First Free Public Wi-Fi Spot

The cultural center run by Kcho, in Havana, Cuba, March 11, 2015.
Desmond Boylan—AP The cultural center run by Kcho, in Havana, on March 11, 2015

Thanks to renowned Cuban artist Kcho

Cuba is getting its first free public wi-fi spot at a cultural center run by famous local artist Kcho in the west of the capital Havana.

Kcho, who has close links to Cuban leaders, including long-time former President Fidel Castro, will pay around $900 a month to operate the Internet hub, the BBC reports.

The 45-year-old artist, who was born Alexis Leiva Machado, aims to increase online exposure in a country where only 5% to 25% of the population has access to the web, and where the price of checking email can amount to $4.50 per hour, close to the average Cuban’s weekly pay.

Cuba’s poor telecoms infrastructure means accessibility and affordability are two key challenges to introducing universal Internet access. Information suppression also remains rampant in the country, and last year’s revelations that the U.S. was secretly behind ZunZuneo, a Cuban version of Twitter, did little to restore Havana’s interest in opening up the Internet to all citizens.

However, signs of change are coming in the Cuban telecoms sector, as state firm Etecsa announced a direct telephone service between the U.S. and Cuba last week. In 2013, Cuba and Venezuela also improved Internet connectivity through the completion of an underwater cable. And with thawing U.S.-Cuba relations, Washington has zeroed in on telecoms as one route to strengthening ties.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. There are no winners in a currency war, either. Here’s why the U.S. is carrying the burden of the global recovery.

By Mark Gilbert in Bloomberg News

2. Despite slow and censored Internet and the weakest mobile phone penetration in Latin America, Cuba is the land of opportunity for daring tech investors.

By Ramphis Castro in Re/code

3. Anyone with a smartphone can become a mobile environmental monitoring station.

By Brian Handwerk in Smithsonian Magazine

4. Permanent, easily accessible criminal records are holding back too many Americans. It’s time to “ban the box.”

By Ruth Graham in the Boston Globe

5. Autism Village is an app that helps families find autism-friendly businesses.

By Olga Khazan in The Atlantic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Colombia

Chinese Ship Detained in Colombia on Suspicion of Weapons Trafficking

COLOMBIA-CHINA-CUBA-TRANSPORT-WEAPONS
Joaquin Sarmiento—AFP/Getty Images A Chinese freighter loaded with unregistered weapons is seen anchored at the port of Cartagena, Colombia, on March 3, 2015

Captain Wu Hong may be charged for carrying illicit cargo

The Chinese captain of a freighter stopped by the Colombian authorities is under house arrest in Cartagena for allegedly carrying unregistered weapons and military equipment bound for Cuba.

The Hong Kong-registered Da Dan Xia has been impounded for a week after local authorities claim 100 tonnes of gunpowder, 99 projectile bases and 3,000 artillery cartridge cases were discovered aboard, reports AFP.

While Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insists that the Da Dan Xia has not flouted any Chinese or international laws, Colombian prosecutor Luis Gonzalez Leon says Captain Wu Hong will be charged with weapons trafficking.

The cargo ship was stopped before it was due to arrive in the northern Colombian city of Barranquilla en route to Havana.

[AFP]

TIME Cuba

New York Soccer Team Set for Historic Match in Cuba

2015 Lunar New Year Cup - South China v New York Cosmos
Victor Fraile—Getty Images Walter Restrepo, left, of New York Cosmos and Ting Fung Chak of South China in action during the 2015 Lunar New Year Cup match between South China and the New York Cosmos at Hong Kong Stadium on Feb. 19, 2015 in Hong Kong. The New York Cosmos will play the Cuban National team in Havana this summer.

It'll take place on June 2 in Havana

The New York Cosmos will go up against Cuba’s national squad in Havana this summer, according to a new report, marking the first time in decades that a professional U.S. team will play on the island.

News of the soccer match was errantly announced early, according to the New York Times, which reports the game will take place June 2 during a lull in the Cosmos’ schedule. The Cuban national team will use the game to prepare for July’s Concacaf Gold Cup.

Baseball remains the island nation’s top sport, but soccer has been growing in popularity. Although the Cosmos is a second-tier team in the states, some of its international players like Raul and Marcos Senna, former stars of Spain’s World Cup team, are recognizable in Cuba.

The U.S. announced in December that it would thaw and restore full diplomatic ties with Cuba after more than half a century.

[NYT]

TIME Television

Watch Conan O’Brien Improve Diplomatic Relations With Cuba

This mostly involved drinking rum, smoking cigars and dancing

Conan O’Brien helped the U.S. strengthen diplomatic ties when he began this Wednesday’s episode in Cuba.

O’Brien begins the show speaking in Spanish, and then says, “This is a very historic time. Relations between Cuba and the United States are finally starting to thaw. I thought this was an amazing opportunity for me to come to Cuba, talk to the people and get to know them.”

By “get to know them,” what Conan really means is visit a cigar factory, drink a lot of rum and learn the rumba. Watch, and learn.

TIME Television

Watch Conan O’Brien Sing, Dance and Shop His Way Round Cuba

TBS has released a preview of the late-night host's special from Cuba

Conan O’Brien’s much-hyped visit to Cuba airs on Wednesday at 11 p.m., and TBS has released a sneak peek.

In the clip, the TV funnyman dances with locals, sings karaoke, visits shops and chats with the “Cuban Andy.”

O’Brien visited the country in mid-February, becoming the first late-night host in more than 50 years to film a show in the country. The last time an American late-show visited Cuba was in 1959, when the Tonight Show‘s Jack Paar interviewed Fidel Castro.

TIME Cuba

Cuba Talks Turn Awkward Over Terror Listing

President Obama Holds End-Of-Year News Conference At The White House
Alex Wong—Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House December 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama faced questions on various topics including the changing of Cuba policy, his executive action on immigration and the Sony hack. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Another round of talks, another round of smiles Friday, as negotiators for Cuba and the United States joined in stepping carefully around the first obvious obstacle to emerge in their joint effort to re-establish diplomatic relations.

The latest meeting was only their second, this time in Washington. Diplomats from both countries crowded around an array of tables at the State Department for what U.S. officials cautioned in advance would be a more “workmanlike” session, less dramatic than the historic inaugural session in Havana in January. That was the first since Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro surprised the world by announcing an intention to reconcile in parallel announcements Dec. 17.

At the time, Obama signaled what sounded very much like an inclination to remove Cuba from the short, brutish roll of nations the State Department lists as official sponsors of terror: The only other countries saddled with the designation are Iran, Syria and Sudan. “At a time when we are focused on threats from Al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction,” Obama said. But actually removing a nation from the list, and freeing it from the attendant sanctions, turns out to be taking longer than expected. “On why it’s taking so long, I’ve got to tell you it’s just these processes tend to be a little bit more complicated than they seem, and that’s all I’m going to say,” a senior State Department official said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The consequences of the delay may only be atmospheric, but mood has been one of the things the Obama administration has had going for it on this story. The head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal, said at the close of Friday’s session that removal from the list was not a strict precondition to resuming ties, but repeated that it is “a very important issue” to Havana, which has harped on it both publicly and privately. And privately,the terror list may indeed have been mentioned as a precondition to re-opening embassies: “It would be very easy to restore diplomatic relations,” the State Department official said in the background briefing with reporters, “if they would not link those two things.”

What’s more, a 45-day interval built into the assessment process means that Cuba will still carry the designation when Castro and Obama meet at the Summit of the Americas, set for the second week of April in Panama City. The confab was envisioned as a celebratory session that marked the end not only of the 50-year cold war between countries, but also of Washington’s estrangement from a Latin American establishment that largely esteems Havana.

The delay clearly pleases Congressional critics of the reconciliation, led by favorites of the Cuban exile community based in Miami. “President Obama and his negotiating team need to stop looking so desperate to secure a deal with the Castro regime to open an embassy in Havana, at any cost, before this April’s Summit of the Americas,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who also noted the arrest of 200 dissidents in Cuba the previous two weeks. Detentions of activists, often held only a short time, remains routine in Havana, the State Department has noted, and U.S. officials take pains to pay respectful visits to some of the island’s most prominent dissidents.

But on the narrow question of re-establishing diplomatic ties, the nominal point of the talks, both sides appear to be on the same page. “On the issue of the themes on the agenda that were of concern to us, I think we did make progress on a number of them,” said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Jacobson after the meeting. “Some of them, quite honestly, are close to resolution.” Vidal said much the same in a separate news conference. And the negotiators, at least, appeared intent on sustaining the gestures of good will that began in December with an exchange of prisoners, and is supposed to proceed to an exchange of ambassadors. Said Jacobson, in answer to question: “I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas.”

TIME Cuba

Cuban President Raúl Castro Honors Spies Jailed in U.S. as National Heroes

Raul Castro, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino,  Antonio Guerrero
Ramon Espinosa—AP Cuba's President Raul Castro and Gerardo Hernandez salute, as fellow agents Ramon Labanino, background, second from right, and Antonio Guerrero applaud during a medal ceremony, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015

The awards come despite thawing relations between Washington and Havana

Cuban President Raúl Castro awarded medals to five men on Tuesday, calling them national heroes for their espionage work in the U.S.

“The Cuban Five,” as they were nicknamed, had attempted to infiltrate Cuban exile groups within the U.S. but were arrested and imprisoned in 1998, Reuters reports.

All were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but three were released from U.S. custody on Dec. 17 when President Barack Obama announced a shift in Washington’s relationship with Havana. (The remaining pair had already returned to their homeland.)

In exchange for the final three spies, the Cuban government released a Cuban prisoner convicted 20 years ago of spying on his home country for the U.S.

The prisoner exchange was one element of a dramatic recent shift in U.S.-Cuba relations. Both countries have announced that they will restore diplomatic relations after decades of hostility and sanctions.

The Cuban Five were presented to a group of Cuban government officials, military officers and dignitaries at the Cuban parliament. Castro led the ceremony, but his brother, former President Fidel Castro, was not seen. Fidel, 88, has not appeared publicly in over a year.

Gerardo Hernandez, 49, was the leader of the arrested spies. “The honor that we receive today also demands that we rise to the challenges facing the revolution,” he said.

[Reuters]

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