Friday, November 18, 2011

Feds investigating BWI flights to Cuba...

Department of Transportation concerned that company is advertising before having its license approved to fly from Baltimore

It was undoubtedly exciting news: Baltimore would become one of the few spots in the U.S. offering flights to Cuba, a Communist nation largely off-limits to American travelers.

But one critical item had been overlooked: the paperwork.

The Florida travel company that plans direct flights from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Havana is being scrutinized by federal officials for promoting its plans before receiving the necessary approval for charter flights.

"They're licensed to fly out of another city, but not Baltimore," Charles E. Smith, a U.S. Department of Transportation attorney looking into the matter, said Thursday.

Tampa-based Island Travel & Tours Ltd. raised eyebrows at the agency after BWI announced this month that charter flights between Cuba and Baltimore would begin in March. The government is working to determine whether the Nov. 4 announcement violated rules that prevent advertising before charter flight schedules have been authorized, Smith said.

William Hauf, president of Island Travel, said he had just returned Thursday from Cuba and had no knowledge of the federal inquiry. After consulting with Island Travel's attorney, Washington-based Pierre E. Murphy, Hauf said he was confident that none the company's actions were inappropriate.

"We have not done any advertising; the press release was put out by a third party," said Hauf. "Our plans were based on pending DOT approval."

The announcement was made via email by BWI and posted on the airport's website. The same release had also been published on Island Travel's website but was removed Thursday night.

The statement was not an advertisement for flights, said Jonathan Dean, the BWI spokesman who sent out the announcement.

Skel secured landing rights from the Cuban government.

Island Tours is authorized by the federal government to be a carrier and travel service provider, according to an October 2011 document from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

But Island Travel neglected to file a "public charter prospectus" — in essence, a flight schedule required for all charter flights, regardless of their destination.

Under federal regulations, "no charter operator shall operate, sell, receive money from any prospective participant for, or offer to sell or otherwise advertise a charter or series of charters until" the Department of Transportation accepts the prospectus.

The company will file an amended charter flight schedule Friday that will include the flights planned for Baltimore, said Hauf, who is optimistic that the filing will not push back the company's plans to start flying from Baltimore to Havana in 41/2 months.


Cuba brings the heat

By Graeme Bruce Herald-Tribune staff

Posted 6 hours ago
Although winter has hit Swan City, music lovers will have a chance to warm up to the sounds of Latin Grammy-award winning Alex Cuba on Sunday at Second Street Theatre as part of a folk-roots-blues concert series.
As his name suggests, the singer-songwriter hails from Artemisa, about 100 km outside of Havana.
Since his arrival in Canada in 1999 when he was 24, Alex Cuba has stayed true to his roots, writing warm and soulful horn-laden Cuban music that can instantly conjure up images of palm trees and white beaches.
Cuba came to Canada in hopes of making it big. He made a name for himself as a bass player in Cuba, with his brand of Latin funk. But when he arrived on west coast of the Great White North, he put his focus back on guitar, which he learned from his father, Valentin Puentes, a respected guitar teacher and performer.
"I came to Canada thinking I was going to become someone famous, as a bass player, that was my goal," said Cuba.
When he moved to Canada and married his wife, and now manager, Sarah, he began to write songs, and find his voice.
The independent artist has gained the respect of his Canadian peers as well, winning two Junos for World Music Album of the Year for his 2004 release Humo De Tobacco (meaning tobacco smoke), as well as his 2007 release, Agua Del Pozo (meaning well water).
"The Juno took me by surprise, it was an amazing moment, I wasn't expecting to be nominated to be quite honest, I wasn't looking for awards, I was looking to make a point, a musical point," he said. It was about getting something going, saying 'this is me'," he said.
The acclaims he has received have given him the drive to keep going.
"I felt like I was going in the right direction."
Awards aside, he has collaborated with quintessential Canadian folk singer, Ron Sexsmith, as well as co-writing nearly half of Canadian pop-darling Nelly Furtado's most recent album, Mi Plan, in which he was able to infuse his brand of pop-Latin fusion.
"When you come together to write with somebody else, for their album, it is important you keep in mind that it's not your album, but there is always a little bit of yourself that comes out."
After making his mark on the Canadians, he took home a Latin Grammy for best new artist.
"It empowered me, gave me a lot of trust in myself, especially since I did it independently…it boosted my confidence," he said.
About a month later, Cuba received a nod from the American Grammy Awards, a huge coup for an independent artist.
"I was hoping to be picked up by a label for sure," he said, but he remains happy remaining independent. "I am the owner of all my work…what I am doing is unique, and a label may come in and want to change what I'm doing, to package it to make it more 'sellable'."
Cuba eventually wants to produce, an aspect of record-making he loves the most, but for now, he's touring Western Canada before heading over to Europe in the New Year.
"I'd come a long way, I'm really happy, I have no regrets, no complaints and I enjoy what I'm doing."
Show-goers can expect a mix of pop, folk, funk and Latin along with singing in Spanish and English. For those who want to catch Cuba's first appearance in Grande Prairie on Sunday, tickets are $28 in advance, or $30 at the door. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Check for more info.
Alex Cuba plays Second Street Theatre Sunday evening.

IMF, World Bank should bring Cuba "in from cold:" report

MIAMI (Reuters) - The international development community, especially financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and the United States should reach out to communist Cuba as it pursues economic reforms and bring it "in from the cold," a new think tank report says.
The report published by the Brookings Institution in Washington says incipient economic reforms set in motion by Cuban President Raul Castro should be encouraged by the world's economic policy makers because history suggests that such reforms can foster political pluralism.
"In approaching Cuban economic reform, the United States should join with the international development community in nudging forward that irresistible flow of history," said the report, which will be released Friday.
The report's author, Richard Feinberg, is a non-resident senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton for National Security Affairs and senior director of the National Security Council's (NSC) Office of Inter-American Affairs.
The Brookings publication is one of several reports by U.S. think tanks and institutions that have appeared in recent weeks urging President Barack Obama's administration to pay close attention to the reforms currently under way in Cuba, which remains the target of a long-running U.S. economic embargo.
President Castro's reforms, endorsed by Cuba's ruling Communist Party in an April Congress, include ground-breaking measures such as allowing Cubans to buy and sells cars and homes. They also widen self-employment and private business opportunities for tens of thousands of Cubans in a bid to soak up worker layoffs in the stagnant centralized state economy.
Feinberg said Cuba's moves to promote more market-oriented systems and its increasing openness to the international economy provided a "golden opportunity" for engagement, despite the persistence of conservative elements in the leadership resistant to significant political and economic change.
"My argument precisely is not to deny that there are forces of inertia there; clearly there are and they remain strong. But it is the role of the international community in circumstances such as this to lend their weight to the positive forces of change," Feinberg told Reuters.
He cited the examples of Nicaragua and Vietnam, which despite their socialist governments still maintained successful relationships with international financial institutions (IFIs) like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
"IFI staff economists and sector specialists are chomping at the bit to engage in Cuba - they should be allowed and encouraged to do so," the report said.
Revolutionary Cuba withdrew from the World Bank in 1960 and from the IMF in 1964, and since then has kept up a thunderous propaganda drumbeat against financial institutions which its leaders dismissively refer to as "tools of imperialism."
The report blamed what it called "the unyielding Cuban-American lobby" in the United States for bullying the U.S. government into blocking any outreach toward Cuba from the Washington-based IMF and World Bank.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)