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                                                                                                                                                                             photo by FNPI via Wikimedia Commons
Cuban singer and songwriter Pablo Milanés will headline this year's Film Festival of Gibara.

Artists prepare for Latin America's version of Cannes

By the A.M. Cuba wire services

The normally quiet seaside town of Gibara, Cuba, is once again all abuzz as the community prepares for the annual International Film Festival of Gibara next month.

Sometimes thought of as Latin America's Cannes, this year's event will be held April 15 to 21 in the picturesque "Villa Blanca" located on the northern coast of the province of Holguín.
Filmmakers from all over the world will compete in the categories of fiction feature film, short fiction, documentary feature film, documentary short film and cinema under construction ranging from unpublished scripts to works in post-production. Prizes will also be awarded for best director and best male and best female actors.

Participating in this year's festival will be A
merican actor Benicio del Toro and Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, among other figures of the cinema and the arts.

Jorge Perugorria, president of the festival, said the event is "an alternative" to mainstream cinema where "all the voices" are heard.

The festival was originally inspired by the late Cuban filmmaker Humberto Solás and aims to open up a broader spectrum of communication between the arts, according to Cuba's Minisitry of Culture.
—March 17, 2017

Cuban Habanos still smoking hot

By the A.M. Cuba wire services

Cuba's legendary cigar is still as popular as ever with sales last year rising 5 percent to a staggering $445 million.

Leigh Powless via Wikimedia Commons
A Cuban woman enjoys a hand-rolled cigar outside the Plaza de Armas in Havana

Now Habanos lovers are stoked over the 19th annual Habanos Festival in Havana, Cuba, which runs through Friday. Cuba's monopoly cigar company, Grupo Habanos Company, markets 27 handmade Habanos brands including the classics
Cohiba, Monte Cristo and Romeo y Julieta. The highlight of the festival is the introduction of new cigar vitolas (lengths) and band markings -- a big deal for cigar aficionados.

Habanos dominates the global market for hand-rolled, premium cigars except in the United States due to Washington's half-century trade embargo against Cuba. This hasn't stopped the illegal trade, where Habanos have been making a showing in the U.S. for years.

In the past year, U.S. tourists to Cuba have been permitted to legally bring back a certain number of Habanos, courtesy of the Obama administration's attempt to normalize relations with Cuba.
— Feb. 28, 2017

Fidel's brother Raul wants better relations with US

By the A.M. Cuba staff

A group of U.S. congressmen who just returned from a visit to Cuba say Cuban President Raul Castro appears to want to continue working on improved ties with Washington despite U.S. President Donald Trump's vow to reverse direction.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime advocate of better ties with Cuba, told reporters this week that Castro expressed his desire to continue work on market-oriented reforms.

Leahy said that Castro gave the group two signed copies of a speech he gave last month in the Dominican Republic that expressed a desire to work with Trump.

That speech is the only real indication from the Cuban government of its intentions with the new U.S. administration. In the speech, Castro said he wanted to keep negotiating the bilateral relationship with the United States and "pursue respectful dialogue and cooperation on themes of common interest with the new government of President Donald Trump."

Senator Thad Cochran, one member of the group accompanying Leahy on the trip, told reporters that the Trump administration seems to have "a new openness, a willingness to take chances," although he allowed that such spontaneity could be problematic in negotiations with Cuba.

"I think that [the spontaneity] has people a little nervous," Cochran said, "because you don't know what the new president's going to announce or say in the next minute."

Senator Tom Udall, another member of the group, answered a reporter's question about "moving toward a new perspective on Cuba." He told the reporter that the United States and Cuba "have already built on several issues — bipartisan, pro-engagement amendments."

The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution that put communist leader Fidel Castro in power. In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, who had taken over for his brother Fidel six years earlier, began the process of normalizing relations.

Obama became the first U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba when he traveled to Havana in March 2016. Since then, the United States has begun easing travel and trade restrictions with the island nation.
                                                                                                                              — Feb. 24, 2017

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