Can Americans travel to Cuba? Yes, but it’s complicated. – The Washington Post

For Americans traveling to Cuba, the future looks less like jaunts to the Ernest Hemingway estate and cigar factories and more like visits to community youth programs and quality time with artisans who make cigar humidors. As a result of tighter restrictions on how Americans are allowed to spend their time in Cuba, meaningful, supportive interaction with locals is imperative.

After the Trump administration’s latest crackdown on travel to the island nation last month, tour companies are consulting lawyers, poring over scant federal guidance and tweaking their offerings to provide legal trips that can still appeal to a wide swath of U.S. citizens.

The new rules, announced June 4, eliminated the two most popular ways for Americans to get to Cuba since President Barack Obama eased restrictions in 2016: cruises and “people-to-people” group tours that merely required interaction with locals.

Americans can legally visit Cuba only under approved categories, and the bulk of those — including family visits, educational purposes, professional conferences and athletic competitions — come with detailed requirements. With people-to-people trips now off the table, that leaves one, all-purpose category: “support for the Cuban people.”

That leaves some big questions for travelers: What makes a trip supportive? What is off-limits? And what’s the best way to get there?

“It’s been confusing, to say the least,” says Gus Maxwell, head of the Cuba practice at the law firm Akerman. “You have seen the elimination of a category overnight.”

The answers are tied up in a tangle of federal regulations that aren’t always clear, even to experts. And not every company is making the same changes as they adapt to the new category.

Commercial flights are still allowed, and people can either travel independently or with an organized group. But visitors must comply with the somewhat murky requirements set out by the Treasury Department, keep careful track of their activities and hold onto their records for five years.

Anyone who booked a people-to-people trip before the new changes went into effect can still travel under that category, though cruises ended immediately. Pure tourism (such as a beach vacation) is prohibited, as it has been for decades.

Staying at a private home and eating at privately owned restaurants go some (but not all) of the way to meeting the latest requirements, and in some cases, staying at a hotel would be allowed. No one is permitted to stay, shop or do business with companies on the government’s list of restricted entities — which includes many hotels — that are affiliated with the Cuban military. Tour companies are familiar with which hotels, restaurants and stores keep U.S. tourists within the guidelines.

According to federal authorities — specifically, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control — individuals and organizations can travel under the support-for-the-Cuban-people category. To stick to the rules, they must have a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with locals, support civil society in Cuba, result in meaningful interaction with residents or promote independence from Cuban authorities.

The department lays out some scenarios that would fall within the law: staying in a room at a private home while engaging with the host; eating at privately owned restaurants; shopping at private stores run by locals; and supporting entrepreneurs who are launching their own businesses.

Under another example, a group of people volunteering with a nongovernmental organization to build a school for local children would also be compliant. They would even be fine to rent bikes to explore and visit an art museum in their downtime.

The government also provided an example of what is not allowed: staying at a hotel and renting a bike to explore neighborhoods and beaches with brief exchanges with beach vendors. “None of these activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba,” the regulations say.

“It’s not really like it’s purely black-and-white; there’s a lot of gray,” says James Williams, president of the advocacy coalition Engage Cuba. “I think you have to err on the side of caution.”

Collin Laverty, founder of Cuba Educational Travel, said the category of “support” is similar to the old people-to-people one but goes further than just visiting and interacting with people on the ground.

“You have to kind of prove how you’re helping them and supporting them,” he says. “So there’s … more of a ‘doing’ component and a little bit more of a deliverable.”

His company offered several categories of travel before the latest changes were announced but is now tweaking itineraries that fell under the people-to-people category to meet the new requirement.

He said that under a people-to-people trip, a group might have gone to a dance school and watched a performance and done a walking tour with an architect. Under the new requirements, they might bring donations for the dance school or artist, have conversations about how they could improve their operations and connect them with U.S. resources. Instead of just an architecture tour, visitors might go to private homes, hear from families about their living conditions and offer donations.

“Not everyone wants to go and do a volunteer vacation,” Laverty says. “It’s kind of like trying to figure out how to support people without making it overbearing — and having fun.”

Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, said his company operated the bulk of its tours under the people-to-people category but has adjusted activities to comply with the updated rules. He said about 15 to 20 percent of the programming has been changed.

Instead of going to cigar factories, Popper said, the company will bring travelers to meet with craftspeople who make humidors. Rather than going to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, groups will visit an artists’ studio cooperative that has a focus on promoting art by vulnerable social groups.

Although, Popper said, some tour operators might still find ways to include famous spots such as Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway’s house, InsightCuba will leave it off the schedule, along with the Che Guevara memorial and famous cemeteries. Instead, the company will facilitate private meetings with university students and young entrepreneurs, a visit to an organic farm and restaurant that provides programs for youths and time with a community ballet company.

“We took out anything that, under the new rules, might be questionable and just found a superior replacement,” he says.

Even some companies that didn’t have to change much of their programming are scrambling.

“The biggest effect is in the minds of the U.S. traveler,” says David Lee, founder of Cultural Cuba, which provided custom trips under the “support for the Cuban people” category. “I read articles where ‘ban on travel to Cuba’ was the headline. Some people don’t even read past headlines. That sounds like ‘Well, Cuba’s done, can’t go to Cuba anymore.’”

What followed has been, as Lee put it, “a period of reeducation” — another one, after the Trump administration clamped down on travel in 2017.

The immediate ban of cruise ships last month has resulted in far fewer travelers on the ground in Cuba; according to Cruise Lines International Association, the sudden change hit nearly 800,000 bookings that were scheduled or underway at the time.

But business isn’t necessarily drying up for tour companies. After the administration warned in April that it was putting more travel restrictions into effect, some travelers were motivated to make plans right away.

“That was when people who had Cuba on their list were, like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to book it right now, I’m grandfathered in,’” Lee says. “That created a really big rush.”

Laverty said a number of cruise travelers who had signed up for private excursions with the company have now booked land vacations after their cruises had to lose the Cuba stop.

Popper believes that while the overall market for American travel to Cuba will shrink without cruises, tour operators will get some of the business from those who would have otherwise taken a cruise.

And, he says, there is still a silver lining: “Amidst all of these different changes and negative headlines really since June of 2017, the good news is, any American can still legally travel to Cuba, and it’s still easier than it was back in 2014.”

Source: Can Americans travel to Cuba? Yes, but it’s complicated. – The Washington Post

A Russian Navy Warship Is Visiting Havana

A Russian Navy task force has docked at Havana, Cuba on a goodwill stay that sends a pointed message to the United States. The guided missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov, accompanied by an entourage of support ships, pulled into Havana earlier this week. The voyage is meant to project Russian strength, but that quickly fades when the circumstances of the frigate visit are examined closely.

The Admiral Gorshkov pulled into Havana on Monday, the latest stop on a ‘round-the-world tour that kicked off on February 26 in St. Petersburg, Russia. According to U.S. Naval Institute News, Gorshkov is the lead ship in a four-ship formation that includes the multifunctional logistics vessel Elbrus, the medium sea tanker Kama, and the rescue tug Nikolai Chiker.

The Russian task force has already visited Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and China, and made a stop in Ecuador before passing through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean. This is the first significant voyage for Admiral Gorshkov, which entered Russian Navy service in 2018.

Admiral Gorshkov is 426 feet long and displaces approximately 4,500 tons. The frigate is armed with one 130-millimeter A-192M Armat naval gun, eight SS-NX-26 Yakhont anti-ship missiles, and the Hurricane surface-to-air missile system. According to reports, the ship is also equipped with BrahMos anti-ship missiles.
Developed by India and Russia and named after the Brahmaputra and Moscow rivers, BrahMos is a ramjet-powered anti-ship missile with a 600-pound high explosive warhead. BrahMos is perhaps the fastest anti-ship missile in existence, capable of zipping over the wave tops at Mach 3 (2,300 miles an hour.)

The Russian government uses fleet visits such as these to show support for its allies—or former allies—abroad. The Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, for example, has made two voyages to Syria. While the prospect of a Russian warship visiting Havana—only 227 miles from downtown Miami—seems unusual, it really isn’t. U.S. warships regularly sail near Russian territory, particularly in the Black Sea, and this is just Russia returning the favor.

Under closer scrutiny, the trip hardly looks threatening. Gorshkov may be a new ship, but it’s a poster child for everything wrong with the Russian military. Construction began in 2006 and was only completed in 2018, meaning it took 12 years to complete. Frigate-sized ships typically take only two to three years to complete. Here’s the ship during the 2018 commissioning ceremony.

Like much of the Russian military, Gorshkov experienced repeated setbacks with funding and technical problems. The fact that Gorshkov is a new ship but traveling with a rescue tug says Russia is not confident in the ship’s mechanical reliability, nor in the willingness of local authorities to allow a broken-down Russian warship to dock locally.

Finally, although just 4,500 tons—less than half that of a modern U.S. destroyer—Gorshkov is the largest surface ship built in Russia in nearly 20 years. The U.S. Navy has received nearly three dozen ships during the same time period; Arleigh Burke- and Zumwalt-class destroyers, for example, are two to three times larger than Gorshkov by displacement.

USS Jason Dunham destroyer visits Gdynia port, Poland
USS Jason Dunham visiting Gdynia, Poland, 2015.
According to USNI News, the U.S. Navy is keeping tabs on the Russian task force. The guided missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham is shadowing the four Russian ships from a distance. U.S. Northern Command, also known as NORTHCOM, told USNI News, “We are aware of the deployment of the Russian ship Gorshkov and are taking steps to actively track it. We won’t discuss all measures being taken, but NORAD is conducting air operations in defense of the U.S. and Canada and USNORTHCOM has deployed maritime assets to track Gorshkov.”

US Secretary of State Pompeo blames Cuba for Venezuelan regime | News | DW | 21.07.2019

On a visit to Latin America, the US top envoy has blamed Cuba for propping up the Venezuelan regime. Moving on to Mexico, the focus was on trade and migrants, a day before a key trade deadline.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno (picture alliance/AP Photo/S. Nunez)

While visiting Ecuador over the weekend, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that free and fair elections in Venezuela would not be possible while Cuba was supporting its embattled president, Nicolas Maduro.

“With respect to Maduro staying, it seems incomprehensible that you could have a free and fair election with Maduro still in Venezuela on the ground,” Pompeo said in Ecuador on Saturday evening. “I don’t want to rule out the possibility that someone could find a clever way to do that, but it seems that to the extent that you have the Cubans protecting Maduro, they would not be able to deliver a free and fair election.”

Read more: How much influence does Cuba have over Venezuela?

The United States has been leading efforts to oust Maduro since his reelection in 2018, which Washington considers illegitimate.

The US is one of many states, including Germany, supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has failed to oust Maduro despite declaring himself Venezuela’s rightful president.

Maduro maintains that Guaido is a puppet backed by the United States and other Western countries seeking to oust him.

Backed by the military, Maduro has the ongoing support of China, Russia and Cuba.

Maduro has presided over a crumbling economy that has led to one of the worst refugee crises to ever hit Latin America.

Source: US Secretary of State Pompeo blames Cuba for Venezuelan regime | News | DW | 21.07.2019

Five Cubans discovered on makeshift sailboat in Florida Keys, US Coast Guard says | Fox News

Cuba Bans Pastors From Visiting Religious Freedom Summit, Detains Journalist | Daily Wire

Cuba says fuel shortage, blackouts are temporary, being fixed – Reuters

Bank of America claims Ditech’s sale of RMS “threatens to abandon” elderly reverse mortgage borrowers | 2019-07-19 | HousingWire

‘Considerable’ power outages affect Cuba; government cites planned maintenance, breakdowns

Cubans take to Twitter to report blackouts in their towns

HAVANA – Planned maintenance and breakdowns are what caused blackouts in all provinces of Cuba, according to what government officials told Cuban state-run media Wednesday. At the same time, Cubans for the first time started consistently using social media to report the power outages.

Power sources in the towns of Cienfuegos, Mariel and Nuevitas had problems in their systems, said Raul Garcia Barreiro, Cuba’s minister of mines and energy.

“At 2:30 p.m. [Tuesday] we had breakdowns in the Guiteras Thermoelectric Headquarters,” Garcia Barreiro added.

The minister said electrical output would likely go back to normal and that the average blackout was three hours but admitted some people have experienced longer periods of time without power.

In the past couple days, Cubans used social media outlets like Twitter to report the outages in their towns. They used hashtags like #ReportoApagonCuba, #ApagonesProgramados and #ApagonesCuba to provide details.

In the western Province of Pinar del Río, user @SoyMasCubanoHoy said they lost power between 1:25 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. in the town of San Luis.

“A bad night,” he said.

In Matanzas, Twitter user Roberto Ornan reported two blackouts between 8 a.m. and noon and 4 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

In the central Province of Villa Clara, in the town of Camajuani, Leonardo Rodriguez said his power was gone four hours and 45 minutes.

And in the Province of Camaguey, Juan Carlos Padilla said the area experienced two blackouts in less than 24 hours.

Garcia Barreiro assured state-run television the round of blackouts have nothing to do with oil or lack thereof, but Cubans fear more outages are coming as the country faces a significant economic slowdown.

Local 10 traveled to Santa Cruz del Norte, a town 30 minutes east of Havana, where people reported several blackouts.

Off-camera, people expressed their frustration and those old enough to remember were quick to mention the economic collapse of the 1990s that Cubans called the Special Period, which made electrical blackouts a daily routine.

In an article dated June 20, 2019, state-run online newspaper CubaDebate ran a story telling the population there would not be any planned blackouts this summer.

Garcia Barreiro said things would be back to normal Saturday and assured the population special places like hospitals were not left in the dark.

Mortgage Lender Market 2019 – Caliber Home Loans, loanDepot, Flagstar Bank, United Wholesale Mortgage, Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. – A Technology Market

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Leading key players of Mortgage Lender market are:
Caliber Home Loans
Flagstar Bank
United Wholesale Mortgage
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.
Guaranteed Rate
Steams Lending
Guild Mortgage Co.
Finance of America Mortgage
PrimeLending, A PlainsCapital Company
HomeBridge Financial Services
Movement Mortgage
Pacific Union Financial
Plaza Home Mortgage Inc.
New American Funding
Academy Mortgage
The Money Source
CMG Financial
Home Point Financial Corp.
Eagle Home Mortgage LLC
Homestreet Bank
American Pacific Mortgage
Supreme Lending
New Penn Financial
Gateway Mortgage Group LLC
Primary Residential Mortgage Inc.
MB Financial Bank NA
Sierra Pacific Mortgage
Bay Equity Home Loans

Chinese-built trains on first public run through Cuba

Chinese-built trains on first public run through Cuba

Cuba has unveiled its first new passenger trains built by China. It’s part of a plan to overhaul the island’s rail system that dates back to the 1830s.

CGTN’s Luis Chirino went on a ride departing from Havana.

The new train service had been welcomed by those who travel long distances on the island.

“This is a magnificent option because it helps move a large number of passengers on its trip throughout the country,” Marielena Arias, a passenger, said.

The new trains will carry over 700 passengers each and travel across the island while making stops along the way in different cities. It was considered the cheapest form of long-distance transportation. A round trip ticket from Havana to Guantanamo starts at 200 Cuban pesos or eight dollars.

Back in May, Cuba received the first import of new equipment since the 1970s. It’s part of the government’s plan to overhaul its deteriorated rail system by the end of 2030. The new trains to be pulled by locomotives that were recently revamped at local repair plants until new ones are imported.

“This is the first impact on train passenger transportation in our country, with faster departure frequency and more comfortable wagons which will allow to move about one million passengers next year,” Eduardo Hernandez, Director of Railways Union of Cuba, said.

CGTN was invited to travel on the new train for the first stopover in the western Cuban region. A ride that was on one out of 240 passenger cars to come from China at a rate of 80 a year to boost the overhaul of the island’s railroad system.

Each 78 seat wagon offers onboard services and great comfort, with air conditioning systems or fans, reclining and rotating seats, bathrooms, cold- drinking water, and catering services.

The new service met passenger demands for rail improvements after suffering from lack of maintenance and new equipment.

“This is something outstanding, which we’ve expected for a long time, since this really improves transportation,” Gleysa Videaux, another passenger, said.

The new train arrived at the western province of Matanzas to pick up more passengers during a brief stop-over and kept going on its route towards an improved Cuban railroad system future.

Source: Chinese-built trains on first public run through Cuba

Cuba continues to be repressive | AL DÍA News

Source: Cuba continues to be repressive | AL DÍA News

Independent Bank Co.(MI) (NASDAQ:IBCP) Downgraded by BidaskClub to “Sell” – Riverton Roll

BidaskClub cut shares of Independent Bank Co.(MI) (NASDAQ:IBCP) from a hold rating to a sell rating in a research note published on Saturday, June 22nd, BidAskClub reports.

IBCP has been the topic of several other reports. Boenning Scattergood reiterated a hold rating on shares of American Water Works in a research note on Thursday, May 2nd. ValuEngine lowered Zions Bancorporation NA from a hold rating to a sell rating in a research report on Wednesday, March 20th. Finally, Zacks Investment Researchraised Green Brick Partners from a sell rating to a hold rating in a report on Thursday, April 25th. Two analysts have rated the stock with a sell rating, three have assigned a hold rating and one has assigned a buy rating to the company. The company presently has an average rating of Hold and a consensus price target of $26.00.

Shares of IBCP traded down $0.29 during midday trading on Friday, reaching $21.61. The stock had a trading volume of 40,600 shares, compared to its average volume of 111,635. The company has a quick ratio of 0.91, a current ratio of 0.93 and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.19. The firm has a market cap of $514.06 million, a P/E ratio of 12.86, a P/E/G ratio of 1.46 and a beta of 0.41. The firm has a 50 day moving average of $21.68. Independent Bank Co has a 52 week low of $20.18 and a 52 week high of $26.00.

Independent Bank Co.(MI) (NASDAQ:IBCP) last issued its quarterly earnings results on Monday, April 22nd. The financial services provider reported $0.39 earnings per share for the quarter, missing analysts’ consensus estimates of $0.46 by ($0.07). Independent Bank Co.(MI) had a net margin of 21.81% and a return on equity of 12.33%. The business had revenue of $40.20 million for the quarter, compared to analysts’ expectations of $41.70 million. Sell-side analysts expect that Independent Bank Co will post 1.87 earnings per share for the current year.

Hedge funds have recently bought and sold shares of the company. PNC Financial Services Group Inc. raised its position in shares of Independent Bank Co.(MI) by 1,738.2% in the fourth quarter. PNC Financial Services Group Inc. now owns 1,636 shares of the financial services provider’s stock valued at $35,000 after buying an additional 1,547 shares in the last quarter. Oppenheimer Asset Management Inc. bought a new stake in Independent Bank Co.(MI) in the 4th quarter worth about $37,000. Advisor Group Inc. bought a new position in Independent Bank Co.(MI) in the 4th quarter worth approximately $51,000. BNP Paribas Arbitrage SA boosted its holdings in Independent Bank Co.(MI) by 56,300.0% in the 1st quarter. BNP Paribas Arbitrage SA now owns 4,512 shares of the financial services provider’s stock worth $97,000 after buying an additional 4,504 shares during the period. Finally, SG Americas Securities LLC bought a new position in Independent Bank Co.(MI) in the 1st quarter worth approximately $105,000. 80.05% of the stock is currently owned by institutional investors.

Independent Bank Co.(MI) Company Profile

Independent Bank Corporation operates as the holding company for Independent Bank that provides various banking services to individuals and businesses in Michigan. The company offers checking and savings accounts, commercial lending, direct and indirect consumer financing, mortgage lending, and safe deposit box services, as well as automatic teller machines, and Internet and mobile banking services.

Source: Independent Bank Co.(MI) (NASDAQ:IBCP) Downgraded by BidaskClub to “Sell” – Riverton Roll