Cuba is opening up to the World

OK, let’s begin by saying that this might not be considered good news. Will Cuba opening up to the World be good for locals and visitors?

cuba

From a tourist perspective

There are arguments that Cuba is special because it’s been untouched by the modern world. There is no Mcdonalds or Starbucks, internet is still in it’s infancy and the country could be viewed as one being in a time warp!

So if Cuba is to change, then will this be good for the tourist experience, or will Cuba just become another sun and sea destination.

From the locals perspective

Cuba is likely to be very over run, very soon. Corporate America is lining up to steam and make things, well American!

If you look at other countries that have opened up to the west, perhaps Vietnam being a good example, then will every local stand to benefit from this massive change? It’s hard to say, Cuba is so unique, and we can only guess as to whether the locals are keen.

Could Cuba become the Vietnam success story of the Western Hemisphere?
Could Cuba become the Vietnam success story of the Western Hemisphere?

Here are some views from around the web on the potential good news coming Cuba’s way. By the way, Don’t be left with huge medical bills if you have not taken out travel insurance for the over 80s for any trips to the Caribbean.

Cuba, open at last

Are you a bit curious as to what Cuba is really like, now that we Americans can get there more easily since the U.S. embargo has been somewhat lifted?

Having been to Cuba “illegally” a few times – my first in 1989 – my recent trip in December 2015 was done legally, and I’m pleased to let you know all about this captivating island.

In December I flew from LAX on the first direct charter flight from the West Coast to Havana. The American Airlines charter had 133 passengers, mostly Cuban Americans, and leaves every Saturday from AA gate 41 at 12:30pm.

This flight is arranged by CubaTravelServices.com, a Los Angeles–based company that’s taken Americans to Cuba legally for years. You can arrange airfare, visa and fees through CTS. Including all taxes the total comes to $960 for a week, Saturday to Saturday. Arrival into Havana is 8:30 p.m. EST.

What to expect

Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, is more than just cigars and 1950s cars. It has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, along with some of the best fishing, diving and music culture in the world. Its countryside is green, fertile, and welcoming to all.

I would suggest you visit Cuba sooner than later, though; as many as 10 million Americans are projected to visit yearly once the embargo is lifted totally. That number might overwhelm Cuba’s infrastructure… which it’s working on, since an estimated 700,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2014. New upscale hotels are going up to accommodate more travelers.

Havana has 3 million of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants, and is the hub for its number-one industry: tourism. It’s also Cuba’s center for commerce, music, dance, and the theatre scene. Havana has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba; you’ll see some beautiful historic buildings being restored in the capital.

Cuba was the #1 tourist destination in the Caribbean for Americans in the ’40s and ’50s, so if you’re curious as to why, and what to see once you’re there, here are a few ideas.

If you go

Cuba is as safe as any country I’ve been to, and I’ve been to 130. You can walk around at night without fear, and its streets are cleaner than Tijuana. Some buildings look dirty just because they’re so old.

If you are travelling to Cuba you should always take out travel cover such like  seniors cover 85 because medical bills will be very expensive, and while Cuba has a good level of medical care, as a tourist you will not have a right to this.

After my recent visit, what touched me most were the Cubans themselves. Friendly and happy despite being poor by world standards, and welcoming towards Americans. They look forward to getting to know us better.

As one Cuban told me, “we like America, it’s our government that doesn’t so we hope you come and enjoy our warmth”.

Cuba, USA 

The Obama Administration took another step in implementing the change in US policy toward Cuba that the president announced in December of 2014. Specifically, the administration again loosened sanctions and export restrictions related to trade with and travel to Cuba through amendments made by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR), respectively. These amendments, which took effect on January 27, 2016, reflect the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to reduce US sanctions against Cuba in areas that encourage US engagement with, and empowerment of, the Cuban people.

While the changes make it easier for individuals and entities subject to US jurisdiction to trade with and travel to Cuba, significant restrictions on these activities remain in place, particularly where the activity is unrelated to furthering the needs of the Cuban people. In some areas, the administration has reached the limits of what it can do to remove restrictions on Cuba without Congressional action, and such action remains unlikely anytime soon.

The amendments can be divided into two broad categories: trade-related and travel related. The implications of each are outlined below.

Trade-Related Amendments

OFAC and BIS have significantly eased trade-related restrictions involving Cuba through the following changes:

Financing

OFAC has eliminated payment and financing restrictions for most types of authorized exports and reexports to Cuba other than agricultural commodities and items. Previously, payment and financing terms for authorized exports were restricted to cash-in-advance or third-country financing.

The current limits on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and what they can do once they get there, as well as restrictions on U.S. businesses that want to do business in Cuba, are regulated by both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Behavior by travelers is largely regulated by the Department of the Treasury’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations which were enacted on July 8, 1963, under the Trading With the Enemy Act.
This Is Happening: U.S. Eases Cuba Travel Restrictions, Drops Many License Requirements

The actions today do not completely open Cuba to travel from U.S. nationals, they just remove some of the red tape and pave the way for bigger changes later. People are still not legally allowed to travel to Cuba if they don’t fall into one of twelve categories, and those that are allowed to travel are still technically not allowed to engage in tourism.

Interestingly, while it is permissible to travel to Cuba for professional meetings, the new regulations specifically state: “Travel-related transactions are authorized, provided that the purpose of the meeting or conference is not the promotion of tourism in Cuba.”

The complete text of the new Treasury regulations are available here, while the complete text of the Commerce regulations are available here. They’re also embedded, below.

Below we’ve paired common questions with text from the regulations in order to answer the most frequently asked questions about travel to Cuba.

Mini-Brains could have huge impact on drug research

Firstly what are Mini Brains?

Miniature brains that show electrical activity akin to “a primitive type of thinking” could revolutionise how some drugs are tested and reduce the need for animals in research, according to scientists who have developed the structures. Human mini-brains, made from the neurons of a full-sized brain, will be mass-produced to replace animals in drugs testing, in a move that is likely to transform research and development in pharmaceuticals.

cancer-research

What have the various News reporters been saying about Mini Brains?

These tiny mini-brains contain all the cell types found in a real brain.

Researchers often rely on animal models like mice to evaluate how new drugs will affect the human brain or to better understand how the brain functions. But in recent years, scientists have turned to “mini-brains”—tiny lab-grown balls of brain cells—to test pharmaceuticals or better understand the causes of some diseases. While many of these brains are sophisticated enough to mimic the structure of the human brain, they also have limitations: They take several months to grow, and each one varies slightly, which inhibits researchers from getting rapid, consistent results from their experiments.

Now, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have developed a technique for making mini-brains more quickly and consistently, which they believe could allow mini-brains to replace animal testing for a variety of experiments. Dr. Thomas Hartung, a professor of environmental health sciences and one of the researchers behind the project, presented the work on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C.

The cells were working together as they would in a real brain.

Like other mini-brains, these are made from pluripotent stem cells—ones capable of producing any cell or tissue the body may need—that have been isolated from skin. But while others are isolated to a single plane (or as Hartung describes it, “like pan-fried eggs sunny side up”), the cells in these mini-brains are kept suspended by being constantly shaken as they develop. After eight weeks, the mini-brains were each just 350 micrometers in diameter but when hooked up to an EEG, they showed activity—indicating to the researchers that the cells were working together as they would in a real brain. And while the initial batches contain 800 mini-brains each, Hartung believes the system could expand to grow thousands per batch.

It was an otherwise normal day in November when Madeline Lancaster realized that she had accidentally grown a brain. For weeks, she had been trying to get human embryonic stem cells to form neural rosettes, clusters of cells that can become many different types of neuron. But for some reason her cells refused to stick to the bottom of the culture plate. Instead they floated, forming strange, milky-looking spheres.

“I didn’t really know what they were,” says Lancaster, who was then a postdoc at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna. That day in 2011, however, she spotted an odd dot of pigment in one of her spheres. Looking under the microscope, she realized that it was the dark cells of a developing retina, an outgrowth of the developing brain. And when she sliced one of the balls open, she could pick out a variety of neurons. Lancaster realized that the cells had assembled themselves into something unmistakably like an embryonic brain, and she went straight to her adviser, stem-cell biologist Jürgen Knoblich, with the news. “I’ve got something amazing,” she told him. “You’ve got to see it.”

Lancaster and her colleagues were not the first to grow a brain in a dish. In 2008, researchers in Japan reported1 that they had prompted embryonic stem cells from mice and humans to form layered balls reminiscent of a cerebral cortex.

Autism emphasis

The Johns Hopkins team created the iPSCs by reprogramming the skin cells of a patient with a specific disease or non-disease background. For example, Hartung and his colleagues are very interested in autism because cases of the disorder are doubling every 10 years in the US. ‘This cannot be explained by genetics because genes are not changing that fast, so there must be environmental factors,’ he said.

As a result, the team is making mini-brains from the cells of autistic children, and this allows them to then test the effects of various compounds on that disorder. ‘This is the first time that you really can test gene–environment interactions on a personalised basis,’ Hartung explained. ‘I could imagine similar applications for even testing whether an individual would react favourably to a certain drug or not.’ While such a possibility would be far too costly at the moment, he believes that these mini-brains could facilitate personalised medicine in the near future.

Around five labs in the world have developed similar brain models, but the Johns Hopkins model is different because it is better standardised, according to Hartung. Many of the other models take up to nine months to develop, and they are all unique, Hartung said. ‘These were the Ferraris, the Maseratis – the beautiful almost brain-like structures,’ he remarked. ‘We only produce mini-brains – mini-coopers – but they are all the same, and this allows us now not to compare different brains, but to compare different drivers.’ He stressed that their mini-brains can be used to compare different drugs and toxicants to better understand their various effects.

Hartung is now applying for a patent on the mini-brains and is also creating a spin-off called Organome to produce and sell them. He said nobody should have an excuse to still use animal models, which come with ‘tremendous limitations’, including cost and time.