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Paris Hilton Havana

Paris Hilton is the most recent celebrity to take advantage of the thawing relations between the United States and Cuba and head down to Havana for some nostalgia and cigars.

The heiress of Hilton Hotels visited the Cuban capital over the weekend and has been documenting the trip all over Instagram.

“Posing in front of the original ‘Habana Hilton Hotel’ that my great-grandfather Conrad opened here in 1958,” Hilton, 34, captioned the picture.

If any picture can truly capture the changing times between the two countries long divided by political differences, it's a selfie taken in the Communist nation by a scandalous socialite whose U.S. pop-culture background includes "The Simple Life," chihuahas with diamond-studded collars and sex tapes.

The Hilton Hotel was inaugurated at the height of the Fulgencio Batista regime. Shortly after Fidel Castro seized power, he nationalized the property renaming it “Habana Libre,” the Spanish word for "free."

While in the Cuban capital, Hilton took the time to take in the sites and document some of Havana’s iconic views.

She also participated in the 17th annual Cigar Festival with British supermodel Naomi Campbell and took some photos with Castro’s son, Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart (who is Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's cousin).

Hilton’s trip comes just months after President Barack Obama announced the two countries would be working to restore diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961.

Currently Americans can travel to the Communist country for academic, religious or cultural programs, and the Obama administration is working on easing those restrictions.

Last week, officials from the two countries held their second round of talks in Washington, following a first round held in Havana in January.

Late night TV host Conan O’Brien filmed a special episode of his show in Havana last month that airs on Wednesday.

He told reporters that some of the highlights of the episode include learning to play authentic Cuban music, how to rumba and visiting a cigar factory where 400 virtuosos make cigars.

O’Brien found the architecture beautiful but, typically, in disrepair, while "the people couldn't be warmer and nice."

"They're very interested in how Americans feel about them," he reported. "I told them Americans disagreed on everything, but in polls about whether we should normalize relations with Cuba, we are overwhelmingly in favor of it. They were happy to hear that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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bachelet hospital

Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- Chile's president went to a hospital Saturday to meet with a 14-year-old girl who shocked the country by going on YouTube to plead for the leader to let doctors euthanize her because she is tired of her struggle with cystic fibrosis.

The government quickly said no after the video began spreading on social media Thursday.

A government statement said President Michelle Bachelet talked with Valentina Maureira and her father for more than an hour at the Catholic University hospital in the capital.

Officials did not release any information on what was said. But the government provided photographs of the visit, including one of Valentina taking a selfie with the president, who is also a pediatrician.

Valentina grabbed attention after posting on YouTube a video that appeared to have been shot from a hospital bed.

"I urgently request to speak to the president because I'm tired of living with this illness," said the teenager, whose older brother died at age 6 from the same disease. "I want her approval so I can get a shot that will make me sleep forever."

Cystic fibrosis damages multiple organs, especially the lungs, by causing recurrent infections that damage tissue. Valentina said she was frustrated by the lack of options and by how the disease had hurt her quality of life.

On Thursday, presidential spokesman Alvaro Elizalde expressed sympathy for Valentina's plight, but stressed that Chilean law does not allow euthanasia.

"It's impossible not to be overcome by emotion with the girl's request; it's impossible to grant her wish," Elizalde said.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, the girl's father, Fredy Maureira, said he supported his daughter's request, though he added that he "cried through the night" after he first heard about her wish to die.

"This is so tough, but I have to respect her decision because she's the one who's suffering this illness," Maureira said.



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AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

The mass wedding was organised by local authorities to help those who would struggle to pay for their own ceremony.

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AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

Couples with a combined monthly income of up to $1,000 (£640) were allowed to be involved, the BBC reported.

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AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

The event took place at the Maracanazinho arena, and proceedings were presided over by volunteer civil judges.

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n evangelical Christian pastor and a Catholic priest also blessed the couples, AFP reported.

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The BBC said local officials put on special trains to help couples and their guests attend the event.

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The annual mass wedding ceremony, known as Dia do Sim (I Do Day), was the biggest ever in Rio.



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Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- A House bill introduced this week would ease airline costs for international flights into John Wayne Airport and could attract more such flights to the county.

The measure calls for the airport to be declared a “port of entry.” Currently, airlines there must reimburse U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the cost of checking travelers from abroad, but there is no such charge to carriers at official ports of entry.

“I have raised this issue several times with the administration, but we have seen no progress,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana.

“My bill mandates the secretary of homeland security to designate John Wayne Airport an official port of entry and remove it from the existing ‘user-fees’ system, which currently puts the burden of CBP operations unfairly on the back of travelers.”

Republican Reps. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel and Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa are co-sponsors of the measure.

Courtney Wiercioch, a deputy airport director, said Interjet’s decision to leave John Wayne last year was due in part to the customs fees.

“Other international carriers have said that it’s a hindrance to them flying here as well,” she said.

Passengers arriving in the U.S. from abroad already pay a $17.50 fee to customs, regardless of the airport. Additionally, customs charged John Wayne carriers $1.4 million in 2014 to service the 277,000 passengers arriving on international flights.

While that surcharge only comes to about $5 per passenger, it amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars to the international airlines flying to John Wayne — costs the carriers do not incur when flying to nearby port of entry airports including Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs, Wiercioch said.

Carriers at John Wayne currently serve Cabo San Lucas, Mexico City and Vancouver, with flights to Puerto Vallarta scheduled to start in June.

The international flights contribute to the county’s economy, according to the bill, which cites a recent economic study that pegged air service from Mexico to Orange County as generating nearly $39 million in wages, salaries and benefits.

Airports must have at least 15,000 annual international passengers to qualify to port of entry status.

Contact the writer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- The Spanish government has confirmed the completion of an IPO for the sale of a 49% stake in Aena AS (formely Aena Aeropuertos) to private investors.

The flotation, which was five times over subscribed, is expected to raise €8.7 billion.

Spain’s biggest ever IPO, carried out on the Madrid Stock Exchange, follows the government’s decision to scrap a deal to sell a 21% stake to three “cornerstone investors” – Corporación Financiera Alba (8%), Ferrovial (6.5%) and British investment fund TCI (6.5%).

In addition to its 46 airports and two heliports in Spain, Aena – through subsidiary Aena Internacional – currently has interests in 15 airports in the UK, Colombia and Mexico.

It has a controlling 51% shareholding in London Luton Airport in the UK; 37.89% and 50% stakes respectively in Colombia’s Cartagena de Indias (SACSA) and Cali Alfonso Bonilla Aragón (Aerocali) airports; and a 33.3% interest in Aeropuertos Mexicanos del Pacífico (AMP), strategic partner of Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP), which operates 12 Mexican gateways that include Guadalajara, Tijuana, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, La Paz and Manzanillo.

And it says that it will “continue to consider new business opportunities worldwide” in 2015 although in the last few years it has shed its TBI-owned assets, and its interest in Colombia’s Baranquilla–Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport ended in February 2012 when Aeropuertos de Caribe’s 15-year concession expired.

You can read more about Aena and the airport portfolios of the world’s other airport owners and airport operators in the A to Z feature of global airport operators in the next issue of Airport World.



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women entrepreneursPuerto Vallarta, Jal- Some 43 percent of businesses in Brazil are owned by women who operate small- and mid-sized companies, a report by credit rating agency Serasa Experian said.

The report, based on official data, found that there are 5.69 million businesswomen in Brazil, representing just 8 percent of the country's female population.

Forty-three percent of business owners in Brazil are women and 73 percent of them are involved in small- and mid-sized companies, the study said.

But only 0.20 percent of Brazilian businesswomen are partners in big companies.

The average age of businesswomen is 44, the report said.

Some 52.06 percent of Brazilian businesswomen, according to the Serasa Experian study, live in the country's most developed region, which encompasses the southeastern states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo



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AA9r76mDavid McNew/Getty Images An Alaska Airlines jet passes the air traffic control tower at Los Angles International Airport during take-off on April 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

LOS ANGELES — A scorpion stung a woman on the hand just before her flight from Los Angeles to Portland took off.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Cole Cosgrove says Flight 567 was taxing on the runway Saturday night when the passenger was stung. He says the plane returned to the gate and the woman was checked by medics. She refused additional medical treatment but didn't get back on the plane.

Meanwhile, flight attendants killed the scorpion and checked overhead compartments for any additional unwanted arachnids. The flight then took off at 8:40 p.m., about an hour late. Members of Oregon State University's men's basketball team were on the flight, Cosgrove said.

He says it's unclear how the scorpion got on the plane, but the flight originated in Los Cabos, Mexico.



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BBhI3JUAP Photo/Ariel Schalit This photo shows a detail of Fatimid period gold coins that were found in the seabed in the Mediterranean Sea near the port of Caesarea National Park in Caesarea, Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015

CAESAREA, Israel (AP) — Israel on Wednesday unveiled the largest collection of medieval gold coins ever found in the country, accidentally discovered by amateur divers and dating back about a thousand years.

The find was made two weeks ago near the Israeli port city of Caesarea and consists of some 2,000 coins, weighing about 6 kilograms (13 pounds), the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

The coins were likely swept up in recent storms, said Kobi Sharvit, director of the authority's marine archaeology unit, adding that they provided "fascinating and rare historical evidence" from the Fatimid era in the 10th and 11th centuries.

The divers initially thought they had spotted toy coins but later showed a few of them to officials.

Marine archeologists, using metal detectors, then found the larger haul with coins of various denominations, dimensions and weight. The divers handed over all the coins.

Sharvit said they probably came from a boat that sank on its way to deliver tax money to Egypt or from a merchant ship trading among Mediterranean coastal cities.

He said archeologists hope further excavations at the site of the find will make it possible "to supplement our understanding of the entire archaeological context, and thus answer the many questions that still remain unanswered about the treasure."

Robert Kool, the Israel Antiquities Authority's curator of coins, said the find was in excellent condition. The coins did not require any cleaning or conservation despite having been at the bottom of the sea for about a millennium.

"Gold is a noble metal and is not affected by air or water," he said. "Several of the coins that were found in the assemblage were bent and exhibit teeth and bite marks, evidence they were 'physically' inspected by their owners or the merchants."

The earliest coin exposed in the treasure was a quarter dinar minted in Palermo, Sicily, in the second half of the 9th century.

Most of the coins, though, appear to have belonged to the Fatimid caliphs Al-Zakim and his son Al-Zahir and minted later. The Fatimid kingdom ruled Northern Africa, beginning in the 10th century.



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Cuba Horse Training 1

HAVANA (AP) – Already renowned for fine rum and fancy cigars, Cuba is carving out a new luxury niche that is attracting Latin American elites to the communist-run island: thoroughbred jumping horses.

By importing colts and fillies from the Netherlands, Cuban trainers are creating prized competitors capable of fetching more than $40,000 from buyers at private auctions, with much of the proceeds going back to the government-led equine enterprise.

At an auction last month at the National Equestrian Club, well-heeled horse collectors gathered in the tropical air to sip wine and raise their bidding paddles, hoping to find a champion among the Dutch Warmbloods paraded before them.

By evening's end, 31 horses sold for a total of about $435,000 to buyers from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, the Netherlands and Mexico.

"The great advantage is that they are already in the Americas," said Cecilia Pedraza, a Mexico City collector who bought several of the Dutch Warmbloods. "In addition, they have been trained very well. They are advanced for their age, very well-behaved, perform concentrated jumps and have excellent blood lines."

Rufino Rivera, from Xalapa, the capital of Mexico's Gulf coast state of Veracruz, paid about $17,000 for a horse he hopes will follow the path of Aristotelis, a prize-winning jumper he bought at the club's first auction six years ago.

Cuba's tradition of horse breeding and training dates to the 16th century, but after the 1959 communist revolution, Fidel Castro's government banned horse racing along with gambling and professional sports. Cuba continued to participate in amateur equestrianism, producing top-notch horse riders and trainers. But the costly sport slipped into decline in the 1990s, when the fall of the Soviet Union provoked an economic crisis that made it hard to care for the animals.

Then, starting in 2005, Cuba began seeing horses as a way to gain badly needed foreign currency. It began to import Dutch Warmbloods around age 1½, then train them for competitive jumping before selling them at age 3.

In the days before an auction, jockeys and trainers like Jose Luis Vaquero can be seen brushing their purebred wards' coats and braiding their manes so that "everything is perfect."

"You have to take care of the horse, look after it every day," Vaquero said.

The National Equestrian Club is run by Flora and Fauna, a state business that promotes the island's natural resources. It keeps 117 horses in stables in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana.

Cuba, which splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine company, uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the horses locally rather than have to import animals at great expense.

Willy Arts, the head of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse association's North American wing, said there is growing demand for high-quality show horses and Cuba's program could be important to people in the Western Hemisphere looking to purchase them at more accessible prices.

Cuba complains bitterly about training world-class athletes who leave to make millions for themselves in other countries. If successful, the new equine initiative would produce four-hooved performers whose success only means more revenue for the program that produces them.

Nearly two dozen mares currently are part of the breeding effort. Last year, three horses born through the insemination program were sold at prices ranging from $39,000 to $50,000, said Maydet Vega, a veterinarian who oversees equine programs at Rancho Azucarero, the horse-breeding center west of Havana where the artificial insemination program is being developed.

Breeding foals in Cuba has the additional advantage of allowing horses to adapt to Cuba's sweltering heat and humidity from birth, she said.

"It's important to be able to produce them on the continent," Vega said. "They can adapt to the tropical conditions of our climate so people can have them in all countries in the Americas."


Cuba is training purebred horses for luxury market




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 Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg A shopper looks at a window display of luxury wrist watches at the Jaeger-LeCoultre store in Toulouse, France, Nov. 20, 2013.

It had taken a licking and was ripe for the picking.

But only if you knew the real value of a 1959 Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watch.

And Zach Norris of Phoenix knows his watches.

He saw the rare timepiece, sans wrist band, at his local Goodwill store. The price tag said $5.99.

"I didn't even want to give it to her scan," he says of his rock bottom-priced purchase. "I was like, 'You can scan it in my hand if your want to.' I just didn't want to let it go," he told KTVK-TV.

When he did let it go, it was for $35,000.

Less than 1,000 of the diving watches were ever made.

"I knew I didn't want to keep it because it's kind of above my means to have a piece like that," he said. "I had a couple of good offers."

After seeing the Jaeger-LeCoultre on Hodinkee.com, a collectors' website, an aficionado in San Francisco offered $35,000 and a $4,000 Mega Speed Master watch.

Norris was only too happy to take the offer.

"We're planning a wedding," he said. "We've been a planning a wedding for a while, but now that we have the extra funds, we're going to go ahead and start taking care of everything.

"We're excited," he said.



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George I. Sanchez

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A noted Mexican-American scholar and civil rights advocate whose name graces educational institutions in Texas and California but is virtually unknown in his hometown of Albuquerque is on track to receive the honor from a New Mexico school.

An Albuquerque Public Schools committee voted Wednesday to name a new kindergarten through eighth-grade school for George I. Sanchez, a key figure in the struggle to end segregation of black and Mexican-American students during the 1950s.

"I'm so excited that he's finally going to get to come back home," said Cindy Kennedy, 51, a Santa Fe teacher and a granddaughter of Sanchez, who died in 1972. "This has been a long time coming."

District officials said Sanchez's name beat out Albert Einstein and City View as the title for the new school on ballots sent to families living in the school's attendance area. The school will be located in the largely immigrant and Mexican-American southwest area of the city.

Born in Albuquerque in 1906, the son of an Arizona miner worked his way out of poverty as a rural public-school teacher in New Mexico to become one of the most influential Latino scholars and education activists in the nation. Sanchez developed his theories on school inequalities using New Mexico's Hispanic and Navajo populations as examples.

He argued that bilingual students faced discrimination by school systems that used only English and testified in landmark court cases about the negative effects of segregation and IQ testing on Hispanic, American Indian and black children.

His 1940 classic "Forgotten People" was one of the first studies to document how Hispanics were losing land and influence to poverty and white encroachment.

The book drew attention from the University of Texas, which eventually offered Sanchez a job. There, he wrote other books, became a national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens and corresponded with Thurgood Marshall on desegregation strategy.

A dozen or so schools in Texas and California are named after Sanchez, but there are none in New Mexico, the state with the largest percentage of Hispanics in the nation and one that celebrates its Hispanic past.

He is not listed among the state's notable figures in New Mexico Centennial guidebooks.

After a 2012 Associated Press story on Sanchez and how he was an unknown figure in New Mexico, a group of current and retired educators began pushing for more recognition of Sanchez.

The New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education, for example, honored Sanchez in 2013 with an award recognizing a New Mexican who has made a significant contribution to bilingual education.

But the group failed to persuade the Santa Fe school board to name a new school after Sanchez.

The Albuquerque school is believed to the first named after Sanchez in New Mexico. The full Albuquerque school board next needs to approve the proposal in a vote that could come as early as next week.

Carlos Blanton, author of "George I. Sanchez: The Long Fight for Mexican American Integration" and a history professor at Texas A&M University, said naming a school after Sanchez will go a long way in securing his legacy in New Mexico.

"School names are enduring," Blanton said. "So it's really heartwarming that George I. Sanchez is going to be remembered in Albuquerque after all these years."



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