F&$% Music, and Love, and Mathematics… Chocolate is the real Universal Language. It doesn’t matter who we are or where do we come from, we can like each other like brothers and sisters if we share some delicious chocolate. With chocolate, there will be peace and love.

So, let’s agree that chocolate is the best content ever, inside any container, no matter the shape, no matter the price, no matter the size. Yes… size is irrelevant to chocolate.

And where do chocolate and magic merge? Well, in Seattle, there’s this little store at Pike Place Market: Chukar Cherries. Forget the Cherries and focus on its chocolate, if you ever get there. It’s heaven melting in your mouth.

(c)jennroig - Chukar Cherries Store at Seattle's Pike Place Market

(c)jennroig – Chukar Cherries Store at Seattle’s Pike Place Market

Thus, this is my version of this Week’s Photo Challenge theme: Containers.

Have a blast!

Make no mistake: Cuba is a poor country. The situation is not as desperate as it can be in some African failed states, or some of the poorest countries in Latin America, but for sure the Cuban economy is in bad shape. Still, the Cuban passport is insanely pricey, considering the average salary of USD 20/month.

Cubans who live in Cuba must pay 100 CUC to request a new passport or to renew it.

Theoretically,1  CUC = 1 USD. Thus you may find many online currency converters telling that. However, CUC can only be exchanged inside the island, the actual rate being 1USD = 0,80 CUC. So, in real life, we are talking about USD 125. But let’s calculate according the official numbers and pretend that it’s 100 USD.

In comparison, US passport costs 165 and it’s valid for 10 years. The Australian passport costs AUD 244 (USD 229) also valid for 10 years. I have learned that some countries, such as New Zealand, issue passports only valid for five years, where it costs NZD 134 (USD 116). There’s actually an interesting debate in NZ about this five years validity and how citizens are paying a lot more than other countries for the document. Still, they don’t spend in five years more than Cubans spend in six.

Compared to emerging economies, specifically Latin American economies, Cuba is supposed to have the second most expensive passport. Chile is said to have the most expensive document of the region, as reported by Chilean publication La Tercera. However, that news item dates back to May 2013. By now, those CLP 48,900.00 represent USD 86. Cuba’s CUC doesn’t flow because its value is fixed by the government. So, Cuba’s no longer the up-runner but the champion.

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

That’s not it. The passport expires every six years, but every two years, for some random reason I can only imagine responds to the government’s desperate need for cash, the passport needs an extension, which costs 20 CUC/USD. Two extensions are required, so make it 40.

By the end of a 6 years period, Cubans have paid 140 CUC/USD for a passport that doesn’t rank high in the global ranking of passports. According an infographic that circulated the Web a while ago, Cubans have access forto 61 countries, either without need f visa, or with a visa granted on entry. According this other ranking, Cuba ranks 111 out of 221 nation-states.

Sure, you could need a passport to go out once in a life time, or travel every six year with a new passport and skip paying the extensions -and make it worthwhile because it’s a great price to pay. But in general, that’s not what usually happens. A passport is such a huge investment, that an individual would only consider it given very specific, heavy reasons, such as living permanently out of the country with a spouse or with a work contract, going out as student for some postgraduate program, or going out as some foreigner’s fiance or a tourist, again with plans to not coming back.

Historic Diaspora – Recent migration patterns

Cuba has always been a nation in diaspora, probably since the moment it conceived itself as nation, as a separate entity distinct from the Spanish Metropolis. There have been historical Cuban communities in cities in the United States, France, Dominican Republic, Spain, Puerto Rico… However, since the early 60’s Cubans have been leaking out of homeland in a steady trend, which skyrocketed since the 90’s. Reuters reported in July 2013 that “The number of Cubans leaving their country [reached] levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats”. According the annual demographic report for 2012 that Reuters referred to, “46,662 Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the ‘Rafter Crisis’.”

All those tens of thousands -maybe a few millions- Cubans that were born in the island but are living elsewhere, every time they want to visit their homeland, they need to travel with a Cuban passport. For them, the same requirements apply: there’s a fee for renewal plus the fee for both extensions. There’s no unique amount, each consulate has determined prices to its various services.

In fact, I always suspected Cubans had to pay for one of the most expensive passports in the world, but never before I had taken the time to research and make the maths. Today I did it, and this is evidence.

Country First Time & Renewal Fees (USD) Extension (USD) Total (USD)/6 years
USA 375 180 735
Australia 356 178 712
Canada 298 149 596
Brazil 293 134 561
Japan 276 138 552
Denmark 253 127 507
Germany 250 121 492
The Netherlands 243 121 485
Spain 243 121 485
Finland 243 121 485
Egypt 243 121 485
China 238 119 476
Russia 241 113 467
Argentina 245 110 465
Mexico 216 108 432
Ecuador 206 100 406
Chile 200 100 400
Cuba 100 20 140

There are a few facts that will, or should, catch your eye:

Prices is the United States are far higher than in any other place. Go figure the reason.

Chilean prices are lower than other Latin American countries, even though they are all closer to Mexico, where the passport is elaborated. FYI there are some countries where Cuban passports can be issued outside Cuba, I’m aware it’s France for Europe and Mexico for South and Central America.

Denmark’s prices are the highest of the list, but everything is expensive in Denmark anyway. I bet numbers for Norway and Sweden must crazy as well, but not close to the USA.

In 20 years, an American will spend USD 330 while a Cuban have spent USD 2450. In the case that Cuban have naturalized, then you add the price of the American passport.

Bringing context to the table

- I converted all local currencies using Oanda’s currency converter. Values correspond to 07/20/2014.

- I picked the countries using data available on the website www.cubadiplomatica.cu

- My selection is random. I researched data about countries where I have lived, or I have visited, or I know of some Cuban friend or colleague living over there.

- To better visualize the differences, go to this chart in Datawrapper.

Finally, one last thing. Why does love makes the passport even more expensive?

Once a Cuban leaves his or her country, there is no actual need for extensions. No other country in the world demands it, and I have seen confusion in the faces of immigration officers from different countries when examining my passport. They don’t really get it, but as it’s any of their business, they move on. The only reasons why Cubans in the USA spend more than 700 dollars, Cubans in Canada pay almost 600 and those in Brazil pay 561 for that document, within a six years period, it’s out of love and longing for their families that remain back in Cuba. There’s no other explanation.

I won’t say Italy’s the most beautiful country on Earth, because Italians are already crying that out loud. But I definitely say Italy offers some of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes on the planet.

(c)jennroig - Florence, a sight from San Miniato al Monte, January 2010

(c) jennroig – Florence, a sight from San Miniato al Monte, January 2010

In Italy, the Tuscany region is especially gifted. Within Tuscany, where every site can be unique, either in the countryside, the rural towns or the cities, Florence is indispensable in any list of go-to places.

I have been twice in Florence. First, during the Winter in 2010. That’s the rainy season, when the sky is gray and the colors of the trees seem opaque. Still, streets were crowded with tourists from every corner of the globe. If you are not carrying an umbrella, be prepared to be offered one every time you’ll be about to cross a street.

In fact, those days were so persistently rainy that the the waters of the Arno river had risen to levels not seen in years.

Arno River, January 2010

Arno River, January 2010

The Arno is Florence’s main river. It divides the city in two sides, pretty much like the Danube does to Budapest, without taking it to the extreme of turning it into two different parts with particular features and history. As it can be seen in the picture, walking to the left side would take to the oldest part of town. A lot of museums are there and art galleries and souvenir stores. To the right, it’s where you can go to find more modern cafes, business offices and and jewelry shopping.

The second time was by the Summer of 2011. The city was shining under the sun, glowing with every possible color and still bursting with foreign tourists; as usual, a lot of Asians with huge cameras. The Arno had its regular levels that time, and there was a lot of art and trade happening on each of the sides.

The Arno, Summer 2011

The Arno, Summer 2011

Planning a visit to Florence can be a bit of a headache of there’s not a lot of time or money. However, the city is far from being so pricy as Venice and it’s even less expensive than Rome. Among the many choices -museums, guided tours, trips to nearby towns- some can be taken at almost no cost and give you great joy.

Il Duomo

domoIl Duomo, also known as The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the main Cathedral and among the most important pieces of historic and artistic value in Italy, and probably in the entire Europe. outside duomoWhen you’ll walk around the building and enter the church, keep in mind that it took almost a century and a half of architectonic and engineering work to finish the construction (1296-1436).

A key information that is never missing from tourism guides and Art Encyclopedias the same, it’s that the Dome was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the giants of the Italian Renaissance.

The other must-know fact refers to the campanile, or that tall bell tower next to the basilica showing “rich sculptural decorations and polychrome marble encrustations”. It was designed by Giotto, another great name, famous due to his religious frescoes and paintings with a distinctive style that set him apart from another great artists of his time.

History tells that Giotto took over Arnolfo di Cambio’s work when the first Master of the Works died, leaving the work unfinished. A lapse of 30 years was needed to find and appoint a fair successor. Brunelleschi would only start working on the Dome by 1420. Sixteen years went by before it was finished.

il duomoGalleria degli Uffizi

Uffizi Gallery is one of my favorite museums ever. On the one hand, its catalog includes Botticelli’s La Primavera and The Birth of Venus. Only because of that, it’s worthwhile. But its collection goes far and beyond to include Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, besides paintings by Vasari, Raphael, Caravaggio and Piero della Francesca among others.

However, the real deal breaker here is that it is the one museum in Italy that I actually managed to visit gratis thanks to my press card.

San Miniato al Monte

Now, this is a place where a well informed local -basically any individual born and raised in the city- would tell you to go and even take you there. This Basilica stands over one of the highest points in the city. So, it’s a must-go for sightseeing. It tells a very interesting story that mixes Armenian influences with Ancient Roman Emperors and a the British King Henry II paying for a construction of the current building in 1013. Interestingly, it’s one of the last places on Earth where you can actually hear a mass told in Latin.

Atop of the hill, San Miniato al Monte

Atop of the hill, San Miniato al Monte

Very near to San Miniato there’s Piazzale Michelangelo, another awesome square to visit, having a very close-to-the-original copy of the David, the most famous of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s statues. Buonarroti, by the way, is a native from Florence and its most relevant artist of all times.

Just walk around and keep your eyes wide open

You’ll suddenly find yourself in a place with this view.

A street in Florence

A street in Florence

Whether in the winter or the summer, the city is lively and there will always be amazing scenes you can suddenly get to attend.

Winter's Renaissance Parade

Winter’s Renaissance Parade

Small shopping business are decorated with great taste.

Florence, June 2012

Florence, June 2012

Did you ever wonder about that thing of locking your love “forever and ever”? It may be originated there.

Lockers for lovers, in Il Ponte Vecchio

Lockers for lovers, in Il Ponte Vecchio

And whatever you do, don’t miss Il Ponte Vecchio.

Il Ponte Vecchio

Il Ponte Vecchio

“Relic” is the theme of this week’s photo challenge, as suggested by The Daily Post. Kudos to you all, guys, it is a very good theme indeed.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Relic” as “An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.” I’d like to highlight those two specific values, Historical or Sentimental.

There’s a quote on History I particularly like: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it” -Edmund Burke, Irish Statesman (1729-1797). I’d argue this is an old quote. So I think it tells a lot about how we [Humans] are as a specie, the fact that someone articulated so clearly this notion, so long ago, and we still seem not to grasp the meaning.

Loncoche, Chile, December 2011

Loncoche, Chile, December 2011

This house is in the town of Loncoche, in Chile. It can be considered a relic. The local story tells that it used to be the residence of a doctor and his daughters. This doctor wasn’t very well regarded by the folks, because rumors circulated claiming that he sometimes agreed to engage in the illegal practice of his trade -meaning he dared to operate on women who wanted to terminate pregnancy. To the very Catholic Chilean society, this is still a source of conflict. I can only imagine how was it decades ago.

As the story goes, one day there was a fire. The house was abandoned. The version I heard did not mention whether there were fatal casualties due to the fire or the doctor decided to leave town and never came back. But up to this day the legend says it is a haunted house by the souls and spirits of all the “babies” the “evil” doctor “killed”. Indeed, it is easy to realize the very conservative taste of the story.

With the debate around Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court’s decision still very relevant and engaging, I thought it was a good story to share. Oh! Not that I believe in ghost, anyway. It’s rather about how we still don’t learn to look at History to make better decisions. Or how we’re still allowing the wrong people to make them.

My second relic draws on its sentimental value.

Cuban notebook where quotas for basic needs products are set

Cuban notebook where quotas for basic needs products are set

In fact, that notebook may well be a Historic relic within a few years. Or not. It is known in Cuba as “Libreta de Racionamiento”. It is basically the document that Cubans take to the stores and markets to purchase basic needs products in specific quotas.

I’m not even sure if this is an updated version of it. Though, if it still exists, it must look the same, because it looked that way for the 27 years I lived in the island.

On The Onion: Little-Known Facts About The Founding Fathers

On The Onion: Little-Known Facts About The Founding Fathers

It is no news. Fake and satyric news have been there for a while. And we [journalists] love it. From The Daily Show with John Stewart  to The Onion and The Daily Currant, we follow their accounts via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, or whatever social media is fashionable at the moment and we may be using.

dogs pockerThe reason we love it, it’s the witty. Humor -smart humor at least- takes creativity, intelligence as well as to be informed. I’m not referring to the fake alerts that invade Internet with every new storm or flood, warning about sharks exploring parts of Manhattan with very bad Photoshop. I mean the good job, the one that takes time and it’s believable because something inside your brain agrees that no matter how crazy that sound, it eventually could happen.

Sometimes the lines are so blurred, and the comedy is so clever and the writing has been taken so far, that we buy the content, we believe the joke to be true for a moment, until someone calls it for what it is: they’re making fun of whoever is the target of the occasion. So we need someone who call us back to reality: “check it again, it’s in The Onion, the Pope wasn’t teaching how to use a condom in public”.

There are other styles in satira. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a very good example. We appreciate so much the exquisite work of John Oliver’s team because they take the time to gather all facts and statements to mock a politician, a celebrity, a public official, or the general stance of a government towards a newsworthy situation. This time is about strong analysis, debunking misguided notions and bringing facts to the table again.

But sometimes the joke isn’t so clear and the issue is upsetting enough. I really resent this attempt by the “National Report” to throw accusations of doping over the Dutch Football Team in the World Cup. There’s nothing hilarious about it.

There’s nothing on the outlet’s presentation that leads to believe it is about Satira. Moreover, the tone and style of the writing do not suggest any satyric intention. By all means.

I know it’s up the reader to be aware and suspect the probable irrationality of it all. But sometimes emotions are too heavy and that’s a good moment to step back or be very clear about the intention.

I felt really dubious about The Netherlands’ performance against Costa Rica, mostly because I was rooting for CR, but also because I bought the fake report of a doping scandal. The fact that FIFA is so corrupt and so dirty and so unfair and disgusting, didn’t help to raise my flags.

Anyway, this is a note to self, and a suggestion to online readers. Wait a bit before making up your mind. You may be stumbling upon some fake, badly written, satirical attempt of news.

That’s basically the point I make on my most recent/first publication on LinkedIn.

I reproduce it here, just in case I ever decide to disappear from every social media, this will still be the surviving repository of my work and attempts to find some missing meanings.

And this piece is all about trying to redefine meanings, thus this is the perfect place to echo it.

- Journos, why don’t we reset our concepts and redraw our boundaries?

linkedin post 1As a freelance reporter for AmericaEconomia’s MBA & Executive Education site, I frequently get in conflict with AETecno‘s team of journalists.

Why would someone who covers business education crash against IT reporters? That’s the logic question, which must be popping up in your minds right now. It’s a very good question indeed, so I want to address it here.

First, MBA & ExEd site does not exclusively publishes news and articles about what’s going on in the global landscape of B-Schools. We also report on management, marketing trends, leadership, CSR, sustainability and entrepreneurship… Mostly, when I pitch stories that would fall under the “entrepreneurship” umbrella, very often I’m heading straight to the source of conflict, that Golden Apple of Discord at AmericaEconomia‘s newsroom.

Think about the concept of “Entrepreneurship”. At least today, it is inextricably related to this Start-Ups Renaissance phenomenon that we are witnessing all over the world. Now try to remember ten start-ups you know, either because you use their apps or services, or because some media outlet has featured it. How many of them are basically tech start-ups? Can you mention ONE with no connection whatsoever to technology?

Something I’ve found out while learning about entrepreneurship, in meeting with entrepreneurs and after writing profiles about vibrant, influential and disruptive start-ups, it’s that almost all of them are using technology to some extent -if they are not entirely based on technology. Hence the conflict arises: am I stepping into AETecno’s sacred territory, or am I entitled to cover the topic for MBA & ExEd?

In general, I think the outcome of those “fights” fairly splits between both sites in the newsroom. We win in MBA as many times as we lose againt AETecno, over the right to report on these issues. It doesn’t really matter as long as it is not the main concern of this post.

My question is the same I asked a couple of days ago to a clever guy that has become a friendly consultant for me, since we collaborated for another story a while ago. I asked Miklos Grof, Fundacity‘s CEO and co-founder, if he agreed with “including AirBnB and Uber in the ‘technology companies’ category”. I had heard this statement from SkillBridge‘s CEO Rajeev Jeyakumar while I was interviewing him to find out how can SkillBridge.co, as an online platform, bring more efficiency to the way companies find and hire the ideal consultant for a project. (More on this on my next publication on AmericaEconomia -wink).Journalism-for-Techies3

So I consulted Miklos because Fundacity is described as an online platform (check) that can bring efficiency (check) to the process of venture capitalists and other investors finding and selecting (check) “the start-ups that can be the next big thing”. His answer came quickly to take me closer to dangerous waters: “I think ‘technology company’ is a broad bracket which these companies for sure fall under”.

But fortunately he followed with an argument that gave me some room to argue my right to the SkillBridge story: “It is confusing, because ‘technology company’ means literally anything from bio-tech to mobile apps like Yo. The truth is that several market tags apply to these companies. For Uber can be ‘Transportation’, ‘Mobile’ and ‘Technology’. I would say Uber is a tech company aimed at transportation delivering a mobile solution. What do you think?

Well, up to that moment, I really pictured as technology companies those corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Lenovo or IBM, all of which make revenues out of innovating, producing and commercializing technological products or solutions.

However, I believe I had a sort of Epiphany at that point, thanks to Miklos. I replied back that these were confusing times, because everything is changing so fast, that we can’t keep track of all transformations, which are impacting our understanding of whatever used to be a solid, established kind of knowledge.

It’s true, it seems difficult to consider Uber as a transportation company, because in our minds we think of that term connected to “freights and lorries”, as Miklos pointed out. But how will kids understand “transportation” and label “transportation companies” when they will get to run the show?

As we enter a world where technology -whether IT or any other kind of tech- intervenes and mediates almost every action, work, and outcome, it is going to be more difficult to separate technology from any other market, labor, or human area of action and interest. As almost every activity, and entire industries, are pulled into the digital age, as Rajeev told me, when will come the moment when we can all agree that everything is about technology? Therefore nothing is it really? When will we agree to sort things out using other features to segment our understanding of things, yet again?

We are long established in a world ruled by the Internet of Information and Data. Now I’ve been listening more frequently to gurus referring to a very real future with an expanding Internet of Things, even an Internet of Energy… in connection to concepts such as the shared economy…

When that moment finally arrives, I will be a happier journalist, with less chance to get into conflicts with my colleagues from AETecno.

This week’s photo challenge is about “Contrasts“.

I really find the concept attractive, and I try to capture it in frames whenever I find it. I wish I was a better photographer though.

First: Flesh and Stone

EICTV, 2006

(c) Enmanuel, EICTV, 2006

Second: Black and White

Finland, 2011

(c)jennroig, Finland, 2011

Third: Sun and Shade

(c)jennroig, Catania, 2010

(c)jennroig, Catania, 2010

Fourth: Up and Down

(c)jennroig, Haarlem, 2010

(c) jennroig, Haarlem, 2010

Fifth: Old and New

old and new

Genzano di Roma, 2009