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  • Walter Lippmann
    Here in Cuba s capital city, Havana, preparations for Hurricane Wilma, yesterday a Category Five, but as of an early National Public Radio broadcast downgraded
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 20, 2005
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      Here in Cuba's capital city, Havana, preparations for Hurricane Wilma,
      yesterday a Category Five, but as of an early National Public Radio
      broadcast downgraded to a Category Four (with "maximum" winds of 150
      MPH!) are well underway. High school students who are normally away in
      boarding school during the week have been brought back to the capital
      to be with their parents. Lots of strong winds are already being felt,
      particularly close by the water. Clouds built up late in the afternoon
      yesterday and some people stayed home from work to prepare themselves
      and their homes for the arrival of Hurricane Wilma. It was the leading
      story on the main daily newscast here last night, the "emision estellar"
      or "star broadcast) where it opened the cast for close to ten minutes,
      and a second segment came on later featuring Jose Rubiera, Cuba's top
      meteorologist giving the precise weather details. We also saw some of
      the top municipal leaders as they organized the weather response, such
      as Pedro Saez (sp?), the Havana Communist Party chief, dressed in his
      civil defense military uniform.

      The main political message of the broadcast was the imperative need for
      organization and discipline as the key to minimizing loss of human life
      and damage to the country's economic resources. There are several news
      reports which will go out to readers about this later. This morning the
      theme of organization, discipline and universal participation continued
      on the morning news, which included clips of residents from Pinar del
      Rio in Eastern Cuba packing their belongings, including fans and even
      a pig - anything very valuable! in the evacuation process. There are
      also a series of public service announcements regularly shown which
      remind people to clean things, secure their homes, protect electical
      lines and so forth. The morning cast also featured music by a trio in
      the traditional "son" style reminding everyone that, as they put it
      "la disciplina es lo major medicina" - discipline is the best medicine.
      Encapulated in moments like these are the ways the revolution here has
      chosen to reach into the hearts and minds of everyone, drawing deeply
      in the national culture, to educate and organize the population in the
      face of these challenges. Here's one Cuban report on Hurricane Wilma:

      I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between the appeals to
      responsibility and organization we see here, and the messages we got
      on U.S. television after Hurricane Katrina: among them an incessant
      series of fund-raising commercials for FEMA and the RED CROSS (the
      latter featuring the mournful voice of Johnny Cash) pleading for
      money. Since then we've seen lots of scandals developing over funds
      which were collected for disaster relief which were ripped of by
      some of the private agencies which the U.S. Red Cross used to build
      up its fund-raising apparatus. Here in Cuba there are no commercials,
      only simply public service announcements such as the ones described
      here, and the occasional call to participate in mobilizations backing
      the revolution. (These only occur a few times a year, actually.)

      This will be a longer message and has some more personal reflections
      than is usually the case. Being back here for close to two weeks, I've
      a few observations and reflections to share with readers. In addition,
      it's a moment of some consequence, marking this list's 43 THOUSANDTH
      message over a period now 5 1/2 years of activity. And from time to
      time I like to stop for station identification, as it were, looking
      a bit more broadly than is my habit doing the daily work of sifting
      and sharing news reports and comments by, about and from Cuba. With
      that, here are some thoughts and impressions from the Editor-in-Chief.

      Your questions, comments and feedback will be welcome.


      by Walter Lippmann,
      CubaNews Editor-in-chief

      CubaNews, a comprehensive, free-of-charge news service which provides
      its subscribers with a wide-ranging selection of news and information
      from, about and related to Cuba, is now in its sixth year. We've sent
      out some 43,000 items and I'm very, very proud of the record we've
      compiled this past period. The list has developed from the few dozen
      of us who joined in the campaign to win Elian Gonzalez' return to his
      father and family in Cuba in 2000 to now 730 subscribers on this
      list. Hundreds more are receiving news directly from this list on
      other lists to which we post important items. And some of our best
      materials are widely reproduced by others, on the internet and in
      print. Anything of pressing urgency is posted out immediately to
      between two and three thousand readers.

      Take a look at the first thirty messages and you'll see where we were
      starting from, and you'll have a sense of how far we've come as well:

      I was the main person posting then and am still the main person now.
      But we've reached far more people since then and our subscriber base
      continues to steadily grow. CubaNews provides a service to its
      readers. It collects and shares information from, about and related
      to Cuba on an extremely wide range of subjects, from politics to
      athletics to personal interest, culture, movies, sex, and so on. We
      send materials which are favorable and unfavorable because, whether
      true or false, they're all part of the unfolding story of the Cuban
      people, their revolution and the many consequences of that revolution
      both within and beyond the shores of the island, the pearl of the
      Caribbean. There have been some recent developments which reflect the
      continued struggle between Cuba and the United States. Washington has
      never forgiven Cuba for breaking the pattern of US domination in the
      continent. The idea which has held US policy-makers captive since way
      before the birth of Fidel Castro's FATHER, that Cuba basically belongs
      to the United States, is one which obviously won't be given up anytime
      soon. There are a few people in US policy circles who understand that
      US efforts to overthrow Cuba's revolution have failed, but they still
      remain a minority in the US political leadership. This week we will
      see another vote to remove travel restrictions on US citizens who
      want to see Cuba for themselves. If readers in the US haven't as yet
      called their US Senator

      In recent months we of course were preoccupied with the aftermath of
      Hurricane Kristina, probably the worst so-called "natural disaster"
      to hit the United States in its history. Given the closeness of the
      two countries, the story of Hurricane Kristina naturally occupied a
      giant space in the Cuban media, both print and electronic. With so
      many Cubans on the island having relatives in the United States, and
      with the thousand and one other ways in which the two nations are
      linked together (or better "bound", or as Wayne Smith describes them
      in his memoir "The Closest of Enemies", the consequences of Kristina
      are of unusual importance on the island.

      Cuba, you'll recall offered to send nearly sixteen-hundred doctors
      immediately to the disaster area, in a powerful demonstration of
      practical solidarity with the people of the United States at a time
      when all sorts of medical and other problems are crying out
      desperately for a solution. Washington never seriously responded to
      the Cuban offer. Indeed, it's been barely mentioned officially, and
      mixed signals have been sent about Cuba's offer. In one US State
      Department Briefing where it was mentioned briefly:

      Read the details of the Cuban offer here:
      http://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-09-02-2005.html The Cuban medical
      aid teams are now engaged elsewhere in places where the assistance
      is welcome and political pride doesn't prevent the local government
      from accepting aid from the government of Cuba.

      There's been a great deal of coverage, day after day, in the Cuban
      media, some of it focusing on the obvious socio-economic and racial
      disparities among the people of New Orleans and how that affected the
      people who lost their lives in the hurricane. Mostly these are Black,
      of course. And we know even less about the various Latinos, including
      the undocumented immigrants among those whose lives were lost.

      Here's one long analytical piece from the Cuban media on Katrina's
      aftermath. We can't know now what's going to happen with Wilma, but
      this material is of general value, so take the time to review it:

      Cuba has a vast amount of experience in this field, both because of
      its own problems with hurricanes and other natural disasters, but
      also as Cuba's made it a big point in its internationalist outlook to
      provide medical aid to people in need when a crisis cries out for it.
      Back in 1971, when a massive earthquate hit Nicaragua, Cuban doctors
      were sent to help out. Nicaragua then was ruled by the Somoza family
      dictatorship. There were no diplomatic relations between the
      countries at that time. Yet the Cuban doctors provided assistance
      when it was needed. In Haiti today, both before and after the
      US-orchestrated coup which overthrew the democratically-elected
      Aristide government, where other countries sent soldiers, Cuba sent
      and maintains a brigade of over five hundred doctors. They remain in
      Cuba today and are probably providing the only consistent medical
      care which the people of that nation receive.

      By the way, Cuba hasn't always had the system it has now. In 1963,
      another hurricane, Flora, caused over 1,100 deaths and prompted a
      complete restructuring of Cuba's emergency preparedness systems,
      which now rank among the best in the developing world.3 Over 1.5
      million Cubans were evacuated in advance of the storm, along with
      nearly 17,000 tourists (Reuters, 11 July 2005). DETAILS about that:

      One pleasing aspect of the Katrina aftermath was that several US
      journalists and elected officials are calling for acceptance of the
      Cuban offer. The most startling of these is Senator Mel Martinez, the
      Florida Republican senator and former Secretary of Housing in the
      Bush administration. The highest-level Cuban exile politician in the
      United States, Martinez' position was extremely signficant politically
      Given his long and consistent record of opposition to the Cuban
      and to the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro, this marked a political
      milestone which shouldn't be underestimated. Should Wilma or some other
      hurricane or other natural disaster hit the US again, Martinez and the
      others who have written in favor of accepting the Cuban aid offer after
      Katrina may need support and encouragement to keep up along this highly
      positive line. Let's hope that if needed again, they'll respond similarly.


      MEL MARTINEZ WEBSITE: http://martinez.senate.gov/public/

      The President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré has been visiting Cuba this
      week. He's one of a steady stream of African leaders who visit Cuba all
      the time. Cuba and Mali established diplomatic relations in 1960 and have
      had warm and cordial relations ever since. An early cooperation agreement
      between the two countries was signed by Che Guevara in 1964 during one of
      his visits to the continent. Some more on the Malian president's visit:

      Havana has also been the site of two very concerts, both enthusiastically-
      attended by large crowds to hear 73-year-old Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa as
      she is sometimes known, in the early parts of what she has described
      as her
      farewell international tour. Lots of loving and detailed commentary on her
      life, work, music and staunch opposition to the South African apartheid
      system has been featured in the Cuban media during and after her visit.

      Cuba's National Assembly President, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada sent a
      message which was read to the MILLIONS MORE MARCH in Washington, D.C.
      The Nation of Islam and its principal leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan
      have made important changes in their public stands in recent years. Some
      of the best material in the Black media of the United States about Cuba,
      and about Assata Shakur, for example, can be found in the newspaper of the
      Nation of Islam, THE FINAL CALL. This march, about which I've so far only
      seen a few shorter reports, represents a deepening of Minister Farrakhan's
      efforts to link up with broader and less conservative segments of the
      community. Remarkably, there was even a gay speaker at the event.

      There has been several reports in the Miami media in recent days about the
      Cuban government's approval of permission for Sgt. Carlos Lazo's two teen-
      aged sons to visit him in the United States. We don't know exactly what
      the details are, or if they were required to pay what's now become the
      customary $200.00 non-refundable interview fee for Cubans who wish to
      visit their families in the United States. This is considered significant
      because the boys, at least the older one, is of military age. I wouldn't
      be surprised to see efforts made to encourage the boys to try to stay in
      the United States, which the Miami exile militants would be thrilled to
      have happen. From what I hear, Lazo doesn't want that. He's made a major
      effort to publicize the consequences of the Bush administration's deeper
      restrictions on the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their families here
      on the island, because he's a decorated Iraq war veteran who was
      denied the
      right to come to Cuba by the Bush administration. We'll be following this
      story as it unfolds. There's been a raft of written material on this
      of uneven quality, in recent days. An inquiry about a report by the group
      Human Rights Watch has come on from one reader, which will be sent out to
      the list later on. The Human Rights Watch report includes some valuable
      material. It suffers, in my opinion, from a blindness when it comes to
      seeing any consequences from the fact that Washington has been working
      vigorously for going on five DECADES to overthrow the revolutionary
      Cuban government. This blockade, which was imposed unilaterally by the
      United States, and is maintained and sustained by it, causes a raft of
      tragic consequences which can never been left out of any assessment of
      the limitations on family visits which are imposed by both governments,
      though for rather different reasons. Were relations between the countries
      to be simply normalized, many of the problems cited, from hijacking to
      illegal emigration to the smuggling of illegal immigrants and supposedly
      political defections by inviduals who simply want to work and make more
      money in the United States would, in my view, disappear completely. Here
      is the address for the press release on the Human Rights Watch report:

      Interestingly, Human Rights Watch, which is based in Washington, DC,
      came to Miami to present its report on the limitations on Cuban family
      rights. There's a good discussion of this on today's web-broadast by
      Francisco Aruca and Alvaro Fernandez on Progreso Weekly. You can hear
      that by going to this address for the date of October 20, 2005 for a
      nuanced discussion of the whole issue. Well worth listening to as well
      as reading the Human Rights Watch report.

      Before returning I received news of the death of a friend in Cuba, Rosa
      Maria Coro Antich, the mother of Arnaldo Coro who operates the DXers
      Unlimited program at Radio Havana Cuba, of Rosie Coro and of two
      other adult children as well as numerous grandchildren. Rosita, as
      everyone invariably called her, was in her mid-eighties and had been
      ill for a long time. She was one of a surprising number of Cubans
      from the former upper classes of Cuban society who found themselves
      drawn up into the revolutionary process and found her life transformed.

      In Adrienne Hunter and Marjorie Moore's wonderful book SEVEN WOMEN
      AND THE CUBAN REVOLUTION, the lives of seven such individuals were
      profiled. Rosita was a person of such background herself. She lived
      just a few blocks from my home in the Vedado area of Havana, and I
      always enjoyed dropping in to visit with her. Though she never joined
      the Communist Party, probably since she was too plain-spoken a
      personality to belong to organizations of that kind, she was an
      uncompromising supporter of the Cuban Revolution. Rosita spoke
      excellent English and had worked for many ears as a professor of
      English at the University of Havana. She wrote textbooks and was an
      actively-practicing teacher of English, she's one person I'll miss
      very, very, very much now that I'm back here. She was always someone
      I could learn from. We often argued and didn't always agree, but she
      was someone I could and did always learn from every time we met. One
      of the last things we did was to watch the movie GOOD-BYE LENIN which
      I brought on my laptop and showed for Rosita and her daughter Rosie
      to watch together. (They both liked the movie a great deal.)

      Remarkably, Amy Goodman conducted a long interview with Rosita in
      1998 or 1999, on the eve of Pope John Paul's visit to Cuba. You can
      listen to that interview on Democracy NOW's website:

      One of the innumerable differences between Cuba and the United States
      is the incredible feeling of safety, and indeed entitelement to safety
      which Cubans feel and which people in the United States cannot feel at
      all. Perhaps the first sight I saw here just coming out of the airport
      was the sight of young girls, high-school students, hitch-hiking in
      complete safety. You see people, here, mostly woman, hitch-hiking due
      to the weaknesses of the public transportation system everywhere. And
      while I assume there's some advantages to being a pretty young girl,
      this is all good-natured and there's nothing sexual involved, as I am
      sure I'd have read or heard about, so widespread is this practice. In
      recent years the government has taken to actually organizing the Cuban
      practice of hitch-hiking. Here in the capital you see official hitch-
      hike organizers, workers in blue vests at officially-designated stops,
      with clip-boards, who call out to state-owned motor vehicles to pick
      riders up. Out in the countryside these workers wear yellow uniforms.

      Can anyone from the United States today imagine what would happen if
      the government tried to organize hitch-hiking, and more, to make it
      mandatory for government vehicles? I last remember hitchhiking in
      the sixties, specifically in 1967 when a girfriend and I hitched to
      Montreal, Canada to see the Cuban pavillion at Expo 67. Today no one
      would imagine cross-country hitch-hiking as there is so much fear of
      predatory characters trolling the highways of the United States.

      You never know how valuable what you have is until you try to live or
      work without it. While I never forget the many advantages I have as a
      writer and activist in the United States, returning to Cuba provides
      a swift reminder. While at home in Los Angeles I have both a high-
      speed (broadband or DSL) connection, and even have a wireless network
      in my own home which cost something like $50 for the router, here in
      Cuba I'm back on a dialup connection again. While in the US my power
      is nearly always on without difficulty, here in Cuba power outages
      are a regular fact of life. I've been lucky in the last two weeks
      that these outages have been brief, but in the event that Wilma or
      another hurricane comes, I'll all power can potentially be cut off,
      along with gas to heat water and cook food will also be cut off as
      long as there's any danger. In the United States, as I can fondly
      remember, I love to take a bath in hot water. Here in Cuba I take
      showers, usually using a bucket and a cup with water heated on the
      stove. I'm use to it and hardly think about it exept when writing
      the occasional commentary like this one. By the way, Cuba's first
      wireless network has recently been set up in one hotel, according to
      an article I read in Juventud Rebelde newspaper Sunday before last.

      While electical outages are a frequent occurance here, cooking gas
      outages do happen though infrequently from what I'm told. When the
      electricity is cut off deliberatly during hurricane preparations,
      the gas is also cut off and people here have to prepare for those
      moments by boiling water and cooking food in advance.

      In the United States, my main news source is the internet and also a
      subscription to the print edition of the Los Angeles TIMES, which
      find both enfuriating - since it's so heavily slanted and is mostly
      composed of commercial advertising. How many innocent trees, I ask
      myself, are sacrificed to this advertizing onslaught? Here in Cuba
      on most days the newspaper is an eight-page tabloid, composed of two
      two-sided sheets, with more on Sunday with the weekend edition of
      JUVENTUD REBELDE, and on Mondays, with the weekly TRABAJADORES,
      which have quite a few more pages, but not a single advertisement.

      You learn things here on Cuban television which you would never see
      on a U.S. screen. After last night's weather news we had a report on
      Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' current visit to France where he's
      been meeting with the French President, Jacques Chirac. Images of his
      talk with Chirac were shown, but images of, and clips from the event
      in solidarity with Venezuela which Chavez attended and addressed were
      also shown. Chavez ended his talk to those friends with the famous
      words, "Patria o muerto! Venceremos"

      In recent months, following the regular evening news cast viewers get
      a one-hour compilation, sometimes politics, sometimes cultural, from the
      new Venezuelan-initiated continental alternative television network of
      TELESUR. Sometimes the stories are similar - during my first days here
      the beating by New Orleans cops of that 74-year old Black man Robert
      Davis, were the lead stories on the Cuban and the TELESUR broadcasts.
      The TELESUR shows I've seen have also very heavily emphasized struggles
      by indiginous peoples across the continent, from Venezuela where there
      are constitutional provisions guaranteeing the rights of the indiginous,
      to Bolivia where Evo Morales and his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party
      are actively campaigning for the presidency there.

      Because of the sharply reduced speed of my internet access, and further
      because it adds yet another step to the work I do, I regret that it's
      not always going to be possible for me to include web addresses or urls
      to the materials sent here. It's just another step which, when repeated
      over and over adds substantially to my workload. When there are graphics
      or other things particularly necessary, I'll endeavor to include them,
      but this is an apology in advance to those readers who like to have the
      URLs included.

      Readers who appreciate the service we provide can help out by sending
      in reports and news articles to the list. I've held up some of the items
      received in order to complete this longer report, but all submissions
      are appreciated, though not all of them are in fact used. We would be
      particularly grateful to get someone who would listen to Francisco
      Aruca's commentaries and prepare short summaries of them. He can be
      heard at http://www.progresoweekly.com and his programs, which usually
      are posted four or five days a week, are 5-15 minutes in length.

      Even though I haven't completed reading both of these books, I want to
      recommend two recent books for those interested in following Cuba. I'm
      enjoying both books greatly.

      Those of you who have had the pleasure of reading Tom Miller's book
      TRADING WITH THE ENEMY: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba will be
      pleased to read AN INNOCENT IN CUBA by David McFadden, a Canadian author
      which has just been published by McLelland and Steward, a Canadian house.
      While Miller met with various prominent individuals as well as people who
      were unknown before reading the book, McFadden doesn't give the names of
      his people, who are all ordinary people he met during the course of a
      three-week journey. (Miller spent six months in Cuba at an extremely bad
      time known as the Special Period, in 1990-1991.) While I didn't agree
      with every opinion he gave, I found his to be honest reporting of what
      he saw and said and what was said to him, so I'm enjoying each chapter
      as I go through it slowly.

      On first thought, you wouldn't think that a book on suicide would be one
      you would enjoy or look forward to. After all, suicide is about despair,
      isn't it? And then after you read all those news reports about suicide
      bombers among the Iraqi resistance, what could get worse? And yet the
      new book by Louis A. Perez, Jr., TO DIE IN CUBA, Suicide and Society,
      University of North Caroling Press, Chapel Hill (2005) is one of the
      best-written books I've read at any time. The final words of Cuba's
      National Anthem, LA BAYAMESA, are "Morir por la patria es vivir",
      which means, "To die for the country is to live". During the first
      Cuban independence war which began in 1868, residents of the Eastern
      Cuban city of Bayamo literally burned their city down to the ground to
      prevent it from being recaputured by the Spanish colonialists. Perez,
      a Venezuelan-American scholar who has written many books about Cuba,
      looks through Cuban history and literature, from the very first of the
      Spanish colonialists and the Indians who resisted their domination -
      in part by killing themselves to deny the Spanish their labor as
      chattel slaves, suicide has been a singular part of the Cuban national
      culture, before the revolution, and one which has continued since.
      Perez traces this through literary, personal, cultural and graphic
      sources - for example a startling number of cartoons referring to the
      practice of suicide - sometimes he calls is "voluntary death" to give
      us a picture of an entirely new dimension of Cuban life. Not only is
      the book well-written, not at all filled with academicy jargon as you
      might expect, it's oddly the kind of book which, while not in any way
      celebrating suicide, is giving this reader something to savor and to
      ponder on each and every one of its nearly five hundred pages. I am
      recommending this to all of you with considerable enthusiasm.

      Apart from Cuba, I want to also recommend the new book by Richard Gott,
      which is an update of his 2000 book IN THE SHADOW OF THE LIBERATOR, a
      study of the life and thought of Hugo Chavez. In the new book, just put
      out by Verso in Paperback, he brings the story of the Bolivarian Revo-
      lution up to date through the recall referendum of August 2005, and is
      one of the very, very best books I've seen explaining the Venezuelan
      revolutionary process. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

      Readers who appreciate these reports and the work of the CubaNews list
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