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CubaNews notes - December 21, 2005

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  • Walter Lippmann
    My telephone line here in Havana was broken From Saturday afternoon through mid-day Monday and thus it wasn t possible for me to send any information from
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 22, 2005
      My telephone line here in Havana was broken From Saturday afternoon
      through mid-day Monday and thus it wasn't possible for me to send any
      information from home. I've decided not to try to catch up with all
      the backlogged messages. It's simply not practical. When my telephone
      connection was fixed, there were over six hundred messages waiting and
      this will be something of a year-end wrap-up on Cuba as I'm seeing it
      from the vantage point of Havana. There's so much going on it's really
      hard to encapsulate it in a single commentary, and I don't want this to
      be so long readers won't stay with it all the way. I'm sure that you'll
      find it of interest, and invite any questions or comments from readers.

      Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

      From time to time I like to take time out from the daily practice of
      collecting and sharing information on Cuba from a wide range of
      sources, some of which are annotated, and look overall at some of the
      bigger picture. I'm able to get a far better feel for the situation
      here in Cuba during my extended visits, and I'm now going to share a
      few recent observations. Not that I want to be here all the time, by
      the way. It helps me to maintain my perspective by spending periods of
      time here, and periods of time up in the United States, or as Cubans
      might say, up in the "Yuma", the nickname Cubans sometimes give to
      people from the United States. (That derives, by the way, from a very
      good 1950s Western movie called "3:10 To Yuma", though I'll be damned
      if I can figure out just why people from the US are called "Yuma"...)

      One of the things I particularly like about Cuba is that the
      overwhelming air of commercialization and exaggerated religiousity,
      complete with ritualized complaints about the perennially-bemoaned
      "commercialization of Christmas" are pleasingly absent. I'd started
      thinking of this on Friday night while returning from a visit to one
      of my acquaintances, and noticed there were no Christmas lights on
      anyone's houses, no billboards offering any special Christmas sales.

      Cuban television is also pleasingly bereft of any of this stuff, which
      is of course pervasive in the United States. Being Jewish, I'm always
      aware of Christmas, which to me is a reminder of the fact that I'm
      different, and that I'm not included in the official family of the
      United States, which is presumptively Christian. I've written in the
      past of Christmas in rural Cuba, having visited one of the small
      cities in Eastern Cuba on two previous occasions. This year I'm here
      in the capital and my impressions are based on what I'm seeing, and
      not seeing, here.

      On Sunday morning I took a long walk from where live up to the
      Malecon and from there over and up into Central Havana. I needed the
      exercise and needed to get away from the computer. The breakdown in my
      phone connection was fortuitous in that respect. One thing I wanted
      to check was the U.S. Interests Section building. Last year they had
      posted a rather provocative display consisting of a series of Xmas
      lights in the form of a Santa Claus with candles and a Star of David,
      next to which was a large number 75. This represented the 75 people
      who were arrested, tried and sentenced for collaboration with
      Washington in its efforts overthrow the Cuban Revolution. I've been
      curious if they would put up sich a display and have been checking.

      It seems they won't be because what I found were a pair of simple
      evergreen wreathes with red ribbons at the bottom. There's nothing
      which refers to the 75. (15 of them have been released for one or
      another reason and some have left the country as of this writing.)

      This doesn't of course mean Washington isn't trying to overthrow the
      Cuban Revolution, or has stopped supporting its opponents who still
      live on the island, but it does represent a 1% reduction in the US
      public posture of diplomatic hostility toward Cuba. There's a new
      man in charge of the USIS building, who's been a bit less crudely
      vocificerous in his public declarations. Tuesday and Wednesday, the
      public affairs commentary show, the Mesa Redonda, featured extended
      attack son the US Interests Section, focusing on its long documented
      record of subversive activities here. There are reports on this from
      AP and Reuters. While they identified the new Chief, Micheal Parmly
      by name, and documented some of his activities, as well as those of
      his predecessor, James Cason and plans announced by Washington to try
      to even further tighten the blockade on the island. In last night's
      broadcast, several of the best-known of these oppositionists, such
      as Oswaldo Paya and Marta Beatriz Roque, as well as the so-called
      "Ladies in White" were specifically focused on for their role in the
      efforts by Washington to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. (Washington
      refers to this as a "transition to democracy".)

      Chistmas has also been of interest. Since I've been coming here and
      since 1997 just before the Pope came, Christmas has been declared a
      holiday in Cuba and in the foreign media, there's been a tendency to
      write articles complaining about what's not present in the stores for
      that occasion. I made a point of going to two of the main shopping
      malls, Carlos III (Tercero) and La Epoca, as well as running briefly
      past Galerias Paseo on the outside, and here are a few notes on what
      I've found. There are a few ornaments and the occasional Santa Clause
      you can find in some of the stores. These are mixed in with, and
      easily confused with the numerous, and far more prevalent signs
      saying happy new year and also happy 47th anniversary for the
      Revolution. There is no Christmas music on the television, nor in the
      stores. There are no men in red and white uniforms with bells
      soliciting donations for the Salvation Army and other such charities
      here. Such charitable collecting and giving which is done here is
      completely private. Some philanthoropic activity does exist,
      primarily from religious denominations with representation both
      abroad and inside the country. They provide foodstuffs and medicines
      and other needed items. Religious delegations, including some from
      the United States who are still able to come on religious licenses
      bring material aid of one sort or another. I cannot recall seeing any
      reports of any of this on Cuban television or in the print media.

      There's been a cut in some prices in the dollar stores, but this
      hasn't been in all prices, only some items, liquor not included. One
      thing which was very good to see, and to purchase, were crisp new
      apples from the United State, from a dealer in Virginia. Sorry, I've
      forgotten the brand. These were available for 30 cents each (in
      convertible pesos) and were fresh, crisp, and tasty. I bought four at
      Carlos Tercero, and people were lined up to get them.

      Some people do have small Christmas trees in their homes, but I must
      say on this trip I haven't seen any, including in the homes where
      I've seen them last year. I don't imagine these are really affected
      by the energy-saving measures with the consequent increases in the
      cost of electricity. The bills which are calculated at the newer and
      higher rates won't be received until the new year.

      One thing which is coming out and is very, very popular here are the
      large new pressure cookers which Fidel Castro began talking about on
      March 8th. It seemed they would take forever to get here to the big
      city, and there were some sneering reports about people in Havana
      griping about not receiving them, but they began being distributed
      about a month ago. They come in a big red box and distribution is
      through the bodega system. Everyone has to come to their bodega with
      their ration book and ID card to be able to purchase one. The price
      is 145 regular Cuban pesos, or the equivalent of $5.25. They're made
      in China under the Double Happiness brand name have been put to
      immediate use in every household I've been to. They're far sturdier
      than the old ones with the black rubber gaskets which Cubans used for
      so long, either made privately and sold by privat dealers on the
      street, or a slightly fancier model sold in stores. These are big new
      ones and everyone seems to be happy with them.

      In addition to the pressure cookers, there are electric rice cookers.
      These have not yet got here to the nation's capital, except when
      individual Cubans living in the rural and Eastern parts of the
      country have sent them as gifts to their friends in the city. These
      are, I think, Chinese, though it doesn't say where they're made on
      the boxes. Rice being the central staple of the Cuban diet that it
      is, these devices are also very popular and are used for more than
      simply the preparation of rice. Cubans, by the way, eat so much rice
      that they buy it all the way from Vietnam, as well as from the United
      States, where Cuba has become an important factor in U.S. rice exports.

      As this is being written, the Cuban National Assembly is in session.
      It's continuing to take up a range of issues, challenges and problems
      which the country faces. Rather frank reports are coming out in the
      local media discussing these, which are in line with the big issues
      discussed by Fidel Castro at the University of Havana on November 17,
      still indispensible, though quite lengthy reading. You can find the
      formatted versions of his address at these links. Discussions which
      are reported in the media have taken off from the themes which were
      laid out in that presentation. Thus, to begin to understand some of
      Cuba's challenges and problems, as well as its schievements, it's
      very helpful, I would even say indispensible, to read this speech.

      Cuban gov't website:
      Word Format, 33 pp.


      I sent out an earlier note about the festival and won't recapulate
      that here.

      The Film Festival formally ended Friday with award being given to
      some of the movies which had been entered into competition. There will
      be reports on these in due time in English, so I won't comment on
      those beside the fact that the movie by Humberto Solas, Barrio Cuba,
      got a special jury prize. He's one of Cuba's best known directors
      with a carreer going back decades. His movie, designed to present
      real-life Cuba in a less rosy manner than was found in such pictures
      as Wim Wenders' BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, had a gritty realistic
      presentation. I've got some separate comments on that which will go
      out later. BARRIO CUBA is something of a multi-level tear-jerker
      which seemed to take a very long time to get to its happy ending. I
      saw it at the Payret, one of the largest venues in the heart of
      Central Havana, and it seemed very pleasing to its audience. The
      place was packed and it as set for viewing in several venues and on
      several occasions.

      Several other features from Cuba, either made here or made here and
      co-produced by other countries were featured. The other one I saw
      was HABANA BLUES, which looks at two musicians who are being courted
      by a Spanish film producer to sign contracts and leave the country.
      The two men are ultimately devided, one stays, the other leave while
      the one who decides to stay, and speaks out against the exploitative
      terms of the proposed contract has his own challenges. His wife has
      been under pressure from her family for years to leave Cuba for the
      United States, as so many Cubans have done. Unable to receive the
      permission to leave through normal channels, she eventually joins a
      group being picked up by a speedboat from Miami in the final moments
      before the film's end. This movie was presented at one of the larger
      movie venues, the Payret in Central Havana, across the street from
      Cuba's Capitolio building. The audience seemed wrapt in attention to
      the film, and a round of applause went up in the audience when the
      group finally scrambled onto the speedboat. It's well-known that lots
      of Cubans would leave the island if they could easily do so. It was
      estimated tht 800,000 filed for the lottery to win legal emmigration
      permission in 1998. Washington only allows 20,000 to come legally each
      year, but virtually who manage to get to U.S. soil are permitted to
      remain in the US under Washington's "wet-foot, dry-foot" policies,
      which encourage such dangerous, often fatal, attempts to leave Cuba.

      One remarkable movie, a documentary shown twice, depicted the life of
      a political activist from Chile, Victor Hugo Robles, a gay rights
      leaders there. His political designation, and the name of the movie
      depicting his life, is EL CHE DE LOS GAYS. The man, a tall slender
      man who wears wire-rimmed glasses and a beret with a star in front,
      has been a gay activist for many years. You see him engaged in
      various protest demonstrations, including on where he marches with
      Gladys Marin, the recently deceased President of the Chilean
      Communist Party. In a poster advertising the film, the first words
      you see, at the very top of the poster, consist of a quote from
      Gladys Marin, "Live should be lived with irreverance", something
      Victor Robles clearly does. When he and the director were introduced
      for the first showing of the movie, he announced that he was glad to
      be present here in the land of Marti and Reinaldo Arenas, which
      evoked a big round of applause from the audience. Indeed, the
      presentation, which took place at a medim-sized theater with about
      three hundred seats, had something of the feel of a gay rights rally.
      The gathered viewers were thrilled to have this man present and
      applauded enthusiastically for him and the film, both before, during
      and after its presentation. The picture was presented at least twice
      more that I'm aware of, because so many people wanted to, but were
      unable to get into the venue where it was being presented.

      Victor Hugo Robles's blog: http://www.elchedelosgays.blogspot.com/
      CubaNews translation here: http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs347.html

      Some of the other movies I saw included NINE LIVES, a feature from
      the United States about nine different women whose lives were
      supposedly connected in one way or another, though for the life of me
      I couldn't figure out how they were linked, though there was a
      certain overlapping of some of the performers. Another feature, AURA,
      from Argentina, was about a man who basically had a long bad weekend.
      His famale companion abandoned him, leaving a note behind. He goes
      away on a hunting trip with a friend, but they're unable to find a
      hotel room. They find lodging in some desolate locale, but the friend
      then decides to leave. The man wanders around with his rifle, and
      accidentally shoots and kills the owner of the lodge, a man he had
      not met. The dead man is organizing a robbery of a nearby gambling
      casino. This is a movie, so, of course, something goes wrong with the
      elaborate plot. In the end, the man, a taxidermist by trade, is seen
      back at work the following Monday in his studio, having picked up and
      adopted a dog who'd begun to follow him over during his long weekend.

      DOWNTOWN, A Street Tale, was a feature from the United States which
      drew a packed house to observe the efforts, partially successful,
      partially not, of a group of homeless young people in New York City
      to deal with their problems of drug-addiction, lack of employment and
      lack of purpose in life. These young people all relate in one way or
      another to a social worker played by Genevieve Bujold, who serves as
      the drama's anchor. Having been a social worker myself for thirty-one
      years, there was much I could relate to in what was being depicted on
      that screen. The director, producer and one of the stars came for the
      presentation, and were thrilled to see their work being welcomed here.

      Also from the United States were documentaries by Sonja deVries, who
      produced Gay Cuba in 1994. For this festival she brought new hour-
      long documentaries on revolutionary activist Laura Whitehorn, whose
      release from an extended prison term in the US is celebrated in the
      film. It's title, OUT, reflects both her release from prison and her
      openness about her sexuality. DeVries' second film, REFUSEDNIKS,
      consists of interviews with a number of Israeli soldiers, including
      men and women, enlisted personnel and one officer, who refuse to
      serve in the Israeli occupied territories. Deb Ellis's documentary
      on Howard Zinn YOU CAN'T BE NEUTRAL ON A MOVING TRAIN was also well
      received by its Cuban audience.

      In another interesting sidelight, some of the movie which were being
      shown at the festival, admission for which was two Cuban pesos each,
      were being sold already on bootleg DVDs which could be bought not far
      from the theaters at $3.00 each. These are amateur productions made
      presumably by someone who sees the films in a theater and brings in
      a mini-DV camera to shoot a copy of the picture for sale later on.

      The festival ended last Friday, but the theaters were packed over the
      weekend as some of the best-liked films were presented theatrically.
      The Cuban films should be getting a regular theatrical release here
      soon, and many will be shown on Cuban television as well. Audiences
      love to see themselve and their challenges on the screen, as well as
      enjoying the ability to escape from life's difficulties. Both sides of
      the cinematic experience seemed in full evidence during this event to
      which thousands of Cubans were drawn.


      I got to see the Mapplethorpe exhibition this week and can report
      back on it to readers. In addition to National Assembly President
      Ricardo Alarcon's presence at the opening, there's been one feature
      article on the LA JIRIBILLA website, and I expect we'll see more and
      more detailed discussions of this artist's work, and the exhibit
      presented under the banner "Sacred and Profane", in coming months.
      The show is due to be here until February. Vanessa Arrington's AP
      report has been followed up by one with a more negative tilt from the
      BBC, but it's obvious that the show represents, just as the
      journalists say, a level of tolerance for gays which is new and
      unprecedented here. This isn't to say that there's now an open gay
      milieu. There still are no gay bookstores, bars, magazines or such,
      but gays are simply not discriminated against in public life as they
      once were, back in the sixties and seventies.

      The show, which I got to see earlier this week, is very beautifully
      done, with 48 images which have been shown together elsewhere, and
      for which support was provided by the Mapplethorpe Foundation, the
      Andy Warhol Foundation and others, as well as a series of prominent
      individuals here in Cuba, including Minister of Culture Abel Prieto.

      Among the images were several self-portaits of the artist in various
      guises: straight-forward, angrogynous, and virtually female. Several
      prominent individuals were depicted including Susan Sarandon and the
      young Arnold Schwartzenegger. Several male nudes were included one of
      which included direct frontal nudity. Another pair of men were shown
      in close-up of their two heads, passionately kissing one another.

      While I'd seen a number of these images before, and own a reproduction
      of one at home in Los Angeles (body-builder Lisa Lyons), several were
      completely new to me. It seemed quite a striking series of images to
      be presented here in Cuba, but it was presented in a straightforward,
      matter-of-fact way as the work of a highly gifted artist whose work
      was being made available to the local public. Unlike the United States,
      where such work might be presented with a warning sign that the works
      might shock or offend some, or where school-age children might not be
      permitted to see such a selection, nothing like that was done here.
      As yet there's been nothing in the print media locally, but I expect
      that it will be covered sometime during the next few months while the
      exposition is open here. There was also no admission charge to see it.

      Here's the first report on the Mapplethorpe show from the Cuban media,
      appearing at the website of LA JIRIBILLA newspaper's online edition:

      And a link to Vanessa Arrington's AP report posted to MSNBC:


      Evo Morales has taken the process of Latin American integration a
      gigantic step forward winning his country's presidency with over 51%
      of the vote. This is also the first time an indiginous person has won
      that nation's highest office, though they Indians ahve been a
      majority of the population for some time. Everyone saw the victory
      coming, whether they favored it or not. Here in Cuba the news
      couldn't be of a more joyful tone. The papers and the electronic
      media are filled with the terrific news which reflects the deepening
      gap between Latin America and Washington as each of the countries in
      the region takes its distance from Washington. Naturally this won't
      be a simple or rapid process, but it is proceeding both stubbornly
      and persistently. Monday's's Mesa Redonda broadcast was entirely
      devoted to Morales's win and its continental and historic meaning.

      Here's an item from Cuba's National Information Agency on Morales:


      Havana, Dec 20 (AIN) President-elect Evo Morales told the United
      States Monday to respect the will of the Bolivian people and notified
      Washington that diplomacy by subjugation and subordination has ended.

      Speaking at a press conference, the leader of the Movement to
      Socialism (MAS) asked the US to join Bolivia in a pact against drug
      trafficking but without affecting the country's sovereignty nor the
      coca leaf produced by small farmers for legal uses, reported Granma

      Morales, fresh off a landslide victory on Sunday, was asked to
      comment on statements by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who
      questioned the democratic merits of the next Bolivian government.

      "We do not accept the diplomacy of subjugation and subordination and
      the indigenous peoples are going to dignify Bolivia and defend its
      sovereignty," Evo Morales stressed. He retook the Quechua term
      "Huainuchum yanquis" (Down with the Yankees), with which he closed
      his victory speech on Sunday.

      The indigenous leader turned president-elect said it is a slogan of
      resistance and a condemnation of the policies of hunger, abject
      poverty and subjugation that must be ended to dignify Bolivians.

      Morales reaffirmed that his government will nationalize hydrocarbons
      and natural resources, based on the property rights of the State,
      while suspending deals granting them to multinationals.

      Defending the coca leaf as beneficial for health, he said he would
      strive for its international legalization by promoting its removal
      from the UN list of prohibited substances.

      Morales said it is not right that legalization exists only for Coca
      Cola, the famous drink that uses the Andean coca leaf as one of its

      The president-elect called for an end to the drug eradication
      programs of the United States in Bolivia.

      Instead, he called on the US to join Bolivia in a pact against drug
      trafficking that respects the traditional cultivation and use of the
      coca leaf and the farmers that make their living from it.

      The MAS leader added that the fight against drugs can no longer be
      the pretext for US geopolitical interests to increase domination over
      nations such as Bolivia and to install military bases. We will fight
      against drug trafficking without foreign military intervention, he

      Referring to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, Morales said it is
      unacceptable for uniformed and armed foreign personnel to be in
      Bolivia with authority over the local police and military.

      In the United States, blockade supporters from the pages of the Wall
      Street Journal and elsehwere have responded to the election of Latin
      America's first indiginous president by cranking up propaganda against
      Cuba and supporting both the U.S.-financed opponents of the Revolution
      and the Bush admininstration's decision to exclude the Cuban baseball
      team from playing against the United States in its "national pastime."

      Michelle Bachelet's result getting by far the largest vote in the
      elections in Chile are a furthers stip in this process. The vicious
      assault on her which appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week
      was a sign that her campaign (she's the daughter of a pro-Allende
      military officer who died in prison due to his opposition to the
      Pinochet coup) who herself worked in the underground as an opponent
      of the dictatorship) is an additional reflection of times changing,
      for the better and moving ahead, to the left.

      Cuba's major medical aid program for Pakistan continues to receive
      big coverage in the Cuban media. This medical aid program has begun
      to draw world-wide media attention. It's often slanted, trying as is
      so dreadfully and predictably-often the case in a negative light.
      They say Cuba is paying its bills by providing medical aid to
      Venezuela, and so on. But the idea of a two-way interaction, of a new
      way for countries to relate to one another through trade, rather than
      the one-way interactions with which the economic-ally more developed
      countries relate to the Third World (we take your precious resources
      and give you a few dollars or whatever, isn't so bad when you think
      about it. Cuba has the doctors. Venezuela has the petroleum. They
      engage in a kind of barter of benefit to both.

      At the same time, Cuba's program is also based on things like genuine
      solidaritity and on sharing. There is, for example, a major Cuban aid
      program which helped the small Caribbean island of Grenada to recover
      its telephone system this summer in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis
      (aka "Dennis the Menace"). Grenada's resources are its people and
      location. Remember: it's a tiny speck of an island with some 100,000
      population. It really must come as quite a shock in Washington that
      relations between the two countries today are excellent in every way.
      After the Grenadian government of Maurice Bishop was overthrown by
      ultra-leftists in 1983, the US invaded the island, supposedly to save
      medical students there. Reagan's death was observed publicly in
      Grenada, but Cuban trade and diplomacy are very active and relations
      couldn't be moe close today.

      These aid programs exist in many countries of the world. Readers may
      also recall that after hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and
      Mississippi, Fidel Castro offered to send 1500 Cuban doctors to the
      United States to help. He named the thousands-strong brigade of Cuban
      doctors who are providing this aid across the globe the "Henry Reeve
      Contingent" in honor of a citizen of the United States who fought and
      died here in Cuba during the 19th Century independence wars.
      Washington didn't accept the Cuban offer, and there's no doubt that
      medical care in places like New Orleans has truly suffered due to
      Washington's short-sighted stubbornness. Yet Fidel Castro's offer did
      resonate in the United States and was also picked up and discussed
      considerably more than such aspects of Cuba's revolution have been in
      the past. Even Florida's Cuban-American U.S. Senator, Republican Mel
      Martinez, publically called for the Bush administration to accept the
      offer, an astounding act for a former member of the team of George W.
      Bush, and the highest-ranking Cuban-American elected official in the
      U.S.. Some newspaper columnists and other politicians also agreed.

      Cuba's media continues to follow the unfolding story of what isn't being
      done to rebuild the lives and homes of poor, mostly Black and Latino
      people in Louisiana in light of Hurricane Katrina. It has likewise been
      active in pointing out the double standard of many of the European Union
      countries in accusing Cuba of human rights abuses while failing to speak
      up and out against the human rights abuses where are happening in the
      Guantanamo naval base, and more recently in the rising esposures of the
      secret CIA prison camps being revealed in Eastern Europe. All of this
      while social and political repression has hit hard against immigrants
      from Africa and the Muslim countries of the East whose social earthquake
      has shown the public their societies aren't so different from that of
      the United States, as European governments had liked to believe or at
      least to suggest that they were.

      Washington's stubbornness is also now being demonstrated in a way which
      couldn't be more symbolic. It's decision to block the Cuban baseball team
      from playing in the World Baseball Classic, and remember US teams
      have poached from the Cuban teams for decades, shows Washington to be a
      petty and vindictive victor. Sports commentators everywhere and even some
      members of the U.S. Congress have taken up this foolish act by which the
      U.S. government has again shot itself in the foot in order to continue
      to curry favor with the rightist exile militants concentrated in Miami.
      And sports commentators, let's not forget, are among the most rightist-
      minded and conservative types writing these days. It's really a shame
      Lester Rodney isn't covering these events as they unfold.

      Parallelling this, Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban exile terrorist is
      being protected by Washington, which has been ignoring the Venezuelan
      government's request to extradite him for his role in the Cubana bombing
      of 1976. His partner Orlando Bosch walks the treets of Miami in complete
      freedom, as to other Cuban terrorists such as Rodolfo Frometa and Jose
      Basulto, all of whom have public records of known and admitted terrorist
      actions against Cuba.

      Santiago Alvarez, another Cuban exile militant, who has aided and abetted
      Posada for years, and who is believe to have helped him enter the United
      States illegally, is currently in custody in Florida, having been denied
      bail due to the nature of the weapons cache found in his offices when US
      officials raided it last month. Alvarez, who is not a US citizen but only
      holds a green card, hasn't been charged with aiding and abetting Posada's
      illegal entry into the United States, but at least he's not currently in
      a position to walk the streets publicly and brag of his exploits as he'd
      been doing for most of this past year, since Posada got into the US back
      in March. This episode in Alvarez' story is far from being over by now.

      The Cuban Five continue to be imprisoned and we've just received notes
      from the Cuban National Assembly on the appeals procedure. These will be
      going out shortly after this message. These men have to be as tough as
      nails to have survived without cracking for all of these many years and
      it's important that the work for their liberation not be lost in the
      shuffle of so many important things needed in solidarity with Cuba and
      we will be sharing these through the year.

      From the archives, and thanks to the prompt scanning by the Prometheus
      Research Library, and OCR processing of the scanned PDF by Andy Pollack
      a new generation can now see the long, detailed article on Cuba written in
      1979 by Cuban-American and revolutionary socialist activist Jose G. Perez
      in Intercontinental Press, the weekly news magazine focusing on
      politics which was published for many years in New York. It's quite long, at
      close to fifteen thousand words, but I'm sure that readers who have followed
      Cuba through the decades will appreciate his detailed and nuanced reporting.
      There was another article published shortly before that time and I will try
      to get that one and make it available as soon as possible. Again, thanks to
      those who helped make this possible for a new generation of readers.

      Keeping in mind that the world and Cuba have both changed greatly since it
      was published twenty-five years, it would be fine of readers wanted to open
      some discussion on the way Cuba and the world have changed in the interim.

      One small thing which you may not have heard of is the growing clamor, at
      least in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, for U.S. intervention in the
      Asian mountain nation of Nepal. There's a civil war going on in that country
      pitting what's described in the media as a Maoist insurgency against a
      monarchy which even the Wall Street Journal describes as an opponent of any
      form of political democracy. Evidently some links have developed between the
      rebel forces and the moderate political opposition to the monarchy, which is
      causing consternation among the editors of the Wall Street Journal. There's
      a campaign developing there for US intervention in the civil war there. I'm
      calling it a campaign when two opinion articles calling for this appeared in
      the WSJ's pages within a few days of one another. Each link their call for
      US intervention with Cuba saying Nepal threatens to become another Cuba so
      readers will want to begin to familiarize themselves with this issue.

      There's been precious little in the Cuban press that I've seen about this,
      excepting a single article earlier in the year, which you can read here:

      Hope you've found these points of interest. I'll begin to resume work on a
      more normal basis, though Cuba seems to be very much like a lot of other
      places during this pre-Christmas week: office parties, gifts being handed
      out or exchanged. Christmas eve social events and dinners (Noche Buena as
      it's called here, and so on. Diplomatic delgations from China are here now
      reaffirming and deepening Chinese-Cuban ties, as are delegations from other
      countries who are declaring their solidarity with Cuba as Washington keeps
      up its desperate, but unsuccessful efforts, to isolate the country. It's
      been a very full year and promises to be another one in 2006. We will also
      continue to provide readers with a steady stream of translations from the
      Cuban media which should enhance everyone's understanding of life here and
      the ways Cubans are dealing with their complex reality.

      Best wishes for a new year of hard work, effective struggle, and for both
      political and social progress.

      Walter Lippmann
      Reuters - Dec 18, 2005
      Little Christmas cheer in Cuba; Santa blacklisted
      By Anthony Boadle

      HAVANA (Reuters) - Eight years after Communist Cuba restored December
      25 as a national holiday in a gesture to Pope John Paul II, there is
      not much Christmas spirit to show for it.

      Christmas decorations are mostly to be found in the more expensive
      shops and tourist spots, and there is no Santa Claus waving at
      children on the street corner.

      Santa, viewed as a symbol of capitalist consumer society, is banned
      from storefront displays and can only be seen in private homes.

      Cubans have not taken to saying "Merry Christmas," which is not
      surprising since the atheist state had the holiday crossed off the
      calendar from 1969 to 1997.

      Most use "Happy Holidays" as their greeting and tend to see New
      Year's Eve as a bigger seasonal holiday. That's when President Fidel
      Castro's government celebrates the anniversary of the revolution that
      brought him to power in 1959 and authorities put on street fairs with
      salsa music and cheap beer.

      "Few people say 'Happy Christmas.' The young have no idea what it
      means," said Carmen Vallejo, a Catholic dissident who works with
      cancer-stricken children.

      Cuba did away with the Christmas holiday in 1969, when Castro's
      government was trying to bring in a record sugar harvest of 10
      million tonnes and needed Cubans to work the extra day cutting cane.

      It became a holiday again in 1997, as a show of goodwill before the
      late pope's historic visit to Cuba one month later. The Church got a
      temporary boost from the visit, but few of Cuba's 11 million people
      are practicing Catholics.

      This year, for the first time, authorities have allowed a choir of 93
      singers from 28 Christian churches to sing Christmas carols in Cuba's
      main cities and broadcast a performance on state-run television.

      At the top of Old Havana's Obispo street there is a large Christmas
      tree lighting up the Floridita bar, where American author Ernest
      Hemingway drank frozen daiquiris.


      But residents say there are fewer lights than last year along the
      colonial-era shopping street, and fewer shoppers.

      Stores in Central Havana's main shopping center, Carlos III, are
      stacked with Chinese goods, from bicycles and tennis rackets to
      skateboards and roller blades.

      Plastic toys made in China are expensive for Cubans, with some
      selling for $20, more than a doctor's monthly salary.

      "There are much fewer shoppers this year. Things are very bad," said
      Carlos, a parking attendant. "This is the worst year since I started
      here nine years ago. People have no money."

      Many Cubans supplement meager wages with dollars sent by relatives in
      the United States. But the cash remittances lost 20 percent of their
      purchasing power after Cuba penalized the U.S. currency a year ago
      and revalued its own currency.

      "There is no Christmas spirit, not even in the churches, because
      people have no prospects. In the current economic crisis they don't
      have enough to get by on, let alone celebrate," said Vallejo.

      "Sometimes I feel God has turned his back on Cuba."

      Cubans got some year-end relief from price cuts ordered by the
      government for some imported supermarket foods, including jam,
      raisins, tomato puree and canned tuna and sweet corn.

      Christmas cheer or not, Cubans will enjoy a family dinner on
      Christmas Eve, a tradition akin to Thanksgiving consisting of roast
      pork and "congri" --black beans mixed with rice.

      C Reuters 2005. All rights reserved.
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