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.
27TH FESTIVAL OF NEW LATIN AMERICAN CINEMA WRAPS UP.
I sent out an earlier note about the festival and won't recapulate
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 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:
BOLIVIA: LATIN AMERICAN INTEGRATION
TAKES BIG LEAP FORWARD WITH MORALES WIN
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:
EVO MORALES CALLS ON U.S. TO RESPECT BOLIVIAN SOVEREIGNTY
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.
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
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.
'PEOPLE HAVE NO MONEY'
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.