Happy New Year - Felicidades, from Havana

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Jan 3 03:15:08 MST 2003

A few notes from Havana Cuba at the
beginning of the new year:

Wednesday was the first and a very
fine year it looks to be. On New Year's
eve I attended a nice large family party
in Barrio Chino (Chinatown) at the home
of friends. There must have been a good
hundred people there. The event was held
in the home of the family of Regla Albarran.
Regla's husband, Tom Miller, has written
frequently about Cuba and is the author
of the wonderful book TRADING WITH
THE ENEMY: a Yankee's Travels Through
Castro's Cuba.

The music for this event was provided
by a rumbero band with ten musician-
singers and half a dozen dancers named
Yoruba Andabo. Last year they had won
a Latin Grammy award. (I don't now recall
if they were one of the large group which
came to Los Angeles and were stranded
when the Latin Grammy's were cancelled.)
If you're not familiar with this band and have
seen Los Munequitos de Matanzas, that
gives you an idea of their musical genre.
(Maybe it's the other way around...)

Hearing and see their musical performance,
the African elements in the heart of Cuban
culture broadcasts right through to your
consciousness. A lovely evening and I'm
glad to have been invited. I showed off
some of my photographs and everyone
enjoyed the ones in the big book I carry
for such moments.

Spent the night in Centro Habana and in
the morning yesterday I took the long walk
along the Malecon to the United States
Interests Section. It's by no means the
most gaudy or ostentious diplomatic
structure here (that would certainly be the
Russian embassy), but it makes a hell of
an imposing sight, a large rectangular
structure right on the Malecon, surrounded
by large iron bars and lots of security folks
on the Cuban side in military uniforms. It's
clear the Cubans REALLY don't want any
conflict with any embassies, especially
this one. When I tried to walk across the
eight-lane Malecon to get a closer look,
the security people shooed me away, so
you'll have to rely on my verbal description
of the things I saw yesterday morning.

The Christmas display outside of the U.S.
Interests Section in Havana, Cuba has
three parts. There is a lighted image of
Santa Claus with reindear and a sleigh
on the wall facing the Malecon directly.
I'd guess it's about ten feet high by
twenty feet long, going up the wall on
a slant. It's all made up of Christmas
lights. I haven't seen it at night, alas.

Down on the ground in front of the USIS
is a traditional Christian nativity scene,
complete with creche and so forth.

Right next to the Nativity scene is a
large (4-5-feet high?) Menorah, the
Jewish candelabra for Channukah.

But about five or ten feet away from
that is a giant (maybe fifteen feet tall?)
bright red Santa Claus figure, which
completely dominates the large area.

So the Santa Claus image, which is
mostly a marketing image is what's
predominant in the way that the U.S.
presents itself visually to the Cuban
people. You have to see it to believe
it, but it's, well, incredibly vulgar is all
I can say to describe it verbally.

Oh, and let's not forget something that
is omitted: the fastest growing religion
in the United States: Islam, which would
be represented by the figure of a star and
crescent. There's none in Washington's
display to the Cuban people.

>From there I went to visit another Cuban
friend by foot, Rosa Antich, the 80 year-
old retired English professor from the
University of Havana of whom I've written
previously. We sat out on the porch and
chatted for awhile. January 1 is a regular
legal holiday in Cuba, but the newspapers,
which are distributed by letter carriers,
came anyway on that day.

When I got home I found myself worn out
from the walking and discovered that my
blood pressure was a little bit elevated.
(The friend with whom I stay, a retired
nurse, age 72, who had done internation-
alist medical work in Algeria in the sixties,
had pulled out her stethoscope and checked
my pressure.) She then called her cardiologist
who came over with his wife and examined
me and prescribed some dietary and lifestyle-
changes. He advised against the use of any
medications. This being Cuba, the man did
not ask for any money, and refused to even
entertain the idea when I tried to mention it.

What country to you know where doctors are
still making house calls?

These days after the first of January have
been declared legal holidays, so many of the
government buildings and larger stores are
closed for this period. Even the local agro-
pecurarios are closed, which was a nuisance
because we'd run out of frutabomba (as the
papaya is called here), but nothing could be
found at any market anywhere around here.

Since 1959, every year here has been given
a specific, politically-inspired name. 2003 is

Cuba newspapers and television have been
reporting with boundless enthusiasm on the
inauguation of Ignacio "Lula" de Silva at the
first left-winger elected President of Brasil.
Lula received the highest vote total in the
entire history of the nation. Most of the
main heads of state in Latin America came
to salute and celebrate Lula's triumphant
accession to office, which brings with it the
hopes and dreams of a better life for most
Brazilians. For several days this has been
the banner headlines and main news reports
in all the media here in Havana.

Fidel Castro, the maximum leader of the
Cuban Revolution (as he is referred to in the
media here sometimes) was triumpally greeted
in Brazil. He's the largest historical figure still
holding office and power on the continent, and
he was greeted everywhere with applause and
enthusiasm, by ordinary people as well as by
heads of state from Lula to Hugo Chavez and
many others. Fidel's presence marked a further
decline in Washington's diplomatic efforts to
isolate the island. In a deliberate snub, the US
sent a flunky to attend Lula's inauguration.

For awhile now the CubaNews list has given
particular attention to Brazil, in addition to the
regular coverage of Cuba (in the first place)
and Venezuela and other countries beyond
the confines of the Pearl of the Caribbean.
Now the coverage of the Lula inauguration
and some of its related events will increase
for a short period. The main focus will remain
Cuba, as always.

These last several days have been ones where
most offices and businesses are closed and
lots of partying is going on. Noise levels from
these parties can be deafening and neighbors
complain but nothing is done. It seems people
rarely complain to the authorities and if they
do, little is done unless these parties extend
beyond midnight. I bring earplugs but last
night's noise from an adjacent building was
so great it resonated all the way through the
building in which I stay. IT went on until
1:00 AM. Fortunately, I was tired and with the
aid of my earplug, I got to sleep at last...
Ah, I was a teenager too, once.

Outside the increasing numbers of US visitors,
both "documented" and "undocumented" (that
is, formally licensed by Washington), it's clear
that the US blockade is slipping and cracking
as visitors increas and businesses in the US
see reasons for trade with the island and the
island wants to pursue these energetically.

As I've mentioned previously, the biggest
threat to world peace right now is coming
from Washington's preparations for invading
Iraq. The war against Iraq has been going
on for over a decade. A land invasion and a
sharply-escalated air-war against the Iraqi
people could set off even more horrendous
blood-letting than we've seen so far in the
Middle East. Israel has continued to act to
get rid of the Palestinians knowing that the
Bush administration and Washington as a
whole won't object. Thus, the best thing all
of us can do in the United States is to get
out and bring out all of our neighbors and
friends and co-workers to participate in the
January 18 demonstrations called by the
International ANSWER coalition and being
supported by an ever-broadening array of
groups and individuals. Details available:

Best wishes to all of you,

Walter Lippmann, Moderator, CubaNews list


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