Letter from Havana, January 9, 2003
walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Jan 9 05:02:29 MST 2003
Thursday January 9, 2003
Havana, Cuba 7:00 AM
Good morning to you out there in e-mail land!
It's still winter here, but nothing like the 30 degrees
Fahrenheit which people are suffering up there in
New York City. Here are just a few notes about my
life and activities here in Havana, Cuba yesterday
and the day before. Indeed, it's not cold at all now.
I'm going to get a few items out to you and then hit
the streets for a walk. With luck I'll be able to get a
paper somewhere along the way.
Let me explain that it wasn't possible to send out
anything yesterday due to a technical glitch in the
US with my provider (in the morning). Then I had a
committment in the afternoon and evening here to
which I was committed through to completion.
Buying and installing a television set in Cuba isn't
a North American's idea of a picnic. The selection
of sets isn't large, though the quality seems to be
OK. It's possible to purchase a simple, small black
and white TV, the kind people in the US might have
on a kitchen counter, for as little as $60 USD, but
color sets are significantly more. The lowest priced
one is the Chinese Panda currently sold everwhere
for $315. (Marked down from $370.) This is a medium
sized set, some assembeled in China, some here in
Cuba according to the nice salesman we spoke with
at the large La Puntilla department store in MiraMar.
He personally took the set out of the box, tested it,
wrapped it up and put it on a dolly to wheel out to
the care, a 1972 Volkswagen beetle which enables
lots of people to do all manner of things in this town.
Cubans don't have cable and there are only three
channels here: Tele-Rebelde, CubaVision and the
new Canal Educativo. Cubavision has the best
reception in over-air broadcasting. Where I live it's
really best to have an external antenna mounted on
the rooftop, but stores which sell them neither provide
or refer customers to services to put up the antennas.
(I very rarely watch television in the United States
as it's constantly interrupted by commercial ads
or has little programming of interest to me. Here
I like to watch the news when possible and the
occasional movie. Cuban television often has
science or Discovery Channel programming
with English soundracks and Spanish subtitles.)
Use the miracle of the internet to watch Cuban TV:
Spanish-speaking techies can look at how Cuban
techies discuss issues of the internet at CubaSi.
This is seriously techy: domain names, "free"
software, internet security and issues like that.
Friends and neighbors find ways to help one out
one another with such installations and things get
done, though the process can take a lot of time as
untrained people do their best to solve problems.
They DO get solved, but it's different. I only know
one person here who doesn't have their own TV
set, and only one who does who doesn't have a
color set, so TVs are widely available here and,
as in the US, they're on nearly all the time...
I didn't watch the news last evening, but the big
news in the daily media here was the news that
Cuba's infant mortality rate is now even lower
than that of the United States. There's a story
on this and the other main developments at the
Granma International English-language site:
www.granma.cu/ingles Yesterday's Mesa
Redonda had yet another feature on Venezuela,
featuring selected clips from debate in the
Venezuelan parliament. Did you know that you
can actually watch Cuban television on the net?
I had a very frustrating experience on Tuesday.
My Spanish teacher lent me a text book with verb
conjugations. She asked me to copy a series of
pages and return the book. Getting a photocopy
here in Havana turned out to be something of a
challenge. There are commercially-available
copy machines, but I found I had to go to four
different places to get the copies. The Photo
Service, a chain of small photo development
shops, which sells a few other items as well
for for hard currency, has copying machines,
but I found the first three in a row which I went
to were either out of toner, or the machines
weren't working. The prices weren't cheap at
30 cents a page. The Photo Service and the
Business Center at the Habana Libre hotel
also had non-working photocopy machines.
(Their computers and internet access were
working fine and all were being used when
I was there at mid-day.)
Finally, I found a small shop with a working
machine adjacent to the International Press
Center on 23rd street. The copy machine
worked, the prices were best (20 cents each)
and the service quick, efficient and cheerful.
Here is one example of how difficult life is
made by the US blockade of Cuba because,
were relations between the two countries
normalized, spare parts, supplies and so on
would be easily and readily available, or at
least you would think so. Cuba is so close to
the United States that it's a natural source for
all manner of commercial ventures. Business
in the US is seeing that more clearly since the
big expansion in trade between the countries.
One store I'd want to see here as soon as the
blockade ends would be the HOME DEPOT.
The forty years of blockade and the progress
registered by so many Cubans paying little or
nothing for rent or mortgage payments means
that the housing stock on the island is clearly
run-down and much is in need of great repair.
I'm pleased at how easily I've adopted myself
to things which I never thought of in L.A., like
hot water at the tap and the ability to bathe in
a tub full of hot water. Yes, this is wasteful in
ecological terms (bathing), it was a creature
comfort I enjoyed greatly in Los Angeles. It's
funny, though, in writing this, it's the first time
in ages I've actually thought about bathing.
Here I don't think about it at all. I heat my
water for bathing on the stove and then mix
it with the cold water we store in large plastic
buckets and shower using a plastic cup to
pour water over my head. It works just fine.
After attending class, I walked home, passing
the John Lennon Memorial in the Vedado area.
They've installed an electric light which faces
the statue, but somehow someone as once
again stolen the eyeglasses from the statue.
There used to be a security guard posted at
the statue after the first round of stealings of
Lennon's glasses, but there wasn't Tuesday
when I passed by this time.
If you haven't seen the statue, take a moment
to look at it, and listen to Lennon singing
IMAGINE if you like, at NY Transfer's website
where you can also read the speech given by
Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba's National
Assembly of People's Power here:
>From time to time I stop near the statue just to
check in and see how it's doing. Sometimes you
see people stopping and looking at it. This time
I watched a couple stop, rub his hair and simply
commune with his spirit (I took it that's what they
were doing) before proceeding onwards. It's very
touching. Both Lennon and all of the Beatles are
very popular here in Cuba where many people
can sing his lyrics in English by heart.
Insatiably curious about all things Cuban I also
stopped at the agro-pecuario, but it was late in
the day and several of the stalls were sold out.
>From there I stopped at the commercial office
of ETECSA, the Cuban telephone company, a
joint venture between the Cuban state and the
Italian phone company. Pre-paid phone cards
are very convenient so you don't have to fumble
for the right change to make a call. Now they
have pre-paid cards in various denominations
with a large array of graphic designs, ranging
from contemporary Cuban artists like Mendive,
a can of Cristal, the most widely-sold beer in
Cuba, and photographs from churches even
including a card depicting a cross with Jesus
on it from a Cuban church. Prices range from
$5.00 USD all the way up to $20 USD for the
card with Che Guevara's image. Maybe it's
aimed at tourists for such a high price, but it
wasn't available as the others I described to
you were. They said they'd have it next week.
Preceding the evening news, the Mesa Redonda
had a special on the manipulative role of the
media in Venezuala. An article on that topic was
published in Juventud Rebelde as well, written
by Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of Le Monde
Diplomatique. Ramonet's latest book of media
criticism was THE featured book at the Havana
book fair last year, when both Fidel Castro AND
Ricardo Alarcon gave speeches at the launching
of the book. As yet it hasn't appeared in English,
but the Cuban government was so anxious to get
his message out that it prepared a special tabloid
edition of the book which was immediately put out
for the price of ten Cuban pesos.
Been trying also to look at the daily newspapers
which have election coverage here and lots of
material about Venezuela and much more.
Juventud Rebelde yesterday had a major story
in support of the January 18th mobilizations
against the impending Iraq invasion called by
International ANSWER. I'll send out the JR
story to the list as well.
The lead story on the evening news were plans
and preparations for the next round of voting for
the Cuban National Assembly delegates and
the Municipal Peoples Power bodies. I have only
a slight understanding of how the Cuban system
works. No one campaigns or puts out literature.
Elections are normally contested, but voters
choose their candidates based on an evaluation
of their individual characteristics and activities
within Cuban society. Candidate biographies
are put out and posted widely, each one just
a single page with a small ID-sized photograph.
Karen Lee Wald sent out a translation by one of
her readers of Fidel Castro's biographical page.
It's quite a bit larger than what I see on most
windows here, but that may simply be because
of the format of the translation rather than of
the original. I'm grateful to Karen and her alert
correspondent for making this available to us.
The original wouldn't be posted in Havana
because Fidel is a candidate in Santiago de
Cuba. I don't know if his seat is contested, as
most are, and would assume it's not. And you
can read it or print it out from the FILES
section of the CubaNews list Yahoo website.
It's three pages in Word format.
The second story on the news was the latest
developments from Venezuela where Cuba's
sympathies and support for the Bolivarian
Revolution being led by Hugo Chavez could
not be more strong and clear.
There was a story in the New York Times about
the final (successful) resolution of the flap about
a treasure-trove of Malcolm X documents which
have now gone to the Schomburg Collection in
Harlem, where they belong and will be made
available. I've written some comments about
the New York Times and its attitude toward
Malcolm which will be sent out shortly.
Finally, I'm continuing to receive encouraging
letters (and the occasional disagreement or
correction, which I also appreciate) for these
personal reports. I am very grateful to all of
you who are writing in response to these.
That's all for the moment. I guess what's "chilly"
depends on what you're used to and now that
I've been here going on into my third months,
I find the low 50-something degrees Fahrenheit
to be "chilly" to me. Fortunately, it's gone again
and I'll hit the streets shortly for my walk.
Until next time...
Walter Lippmann, Moderator
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