CubaNews notes Monday July 28, 2003

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Mon Jul 28 22:28:56 MDT 2003

CubaNews notes from Havana, Monday July 28, 2003
by Walter Lippmann, Moderator

I'm back here in Havana today after a short flight from
Santiago this morning. Traveling on this domestic
flight in Cuba is an experience so different from flying
on a US or probably any other airline that I'd like to
tell you a bit about it.

The airport in Santiago reminded me of US airports in
small cities in the 1950s. Perhaps Burbank airport in
Southern California looked like this in those days, but
there were no billboards that I noticed anywhere. No
vending machines. You cannot buy life insurance in
case the plane crashes. Nothing at all for sale but for
a cafecito, some fruit juice or soda at the food counter
at the time I got in this morning, which was 2:00 AM
in advance of a 4:00 AM departure. Cuban airport
security was at once relaxed and very thorough.
Seat assignments were made by hand using tiny
peel-off labels which were then stuck down by hand
on a single paper sheet.

It felt far less intrusive than a similar check would be
in a US airport these days. There were no soldiers
inside the indoor section of the airport, though there
were a few outside as we entered the plane, an old
YAK-42, a twin-engine jet. I assume it's Russian.

My ticket in US dollars was $108. Cubans pay 100
Cuban pesos for the same ticket, but such tickets
are far harder to get. Cubans in Havana have to get
on long lines in front of the Cubana office down on
Infanta near the Malecon to catch a flight at these
prices. I decided to purchase my ticket on Friday
morning and went to the office and got it, no sweat.

Like the bus ride, which took sixteen hours,
this ride was quite cramped, but it was over in a
far shorter time. There was no television or music,
which had both been extremely loud on the bus.

I managed to get a great deal of e-mail deleted
during the long ride back here to the capital.

(On the bus trip out, there were at least three full
feature-length movies shown on overhead TV
sets. The programming had come in videos and
consisted of one Sylvester Stallone police picture
(but not the excellent "Copland") dubbed in Spanish,
followed by some other road action movie in English
with Spanish subtitles, and then Arnold Schwartz-
enegger in Kindergarten Cop, also in English with
Spanish subtitles. These kinds of movies seem to
be extremely popular among Cubans and my seat-
mate's attention was glued to these from start to
finish. The sound track was so loud that even my
earplugs weren't enough to prevent the noise from
getting through. The trip was extremely exhausting.)

The Santiago flight itself took about an hour and a
half and was simple and uneventful. No music and
no television. At the domestic part of the Jose Marti
airport in Havana passengers pick up their own
suitcases at the baggage claim, walked out an
adjacent door, and into taxis of the cars of friends
or family who came to pick them up.

Living arrangements in Santiago de Cuba were a
bit of a surprise for me. The original casa particular
place I'd hoped to get didn't work out. Another one
didn't work out either, and a taxi driver took me to
a third place, which worked well for the night, but
couldn't give me space for the following three.

There is no formal organization or network among
the casa particular owners, so each one has a big
list they keep individually to help people who need
additional or alternative places to stay. It seemed
to me that if there were one person willing to be do
it, a centralized phone number could be used at
which people with places to stay could call in and
leave word of their location, price and what kinds
of accommodations they had. Eventually I got a
room just three blocks away.

People told me in advance that Santiago is very
very hot. I didn't find it that way. The first place
had an air conditioner which provided some level
of cooling. The second place had nothing but a
fan and two large open windows. These proved
entirely adequate for three days in Santiago.
Perhaps I lucked out and Santiago was simply
not sweltering with heat on these particular days.

Journalists accredited by the International Press
Center in Havana were offered an great option:
Round-trip air fare and a room at the five-star
Melia Santiago Hotel, along with meal service at
the hotel. I was invited to share one meal there
by one of the writers, and it was excellent, just
what I'd expect in a normal US hotel and which
was completely unlike normal Cuban food. It's
been so long since I'd seen regular US food that
it came as something of a surprise, and a nice
one for a change of pace. In a way, being in a
place like that you don't think you actually are
in Cuba. Strange to say, but that's the way it
felt for the few hours I was there.

The Cubans also set up an entire press center
there for the Cuban and foreign journalists, so
they could use computers and have internet
access (paid for at the normal $6.00 per hour
rate). All in all, this made the mechanical aspect
of such travel much easier on those who took it.

Have no fear, none of this seemed to have any
softening effect whatsoever on the writings by the
AP, Reuters and Financial Times or others who
took advantage of the offers. Their material had
the exact same tone as it normally does: sharp
and unsympathetic for the most part.

In Santiago I discovered an excellent Chinese
restaurant which you should know about, called
La Perla del Dragone (Pearl of the Dragon). It's
a regular state restaurant, but it's hidden on the
second floor and has no sign outside. Indeed,
the decor says "Chinese" but they may simply
give you a regular menu unless you specifically
say you want the Chinese one. That comes in
a separate folder. It was very tasty, very well-
prepared, and very reasonable, with most of
the main dishes in the $3-4.00 range. Service
was great as well. The chef, Miguel (everyone
calls him Maikel, he says) has been working in
gastronomy for twelve years. He's never been
to China and says he just likes to read a lot.

The waitresses, Raquel and Gloria, were both
pleasant and attentive in ways one doesn't
always find in Cuban restaurants. I recommend
this place with complete enthusiasm. Finding it
may be a bit of a challenge. People in the city
simply refer to it as "Restaurant Chino". It's on
El Boulevar at Calle Aquilera. You can say it's
"Frente al parque Dolores" and that should be
enough to get you there. Their phone is 52205.

It's hard now to believe, but my current visit to
Cuba is wrapping up this week and I'll soon be
returning to Los Angeles. When I arrived here
on April 25, it seemed that the United States
government was on the verge of invading the
island. They've obviously backed away from
that idea now. It's not because of any love for
or softening of the historic hostility which the
U.S. has shown toward Cuba's Revolution.

The return of the hijackers, the squeals of
anger against Bush and Company by some of
the most extreme rightist exiles are all signs of
a momentary downturn in this hostility. These
are good and should be welcomed. But the
traditional, historical hostility of Washington
toward the Cuban Revolution hasn't vanished.

It's rooted in what's known as the "ripe fruit
syndrome", the notion that Cuba ultimately
belongs to the United States. Unless and
until the US is willing to accept Cuba's right
to sovereignty, to national self-determination,
the foundation for conflict will remain.

Carlos Alzugaray's "Ripe Fruit Syndrome":

There's a great deal of information which has
come out over the past few days, including a
bit of debate in Miami about the Grammys,
which I trust you'll find of some interest.

If you haven't read my report on July 26th, it's posted at:

For more news and information on Cuba:

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