Notes on May Day in Havana, 2003

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Fri May 2 12:08:01 MDT 2003

by Walter Lippmann, Moderator

As these notes are written, Friday morning, it's
once again raining heavily on the Cuban capitol.
It rained yesterday morning, but stopped before
the mobilization for May Day.

Yesterday's rally was called for 8 AM and then
was announced for 7:30. When I got to the Plaza
of the Revolution, it was already filled with a sea
of people. As I walked there, people from every
block and neighborhood walked there as well.

It was clearly a voluntary activity and my sense
was of deep national pride being expressed, as
well as a strong response to urgent calls from
the leadership and government going back for a
week or more. Similar mobilizations were held all
across the island yesterday, which were reported
on Cuban television afterward in the day's and
evening news casts. I saw many people who
were happy to be participating in an important
civic and patriotic activity. And I also know of
others who could not be there, for reasons of
health or age, and who really wanted to be.

As I entered the main section of the plaza, I saw
a sign on top of the National Theater, saying that
"Another World is Possible". The plaza features
several large office buildings, along with the Jose
Marti monument and museum, from which crowds
are addressed by speakers at the base of the
statue of Marti. Another building, the ministry of
telecommunications I think had a giant banner
saying "The time has come for humanity to begin
to write its own history.". Another poster featured
a picture of the five Cuban men held in the US
for their activities monitoring rightwing terrorist
groupings active against the island based in
the United States.

This rally was much bigger than last years, which
I also attended. People had begun assembling
very early in the morning, with hand-held Cuban
flags (about a foot long by eight inches high, on
short wooden sticks). A few had banners and a
small number had hand-made signs, all reflecting
national pride in various ways.

At an event of this kind (my third such giant rally
in Cuba), people express their sentiments in many
ways. First, by simply appearing and spending the
time as asked. Some listen carefully to speeches
and some just talk and visit among themselves.
People do respond with cheers or the waving of
flags when points are emphasized by speakers on
the platform. Initiative comes from the organizers
who strike the themes of the moment.

Walking through the crowd, people know that I'm
a foreigner. If they cannot tell it visually, it's clear
from my accented Spanish when I speak to them.
Taking photographs, I tell people I'm from the US
and support Cuba. Everyone responds warmly
and thanks me for being here with them now. Top
athletes and other notable people can be seen in
the crowd, wandering around, sometimes being
asked for autographs by admiring fans. Other
individuals, even National Assembly members,
are simply there among the gathered people.

Anyone who has been in a close or intimate
relationship with another person knows that it's
not really possible to know what's going on in
the mind of another person. This would be all
the more true when tens and hundreds of
thousands of people are involved. That's why
I try to share with you what I see as objectively
as I can. I will say what I think it means but not
try to tell you this is what the Cuban people
think. I cannot know that. I can see many things,
and I share them as best I can.

The Cuban leadership, as reflected in the media
here, both print and electronic, has seen what
the United States government was capable of in
Afghanistan and then Iraq. It reports what is now
unfolding in Iraq, still a source of considerable
media coverage through CNN and elsewhere,
and somewhat less in Afghanistan. Occupation
is the order of the day in Iraq, along with protests
by Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims opposing the US
occupation. Demonstrations have been attacked
and some protesters killed by the occupiers. It's
clear that the "shock and awe" which the US had
in mind for Iraq and elsewhere has been seen
and registered clearly here in the Cuban capital.

In his speech to the crowd, given from a prepared
text, and which was sent out yesterday, Cuba's
Fidel Castro presented a long list of the island's
many accomplishments in the social, educational
and cultural fields. He recounted with specific
quotations some of the threats and actions of the
Bush administration toward the island, including
threats to cut off family remittances and travel,
support for opponents of the revolution by the
US interests section, and so forth. He also took
up some of the criticism of the island's recently-
taken measure of self-defense, that is, the trials
and sentences of the political oppositionists, and
the application of the death penalty to three of
the hijackers of a Havana harbor ferry boat.

Fidel defended those measures as being at once
unfortunate and necessary, and said that critics
should worry that their words might assist in the
overturn of the revolution. As he put it:

"We would not want those who have, in our opinion,
attacked Cuba unjustly, due to disinformation or a
lack of careful and profound analysis, to have to
suffer the infinite sorrow they will feel if one day
our cities are destroyed and our children and
mothers, women and men, young and old, are
torn apart by the bombs of Nazi-fascism, and they
realize that their declarations were shamelessly
manipulated by the aggressors to justify a military
attack on Cuba."

One other point Fidel made which is particularly
important was his explanation of the US decision
to tell the Cuban authorities that Cuba had to
take very firm measures to prevent any further
hijackings, but then blasted Cuba when it did
take such measures. Fidel said:

"The policy of the U.S. government is so brazenly
provocative that on April 25, Mr. Kevin Whitaker,
chief of the Cuban Bureau at the State Department,
informed the head of our Interests Section in
Washington that the National Security Council's
Department of Homeland Security considered the
continued hijackings from Cuba a serious threat
to the national security of the United States, and
requested that the Cuban government adopt all
of the necessary measures to prevent such acts.

"He said this as if they were not the ones who
provoke and encourage these hijackings, and as
if we were not the ones who adopt drastic measures
to prevent them, in order to protect the lives and
safety of passengers, and being fully aware for
some time now of the criminal plans of the fascist
extreme right against Cuba. When news of this
contact on the 25 was leaked, it stirred up the
Miami terrorist mob. They still do not understand
that their direct or indirect threats against Cuba
do not frighten anyone in this country."

Fidel also spoke about Pope John Paul who has
publicly spoken up for commutation of the very
harsh sentences in the dissident trials, in tones
of respect for the Pope's opposition to the Iraq

Fidel spoke with satisfaction and pride as Cuba's
return to membership in the Human Rights
Commission of the UN, despite all of the actions
it took toward the island, overcoming calls from
the US for Cuba to be removed from the UNHRC.
Countries which had voted to criticize Cuba now
voted to keep it once again on the UN body.

He ended on a note emphasizing his desire that
there be no war between the US and Cuba and
no blood shed between Cuba and the US, which
is a clear indication he thinks that such shedding
of blood is a real possibility. I certainly hope we
will not see any military conflict between the
island and its mighty northern neighbor. For this
reason, it's essential to keep on looking at the
reality of Cuban life, and to ask those who are
now criticizing the island's government to look
carefully into the facts about which they are
critical. I hope to continue to provide you with
facts and material to stimulate your reflection,
and to encourage all readers to support Cuba's
right to self-determination without hesitation.

For nearly three years the CubaNews list has
provided a wide range of news and information
on Cuba from a very diverse list of sources.
Nearly 17 thousand messages, most of them
about Cuba, have been shared with the list's
growing readership. We've also had discussion
of some of the important topics discussed and
debated about the island. Most of all, the list
has tried to provide readers with reliable facts
and information, as well as samples of media
coverage, whether favorable or not, on Cuba.

Being the most frequent poster, It's been my
decision to post so much material from the
mainstream media, as well as the left and the
alternative media on Cuba. Now that I'm here
on the island, where my working conditions
are more challenging than they are while in my
Los Angeles home with a DSL connection and
all my books at my fingertips, I've found it not
possible to continue sending out so much of
that other material.

So much of all that material is repetitive and
seems so orchestrated that it serves little or
no purpose to send it all out. Perhaps a tiny
selection will be more than adequate for our
information purposes.

My main responsibility, I feel, is to try to bring
you as much as I can of the reality of Cuba as
one person (myself) sees it, in the context of a
deep commitment to support Cuban sovereignty
and the island's right to self-determination with
out foreign intervention of whatever kinds.

My opinion is, as it has always been, that the
Cuban Revolution is a just and valid response
to decades of control by foreign powers and
that the revolution led by Fidel Castro and the
July 26th movement has proved its legitimacy
long ago. It's not a model of what a socialist
society should be if written up out of a text, but
is a model of what can be accomplished under
conditions of extreme hostility by its closest
neighbor to the north. If the island has done
things in the name of self-defense which were
not justifiable (purging gays in the sixties) it
has provided positive examples for the world
with its internationalist soldiers helping save
countries like Angola from apartheid. I has
provided medical care widely throughout the
third world, with doctors and with medical
education for foreign students at no cost.

Washington has changed all the rules which
it had followed in its previous relations with
the island, as hostile as they were, as we've
seen since the Iraq invasion. But as before,
nothing Cuba could ever do would be met
with approval by the US government or the
mainstream media in the US. We cannot for
a moment forget that.

Since this list has been growing regularly by
pleasing leaps and bounds (over 450 readers
now), it's worth reminding everyone that Cuba
News is a news service, not a political party or
organization. It has no "line" as such beyond
support for Cuba's soverignty and opposition
to the blockade as guiding principles for those
of us who are most active with the list. It's a
source of information. You decide how best to
utilize the information which is provided to you.

For your information and consideration, Saul
Landau's essay, The Cuba Conundrum, posted
May Day at the website of Radio Progreso in
Miami, sponsored by Francisco Aruca, will be
one everyone concerned about the health and
safety of the Cuban Revolution will want to
read, study and consider carefully.

He has supported the Revolution for far longer
than most of us have been political active, and
he continues to do so despite sharp questions
and reservations he has about recent actions
by the Cuban government of which he is very
critical. Saul Landau is NOT however a fair-
weather friend and, unlike most of those who
have recently added their names to petitions
denouncing "repression" on the island, but
have never supported the Cuban Revolution,
Saul continues to support Cuba during times.
(I don't share his positive view of the novelist
Carlos Fuentes, who, after all, told the Los
Angeles Times that he broke with Cuba way
back in 1966.) Landau's His questions are fair,
reasonable and I hope they will be addressed.

Walter Lippmann, Moderator
CubaNews list

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