CubaNews notes from Havana, May 13, 2003

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Tue May 13 15:59:40 MDT 2003

(FLASH: 14 Cuban diplomats expelled by
the US. Seven from the Interests Section,
Seven from the Cuban UN mission.

(The Cuban government, as in the past,
can be expected to respond to this on
its own timetable and schedule. It wasn't
reported on the 1 PM TV newscast which
featured other regular Cuban news stories.)

CubaNews notes from Havana, May 13, 2003
by Walter Lippmann, CubaNews Moderator

Here in Havana working conditions are
quite different from those I'm used to in
the United States. I have a dialup and
not a DSL or broadband connection to
the internet. On the other hand I don't
drive a car here nor do I have various
other familiar distractions as in L.A.

It's not possible to assemble as much
stuff here and send it out as is my norm
in Los Angeles. But my comments and
reports to you are far more grounded in
Cuban reality, as I hope you'll agree.

The news material from wire services
and newspapers are important because
they give us some idea of what's being
written and said, but it's not always
accurate or complete, any of it.

Please remember, and it's the reason
I spend time here, there's so much to
see and learn and absorb and to try to
understand when living in this country
that it takes a great deal of time and
energy and concentration.

If I told you I understood everything
I see around me, I'd be lying to you
and lying to myself. Indeed, the more
time I spend in this country, the more
I know how little I really know about
the full panorama of Cuban life. There
is always so much more to learn.

I think that all this electronic mail and
wire-service material prevents us from
seeing what's really around us at times.

You send me more responses when
I write from a personal voice, and I'm
doing more of that so this process will
be more interactive. This takes more
time and is why I've sent less material
than is my custom in Los Angeles.

It's necessary to simply sit back and
try to assimilate and understand the
world surrounding me here. When a
much younger person, I liked to think
I had all the answers to the world's big
(and little) problems. Now I have fewer
glib answers than I did as a younger
person. Here in Cuba I can see there
is so much more to learn around me.

This weekend we had Mother's Day,
a major family and social occasion.

People all over were in contact with
their mothers, in life or in memory in
a way quite different from what we do
in the United States. They even come
out to the cemetery with flowers, water
and cloth to clean the graves of those
mothers no longer living and active.

As I walked the streets I saw many
people carrying flowers, gifts, cakes
and dressed up nicely for the day.

A friend here sent me this note of her
activities on Mother's Day in Havana.

She's a composer from the UK living
here for several years by now:
"Early this morning I took my dog for a
walk via 23rd street to the cemetery.
23rd was like Oxford Street [in London]
on Xmas eve: packed, heaving with people
waiting for buses, taxis, walking, buying cakes,
flowers, plants, sitting in cafes eating with the

"The cemetery, which is huge, was filled
people and flowers. In the sweltering heat
[it's about 35 humid degrees Centigrade here
today] I saw so many different sights; many
people armed with brushes, dust pan, buckets
and bottles of water to clean and tidy the grave;
some in big groups with packed lunches, sitting
on the grass and even on the tomb itself;

"I see a woman alone, leaning over her mothers/
grandmothers [who knows?] graves, with
flowers in her hand, weeping; a family,
laughing and joking together; a couple
standing quite still, their arms round each other,
eyes closed; a man on his knees praying."

Most of my time is spent with ordinary people,
wandering around, listening, looking, taking
occasional pictures and asking questions in
my insatiable curiosity about all things Cuban.

Sometimes my limited Spanish and other peoples'
limited English forms a bridge and we are able to
communicate with little difficulty. People here are
glad to find a friendly visitor who listens to them
and really wants to know what's on their mind.

One thing I have seen and continue to see is
that Cubans here aren't shy about complaining
about their lives, about the price of food at the
market, about the difficulties they have with
transportation and so on.

Occasionally I meet foreigners seeming to have a
chip on their shoulder, who complain and who
blame the Cuban government for everything
they think is wrong with this country. And, of
course, the Cuban government IS responsible
for much of what goes on here. But it's NOT
responsible for the pressures which are borne
down on this country from its hostile neighbor
to the north, only how it reacts to the pressure.

Most of the news articles about Cuba which are
circulated on the internet, and here on this list,
talk about big political and diplomatic issues,
people here are concerned as well with daily
health, educational and survival issues. The
quality of life, the diplomacy of a proud nation
interacting with countries all over the world as
well as social problems ranging from nutrition,
to smoking, alcoholism, and whatever are all
recognized as issues and taken up here.

And let's not forget the regular full-page sex
advice columns which fill up an entire page in
Juventud Rebelde: Sexo Sentido and Pregunta
Sin Pena.

This is fire prevention week, for example, and
news articles, public service announcements
on television and so on reinforce this news.

You might never know that so many of the most
mundane topics are being dealt with in one or
another manner here if you only looked at what
was in the wire-service reportage on Cuba.
My goal is to try to bring you a richer and more
complete sense of life here than you could get
through the daily mainstream media coverage.

There have been some new and different things
I've observed on this trip, one of which I only
discovered today. Part of my work involves
keeping tabs on what Cuba's various enemies
are saying. In the US I regularly look at the
websites of the Cuban American National
Foundation, CubaNet and others, both to see
what their spin is, and because they include
things I might not find elsewhere. When I've
looked at these sites in the past, I couldn't
get through to them from Cuba. Now I see
that I can, which is helpful. A lot of it is little
more than dreck, but it's good to be able to
see what the Miami Herald is referring to when
it talks about "moderate" exiles and gives the
CANF as a sample of such "moderation.

Something else which hasn't been reported much
in the US media, and which is definitely of great
interest, is the Cuban media's attitude toward the
dissidents. No, it's not favorable, but it is of great
interest. Since coming out as agents of the state
security forces, some of these former "dissidents"
have been holding public events to explain their
work to the Cuban public. These have gotten one
or two articles in the foreign media, but it's being
presented on Cuban TV news quite often now.

Whereas in the past names like Oswaldo Paya
would not ever appear on Cuban TV, now his has
appeared. Just last night one of these comments
was presented, and Paya's name was given and
shown on some document. This suggests some
additional process opening up. After all, people
will begin to wonder who ARE these people and
what IS causing all the commotion?

Since Monday I've been working on an essay
about what's happened in US-Cuban relations
during the year since Jimmy Carter's visit here.
That done now and will go out to you shortly.

Yesterday I met Phillip Agee, the former CIA man
who now lives and works in Cuba. He runs a travel
agency who brings people to
the island from all over. He's quite an historical
figure, having made the move from the CIA to now
being a firm supporter of Cuba's process. He will
participate in a news conference tomorrow given
at the Cuban Peace Movement and I plan to be
there and report back to you on upcoming
seminars he and they will conduct this year.

Support to the call for world-wide resistance to
US hostility, and in defense of Cuba's Revolution
in the face of international criticism is continuing
to receive broad support here. We've now seen
the third large tabloid edition of this document
with another set of signatures of people adding
their names to the call. This is the "Letter from
Havana for friends who are far away" initiated
by many of the island's most prominent artistic
and intellectual lights.

A festival of Nicole Kidman's movies has opened
at the La Rampa theater this week. It doesn't
seem she'll be here, but a range of films in which
she starts is being presented at La Rampa.

Last Saturday Havana opened a week of German
films with the wonderful NOWHERE IN AFRICA
shown at the Chaplin Theater in the Vedado at
a special premiere performance.

I'd seen this in Los Angeles and found it one
of the best I'd seen in a long time. The picture
has a special resonance for me personally as
my father and his parents lived here in Cuba
during World War II. As many of you know,
while the Nazis were incinerating millions of
German Jews and others, the Roosevelt
administration actively enforced a restrictive
quota on Jewish immigration. Like thousands
of others, my father and his parents came to
Cuba then to escape Hitler's holocaust. Most
had little interest in Cuba per se, but needed
to get out to stay alive. It won the Academy
award this year for best foreign film, and was
a very deserving winner, in my opinion.

NOWHERE IN AFRICA tells of a German
Jewish family who goes to Africa in the mid
1930s to escape and survive. It depicts some
of their trials and tribulations adjusting to life
in a completely alien (to them) environment.
The movie was given a rave advance notice
in Granma newspaper, and the theater was
mostly filled for the premiere Saturday night.

It will show again this coming Saturday and
I plan to go. Perhaps others reading this
would also enjoy this movie? May I invite
you to join me in seeing it here? It shows
twice and maybe we can all go to one
show and then have dinner nearby?

With all the terribly repressive legislation
we've seen introduced in the Unites States
since September 11th, the movie couldn't
be more timely. Cuban television has been
showing more documentary materials on
German fascism recently, particularly since
the call of UNEAC, the Cuban National
Union of Artists and Writers for the forming
of a world-wide anti-fascist front. All the more
reason to see this film here in this heartland
of resistance.

(En Ningun Lugar de Africa) will be showing
Saturday May 7, at 5:00 and 8:00 PM at the
Cine 23 y 12. Admission is the completely
reasonable price of two Cuban pesos.

Carolina Link en primera línea

Pedro de la Hoz

La Semana de Cine Alemán en Cuba quedará inaugurada el
próximo sábado en la sala Chaplin de esta capital con la
exhibición de En ningún lugar de África, la obra de Carolina
Link que se alzó con el Oscar al Mejor Filme en Lengua
Extranjera en marzo pasado.

A lo largo de la muestra -se trasladará a partir del domingo
al cine 23 y 12 debido al comienzo de la remodelación
tecnológica del Chaplin- se proyectarán ocho películas
realizadas durante los últimos cinco años.
"Quizá nuestra cinematografía no goce de la popularidad de
otras europeas -comentó ayer a la prensa Dietmar Geisendorf,
primer secretario de la Embajada de Alemania en Cuba-, pero
contamos con un repertorio fílmico consistente y nuevos
cineastas portadores de ideas interesantes que se suman a
nombres ya clásicos como los de Fassbinder, Von Trotta,
Schlöndorf. El caso de Carolina Link es uno de ellos."

En ningún lugar de África,
de Carolina Link.

En ningún lugar de África -se repetirá el día 17- cuenta la
historia de una familia judía que emigra a Kenia en la época
del nazifascismo para escapar del Holocausto. La perspectiva
narrativa corresponde a la niña que fue entonces la autora
de la novela autobiográfica original, Stefanie Zwig, quien
vivió la experiencia de descubrir una cultura diametralmente
opuesta a la suya.

To read more news and commentary on
Cuba, please go to the CubaNews list:

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