[Marxism] Returning to Los Angeles after Five Months in Cuba

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 11 14:16:27 MST 2005

by Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

Here are a few notes about my return to Los Angeles and
on some of the most recent events in Cuba which have been
occurring in recent days. I've been taking a bit of time
to chill out, and unable to do the usual amount of web-
work due to the inability of my web-browswers to open.

The International Action Center will present
MISSION AGAINST TERROR, the new film about
the Cuban Five. I'll be introducing the film
details below

After five months in Cuba, coming home turned out to be
an extremely pleasant surprise. It's great now to be back
at home after being away for so long! It's both cooler and 
dryer than it was in on the island. Lots of great news to
share with you. Hope you'll find this report informative.

After leaving Cuba I spent two days re-visiting Mexico again
before returning home. When a traveler visits Mexico you go
through Mexican customs where you get to show your passport.
The final step is a button to push below a large streetlight.
Green light means you go through. Red light means you open up
your suitcase for a close inspection. I got the green light,
but because my suitcase was so heavy I could barely move it,
they had me open it anyway. They were surprised to see that
my whole suitcase was filled with books from the Havana Book
fair, and a few bits of dirty clothing. They smiled and let
me through without looking at the other suitcase, which had
a few more bits of clothing and some books as well.

The flight to Los Angeles from Mexico City was uneventful,
but the big surprise was the welcome I received from the US
customs and treasury people. Previously when I'd returned
to the US through Mexico I'd received a harsh welcome even
though my customs forms were completed correctly and had not
omitted my visit to Cuba. Indeed, this was my tenth visit to
Cuba and I've always written down that I'd visited Cuba. 

In the past, the first people would demand to know why I had
gone to Cuba, knowing it was illegal to go to Cuba. However,
it is NOT illegal to go to Cuba, even under existing US law.
Anyone who tells you it is illegal to go to Cuba is giving
you inaccurate and sloppy information. Here's some of why:

Under existing US legislation, which is reactionary to the
core, it is illegal to spend US funds in Cuba, unless you
meet certain specific legal requirements. Because of my
work as the owner and editor-in-chief of CubaNews list, it
is clear that I fully meet the stated requirements under 
the General License provisions of the OFAC regulations. 

When I presented my passport, imagine my surprise when the
uniformed officer simply looked at my documents, entered my
numbers in the computer, found me and said simply "Welcome
home". Not a word about my having gone to Cuba. After then
picking up my suitcases from the baggage carousel, the next
stop is another agent to whom you similarly present your
passport and customs declaration. Seeing the word "Cuba" on
my declaration, the uniformed agent looked at me and said:

I responded that I had a license to go to Cuba. Then I 
clarified that I did NOT have a specific license (that is 
an actual piece of paper which you receive from OFAC in 
Washington authorizing you to visit Cuba for a specific 
number of days and authorizing you to engage in or not 
engage in a range of particular activities). 

Because of my work directing the CubaNews list, I explained 
that I have a general license to travel to Cuba. This list
has posted over 35,000 messages from, about or related to
Cuba in the past 4.5 years, confirming that my visits to
Cuba are working. This official then wished me well, didn't
ask me to open my bags and I then went outside to await the
friends who came out to pick me up and take me home. It was
a pleasant surprise not to be grilled about my travels to
Cuba. Actually, this was how it always should have been.

>From the airport I had my friend take me directly to a big
supermarket near my home where I stocked up on vegetables
which I'd be using to prepare food and salads for the next
few days. The weather in Los Angeles was cooler and dryier,
so my breathing here is easier than it is in Cuba which has
a very humid atmosphere. Being able to at last spend a night
in my own bed, to take a shower with hot water from the tap
were pleasures I'd put out of my mind, but on the way home
they were activities I enthusiastically anticipated.

Though exhausted, I stayed up for several hours to begin to
go through the veritable mountains of envelopes, newspapers
and other things which had accumulated over the preceding
five months. Two days later, this process is far from done.

Tuesday morning I visited awhile with the friends who've
been house-sitting in my absence, and went out for a nice
long hike. The cool brisk air was something I'd forgotten
about while in Cuba, but enjoyed greatly once back into it.

Along the way I stopped to visit with friends in the area,
one of whom told me it was election day, so I then walked
to the polling station. One big difference between voting
here and in Cuba is this: it's much, much easier to vote
in Cuba, with polling stations never more than a block or
two away from anyone's home. My polling station was moved
some years ago to a location more distant and much harder
to get to. It's across Sunset Boulevard, a large six-lane
thoroughfare. If you're walking, crossing such a street in
mid-day can be quite a frightening experience. I made the
trek, cast my ballot, and then walked back home. It'd been
a long and full morning.



Tuesday was International Women's Day and Fidel Castro got
a lot of media attention for a major address he gave to the
national congress of the Federation of Cuban Woman. Most of
the media attention in the US was focused on what was one of
the lesser aspects of Fidel's remarks. I myself didn't hear
or see them, but a friend who did told me that the remarks
about making rice and pressure cookers available now was a
very small part of his remarks, perhaps three minutes. And
keep in mind that pressure cookers are a standard item in
the Cuban kitchen, available at relatively low prices and
made by private businesses for a modest sum on the streets
near many of the large markets. But the rice cookers were a
very big deal and making them now available on low easy
monthly installment payments in regular Cuban pesos means
cooking, a chore which remains primarily one performed by
women, immediately becomes much easier. But more important
is the significance of the fact that rice cookers, which 
previously could only be bought in the diplomatic stores,
not even the dollar stores) means that the government is
certain now to have resolved the electricity problems we
have seen Cuba plagued with for some time.

But as I said, this was not the main point of Fidel's talk.
Most of what he said was ignored by the international media.

First, he explained that the so-called "Special Period in a
Time of Peace", the period since the fall of the Soviet Union
and the legalization of the US dollar (still legal to possess,
but no longer accepted in business or individual transactions)
is virtually over. The Cuban government feels now that it is
also militarily secure because it's economically secure.

Second, he explained openly that the sugar harvest will be in
all likelihood extremely bad. Cuba has been actually importing
sugar for some time, and may begin to even import it from the
United States.

Third, he spoke about the many problems in Cuba's housing system,
which he attributed to mistaken policies by the government for a
long time. He discussed the cost of construction of new housing
units, which is a terrible problem in Cuba and has been for many
years. He explained that the government will begin construction
of 100,000 new housing units per year. More interestingly, he
said that construction materials will begin to be sold to the
public. Anyone who's every wanted to purchase such simple things
as wood to build a bookshelf knows how major a change this will

Fourth, Fidel explained that there are no 40,000 Cuban doctors,
dentists, nurses and other professionals working full time in
Venezuela. The two countries are moving toward full economic

Fifth, those of us who call our friends in Cuba know that the
cost of such calls is among the most expensive in the world.
Fidel explained that this came about so that the government
could recover the $90 MILLION DOLLARS which the US government
seized in fees for telephone service back in the 1990s.

Please remember that these are notes from a friend who saw
only part of the speech, and since I've not been able to see
the web editions of Granma and Juventud Rebelde it's not been
possible to select out the longer articles reporting these

Again, I wish the Cuban government would publish transcriptions
of these speeches which are chock full off discussion of many 
of the island's complex political and economic developments.

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews


IAC Film showing - Friday, March 11 at 7:30 pm
5274 W Pico Blvd, rm 203 (halfway between La Brea & Fairfax)
"Mission Against Terror"
The story of the Cuban Five

If you missed the first showing of this film, this is your
chance to catch it. This important new documentary is
co-produced by Radio Havana Cuba reporter Bernie Dwyer, and
Cuban TV producer, Roberto Ruiz Rebo. Learn about the case
of the Cuban Five, who are held as political prisoners in
the U.S. because they tried to protect their country from
CIA inspired terrorist attacks.

Featured Speaker: Walter Lippmann, writer, editor of
CubaNews, activist, just returned from five months in Cuba
www.walterlippmann.com . There will also be an open
discussion on the ongoing campaign to fight for the freedom
of the Cuban Five.

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