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New Year's Greetings - Felicidades - from Havana, Cuba

by Walter Lippmann Saturday, Jan. 04, 2003 at 10:28 AM Havana, Cuba

Notes on life and politics as viewed from Havana, Cuba where 2003 has been declared the Year of the Glorius Anniversaries of Marti and of Moncada"

Here are a few notes and comments

from Havana, Cuba where I've been

visiting and sending out some

notes since early November.

Wednesday was the first and a very

fine year it looks to be. On New Year's

eve I attended a nice large family party

in Barrio Chino (Chinatown) at the home

of friends. There must have been a good

hundred people there. The event was held

in the home of the family of Regla Albarran.

Regla's husband, Tom Miller, has written

frequently about Cuba and is the author

of the wonderful book TRADING WITH

THE ENEMY: a Yankee's Travels Through

Castro's Cuba.

The music for this event was provided

by a rumbero band with ten musician-

singers and half a dozen dancers named

Yoruba Andabo. Last year they had won

a Latin Grammy award. (I don't now recall

if they were one of the large group which

came to Los Angeles and were stranded

when the Latin Grammy's were cancelled.)

If you're not familiar with this band and have

seen Los Munequitos de Matanzas, that

gives you an idea of their musical genre.

(Maybe it's the other way around...)

Hearing and see their musical performance,

the African elements in the heart of Cuban

culture broadcasts right through to your

consciousness. A lovely evening and I'm

glad to have been invited. I showed off

some of my photographs and everyone

enjoyed the ones in the big book I carry

for such moments.

Spent the night in Centro Habana and in

the morning yesterday I took the long walk

along the Malecon to the United States

Interests Section. It's by no means the

most gaudy or ostentious diplomatic

structure here (that would certainly be the

Russian embassy), but it makes a hell of

an imposing sight, a large rectangular

structure right on the Malecon, surrounded

by large iron bars and lots of security folks

on the Cuban side in military uniforms. It's

clear the Cubans REALLY don't want any

conflict with any embassies, especially

this one. When I tried to walk across the

eight-lane Malecon to get a closer look,

the security people shooed me away, so

you'll have to rely on my verbal description

of the things I saw yesterday morning.

The Christmas display outside of the U.S.

Interests Section in Havana, Cuba has

three parts. There is a lighted image of

Santa Claus with reindear and a sleigh

on the wall facing the Malecon directly.

I'd guess it's about ten feet high by

twenty feet long, going up the wall on

a slant. It's all made up of Christmas

lights. I haven't seen it at night, alas.

Down on the ground in front of the USIS

is a traditional Christian nativity scene,

complete with creche and so forth.

Right next to the Nativity scene is a

large (4-5-feet high?) Menorah, the

Jewish candelabra for Channukah.

But about five or ten feet away from

that is a giant (maybe fifteen feet tall?)

bright red Santa Claus figure, which

completely dominates the large area.

So the Santa Claus image, which is

mostly a marketing image is what's

predominant in the way that the U.S.

presents itself visually to the Cuban

people. You have to see it to believe

it, but it's, well, incredibly vulgar is all

I can say to describe it verbally.

Oh, and let's not forget something that

is omitted: the fastest growing religion

in the United States: Islam, which would

be represented by the figure of a star and

crescent. There's none in Washington's

display to the Cuban people.

From there I went to visit another Cuban

friend by foot, Rosa Antich, the 80 year-

old retired English professor from the

University of Havana of whom I've written

previously. We sat out on the porch and

chatted for awhile. January 1 is a regular

legal holiday in Cuba, but the newspapers,

which are distributed by letter carriers,

came anyway on that day.

When I got home I found myself worn out

from the walking and discovered that my

blood pressure was a little bit elevated.

(The friend with whom I stay, a retired

nurse, age 72, who had done internation-

alist medical work in Algeria in the sixties,

had pulled out her stethoscope and checked

my pressure.) She then called her cardiologist

who came over with his wife and examined

me and prescribed some dietary and lifestyle-

changes. He advised against the use of any

medications. This being Cuba, the man did

not ask for any money, and refused to even

entertain the idea when I tried to mention it.

What country to you know where doctors are

still making house calls?

These days after the first of January have

been declared legal holidays, so many of the

government buildings and larger stores are

closed for this period. Even the local agro-

pecurarios are closed, which was a nuisance

because we'd run out of frutabomba (as the

papaya is called here), but nothing could be

found at any market anywhere around here.

Since 1959, every year here has been given

a specific, politically-inspired name. 2003 is



Cuba newspapers and television have been

reporting with boundless enthusiasm on the

inauguation of Ignacio "Lula" de Silva at the

first left-winger elected President of Brasil.

Lula received the highest vote total in the

entire history of the nation. Most of the

main heads of state in Latin America came

to salute and celebrate Lula's triumphant

accession to office, which brings with it the

hopes and dreams of a better life for most

Brazilians. For several days this has been

the banner headlines and main news reports

in all the media here in Havana.

Fidel Castro, the maximum leader of the

Cuban Revolution (as he is referred to in the

media here sometimes) was triumpally greeted

in Brazil. He's the largest historical figure still

holding office and power on the continent, and

he was greeted everywhere with applause and

enthusiasm, by ordinary people as well as by

heads of state from Lula to Hugo Chavez and

many others. Fidel's presence marked a further

decline in Washington's diplomatic efforts to

isolate the island. In a deliberate snub, the US

sent a flunky to attend Lula's inauguration.

For awhile now the CubaNews list has given

particular attention to Brazil, in addition to the

regular coverage of Cuba (in the first place)

and Venezuela and other countries beyond

the confines of the Pearl of the Caribbean.

Now the coverage of the Lula inauguration

and some of its related events will increase

for a short period. The main focus will remain

Cuba, as always.

These last several days have been ones where

most offices and businesses are closed and

lots of partying is going on. Noise levels from

these parties can be deafening and neighbors

complain but nothing is done. It seems people

rarely complain to the authorities and if they

do, little is done unless these parties extend

beyond midnight. I bring earplugs but last

night's noise from an adjacent building was

so great it resonated all the way through the

building in which I stay. Ah, I was a teenager

too, once.

Outside the increasing numbers of US visitors,

both "documented" and "undocumented" (that

is, formally licensed by Washington), it's clear

that the US blockade is slipping and cracking

as visitors increas and businesses in the US

see reasons for trade with the island and the

island wants to pursue these energetically.

As I've mentioned previously, the biggest

threat to world peace right now is coming

from Washington's preparations for invading

Iraq. The war against Iraq has been going

on for over a decade. A land invasion and a

sharply-escalated air-war against the Iraqi

people could set off even more horrendous

blood-letting than we've seen so far in the

Middle East. Israel has continued to act to

get rid of the Palestinians knowing that the

Bush administration and Washington as a

whole won't object. Thus, the best thing all

of us can do in the United States is to get

out and bring out all of our neighbors and

friends and co-workers to participate in the

January 18 demonstrations called by the

International ANSWER coalition and being

supported by an ever-broadening array of

groups and individuals. Details available:

Best wishes to all of you,

Walter Lippmann, Moderator, CubaNews list

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