NOTES ON RETURNING FROM CUBA TO LOS ANGELES
January 14, 2018. (I’m 74. January 6 is my birthday.)
If you haven’t had the chance to look at two unusually positive articles, one in the NY last Sunday, the other in the Wall Street Journal. We get so few on-scene reports from people who’ve actually been there, and provide good reports on what they’ve seen. But all the more surprising, and pleasing, to be published in these usually unsympathetic publications. Don’t miss them!
A Cuban Island That Has Played Both Paradise and Prison
The Isle of Youth — which has been both a Communist Utopian getaway and home to a brutal prison that housed Castro for a time — is a world apart, even by Cuban standards.
A Trip Through Cuba—by Bike, Bus and Cadillac
Even with the latest round of changes to the U.S.-Cuba tourism policy, American vacationers can still legally visit. Our reporter sets out on a weeklong excursion through the countryside, from verdant valleys to white-sand beaches.
Anyway, in 2017 I did these three notable (to me) things:
First, after thirty years living in the same house, I had the kitchen remodeled. It looks really nice now. I’m very happy with it.
Second, I went to Cuba for a month (Nov. 14-Dec. 14). My goal, as usual, was to learn. And I learned a lot, even, as an inpatient in the famous Cira Garcia hospital for three days. On discharge, they advised me against long walks and heavy exercise.
Back here I’ve been seeing a lot of doctors, trying to figure out what’s is really going on, and what I can or should do, or not do. One gave me shots in my knees which took most of the pain away, but I’m being very careful about how I move around. These were the planned achievements (not the hospital stay).
Alas, my energy level is way below what I think it ought to be, so I find myself frequently napping during the day. It’s taken quite a lot of time to write this over several days. It’s the energy level that’s bothersome.
Third, a surprise that I didn’t realize until New Year’s Eve. Though I had no specific goal, I lost FIFTEEN POUNDS last year. No diet, no special exercise, no tracking, no program, just learning to eat less and be satisfied les. I’m really pleased and proud of this, and all the more so as it was unplanned.
And, no, I don’t think there’s any connection between losing the weight and lack of energy. I’m in no hurry (where would it get me?) and, it’s counterintuitive. I’m having good communications with my doctors.
I’m 5-7, and hovering just below 180. This year 180 can be my ceiling. l hope to go further but no timetable, etc. I’ve dealt with this issue all my adult life. I’m thrilled with this. It’s the second biggest behavioral change I’ve ever made. (I gave up cigarets on June 11, 1981.) For now, along this path, this is my main personal priority. I’m doing as much written work as I’m able.
Perhaps if I lose more weight my energy level will improve. I’m feeling OK about my doctors here at Kaiser. Yes, including a psychologist.
My personal point of view when thinking and writing about Cuba.
From time to time I think it’s useful explain how I look at Cuba. Perhaps we can call it “stopping for station identification”. I think of it as a “Cuba-centric” approach. When I read about something, I wonder: How does this affect Cuba? What do Cubans think about it? What’s the Cuban media saying? That’s one of the reasons I like to provide original translations from the Cuban media.
Yes, I have my own politics. They are leftist and socialist, but I don’t belong to any socialist group or party. My goal here is to try to understand, and then to share, what things mean and how they and Cuba affect each other.
And I strongly support the Cuban Revolution, otherwise I wouldn’t be spending my time doing this. When I was 20 and 30, I thought I had all the answers. Now I know I don’t even have all the questions.
And so I always keep in mind Fidel’s November 17, 2005 explanation that,
among all the errors we may have committed, the greatest of them all was that we believed that someone really knew something about socialism, or that someone actually knew how to build socialism. https://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-11-17-2005.html
After nearly twenty years of visiting Cuba, I Iike to say: I am BEGINNING to think that I’m BEGINNING to understand what I THINK I see. My writings and translations aim at helping people to understand Cuba’s complex, and sometimes boring, social and policial process.
People from the United States, the most uninformed people on earth, often think they know everything about everything, especially about Cuba. And few hesitate to express the sharpest criticism of Cuban life and politics. Many who’ve never been to Cuba, or just gone there to attend a meeting, seem to think they know everything about Cuba, especially what’s wrong with it.
My approach is that I try to look and listen when on the island, and read the Cuban media when not there, trying to understand the complex society which exists there.
The CubaNews Yahoo news group, and the translations I share from the Cuban media, are all designed to help readers try to understand a complex society. It is my hope and desire that readers find the materials informative and useful in their efforts to understand the island and it society. That’s my goal in this work.
Today is Sunday, and one of the main differences between Los Angeles and Cuba is that in Cuba, the Sunday Juventud Rebelde is 16 pages. Normally it’s just eight. And no advertising. And if I wanted to get it today, I’d have to go where someone is selling them, or know someone and pay them in advance to be sure to get it today. Every kiosk in Havana has a nice pre-printed sign which says “la prensa no llegado” (the papers aren’t here) so they don’t have to explain it to each person every time. Delivery is sometimes erratic.
Here in Los Angeles I receive the Los Angeles TIMES and the New York TIMES in print every day. On Sunday the papers are filled with advertising. Actually, before taking a look at the articles, I have to spend time shucking all the advertising sections which I don’t read. I give them to someone who collects coupons. Delivery is pretty prompt most days, Monday through Friday around 5 AM, 7 AM weekends. It’s a veritable mountain of paper, some very pretty, but most of it trying to sell me things I know I don’t need. Or even want.
We kind of take it for granted, or don’t think much about how the newspaper we receive is a private business whose main purpose is to make money by selling things through advertising.
The Cuban media, limited as it is by many factors (resources, attitudes, etc.) give the reader eight or sixteen pages of information, presented from the PCC viewpoint, on major issues. Its primary audience is Cubans on the island.
I’m a bit more interested in how Cubans and the Cuban media look at developments here in the US, like the Hollywood Sex Abuse scandals (deliberate capitalizing), etc. Through the years CubaNews Yahoo news group has been providing translations of from Spanish about life in the US and elsewhere..
Because of my various health issues and reduced energy, I’ve given up cutting, pasting and sharing long articles from sources like the NY TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL and so on. It’s simply much too much work. And, I think most of the Cubans who want to read such things now have internet access.
For now, I’m going to focus on editing translations and my own writing. Some translations I do myself, others are by native Spanish speakers whose work I edit for English fluency. I always indicate that the translations are “edited by Walter Lippmann.” That’s me taking credit, responsibility or blame, as appropriate.
One very special translation currently in process is the epilogue to a 472 page anthology of Trotsky’s writings by Fernando Rojas, Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Culture. Here’s the catalogue entry to the book. In the epilogue, Rojas gives his take on Trotsky’s writings and his relationship with the Soviet government. http://www.oceansur.com/catalogo/titulos/leon-trotski/
When traveling to Cuba, my main goal is to try to understand a complex society. Cuba has achieved much because of its revolution. However, Cuba has plenty of problems, and they’re not all caused by Washington. The Cuban media provides occasional reports of such things, but they’re not always translated. I like to bring readers translations of some precisely because they are from the Cuban media.
While willing to share my experiences and ideas with Cubans, my goal there is to mostly to learn. The main things I have to teach my Cuban friends are some of the finer points of English grammar, spelling, sentence structure and headline-shortening and the occasional false cognate.
Before traveling to Cuba, I strongly recommend that everyone read, or re-read, HOW TO VISIT A SOCIALIST COUNTRY by Richard Levins to context for what one. People who’ve never been to Cuba before are often surprised at seeing many run-down buildings, streets with potholes and so on. Levins, who was also a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences as well as a Harvard, provides indispensable context to prepare for a visit to Cuba. I try to re-read it before I go, and after returning. I cannot recommend it more highly.
During this visit, I had a chance to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve known ever since my first adult visit, in 1999. And I keep meeting new people and making more friends. I’m going to write about and how I came to meet them, and what I learn from these people. And nearly everyone has something I can learn from. Will share some photos as well. In this way, to an extent, my eyes are yours and you can see Cuba somewhat through my eyes. Hopefully not through my blind spots…
When you have people you’ve known for long periods, you always bring hard-to-find items. Here in the US, nearly anything (except love) can be found online, in or big stores, if you have the money. In Cuba, one learns that if you see something and they have it, you buy it NOW because it’s likely to be gone tomorrow.
You might have the money, but the item is out of stock and who knows when more will come? So I bring things like books, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and, this time, adult diapers for a friend from that 1999 visit, who now needs them, and they don’t have them there. Occasionally I bring balsamic vinegar, often impossible to find in Cuba, but this time I found three bottles of the genuine stuff from Modena, Italy, with the certification seal. It’s unpredictable.
For many years, used book and memento vendors have surrounded the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana with rows and racks of books (mostly) and used cameras, old coins, and such. Those vendors have now been moved about a block away to a rather less-accessible place. I’m sure their foot traffic is way down, and they complain about it. Some are selling Cuban movie posters, a few political posters, and such.
I found posters from last year’s ROLLING STONES concert in Havana. I bought some and donated them to the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, a wonderful activist-archive which collects and mounts theme-based exhibits. In time, CSPG will be selling these.
If you have political posters which are sitting in the garage, perhaps getting mildewed, consider donating them to the CSPG. Read about them: http://www.politicalgraphics.org/
Today I want to publicly thank two young Cuban compañeros who contribute to making the Yahoo news group I direct most useful. Abel Gonzalez of the Cuban News Agency (ACN) and Dunia Torres of Granma post the English-language materials readers regularly receive. Through their efforts, readers get the information and analysis which Cuba makes available in English. I am deeply grateful to them for their quiet and consistent participation. CubaNews wouldn’t be the same without them.
ETECSA has just cut the price of domestic cell phone calls. It’s modest, but anything which saves Cubans money is always appreciated, especially by them.
Each month the Cuban phone company, ETECSA, has a special one-week promotion during which anyone living abroad can recharge the cell phones of Cubans on the island. During this period, for a small charge, fully legal under US law, anyone can recharge Cuban phones, and receive a more than double number of minutes.
This is the week that these special deals are offered. There are several companies which provide this. I personally use hablacuba.com because I save money on calls TO Cuba with it as well as doing the recharges. ding.com is another, and it provides the fastest service of all, often in just a few minutes. Help your friends and family in Cuba by recharging their phones now. https://hablacuba.com/buy/mobile_recharge
The one special treat I got for myself on this trip was the beautiful guayabera you see here. Every year just in time for Christmas shopping, there’s a big arts and crafts fair, FIART, held at Expo Cuba. Thousands of people come to look for clothing, furniture, shoes and so on. There are booths selling Cubang in national currency. Though I’m a very good photographer of other people, I’m a difficult subject when the camera is turned on me. This one’s pretty nice, I think.
From now on, I plan to write and edit more, as time and my energy level permits. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Also this week I made a run out to my favorite CD and DVD bootlegger, Roly, whose kiosk is just north of 23rd and 12th. The laws of the market helped this customer. Last year he was charging 1.50 CUC per disc. Now the price is down to 1.00 CUC each. I´m not sure when I´ll get around to watching these, probably not while here, but for a mere 9.00 CUC I´m now the owner of these movies:
THE FOUNDER with Micheal Keaton
LOOKING FOR FIDEL by Oliver Stone
COMANDANTE by Oliver Stone
INCONCEIVABLE ith Gina Gerson, Faye Dunaway and Nicholas Cage
ROUGHT NIGHT with Scarlett Johansson
LION staring Dev Padel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
WONDER WOMAN with Gal Gadot
VESTIDO DE NOVIA by Marilyn Solaya
SOLO EN BERLIN with Emma Thompson, Brendon Gleeson and Daniel Bruhl
November 15, 2017, 6:35 PM
Some Very Preliminary First Re-Impressions.
by Walter Lippmann
Though I really want to share with you some of my many first impressions on arriving back in Cuba after nearly a year away, this Internet office (Sala de Navegacion as they’re called), will close in a half hour, so a fuller report simply isn’t practical today. Hope to get something fuller out tomorrow. Still…
There were only 55 passengers on the 160 seat Alaska Airlines plan which flew direct from Los Angeles to Havana yesterday. The crew loved it. Probably the company isn’t thrilled because they must be losing money. On the other hand, they made a commitment to provide this service, and probably signed a contract, so I say, “good for them” for keeping up the service.
Today I’ve visited with several friends, begun to deliver medicines and various other things which I brought for them. There are a few more to be delivered, and that will get done.
Spent a lot of time today walking the streets, sucking up first impressions (mostly quite positive), which I’ll try to detail tomorrow.
Am working in a very nice new Internet office. TWENTY machines, flat-panel screens. Quiet place, good for work. No blackouts. Friendly staff. People coming in and out during gmy time here. I’ve been working for about 2.5 hours and will stay a bit longer.
The city is about as clean and as dirty as it always is. There are more new small restaurants. Some which were here last year have gone out of business already. Others (A wonderful restaurant called Doña Laura, on H between 23rd and 21st in Vedado) are expanding their services.
You can get a FULL MEAL at Doña Laura for 30-40 pesos (1.25-1.50 CUC!), served on porcelain plates with metal knives and forks, a wonderful bargain and good food (imagine, a glass of mango juice for 5 pesos, a glass of guava juice for 3 pesos (twelve US pennies!).
Now, if you want to feed a minimum of FIFTEEN people, they will deliver a complete meal to your home, including a pig leg, for $80.00 CUC. I’m not sure where I could host such a party, but you can see things are moving right along here. I’ll write a longer report, maybe post a picture at some point.
There’s so much to say, but rushed work is guaranteed to be sloppy, so that is all for today. Been delivering presents to friends and dealing with a few bureaucratic tasks. Hopefully, more will be possible tomorrow. There’s a LOT to report.
Later this morning I’ll be off to Havana via Interjet, a Mexican airline which flies regularly. “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned:” It’s been nine months since my last time down, in December 2015. I’m looking forward to seeing whatever changes have taken place. I’m hoping to spend another three months, and plan to post regular reports of things done, places seen and people met.
Therefore my reports and the CubaNews translations will continue to go out through the Yahoo News group to which I’ve posted most materials for over fifteen years. You can subscribe, to the news group here: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/CubaNews/info
La próxima semana regresaré a Cuba. Este ha sido mi mayor tiempo lejos desde 1999, cuando comencé visitas regulares. Ha sido un año y medio. ¡Tanto ha cambiado desde entonces! Los Cinco son libres y caseros. Las relaciones diplomáticas, rotas por Washington en 1961, han sido restauradas y el proceso que los cubanos llaman “la actualización de su modelo económico” continúa, como lo describió Raúl Castro, “sin prisa, pero sin pausa” Pero sin parar “. Hay mucho que aprender y decir sobre el proceso, que incluso el observador más atento del extranjero apenas puede comenzar a comprender. Así que ahora estoy esperando con gran anticipación a ser capaz de ponerse al día con amigos y colegas allí, y para compartir con los lectores lo que puedo ver, oír y comenzar a tratar de entender. Abajo un enlace a mi primer comentario extenso sobre Cuba, escrito después de mi segunda visita, hace quince años. Algunos siguen siendo válidos, algunos han sido resueltos desde hace tiempo). Bueno, suficiente por ahora.
Los Angeles, California
8 de septiembre de 2015.
Dos Meses en Cuba
Notas de un activista de solidaridad con Cuba de visita
por Walter Lippmann
Estos son algunos apuntes de mi visita a Cuba realizada desde Noviembre de 2000 hasta Enero de 2001. Algunas cosas en Cuba son muy parecidas a los Estados Unidos, pero muchas otras cosas son muy, pero que muy diferentes.
Este trabajo no pretende ser un análisis en gran escala sobre Cuba. Eso estaría más allá de su alcance. Se trata de mis observaciones, reflexiones y comentarios acerca de cosas que vi, escuché e hice personalmente. Antes y después de viajar a Cuba pasé algún tiempo visitando a México para ganar perspectiva y hacer algunas comparaciones. Espero que lo encuentre útil.
En la página final de este trabajo, encontrará enlaces con algunas otras fotos que tomé y una página con referencias sobre fuentes útiles en inglés para que pueda profundizar en su investigación sobre Cuba de manera independiente.
¿POR QUÉ CUBA? ¿POR QUÉ YO?
Mi interés por Cuba tiene raíces familiares profundas. Mi padre y sus padres vivieron allí desde 1939 hasta 1942. Como refugiados judíos procedentes de la Alemania Nazi no pudieron entrar en la Gran Bretaña o los Estados Unidos, a pesar de tener familiares cercanos en ambos países. El gobierno de Roosevelt mantuvo de manera estricta una cuota restringida a la emigración judía. Mi padre y abuelos tuvieron que esperar en Cuba hasta 1943 para obtener permiso para entrar en los Estados Unidos. Yo nací en la ciudad de Nueva York en 1944. (Una buena historia de la experiencia judía en Cuba esTropical Diaspora de Robert M. Levine (1993) (ISBN:0-8130-1218-X). Hay otra novela que evoca de manera elocuente la época en que mi padre vivió en Cuba Passing Through Havana, por Felicia Rosshandler (ISBN: 0-312-59779-7).
Mi padre me llevó a Cuba en agosto de 1956.Visitamos la casa donde vivió y conocí a algunos de sus antiguos amigos. No recuerdo mucho de esa visita excepto que Cuba era un lugar muy caluroso y pegajoso (Tenía solamente 12 años en aquel momento). Nos hospedamos brevemente en el Hotel Nacional y después nos mudamos a un hotel más pequeño. Viajamos a Pinar del Rio con un viejo amigo John Gundrum que también era un inmigrante alemán pero de los que nunca se fueron de Cuba.
En noviembre de 2000 hice mi segunda visita a Cuba como adulto. A fines de 1999 había pasado tres semanas allí con una delegación de alumnos y maestros de yoga que nos reuníamos y practicábamos con nuestras contrapartes cubanas. Sabía bastante más que la mayoría de la gente en los Estados Unidos sobre la nación caribeña. Había leído bastante historia de Cuba y seguía los asuntos cubanos con atención. Ahora quería ver las cosas de cerca.
¿Cómo es que viven los cubanos el día a día? Deseaba tener una visión de cómo trabajan, de las cosas que les agradan y desagradan, y así sucesivamente. Una cosa es escuchar y leer en los medios sobre un lugar (¡Cuba es un lugar horrible! ¡La gente está desesperada por dejar el país!), o por otra parte versiones positivas nada críticas en los pocos medios favorables a Cuba.
Mi español es limitado por lo que frecuentemente tenía que depender de amigos y conocidos bilingües para obtener respuestas y direcciones. Durante mis 31 años de trabajo como trabajador social para el Distrito de Los Ángeles había adquirido un poco de “español callejero” elemental, pero no lo suficiente para mantener una conversación. Conocí a muchas personas que hablaban inglés y que querían practicarlo, por lo que pude obtener respuestas a mis muchas preguntas.
En La Habana me alojé con una familia cubana que había conocido en 1999. Uno de los miembros de la familia acababa de dejar su trabajo de 13 años en el sector estatal para dedicarse al trabajo por cuenta propia. Traduce guiones de televisión cubanos del español al inglés por contratos independientes. Cuba espera vender algunos de esos guiones a distribuidores tales como el Discovery Channel. También hace traducciones para periodistas y cineastas visitantes. Unas semanas antes de mi llegada había trabajado con Barbara Kopple, documentalista ganadora de Oscar, en la filmación de la visita del Ballet de Washington D.C. a Cuba. Su madre es una ingeniera que trabaja en un Ministerio del Gobierno y es miembro del Partido Comunista de Cuba. No pagué alojamiento, pero compré alimentos y algunas otras cosas para la familia. Con frecuencia iba de compras y a veces cocinaba para la familia. ¡Creo que no habían comido tanto ajo en su vida! (Por suerte les gusta el ajo…)
LOS OBJETIVOS HISTÓRICOS DE CUBA:
INDEPENDENCIA Y UNA SOCIEDAD JUSTA
Para entender la Cuba de hoy es esencial conocer la amarga historia de sus relaciones con los Estados Unidos. Ambas naciones tienen una larga, estrecha y tensa conexión. Los políticos norteamericanos del Siglo XIX consideraron anexarse la Isla. Trataron de evitar su independencia y de obstaculizar sus esfuerzos por lograr una sociedad justa en la cual los intereses nacionales cubanos tuvieran la prioridad. Aún hoy la mayoría de los políticos norteamericanos hablan y actúan como si tuvieran el derecho de decirles a los cubanos como administrar Cuba. La Revolución dirigida por Fidel Castro y sus compañeros ha sido el más exitoso de los esfuerzos independentistas cubanos.
Los partidarios del derrocado gobierno del dictador Batista fueron bienvenidos en los Estados Unidos. Washington se opuso a los esfuerzos cubanos para asumir el control de sus recursos nacionales que estaban en manos de compañías extranjeras (mayormente norteamericanas). Se ha opuesto y tratado de revertir la Revolución a cada paso. Washington y sus seguidores llaman a esta política “el embargo”, pero los cubanos la llaman “el bloqueo”. Esto se debe a que Washington trata denodadamente de empujar a los demás países a apoyar sus actividades anti cubanas.
A PARTIR DEL COLAPSO DE LA UNIÓN SOVIÉTICA
Durante la alianza de Cuba con la Unión Soviética y los Estados de Europa Oriental, la Isla mantuvo convenios estables y a largo plazo por sus productos, en ocasiones con precios superiores a los del mercado mundial. Eso suministró la base militar y económica para que Cuba pudiera sobrevivir los esfuerzos de Washington mantenidos durante décadas para rendirla por hambre. La política y la economía de la Isla tuvieron una fuerte influencia del modelo soviético.
It’s Saturday morning, September 12, and I’m putting together the last items to put in my suitcases. It’s always like this and I try to also give a few thoughts to the world I’m leaving behind here, and the one I’m expecting to see in Cuba. For the first time I’ll be traveling via Tampa, where I’ll have a longish layover and should be able to write some more. Will share some of these with you here on CubaNews and via Facebook. Your comments are welcome. My eyes are getting better. The right eye is still somewhat itchy and both are on the unsightly side. Oh, well.
This morning NPR, which I sometimes think of as National Pentagon Radio, or Nearly Private Radio, featured a completely typical and hostile report on Cuba on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit next weekend. Gjelton wrote an informative book on the history of the Bacardi family and Cuban rum some years ago. I remember being with the press corps on one of the last times Fidel Castro spoke before a mass rally, in Bayamo, Cuba on July 26, 2006. I took a wonderful photo of Fidel which I’ll share with you. Have been brushing up my skills in Photoshop, and now some of the rough edges of the photo, though not the marvelous expression on Fidel’s face as he looks to the sky above. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
I’m traveling now precisely to that I can witness his visit and the public reactions, and to attend the big mass at Revolution Plaza. Hope to take a lot of pictures and to make reports on what’s going on there. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s President, is coming in for the event. Will work on this during the rest of the morning, and send it out shortly before leaving, so it may have a somewhat disjointed character. Hope you’ll enjoy it. If this isn’t done before I leave, maybe I’ll write more during the layover in Tampa. In fact, I’m sure I’ll write more in Tampa.