Some Thoughts the Eve of Returning to Cuba
Tlatelolco, Mexico, Saturday, September 3, 2016
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.
Each time before I go, I try to post some final thoughts before leaving for the island where my impressions are altered or corrected by Cuban reality, as they always are. What follows are rough notes, and not in order of importance. I hope you’ll find them of interest. I’ll have to look back and the and see what actually happened. Will also plan to post some first impressions as soon as I’m settled in. Probably not until Sunday.
It’s amazing how different Cuba is from a distance. That’s why it’s so important to actually GO to Cuba and see it for oneself. It’s also why Washington imposed, and continues to maintain, a travel ban on US citizens and residents.
The Obama administration has modified the ban, but it is still on the books. Vacationing and going to the beach remain violations of US law, even if not vigorously enforced, for now. Basically, Washington just does not want people from the US to see the country first hand, because, warts and all, it is so different from the hostile and tendentious image we’ve been fed ever since the earliest days.
You know: Cuba is a dictatorship. There are no human rights. Everyone is spied on. There is no Internet, and so on. The last example I saw was in that otherwise-objective piece about Cuba’s success in fighting the Zika virus which the main AP reporter in Cuba, in today’s Washington Post.
When I started following Cuba most closely, in the late 1990s, the problem was the lack of information, and most of what we got in the dominant capitalist media was tendentious and hostile. That’s still largely true, but, with the change toward a more formally normalized diplomatic relationship, that’s changed somewhat. Now we’re overwhelmed with information in the dominant media, and some of that is not unsympathetic, or downright friendly.
For example, the current issue of WESTWAYS, the magazine of the definitely NOT leftist Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). It’s cover art and main headline is HOLA CUBA. The issue has eight full pages without advertising and it’s all presented in a friendly, encouraging tone.
If we can get it scanned and posted, I will share it. It must be very popular because, after standing on a waiting line and presenting my club membership, they were only willing to give me two copies. Who will be the lucky Cubans who get them?
In Los Angeles, I more and more try to avoid driving. The driving culture has degenerated terribly, the streets are very crowded, and so on. I’ve begun to wonder if I can or should give up driving completely, but haven’t taken the plunge yet.
In LA, for example, I often walk to the markets and back with my groceries now, and they are each about a mile or so away from where I live. I’m 72 years young, by the way, but I really like getting away from the house, the phone and the computer. It’s good exercise and I feel relaxed, though often pretty sweaty, when finally I’m back home.
Mexico City is far, far worse. The local Metro system, is older but far superior in its routes to the lovely one we have in Los Angeles, and reasonably priced. But for someone not familiar with the Metro and the city, Uber, which wasn’t here during my last visit, amazed me with its efficiency.
The friend I’m staying with here is Peter Gellert, whom I met in the US in the 1970s. He moved here forty years ago, gave up his US citizenship and became a legal Mexican citizen, 100%. Here he works as a translator and is an activist in Mexican and solidarity movement politics.
Yesterday we walked down to the street, and summoned an Uber car on his smartphone. A nice, new car arrived in under five minutes, driven by a 62 year-old retired government worker who can’t afford to not work on his pension. This Uber car took me to an engagement with a friend, and another took me home later, in comfort and quiet.
Up til now, I’ve not yet learned the Uber system in Los Angeles, but I am certain that I will now. And will learn how to use a smartphone as well. I’m not a Luddite, but have avoided learning some of this modern technology. Though my crystal ball isn’t as clear as it was when I was 20 and 30, I found a lot go ponder in the current issue of the London ECONOMIST, in its cover feature, Uberworld.
The structure of world transport, and of the working class which drives it, is changing. While it’s not all for the better, there’s a something I think we can learn from this new system. Just sayin’…
There’s no Uber in Cuba, but an interesting multi-level system of state-owned, cooperative, private individuals both licenced and not, bicitaxis and hitch-hiking. Hitching is quite widespread in Cuba, and is entirely safe. (It seem to help being a pretty young woman.)
Same is true for those smartphones which I’ve been avoiding up to now. Last year, when I was in Cuba at the time of Pope Francis’ visit, the Cubans set up a wonderful media center for all the accredited journalists.
One day I noticed a woman talking into a smartphone which she had posted on a tripod. She was broadcasting, online, LIVE, though a hand-held personal cell phone. I’d love to be able to do that! I promise to pick up this skill as soon as I can.
Last year I wasn’t able to post materials to my website for some technical reason I never could figure out with certainty. And still haven’t, but am working on that. I’ve spent almost all of today working on that, and seem to have made some progress. I’ll let you know when (and if), that’s successfully completed. If my hands weren’t so busy writing, I’d cross my fingers…<g>
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