ON RETURNING TO THE UNITED STATES
AFTER THREE MONTHS IN CUBA
By Walter Lippmann
It's been barely two weeks since my return to my home town of Los Angeles, California from Cuba where I'd been visiting since November 23. Since then certain observations have come into sharp focus for me.
I was immediately taken by the absence of American flags which had been on lots of cars in the aftermath of 9-11. Now there are just about none. On closer inspection, I saw that some flags have been replaced by flag decals in rear windows, recalling the same decals I saw during the Vietnam War.
When I left, the Pacifica Radio Network, the only over-the-air radio system which is not beholden to corporate sponsorship or "underwriting" was in the grips of a massive crisis. A group of tired, formerly leftish people were doing their damnedest to dumb the network down to an amateurish imitation of NPR. (Some had begun calling NPR "National Pentagon Radio" because of its obsequious support to Washington's terrifying war against Afghanistan. Others had begun calling NPR "Nearly Private Radio" because of the ads which now pervade its signals.)
The most obvious sign that Pacifica had been hijacked was the removal of its main news program DEMOCRACY NOW! from the network. Only Berkeley's KPFA still played the program, but you had to listen to that on the Internet.
NOW! had been replaced by something called the Pacifica Network News (PNN, or
"Pinhead Network News" as some were whimsically saying). Like many, I
opted not to give money to KPFK for years because of its rightward drift. I
contributed to Berkeley's KPFA during those long and difficult times, however.
Days before my return word reached me via e-mail that DEMOCRACY NOW! with Amy Goodman was back on the air. Managers, administrators and commentators who had been gutting Pacifica of its progressive politics had begun to be weeded out. Here was an instance in which the Grassroots had blocked the absolute domination of everything by the corporations. I returned to see people waking up and working together to resist the US drift even further rightward. Good news!
I've also had a chance to reflect these two weeks on the things I'd missed while away in Cuba, including the following:
1-Hot water at the tap and the ability to take a bath in hot water each and every day.
2-The comfort of my own bed, hard yet familiar.
3-High speed Internet access. With only a laptop computer and a dial-up connection in Cuba, my research and communication was slower, more cumbersome and more expensive.
4-Foreign movies with English subtitles. At home I am a frequent movie goer.
5-The absence of mandatory smoke-free enclosures. Cubana is probably one of the few airlines which still permits smoking aboard its planes. While the Cuban government is aware of the harm tobacco smoking does, the practice is very deep rooted in Cuban culture and its stench is pervasive wherever you go. Fidel Castro gave up the noxious practice years ago, but smoking is something the Cuban Revolution has been unable to confront to date. They run public service advertising about the harm that tobacco does, but that does little good because tobacco is a major source of foreign hard currency income.
6-Fully-equipped yoga studios with highly experienced and trained yoga teachers Cubans who practice yoga have to be far more self-reliant as they have fewer teachers. I had to work diligently on my personal, home-based yoga practice.
That is about all I missed while spending three months in Cuba.
are a few things I did NOT miss while in Cuba:
1-The extreme reliance upon the automobile as the principal means of transportation. Of course, I enjoy the convenience of my 1998 Honda Accord, but the irrationality of one individual spending $25,000 to travel simple distances, often alone, both amazes and appalls me.
During three months in Cuba I only put my hands behind the wheel of an automobile twice, an old but serviceable 1972 Volkswagen. In Cuba public transportation is a challenge, a daunting challenge between provinces, but it is workable. For a foreigner like myself and for the Cubans who have dollars, it seems possible to live without the automobile entirely.
Rapid transit is underdeveloped in Los Angeles, so those who have some money and must commute have a difficult time doing without cars.
Many Cubans use a healthy way of getting around which has largely been abandoned in the United States: walking. While I rarely walk in Los Angeles, I did lots of walking in Cuba.
2-Television. I don't watch TV in the US but it intrigued me in Cuba where there are no breaks for commercials. Absolutely none. Some PSAs are aired for simple things like conserving water and fighting the mosquito, but that's about it. Cuban TV features movies from the US and other countries. Many of the US movies are Hollywood features filled with violence. I didn't watch them in Cuba, and I don't watch them here.
3-Newspapers. For years I've been an obsessive reader of the Los Angeles Times, but didn't miss it at all while away.
Cuba's newspapers: Tribuna, Juventud Rebelde, Granma, Orbe, Trabajadores and others, including humor magazine P'alante, are tabloids. But they are all news or commentary. And there are NO ads.
While the LA Times costs 50 cents a copy (in US dollars), the Cuban newspapers cost a bare 20 Cuban centavos, which is the equivalent of less than one single US penny. Since my return I only read the Los Angeles Times on line, and don't miss the absence of my long-accustomed hard copy. Not long before going to Cuba, I weighed the Sunday LA TIMES and found it was five pounds. The majority of it is advertising. A lot of trees have had to be sacrificed to put out all of this advertising.
4-Billboards. Whenever I go to Cuba I'm struck by the virtual absence of commercial billboards. Yes, there are billboards, but only those selling ideas such as national pride and self-reliance, none of the product advertising cluttering our environment.
5-Privatization of life. One so-called "reform" we have endured in the United States is the expanding privatization of public spaces, such the streets. In some communities politicians have made it a crime to park your car on a public street unless you live on that street. In Los Angeles a man named Zev Yaroslavaky, who got his start in the anti-Soviet "human rights for dissidents" business in the 1970s, has made a career of restricting the use of public spaces.
Last Saturday morning, I received a $35.00 ticket for five minutes of illegal parking! That's 35 UNITED STATES DOLLARS (or 910 Cuban pesos at current rates of exchange). It was a timely reminder of the many things they don't have in Cuba, including parking meters.