LETTER FROM HAVANA
by Walter Lippmann, CubaNews
Sunday January 12, 2003
This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jose Marti, called here "the apostle of Cuban independence." Each year since its triumph, the Cuban government has designated the year with a particular theme.
Thus, 2003 is "The Year of Glorious Anniversaries of Marti and Moncada", (the latter referring to the 1953 attack on the Moncada military barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba, on the far other end of the island. Being linking the Cuban Revolution of today into thematic sync with Jose Marti adds a special resonance to this year 2003.
Yesterday morning I went with a neighbor to attend a celebration of the Marti anniversary at the National Library (the Biblioteca Nacional) of the anniversary. It was sponsored by ANCI, the National Association for the Blind and was attended by over 125 people. The library itself is over a hundred years old now.
My neighbor, who is vision-impaired but not blind, is the public relations person for the municipal district of this blind/vision-impaired group. She introduced me to the leaders of the group and we also had a bit of a tour around the Biblioteca Nacional following the meeting.
The program consisted of a lecture by Professor Jorge Lozano, a youngish-looking man about 35. He traced Marti's life from birth to death in gentle and eloquent tones. I was pleased to be able to understand the great bulk of his presentation and wish it were transcribed somewhere. He spoke of Marti's life and work in Cuba as well in his various periods of exile. Drawing on Marti's writings he looked at the role of slavery in the economy of the island under Spanish rule. (Cuba was the last country to formally abolish the peculiar institution long after the end of the US civil war, in 1882.)
He showed the strands of historical continuity between Marti's life and work in exile, and that of Fidel Castro in the twentieth century, and he characterized Marti as the first anti-imperialist of in the modern world. He took time to further recount the political ideas Marti had about how Cuba's revolutionary independence struggle had to be conducted. The lesson Marti and others drew from the failure of previous efforts to win Cuba's independence from Spain was the need to unite all who support the struggle into a single united and effective force.
The independence war of 1868 was defeated at least in good measure because of the falling out among themselves of the independence fighters. Marti advocated and build one single party for the struggle, the Cuban Revolutionary Party.
Today's Cuban CP conceives of itself as following in Marti's footsteps in this respect. I had not at all really understood this until a few years ago when I read a small book published here called HEIRS TO HISTORY, which contained articles on this process beginning with Marti and proceeding to articles and interviews by others who had been part of the formation of both the first and second Communist Parties of Cuba, including people like Juan Marinello, Fabio Grobart and Fidel Castro. It's a short but valuable study which everyone interested in Cuban politics might enjoy and which should be brought back into print.
As you would expect in a meeting like this, we had a veritable cross-section of ages, colors and of genders present. When the presentation came to an end, applause from the audience was intensely enthusiastic. The speaker took some questions and then the event retired to the cafeteria in the basement of the building. It was an inspiring activity indeed.
The library has a special room for its blind and vision- impaired patrons, staffed by both blind and sited staff. This room, clean, comfortably and newly-furnished, has talking computers, braille-writers, and of course lots of books in braille. The room is named after the deceased Cuban pianist Frank Emilio whose great piano playing was and remains quite popular and is available internationally on compact disk. He died in August of 1981 and had been playing a lot in Los Angeles.
The reference room has full internet access and also features a friendly and helpful staff. The library has its own website, in both English and Spanish which is linked below.
On this Sunday morning at 9:30 at a time when the majority of Cubans are at home, this library was filled with patrons of all ages, including students and young children, all reading and studying quietly.
The building made me feel in a way like I was back at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the
1960s, or else at USC and Cal State University in Los Angeles where I had library jobs in those days.
US libraries I think have mostly gotten rid of their card catalogs, replacing them with computers as my Los Angeles Public Library has. This library still uses the old system with literally hand-typed cards referencing and cross-referencing materials. To call a book up from the stacks you have to fill out a little card by hand and take it, with the carbon-copy (hand-held) to the clerk who gets it for you.
Those of you who know my political background in the US Socialist Workers Party may be amused by the little "field test" I made of library contents.
I took a quick peek and found dozens of titles by Leon Trotsky in Spanish, including his HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION and others. Works by the US Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon were also present, as were works by such Trotskyist writers as Ernest Mandel and Janette Habel. (Habel's book, a rather critical take on the island first published in 1989, was represented by a 1994 Italian-language edition). Terrance Cannon, a writer for the Communist Party, USA was also represented by his book on Cuba from International Publishers.
Several books by the Trotskyist C.L.R. James were present, including THE BLACK JACOBINS
(his study of Toussaint L'Ouverture and the revolution in Santo Domingo), MINTY ALLEY, a novel, and more.
This also being Cuba there were two large and nicely-organized windows devoted to the five Cuban patriots who are being held in US jails for their anti-terrorist activities. Cards, letters and photographs of and from the Five were on display, including an entire window which includes cartoons by Gerardo Hernandez who had been employed as a cartoonist at the humor magazine P'ALANTE prior to his work gathering information on terrorist exiles in Miami, Florida. These are right at the main entrance under a beautful stained-glass ceiling.
Once you get inside there's a much larger display section, two long walls and two rows of display cases featuring books by and about Marti. Most, of course, are in Spanish, but the Ocean Press MARTI READER was also there. Bound volumes of LA PATRIA, one of the papers Marti edited were on display and open to be looked at (though not handled) by all.
BIBILIOTECA NACIONAL - ENGLISH: http://www.lib.cult.cu/bnjm/english/index_e.asp
BIBILIOTECA NACIONAL - SPANISH: http://www.lib.cult.cu/bnjm/espanol/index_e.asp
People often confuse a "revolution" with the period of armed struggle which resulted in the triumph, but that's inadequate. The Revolution is actually a permanent process through which the leadership endeavors to continually educate, agitate and organize as much of the population as it can to see their lives and struggles connected with the broader historical trends, nationally as well as world-wide. This revolution tries to bring along as many people as it can in the process which was very evident in this meeting for the blind.
No doubt even more could be done, but this is an example of how one group organized itself to participate in the ongoing process.
Those who recall my story the other day of my search for a decent, reasonably-prices photocopy will be pleased at this: A couple of blocks from the library is the main post office. There I found a nicely equipped small stationary store with one of those big, industrial-sized copy machines. The price is only ten cents per page, the best photocopy deal in town! Now you know where to go for this.
Thursday was a great day in Havana with better weather and lots of productivity. I had neglected my yoga practice for a couple of days, but had got back to it strongly Thursday and Friday and it was helpful in many ways. Saturday I took a 45 minute hike around the area where I live, including a jaunt around the Plaza of the Revo- lution and a stop at the bus depot. Someone asked awhile back if there were indications of a McDonald's in the depot's past history.
I can confirm for you, from my personal look, there is no evidence of such. There were and are quite a few places to eat which were open at 6:45 in the morning. The fanciest is a Pain de Paris, but there were several others which charged in hard currency and one in Cuban pesos. There were also a hundred or so folks on the Lista de Espera (Waiting List) for the morning bus to Pinar del Rio. Readers may recall a Cuban movie on that theme awhile back. It tells of a group of people on the waiting list in a provincial station who take things into their own hands when the bus breaks down and no replacement comes.
At this station, however, they seem to get out regularly. I've taken them and know others who also take them. These are the Astro buses which Cubans take for the most part. There are also the more pricey (and also very comfortable - I know, I've taken them) Via Azul buses which also depart from the same station.
Driving to a meeting Thursday I saw what to me actually looked like a homeless person in Cuba in these past two-plus months: a pitiful individual sprawled out on a public sidewalk with a bit of food, garbage and cans surrounding his body. He was alive and looked somewhat dazed.
This is an extremely rare sight here in Cuba, unlike Los Angeles where it's all too common.
Mentioning this to a few people all said the same thing: he was probably a mentally ill individual who had left a treatment center and either stayed away from his family or else had none. When I passed by that intersection a few hours later the man was gone but the garbage remained. The cans were TuKola, not beer, for those who are interested.
After my meeting I wandered around several used local bookstores. Two are real stores the first of which sells new books, but seems to specialize in used ones (it's on 25th near Infanta, next to the Pain de Paris) where I found a stack of old magazines, in good condition, which I picked up for literally a few Cuban pesos each. The big expense was a couple of back issues of HABANERA for ten Cuban pesos, and a current edition of the journal REVOLUCION Y CULTURA costing five pesos for these old magazines.
I'm not much of a TV watcher, here or in the US, but I needed a break from the day's work yesterday and sat through Carl Franklin's HIGH CRIMES on CubaVision last night. It's a combination court-room drama/thriller with Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman in which the plot centers around US terrorist activities in El Salvador and desperate action by the US military to cover them up.
After that a three-story late newscast gave first place to a report on current election efforts in Cuba, showing economics chief Carlos Lage Davila campaigning for his seat in the National Assembly. He's running for a seat in the Vedado Area. (Fidel and Raul run from Santiago.) These are the second round of elections and this round is not contested as were many in the first.
The midnight movie was also from the US, Norman Jewison's 1989 comedy-thriller THE JANUARY MAN, about a serial killer terrorizing New York City. I didn't stay up to watch this, however.
The second story featured the latest news from Venezuela where President Chavez has called a national front in defense of the right to education into being. Venezuelans are fighting back against the righist-opposition's attempts to sabotage the nation's economic, social and cultural life. He said there would be no negotiations with these terrorists.
President Chavez and other Venezuelan officials are also now giving out land titles and housing titles to the poor in need of these things.
Finally, the cameras showed Brazilian President Ignacio Lula Da Silva touring the poorest regions of his country now at the beginning of his administration. Cuba's media now features Brazilian news in a big way, expressing enthusiasm for the positive turn in the political life of South America's' largest nation.
I've also I begun collecting signatures on the petition demanding that Roger Calero, the US Socialist Workers Party leader and editor of its publications, THE MILITANT and PERSPECTIVA MUNDIAL not be deported from the United States.
Calero's case (a newspaper reporter born in Nicaragua, holder of permanent residence in the US [green card] who was summarily seized, held and who is threatened with deportation by the INS after attending the Guadalajara Book Fair and other political events in Mexico and Cuba) is at once unique yet typical. Typical in that thousands of others are having the same terrifying experience Calero had when in INS custody, unique in that he is lucky to have a wife and organization which is standing by him and organizing in his defense.
The Calero case was reported here in Granma: http://www.granma.cu/ingles/a-vueltade-correo-i.html
Take down copies of the Fact Sheet in PDF here: http://www.themilitant.com/2003/6701/1212FACT.pdf
Take down and circulate the Calero petition here: http://www.themilitant.com/2003/6701/1228pet.pdf
Finally, I'm again sorry not to have been able
to get back to many of you who have written
to me offlist. Please accept this as being both
an acknowledgement and as an apology.
Walter Lippmann, Moderator
CubaNews list at Yahoo