CubaNews reaches a milestone
Message Number 50,000

by Walter Lippmann, May 13, 2006
CubaNews list home page

Here are the first thirty CubaNews messages sent:

Preparing to return to Cuba for another visit, it's time to take a broader look at some important topics. First, it's very pleasing to note that we've reached this landmark in the list's history. Who'd have though it would have gone this far when we started less than six years ago! Also, we've reached and passed 800 subscribers, and keeps growing.

This is message number 50,000 being posted to the CubaNews list. It's a time to take stock and reflect a bit on the list's progress, goals and purposes. Readers who have any comments or suggestions are welcome to send them in. If you want to send congratulations, that will be very greatly appreciated. Criticism will be listened to and carefully considered. I'm going to take some time here to reflect a bit. CubaNews is a work-in-progress which has been my main activity for nearly six years. It began with a few dozen activists who'd been active in the struggle to win freedom for Elian Gonzalez to return to his home and family in Cuba. Since then we've found an international audience looking for information from, about and related to Cuba.

The list and the website has a simple statement of purpose and here you can see the very first thirty messages which were sent out. Then as now, I was and am the principal poster to the list. Other posters are welcome, but this is a project I've worked on and nurtured all of this time. I'm more or less the editor-in-chief. I'm happy to have contributions from other people, and a certain amount of discussion and dialogue to clarify some of the issues which are raised in Cuba's fascinating, complex and not-easy-to-understand societal process.

My goal and hope is to provide the readers with a broad selection of information, not simply to present my own thinking. After all, that's just my opinion. Because of its Revolution, Cuba was put on the international map and plays a role far outside of its numerical size on the world scale. It's important for those interested in Cuba to learn what's being said about Cuba, by friend and foe alike, which is why it's useful to be fully aware, both of the accomplishments of Cuba's process, as well as the criticism to which it's subjected.

Since I'm the Editor of CubaNews, and take responsibility for the choices of what's sent out, my editorial criteria may be of interest. Its selections reflect my individual interests. Watching a new society being born, growing, changing, and facing its own challenges and contradictions means looking beyond any specific moment and attempting to see broad trends. I have specific interests in subjects like race, gender and sexuality issues. Lately there's been a veritable explosion of interests in sexuality and lesbian, gay and transgender issues. This has focused on a soap opera playing three nights a week called LA CARA OCULTA DE LA LUNA (The Hidden Face of the Moon), which focuses on a married man who has a closeted gay lover on the side.

Like any soap opera there are numerous side plots, but this is the one which has generated the most attention and controversy internationally. Even the New York Times found room for a one-paragraphs story about this phenomenon. A Cuban website, La Jiribilla, posted seven stories about it in a recent issue (Number 260) and I've created a special web-page on which I'm following the story on the soap opera and the general discussion of these themes which has been doing on in the Cuban media. You can find that here:

Cuba's social system and its numerous accomplishments (free health care and education, a minimum of societal violence, and so on) might lead the reader to think that Cuba's political and social system are a model which ought to be followed everywhere.Cuba gives us a model of what can be done under extreme adversity. But Cuba's situation is very specific: It's the only country on the entire planet, on which there exists an unwanted military base which belongs to a hostile foreign power which is committed by its own national legislation to the overthrow of the Cuban system. And those laws aren't just on the books, they're actively used eight days a week and 25 hours a day. Cuba is the only country on the planet to which you must get permission from the United States government to visit your mother, if she's Cuban. If your mother is your last remaining relative, and she dies, you cannot obtain permission from the United States government to attend her funeral. (Your father, too.)

Sometimes people ask me what my opinion is of the internal political system in Cuba. While I defend the island's right to develop its own system, I don't see its system as a model which should be applied everywhere, or anywhere outside of Cuba itself. Indeed, the one-party political system, which has its roots in the thinking of Jose Marti, has advantages and disadvantages, but these, like all of Cuba's other social and political problems, are ones which the Cuban people need to solve for themselves and on their own. One look at the disaster which is occurring in Iraq today where U.S.-imposed "freedom" is being practiced should give anyone reason to understand why Cuba's problems are and should remain to be solved by Cubans living on the island.

Another tough choice was to arrest and conduct extremely short trials of 75 oppositionists in 2003 and the execution of three armed hijackers that year. While Washington was invading and occupying Iraq, the Cuban government decided to take strong action against Cubans accused of serving as paid political operatives for the United States. The U.S. media outdid itself in denouncing Cuba's self-defensive action. Washington had told Cuba that any uncontrolled immigration would be seen as a danger to the national security of the United States. So Cuba, which had observed decades of U.S. welcome being given to Cuban hijackers, going back to 1959, finally took swift and decisive action to prevent further hijackings. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and there have been no further hijackings out of Cuba since 2003.

Looking back, I certainly think it would have been helpful had the Cuban government provided a lot more more details and documentation of the evidence against those people. (A book, Los Disidentes, was published at the time, and later in English.) Some who had been sympathetic to Cuba joined the orchestrated hue-and-cry against Cuba for the defensive actions it took. Others, leaped to endorse the Cuban government's actions, reviling any who publicly criticized the Cuban actions. Personally, I never endorsed, nor did I criticize what the Cuban government did. The main function of my work and of the CubaNews list was (as it is), to provide information and tools for understanding what took place and why the Cubans acted as they did. Cuba's problems have to be solved by Cubans living on the island.

Cuba's government makes political choices which have consequences, sometimes very difficult ones. For example, the legalization of the U.S. dollar and the opening to foreign investments. These brought economic growth, but the infusion of troubling social problems including social differentiation and the phenomenon known as prostitution. I'm sure that foreign critics who think they know more than the Cuban people and their leaders can develop. Trouble is, the Cuban people have to live on that island, and live with the consequences, good and bad, of their decision. As a foreigner, and one who travels to Cuba often and tries to follow its development closely, I often tell people that the more time I spend there, the more I know how little I really know.

The way I see it, my role, and that of CubaNews, is to contribute to the process by helping Cubans to solve their own problems. Further, I see the list's role as helping readers to better understand Cuba and how and why the society is what it is. Do I think Cuba has problems? I certainly do. Aside from the blockade, which can never really be put aside since it's always in place, but at least analytically, let's put it aside for a moment. The fact that so many things are illegal in Cuba is definitely a problem. If I've drawn any conclusion from my time spent there, it is that the idea that society or the state should or could solve all the problems of society is simply ridiculous. How Cuba's going to solve this problem is something for which I don't have an answer.

Some people living in the "advanced" capitalist countries are unable to see things from the viewpoints of other peoples and countries. It's often thought, by teachers, parents, by politicians and by the media that "The American Way" is the only way. I'm not convinced of that, including in its leftwing variants.

I'm often amazed at the kinds of criticisms of Cuba which some people on the left make, sitting in the comfort of their homes in the United States or other so-called "advanced" capitalist countries. After a largely Saudi-originated group led the attacks on the American people which took place on September 11, 2001, Washington invaded and overthrew the government of Afghanistan, and, after that, the government of Iraq. The Cuban government, knowing the fury with which Washington has campaigned to overthrow Cuba's government, knew it had to take firm action to protect itself. Washington, after all, has long been bankrolling oppositionists inside the island. And Cuba had to accept the consequences of their decisions.

Sometimes I explain to people that if there were half a dozen Cubas, one could afford to be more casual in telling Cuba what to do with itself and how to run its society and protect it. Fact is, there's only on Cuba. Here in the United States, where I live, some people have the idea that the United States is the model by which, or against which, every other society on earth should be judged.

In the United States it's also often thought that freedom means the ability to say anything we want whenever we feel like it. I have my opinions, and they affect me and may interest some readers of e-mail lists. The Cuban government can't afford to make too many wrong decisions in how it handles itself. If it makes too many mistakes, the results could be disastrous. That's why it's essential to give the Cubans the respect, and if not that, the courtesy or simply the slack to accept them as they are. This doesn't mean agreeing with that they do, but it does mean accepting that it's the Cuban people's right in the end to decide what gets done there. For better or for worse. Period.

Do I wish Cuba had more open political system, with more room for public discussion and debate? Of course I do. I think Cuba could better solve its various internal problems if there were more public debate. But so long as Cuba faces the efforts of Washington to overthrow the Cuban system and impose Yankee style freedom, such as we see in Iraq, I can certainly understand why the Cubans feel they need to go slow with public debate.

Cuba's economic situation, which fell into a deep crisis when its principal trading partner, and indeed its lifeline, the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. Cuba's leaders reconfigured their system, legalized possession of the U.S. dollar, accepting foreign investment and tourism. There's been a turnaround in the island's economic situation. Most recently, as world oil prices have passed $70 a barrel, Cuba's oil deposits have attracted the interests of business people from around the world. Even here in the United States, a growing number of companies want to do business with Cuba and they are willing to part with the blockade, at least in part, in their efforts to find oil not too far from the United States. This is causing some difficulty for the Bush administration and that's why they tried to break up that meeting of U.S. oil executives meeting with their Cuban counterparts in Mexico in February.

In the United States in recent weeks, we've seen the explosive outpouring of immigrants coming out of the shadows and demanding legalization of their status: the right to live and work here. May Day has been restored as a working people's holiday, with the biggest demonstrations in the history of the country by working people asserting their rights. I attended two of these big mobilizations here in Los Angeles. I cannot recall another time outside of Cuba when I've attended a demonstration where the first language of most participants was Spanish. Cuba's National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon took a long long at this and its importance in a speech he gave two days after the big marches. CubaNews arranged to have his speech translated and sent it out widely. It was picked up by COUNTERPUNCH and by PORTSIDE hope it gets an even wider circulation. If you haven't read Alarcon's discussion. it's here:

One of the best aspects of this movement is the attention it can draw to the special privileges which Cuban migrants have enjoyed for more than forty years. While immigrants who arrive in the United States without property papers are nearly always deported, Cubans are welcomed to remain, under the provisions of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Here's a special page to take up these immigration issues, and to discuss why it is so many Cubans want to leave their home country. The special rights which they are granted under the Cuban Adjustment Act makes this understandable. To read more about this, see:

Tom Miller, author of TRADING WITH THE ENEMY, A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba, did a commentary on this which imaginatively reframed this matter in a commentary on National Public Radio's Latino USA program recently. I strongly recommend that everyone listen to his commentary and share it with others. You can read it, but it has a different and greater impact if you listen to it.
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Immigrants want to be treated like Cubans:

Even though Cuba is little known and little followed outside of the Cuban community and those political activists who are passionately interested in the island, there's more interest than you might think. In Los Angeles I recently saw a play called IT HAPPENED IN HAVANA, an imaginative production set at Christmas of the year that Cuba's first republic had come into existence. It had a truly democratic sensibility in that its central conflicts had to do with a reactionary mother who had supported the Spanish colonialists and was unhappy that Cuba had even the compromised independence it had under a constitution including the Platt Amendment. From the theater's website: "It Happened in Havana takes place at Christmastime in 1902 the end of the first year of Cuba as an independent republic. The play is set in the home of a recalcitrant Spanish widow who has three Cuban-born daughters. One of them has met a handsome young man who has been invited to Christmas Eve dinner. During the course of the evening we find out the young man was born to Cuban parents who were Jewish. This discovery triggers a series of clashes between the old Spanish intolerant colonial ideas, and the new young Cuban independent and democratic ideals inspired by Jose Marti."

Last week I met and heard a presentation by Rosa Lowinger, a Cuban-American author whose recent book, co-written with Ofelia Fox (recently deceased), recounts the legendary Cuban nightclub which was opened in 1939. I've just begun the book but can tell you it's a terrific read. The Tropicana, like other nightclubs of its time made the bulk of its money through gambling, but the Tropicana evidently wasn't run by American gangsters as others like the Riviera were. Lowinger works as an art conservator and has written and published materials about preservation efforts in Habana Vieja. You can read more about Lowinger's book:

Lowinger is furthermore part of an important new initiative by Cuban-American scholars favoring a more normal relationship with their home country. This is a very encouraging initiative which shows that by no means are all Cuban-Americans united behind the failed policies of the past nearly five decades. They recently placed a full-page ad in the MIAMI HERALD which began:

"We are a group of Cuban American scholars and artists who have coalesced as a network of U.S. citizens opposed to current U.S. policy toward Cuba. We are committed to promoting reasoned debate in the public arena, to countering the stereotype of a monolithic Cuban American community, to challenging the disproportionate influence of an unrepresentative sector out of touch with U.S. public opinion, and to help bring about an end to a failed policy that defies all sound principles for conducting foreign affairs." Read the full ad here:

Two years ago this week, the Bush administration announced the so-called "Transition Plan for Assistance to a Free Cuba". In essence, for those who took the time to read it, it was a Miami right-winger's wet-dream for what they fantasized doing to the island if they could get it back into their clutches. Protests were organized at that time in the United States. The Bush regime, which is in far more desperate political straits than it was two years ago, is supposed to be announcing even MORE measures about Cuba, though the details have been keep even MORE secret than were the plans announced in 2004. By the way, little notice was paid at the time to the fact that there was a "secret" section of that report, not printed in the nearly five-hundred page document itself. If you didn't recall that secret section, it was in fact announced a week before the official unveiling. You can see that there WAS a secret section of the report here:


This coming Saturday, many of us will be participating in the protests against whatever new measures are to be announced. Whatever they are, we know they cannot be good. Here are the details of the national protest which will take place in Washington, DC. Another will take place here in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles flyer:

Looking back through the years, it's particularly gratifying to see how much progress this list has made. Take a look back at the very first messages we sent and you'll get a sense of how far we've come. Keep in mind we had but a few dozen subscribers at that time. We're beginning to see a gratifying increase in participation along with the increase in subscribers to the list. Anyone concerned with Cuba is very much welcome to subscribe to CubaNews, participate in the process of finding and sharing information about Cuba, the Cuban diaspora and issues related to Cuba. It's an exciting time to be alive and involved in this process. I wish to welcome you all.

Some months ago when the medical aid team Cuba sent to Pakistan got going, I learned of three Pakistan-based lists and am placing Pakistan-related information there those lists have something over three thousand subscribers, so Pakistani news from the Cuban media gets a big additional circulation. There are Venezuela and Argentina lists where materials related to those countries are placed. People forward on some of the material to friends and acquaintances because I hear about it frequently. In time I hope there are other list focusing on other specific countries as well. The CubaNews list provides a good example and I'd be happy to work with anyone else whose who'd like to establish similarly-focused lists.

Some readers have asked how it is I can continue to travel to and from Cuba despite the restrictions imposed on such travel by the United States government. Let me explain. Formally, due to the famous William Worth decision of 1964, it's still not illegal to travel to Cuba, if you meet certain requirements under U.S. law. There are provisions for Cubans to visit their families, but only on the most restrictive of conditions and only once every three years. There are provisions for various religious groups to pursue their faith-based activities as well. I assume some of these are right-wing fundamentalists, but I know that not all of them are. Washington has cracked down hard on many religious licenses, claiming that some Cubans have abused the religious licenses just as a way of seeing their families on the island.

There is also a provision under the law called a General License, under which travel to Cuba is permitted for those who engage in educational, journalistic or other specifically-defined purposes. Under the General License, one does not apply for permission nor receive a specific license. That's the provision under which I go do Cuba. So far, beyond being asked rude and unpleasant questions when returning from the island, I haven't been stopped from traveling to and writing about Cuba. All restrictions on travel should, of course, be abolished. No one should have to ask permission from the Great White Father to visit any place in the world. And relations between our two countries should simply be normalized.

In addition to the collection and dissemination of lots of information, one of the areas of CubaNews I'm most proud of is the work we do in providing translations from the Cuban media of articles, analyses and commentaries. Cuba provides some of these on its own. CubaNews adds to these by selecting others for your interest to help readers get an even broader sense of Cuban reality as it's reflected in the island's media. Readers who have the ability and proficiency at translation are strongly encouraged to step and volunteer. We can't pay anything but lots of gratitude and the knowledge that you're helping people who don't speak Spanish fluently to see what is going on in Cuba, but your help is very much needed and appreciated.

Today is Mothers Day. In the United States it's a marketing opportunity and the newspapers are filled with advertisement for special sales opportunities. Families will get together and share special meals. How different it is in Cuba. There is no commercial advertising in Cuban newspapers, and it is a big day for families to get together as well. It's always seemed to me that there's a lot more sincere, heart-felt sentiment infused in this day in Cuba than here in the Unite States. Thanks for your time, attention and participation.

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California
May 14, 2006