<em>The Havana Note</em>


This is a pre-announcement of a blog in the making, The Havana Note — which is not up yet but will be before long. It won’t be fancy — at least not on the front end of it’s life — but it will become a new resource for those interested in yet another dimension of US foreign policy as well as evolving political realities in Cuba.
The Havana Note will be a cluster blog designed to focus on various corners of the cultural, political, military and economic dimensions of the US-Cuba arena. The US-Cuba playing field has one big dividing line down the middle making it nearly oxymoronic to talk about “US-Cuba relations” — except as a relationship defined mostly by two parties closely related historically, culturally, and geographically that nonetheless have Cold War-fashioned anachronistic rules of tense, “standoff-ish” engagement with each other.
An interesting fact about the current Treasury Department OFAC license restrictions for those academics, researchers and journalists who travel to Cuba is a requirement to disseminate information and perspectives learned while there.
This new blog will be part of this dissemination responsibility, but evolving is much more. The Havana Note content will be regularly linked in to TWN material.
I absorbed much in my excursion to Havana which I undertook with former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson and two other close associates. But my impressions that I had originally thought I’d offer in one long sprawling “note” can’t be cobbled together and thinned out in just one major or even a few posts. Thus, US-Cuba policy along with the current general themes of American international engagement and inside the beltway politics will become a more prominent subject of focus for TWN.
In addition, the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program — which I direct — is in the process of launching a new US-Cuba Policy Initiative as well that will host a set of major conferences and speaker forums addressing the current state of US-Cuba policy and whether circumstances justify substantial revision of America’s approach to the eleven million person island nation.
One of the many highlights of my first Havana journey was a long meeting with the Rockabilly-esque novelist and artist, Abel Prieto, who is Cuba’s Minister of Culture. I’m trying now to get access to his acclaimed book, The Flight of the Cat, which according to reviews is written metaphorically about Cuba’s political scene.
prieto.jpgPrieto said a number of fascinating things to our small group, particularly after my question of whether he, as Minister of Culture, and Fidel Castro’s government in general viewed the arts and humanities in any similar ways as former Senator Jesse Helms did.
While most in the Cuba sphere remember Helms as one of the primary co-architects of the relationship-waterboarding Helms-Burton Act, Helms was also the primary anti-arts social conservative in the Senate who went to war against the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts.
Prieto convinced me that — from a state perspective — there was not only a tolerance for heterodoxy in the arts but enthusiasm for it. I imagine that a public, multi-media exhibition questioning the social and political consequences of Fidel-style revolution might not have been what Minister Prieto had in mind, but he did say:

The biggest “censor” in the art world is the market, and the impact of America’s marketplace on global arts is both tremendously helpful to some arts but also harmful to the broad array of creative expression that doesn’t find the financing or marketplace to sustain an artist’s ceative endeavors. The market is the biggest censor.
But from my perch as Minister of Culture, with only limited resources to help fund or finance artistic expression, we have tough choices. The most successful leap that the Cuban artists and writers have had recently is in the publishing and book arena where international acquisitions of Cuban published books are surging and very impressive. Our biggest deficit is in providing support for film production, which is truly at a stage where Cuban independent films could have global impact but we have little funding available to subsidize significant production costs.
But Steven, we have plays — particularly dramatic theatre — as well as music, writing, poetry, dance, and so on that is filled with questioning about the “contradictions” that exist in our society, that question the benefits and impact of the Revolution, that juxtapose what is with what might be — and this struggle with “contradictions” is something I believe is an important part of a “healthy Cuba” and something that I strongly promote.
Next time you are here, Steven, I will take you to see some of these plays and art that express and animate this frustration and this interest in addressing these contradictions.

That’s an impressive answer from a Minister with long hair and in blue jeans rocking back and forth in a massive wicker rocking chair who looked as if he’d be more comfortable at Woodstock or hanging out in a den of jazz jammers or cluster of hip-hop types than talking to pols like myself and Lawrence Wilkerson (who wore a tie! Col. Wilkerson doth protest and tells me he was tieless). Underneath I tell myself that I’m somewhat of an artist — but the artist/politician I met had his artistic layer much closer to the surface than I or we did.
The reason I mention Prieto here is that we also talked about blogs and told me that next trip he would track down some creative Cuban bloggers for me to meet.
But more importantly, he said that he had thought of launching his own blog. He said he doodles all the time and might want to post some of these doodles with a few lines now and then. He loves music.
So our group recommended that he launch “The Havana Note” and as part of the art of the blog heading, he could put some “musical notes.” But as i thought about it, the chances of Minister Prieto actually starting a blog using the URL, www.TheHavanaNote.com, are pretty low.
I also figured that the moment I wrote this up, some enterprising person might purloin the concept — so I’ve taken what we suggested and secured the URL.
But. . .that said, Abel Prieto ought to send some doodles and commentary our way — to test the waters of blogging — and we’d be happy to post those as his original expression (allowed actually under the rules of the Treasury Department’s OFAC restrictions) on The Havana Note.
More soon.
— Steve Clemons


8 comments on “<em>The Havana Note</em>

  1. David says:

    A sorely needed resource.


  2. Walter Lippmann says:

    An extensive and detailed e-mail listserv following Cuban development in English, CubaNews is seven years old and would be most informative to everyone following Cuban developments. Materials from an extremely wide range of political perspectives are shared to inform everyone who wants to see normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.
    Walter Lippmann
    Havana, Cuba


  3. Walter Lippmann says:

    Hi, Steve – I’m writing to you from Havana where I spend long periods of time each year. After retiring from my job as a Los Angeles County Child Protective Services Social Worker in 1999, I started coming to Cuba and now come frequently, staying for long periods of time.
    Journalists and researchers are still able to come to Cuba without asking permission from Washington, and that’s how I manage to get here.
    My father and his parents lived here in Cuba from 1939 to 1942. They were German Jewish refugees from Hitler’s holocaust. That’s where my personal interest in Cuba comes from. Just the other day at a new movie multiplex, I saw the documentary movie FROM SWASTIKA TO JIM CROW, which tells of the German Jewish college professors who taught at the historically Black colleges in the South.
    Cuban society today represents an effort to build an independent and socialist alternative to the way life was under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Some of it works, some note. It has its flaws and contradictions, as well as significant achievements. No society is perfect. There is no model which should be copied everywhere. Lots can be learned from Cuba’s experience, I think.
    Since August 2000, I’ve operated the CubaNews list, a free Yahoo news group which compiles a wide range of materials, pro and con, about Cuba, its people, politics and culture, and life within the island and affecting it in the Cuban diapora abroad. This news group has sent out over 64,000 items, from, about or related to Cuba so far. There’s politics, culture, and much more. Occasional personal notes, too.
    While I’m very much in favor of Cuba solving its own problems without U.S. intervention, the CubaNews list also provides examples of those rightist exiles who hope to overthrow the Cuban system, since that’s what Washington has been trying to do for close to fifty years. Those of us who want normalized relations need to know what the other side is thinking and saying, so I try to provide samples of that, too. There’s a big searchable database on Cuba which you can use as well. The Washington post wrote about my work:
    Thanks for your work. If I can be helpful, I’ll try to do so. I’m here for another five weeks this time. Otherwise, I live in Los Angeles.
    I really miss having DSL. Here it’s all dial-up! Remember dial-up?
    Details on the Yahoo newsgroup: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/
    And a personal website, also mostly about Cuba:


  4. John Dinges says:

    Great idea to focus this kind of discussion on Cuba. I’m working on a piece on the lifting of credentials of several US, British and mexican journalists. I’d appreciate any info or insights on that–by email to jcd35@columbia.edu, or if appropriate on the blog.
    John Dinges


  5. steve says:

    as one who has always wanted to travel to cuba as a private citizen, i am grateful for your attention to this wonderful country. any place that hemingway choose to live tha longest period of his life must be a country of value.
    hopefully, whoever is president when castro falls
    will not succumb to the old guard in miami, and will allow the cuban people to decide their future.


  6. Gail Reed says:

    A fascinating idea, Steve. Would love to contribute to this blog–my first ever. As a journalist inside Cuba for many years–working for everyone from NBC to MEDICC Review and Business Week–I’ve never had such an opportunity.
    This blog is a much-needed space for people on both sides of “the great divide” to observe, brainstorm, wrangle, even doodle, & hopefully get somewhere new.
    And I think your Havana Note might help a few folks in Washington face the music…


  7. profmarcus says:

    this is good, steve… i find cuba fascinating… the fact that it’s endured despite all the years of u.s. pressure and sanctions tells me something, although i’m not sure what… i know two people who have both met and talked with fidel, one as an ambassador to cuba, and the other as a romantic dalliance… both have incredibly interesting tales to tell about his intelligence, worldly wisdom and wit…


  8. sdrunsic says:

    noticed the subtle but revealing choice of words in the second to last paragraph.
    wonder whether the minister of culture would feasibly be granted the right to contribute to a blog of which the total content, the state would have no ability to control or manipulate.


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