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Writer's View of Cuba, Harrelson Spurs Kudos, Anger

April 03, 1999

As a participant-observer at the recent "Music Bridges" songwriting summit in Havana, I was chagrined to find such a bitter, sarcastic tone employed by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, your self-described "half-Cuban hybrid" reporter who took pains to devalue and demean any and all who took part--especially Woody Harrelson ("An Accidental Island Tour," March 30).

While she did not refer to me by name, I am by inference one of the Yanquis she excoriates for regarding the "Cuban people" as "beautiful," a judgment she regards as "good-white-liberal-speak." Had she spoken to me directly, I might well have spoken of the genius and creativity of Cuban musicians without succumbing to the romantic cliches she accuses us all of spewing.

I might have further remarked that it was both inspiring and saddening to work with artists whose futures held no more promise than a string of $5-a-night gigs, who work for the sake of the music, and the joy they derive from it.

Mind you, there is a real story lurking beneath the cliches, both hers and ours. Had she attempted to do so, she might have tried to find out what personalities had brought this project to fruition and whose purposes were served thereby; or what political ends were met by the Cuban government by allowing this summit to take place. That's the kind of story I expect from a paper of record, not this quasi-Enquirer-style gossip.




Valdes-Rodriguez's First Person column was her fourth report on the "Music Bridges" event. The other articles ran March 23, 27 and 29.

I assumed that this would be just another deadly dull piece about the wonders and marvels of globe-trotting celebrities doing good works in places with interests antithetical to those of the United States.

What a joy to read instead the honest, tell it like it is, wildly hilarious account of Valdes-Rodriguez. Please let us hear more from her.


Los Angeles


Why the vicious Woody Harrelson bashing? A brilliant actor and aware man who has always trod consciously on the planet and consistently opens his heart and his checkbook to worthy causes--an all-around decent guy!

How dare she mock the hospitable Cuban's brave attempts to say "tunnel" in English? The depth of the self-absorption and arrogance is staggering. Talk about clueless. I notice the young woman (how do I intuit that detail?) didn't mention if Harrelson tipped the Cuban cabdriver. No doubt, knowing his legendary generosity, the tip was sizable.

Oh, and Cameron Diaz: You go, girl! The Cubans already love you as you will love them.


Los Angeles


Brava! I hope Harrelson and her other traveling companions have a sense of humor. As for me, I haven't laughed so hard in the morning in a long time. It was a refreshing, puckish slice of "real" life.




Valdes-Rodriguez's patronizing descriptions of the Cuban people she encountered and failed to understand have the odor of a North American bigot who is disgusted by her contact with the Third World. Are we to find this more acceptable because she has Hispanic surnames and relatives on the island?

As a Cuban American who recently traveled to Cuba and was overjoyed by the opportunity to restore my contacts with my relatives specifically and the Cuban people in general, I am left wondering how she feels qualified to write off all of Cuba to other tourists based on a few days in Havana.


Studio City


Bravo for telling it like it is. As one who's been doing music business in and with Cuba from before the revolution to the present, I've been appalled at the reports that invariably praise the people and conditions while ignoring the deplorable acts and situations that even the enthusiastic tourist can't fail to see.


Tropicana Records

Beverly Hills


I have performed all over the world for more than 50 years, in the course of which I have visited Cuba regularly as a singer in search of the peaceful and creative embrace of my fellow artists. Nowhere in the world, or in all those years, have I seen either a cockroach in my cereal or a flasher in my face. But then, maybe I wasn't looking for them.

Next time, send a reporter with a heart.




Thank you, thank you, thank you for presenting a more realistic view of what things are like in Cuba.

A week after I returned from Cuba two years ago, I read a wonderfully romanticized article in the L.A. Times about how great things were there and wondered what Cuba the author had visited. Certainly not the one I had been in. The one I visited was more like the one you described.


Santa Monica


Valdes-Rodriguez's article is easily one of the best-written and most enjoyable stories in my more than 40 years of Times readership. Please let her know that she has a fan who looks forward to more.




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