Monday, November 16, 2015

Urgent New Posting on Cuban graffiti artist El Sexto’s US visa denial, Honduras appeal, Skype conversation

I would not usually post two days in a row, but it's important to urgently raise a ruckus with Congress, Kerry, and Obama administration about his visa denial, as El Sexto is due in Miami in early December. We were trying to coordinate with a gallerist, Stephen, but there is very little time left now. 
Stephen a London gallerist wants El Sexto at their Art Basel show in Miami in Dec. We were worried about him getting an exit visa, but now he cannot even get a US visa. He needs to summit another application immediately with outside intervention to expedite it. 
Welcome to the favorite winter meeting place for the international artworld. At the nexus of North America and Latin America, this Art Basel show presents artwork from across the globe. Over 250 of the world's leading galleries participate, drawing over 70,000 visitors each year. December 03, 2015 - December 06, 2015

Below 11-16-2015 from Diario de Cuba:

U.S. Embassy in Havana Denies Visa to El Sexto

The United States Embassy in Cuba has denied a non-immigrant visa to the graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), according to information on Friday from the artist himself, via his Facebook account.
The graffiti artist displayed a document where the embassy said that the decision cannot be appealed, but that it is not permanent. In any event, it recommended that Maldonado wait for one year before submitting a new visa application.
The artist was recently released after spending 10 months in prison without trial for trying to stage a controversial performance in December of 2014. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Honduras appeal: Hello, my name is Richard Guidry and I am a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and a member of Enactus. Enactus is a student organization that strives to use ENtrepreneurial ACTion to create a better world for US all. Through a partnership with the World Resources Group we are looking to bring an aquaponic/hydroponic farm to the small village of Linaca, Honduras. This farm will be utilized to help combat the hunger and malnutrition in this area as well as developing a potential business in the community. You obviously care about those in Honduras and the problems the country faces, as do all of us here at Enactus.

Would you please help us spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign to support the hydroponics/aquaponics project we are doing in the Linaca Valley of the El Paraiso Department near Danli, Honduras?  Through your blog, we can reach people who truly care about Honduras and its people . We currently only have a few days left in our campaign and have already raised nearly $1,700 towards our $10,000 goal. All donations that go towards this campaign will be used to help the community in Linaca and are 100% tax deductible as  they go to World Resources Group, a registered non-profit.  The link to our campaign is as follows:
If you would like more information about our project to help us spread awareness for the campaign please contact me at Any awareness you can help us raise will help to change the lives and the destiny of an entire community.
Thank you, Richard Guidry

Amnesty International Caribbean coordinators from around the world came together for a 2 ½ hour Skype meeting. It was the first time I had tried Skype, made available to me at the DC Amnesty office. It’s certainly cheaper than traveling, not as satisfactory as a face-to-face meeting, but better than e-mail. The internet really has provided a communications revolution. I am glad to have lived long enough to see it. 

Below, El Sexto's photo:


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Family, Paris, South Sudan, Haiti, Cuba

My daughter Stephanie had her 43rd birthday (yikes!) this month and posted a photo of herself at age one with her late brother Andrew, out at a rural property we owned and where I used to take the children on weekends. In December, we will be 21 years since we lost Andrew. And here is my youngest grandchild, Kingston, with father Jonathan and aunt Stephanie in Honolulu.

Surely, there will be repercussions from the Paris attacks on the willingness of European nations, as well as the US and Canada, to take in Syrian migrants and asylum seekers.  

Only two people survived a crash in South Sudan of an old Soviet cargo plane, a man and a stranger’s baby whom he held in his arms. [photo of similar plane] Such planes are a common form of transportation in South Sudan, which has few roads and other means of transport. I flew in them myself when I was in Sudan in 2006, sitting either on actual cargo or on benches along the sides of the aircraft. In hindsight, such a plane was not the most airworthy—likewise with the old Soviet transports being used by Cubana Airlines when I was traveling to Cuba in the 1990s. The one that took me from Santiago to Santo Domingo, on my last flight out in 1997, was certainly lacking in interior amenities, like air conditioning and intact seats.

Correction: the Peace Corps has not left Ecuador, as I had thought before. I don’t know if I had mentioned that here. It did pull out of Bolivia at the request of the president. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have given lip-service for some years now to the idea of having 10,000 Peace Corps volunteers, but never put the necessary money behind it. As a result, the numbers have hovered around 7,000 and countries asking for volunteers are not being accommodated and qualified applicants are being turned away.

Writing in the Washington Post, 11-8-2015, a deputy editorial page editor, argues that President Obama’s gentle and generous overtures to Burma, Iran, and Cuba have only allowed the dictatorial leadership of those nations to reap advantages that will actually help them consolidate their rule and maintain their positions. That’s a position that many in Congress and in the voting public also endorse.

In Haiti, international observers, led by the Organization of American States, which monitors elections across Latin America, acknowledged some voting irregularities, but has largely sanctioned the first round of voting.
But eight presidential candidates have called for an investigation into the voting that put Jovenel Moise, who is backed by President Martelly, in the lead with 32 percent of the vote. Initially, 54 candidates were vying for the presidency.  
A runoff election is scheduled for Dec. 27 between Moise and Jude Celestin, which is expected to be the final round of voting that will determine the next president of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Fidel Castro’s youngest son, Antonio, is quite the jet-setter, being photographed (with some difficulty) at various watering holes with his entourage and security apparatus.  His exploits are detailed in “The travels of Gulliver, Jr.” and published in the Tribuna de la Havana (Havana Tribune) weekly. Read more here:

The Double Life of Fidel Castro
 by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, in his security service for 26 years and his personal body guard for 17, I found quite credible in its wealth of detail. Sanchez must have an excellent memory or else kept good notes, since he long had the idea of possibly writing a book about his extraordinary experiences. His co-writer was a French journalist. As a fellow writer and nitpicky former editor, I found a few glitches, a mis-translation of either Spanish or English and a French word thrown in, perhaps because the book was written originally in French or Spanish—not sure which—with the English version only published later, coming out this year just when the author suddenly died. But, at least, he got it all down on paper and managed to see his book in print. He escaped Cuba by a raft to Mexico in 2008 after he had been imprisoned for asking to retire—though probably the real reason he was jailed was that his brother and daughter were living in Miami. The book only confirms what an egomaniac Fidel was (and still is?), insisting on the most extravagant secret luxuries, including trips to a private resort island, inviting special guests, like Garcia Marquez, while keeping his subjects in degradation. We all knew the execution of General Ochoa was carried out for fake reasons, but Sanchez confirms it. Fidel even had their executions filmed, a film that Sanchez saw. It’s also not surprising to learn that Fidel intervened aggressively in Chile.

I’d heard before that Fidel had counseled Daniel Ortega not to run for election in 1990, where I was an election observer and witnessed his ignominious defeat. But the UNO parties that united then around Violeta forgot that lesson and let Ortega win more recently with only a one-third majority. Once he got his foot back in the door, he rigged things so he could continue, even though the Nicaraguan constitution presumably forbade consecutive terms, and the presidents of Ecuador and Bolivia have followed his example

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Friends, readers, faithful blog followers, mea culpa for having gone so long without a posting. Life is just too complicated! I thought of breaking this up into several separate postings, but that would take even more time, so here goes, all at once, though divided into topics.  

First, my good friend Jorge Valls, Cuban philosophy professor, poet, playwright, and speaker of three languages, has died. In my capacity with Amnesty International and as a friend of his associates, I worked along with others for his release in 1984 after he had spent more than 20 years in prison. I've translated much of his poetry and at least one play, The Wild Dogs. In 1988, I invited him and former Cuban POC Andres Solares to speak at Amnesty USA's AGM in Atlanta. I last saw him in Feb. and spoke with him by phone about a month ago, when he was in rehab in NJ recovering from a broken hip. Although he has been frail for some time, for me his loss was devastating and unexpected.
Jorge,left, at bookstore reading with me and two cellmates who shared his 2 decades of imprisonment. 

Here is an excerpt about Jorge from my book Confessions: The case that landed Jorge in prison is detailed in a book by Spanish author Miguel Barroso, Un asunto sensible [A sensitive matter] (Mondadori, Barcelona, 2009). The book unravels a convoluted tangle of intrigue involving CIA defector Philip Agee, interviewed in Cuba by the author before his death, and the murder of four student revolutionaries by Batista forces in 1957, two years before the revolution. Seven years later, in 1964, Jorge’s close friend, Marcos Rodríguez, a Communist Party member in good standing since 1954, was accused of having betrayed the murdered students to Batista operatives and was arrested in Prague, where Castro had sent him on a special mission. Jorge, who had been with Marcos at the time of the murders, was convinced of his friend’s innocence and so testified at his trial, appearing as the only defense witness. Marcos was summarily executed and Jorge was sentenced to 20 years, entering prison at age 31 and leaving at 51, several months after completing his full sentence.
Valls now muses that at least ''free thinking dwelt behind prison walls; it was truly the free territory of Cuba.” As for freedom of expression at the time of the revolution, he says: ''None of that in 1959! Just extraordinary exaltation, the fanatical idolatry of the victorious warrior, and rampant folly that made everything acceptable.''

Here I am again on the same topic in the Huffington Post:

Some estimate nearly 100,000 have died crossing the Fla. Straits.

According to The Washington Post, in 2013 alone American travelers took assets worth 3.5 billion dollars to the island, while Cuban-Americans sent 3.1 billion dollars to the country in money wires. And this is in spite of the embargo, which already allows Havana to buy food and medicines directly from American companies
(though the Cuban government has drastically reduced US imports lately to put pressure on Congress to completely lift the embargo).

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are trying to block the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson as ambassador to Mexico because of her role in negotiating with the Cubans. I believe she did the best she could under difficult circumstances. I still am not sure what Obama’s gambit is or whether it will work. He was trying to shatter the Cold War us-versus-them and David versus Goliath narratives. Time will tell if he made the right gamble or gambit. Certainly Putin is on the other side, trying to get back into Cuba. The Latin American Left was left stunned and somewhat in disarray by the US move.   

Associated Press October 7
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Wednesday called on the Cuban government to let private enterprise thrive on the communist-ruled island and to grant its citizens greater access to the Internet.
Pritzker was visiting Cuba for two days, leading a delegation of officials from the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments for meetings with officials from Cuban government ministries and businesses.
She started her visit Tuesday with a stop at the Mariel free trade zone outside the capital of Havana.
The commerce secretary is the most senior U.S. official to travel to Cuba since Secretary of State John Kerry visited on Aug. 14 for a flag-raising ceremony outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, which is now upgraded to a full embassy following restoration of relations in July.
“We urge President Castro and his government to make it easier for Cuban citizens to trade and travel more freely, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to access the Internet and to (be) hired directly by foreign companies,” she said Wednesday at the start of meetings between officials from both countries.

See below from Diario de CubaNet, quoting Kerry saying that the US can reestablish relations with Cuba before it becomes a "complete democracy," as was done before with Viet Nam and China, which is not very reassuring, since those countries have never become "complete" democracies after decades. And to refer to Venezuela as an "imperfect democracy" is an understatement.
Democracy Digest, October 6, 2015
Engagement helps Cuban democracy – or kleptocracy?
The United States could end its embargo on Cuba “before full democracy exists” on the island, says US Secretary of State John Kerry.He told Chilean TV that a “full democracy requires time, but there is progress.”
“For instance, we don’t have full democracy in Vietnam, but we eliminated the embargo because we saw progress (…) There was no democracy in China when we normalized our relations and began to make progress,” said Kerry. “Personally, I believe the embargo should be lifted, because it would help the people of Cuba,” he concluded.
He also described Venezuela as a “democracy in trouble,” adding that the upcoming parliamentary elections (Dec. 6) would offer a “measure of what sort of democracy it is.”
But Cuban opposition activists fear that the US rapprochement will legitimize the Communist authorities rather than facilitate democratic change.
I’m also venting about a discussion I heard on BBC early one recent morning, British commentators on the pope's visit to Cuba, praising his role in facilitating US-Cuba relations and helping the US to jettison it's "rigid ideology and the spectacle of a big, powerful country picking on a small one." That, I fear, is a common perception of our previous Cuba policy (also held by many in Amnesty circles) and why the change has been haled around the world. Rightly or wrongly, the US embargo and democracy efforts in Cuba were not designed not to punish Cuba for having a different and more generous "socialist" government ideology, but because its own rigid ideology A) was leading to economic disaster, benefiting only a few at the top, B) did not reflect the collective will of the Cuban people, C) was resulting in beatings, arrests, unfair trials, and incarceration of peaceful protestors, and D) was causing much distress to Cubans, especially young people, propelling them to try to escape and also leading to one of the highest suicide and lowest birth rates in the world and certainly in Latin America. The US was "picking" on Cuba because its government was hurting its own people, not because of some abstract ideological principle or a desire to demonstrate power. Is that so? Or am I missing something? How do you counteract a view that has become accepted and acceptable as something that "everyone" knows?
A U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units are on the ground in Syria, citing evidence from intelligence reports. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cuban troops may have been training in Russia and may have arrived in Syria on Russian planes. General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, Head of the Cuban Armed Forces, reportedly had visited Syria recently.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez points out that unlike many other countries, Cuba has really no immigrants and the only strangers are short-term visitors. She also is skeptical that there will be much progress on civil rights in Cuba as the results of the accords.
Posted: 20 Oct 2015
Excerpt from author and journalist Andres Oppenheimer's review of Obama's foreign policy in his most recent The Miami Herald column, "Will Next U.S. President be a Hawk?":

 Cuba has not made any major economic or political changes since the Dec. 17 start of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, despite the reestablishment of diplomatic ties and Obama’s recent announcement of measures that significantly weaken the U.S. trade embargo on the island. An Oct. 8 Washington Post headline read, “U.S. officials are frustrated by lack of progress in trade with Cuba.”
For quite a while, the U.S. was Cuba's top supplier of food and medical goods, even with the trade embargo. But in the past 10 months, trade has dropped sharply, and Castro seems to be buying goods elsewhere. McClatchy News reports that August export trade with Cuba was $2.2 billion, down from $14.3 billion in August 2014, a very significant drop. According to experts McClatchy cited, the Castro regime is cutting down on trade as a means of making U.S. agricultural exporters complain to Congress about the embargo

A bit of good Cuba news, namely that the Buena Vista Social Club, that group of elderly musicians promoted by Ry Cooder, has been invited to play at the White House. Music, art, dance, sports—when not politicized—are bridges between nations.

In another good news item, the Cuban artist Danilo Medina “El Sexto,” who spent 10 months without trial and recently in solitary confinement, was released finally after two hunger strikes and a promised release that didn’t come. Last December, he had painted two piglets with the names “Raul” and “Fidel.” He had been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.


Presidential elections were held in Haiti on Oct. 25, but with scores of candidates, a run-off is virtually certain. Meanwhile, departing cabinet ministers are due to receive golden parachutes.
[Venezuela] is a bankrupt country, where Cubans mostly govern in Caracas.-- Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel laureate, BBC Mundo, 10/20/15  (I met President Arias in Costa Rica and there is a photo of him exiting a swimming pool in my Confessions book.]
I try to avoid news from Venezuela, because I already have my hands full and that's not one of my Amnesty countries as a volunteer coordinator. But I was asked by Catholic Charities in DC to do basically a pro bono interpretation for them. So, I agreed, expecting it to be a social work or mental health type case, and that I wouldn't be there very long. Well, I was there for 6 hours with a Venezuelan asylum seeker belonging to the same party as Leopoldo Lopez. Essentially her session at Cath. Ch. was a rehearsal for her asylum interview, as well as for nailing down specifics on her application. The poor woman was almost in tears, but I am sure the actual asylum interview is going to be at least as rough as the rehearsal. She gave some really terrible specifics, including losing her job a few years back (when Chavez was still president) and being unable to get another, being pressed to contribute a specified amount to Chavez's party, being threatened with rape and death when she did not cooperate, being beaten more than once along with her Chilean husband and her son, her husband having had a gun put to his head, etc. so they left their home vacant and came to her sister's house in suburban Md. I don't know what AI USA or the US government can do in Venezuela or for the people there, but both the political and economic situation sounds dire, at least based on this woman's very detailed narrative. It was an eye-opener for me and kind of a surprise really. I've lived in Colombia and have been to most Latin American countries, but Venezuela is not among them. 

The Obama administration has crafted a $1 billion aid package for Central America that is being held up by Republican legislators, who are the ones creaming most loudly about illegal immigration. Aid would be more effective than an expensive wall in keeping undocumented people out. An NPR interview featured LA Times reporter Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey, about a Honduran boy’s harrowing solo journey through Mexico. She recently visited Mexico’s southern border, where Mexican authorities are being paid by the US government to turn migrants back from there, often brutally, according Nazario, who says that at least 90 people sent back in recent months have been killed after their return.
While I have no doubt that the Mexico border situation is often as desperate as Nazario depicts it, I take issue with a statement she repeated, which I consider unnecessary sensationalism. She said migrants were being killed to harvest their organs. Organ harvesting is a common accusation all around the world, but I doubt its actual prevalence, if it happens at all. I’ve been an interpreter for several organ transplant patients. Believe me, you cannot just kill someone, take out their organs, and transplant them into someone else. It’s a very painstaking difficult medical procedure where exact testing of compatibility between donor and recipient is crucial and speed of transplant is essential. With partial liver and kidney transplants from living donors (some even being paid, say, in India), both parties are carefully prepared beforehand and hospitalized side-by-side. Hearts must come from deceased persons, but there must be minimal delay between death and transplant and all systems must match. I’ve been a phone interpreter in cases where someone has been killed in an accident and a hospital immediately phones the next-of-kin to take tissues and organs. If the relative says no, that’s it, nothing is taken. Sometimes organs are removed from a person declared brain dead while some other systems are still functioning. I believe few if any Central American migrants are being killed for their organs—robbery is a more likely motive. When someone like author Nazario, rightfully praised for highlighting the plight of child migrants, repeats the wildly circulating stories about organ robbing, she loses credibility. 
On the same program, taking a somewhat less sensational approach than author Nazario (who has adapted her book in several versions for different audiences), was Bill Clinton’s former Immigration Commissioner Doris Meissner. She pointed out that while many migrants are bona fide refugees, others are economic migrants and many simply want to join family members already living in the US.

An old Soviet cargo plane, like the ones I flew in around in 2006 has crashed near South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Indeed, those planes have seen better days, but are commonly used in that part of the world. The tragic civil, with a few pauses, seems to be continuing. Rivalry for absolute leadership seems to trump the wellbeing or even survival of this new nation.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has crushed political opponents in his country, overseeing the beating, intimidation and deaths of democratic challengers and their supporters. He has presided over economic policies that have resulted in rampant inflation and poverty. Widely condemned by Western governments, he is considered one of the most uncompromising dictators in Africa. Now he can claim the honor of being awarded a Confucius Peace Prize, the Chinese answer to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Unfortunately in Zimbabwe, a German hunter has now killed a magnificent iconic elephant with enormous tusks. These hunters pay big bucks to shoot these beautiful remarkable animals just to have bragging rights (when they should be condemned), providing an income to a few people in that impoverished and badly governed country.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) deplores yesterday’s U.N. General Assembly vote electing the authoritarian regimes of Burundi, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela as members of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for a three-year term. The UNHRC is the highest U.N. body charged with protecting and promoting human rights on a global scale.

DEMO DEBATESWhile I don’t have TV, I did listen on the radio to the Democratic presidential candidates’ first debate (though skipping the Republicans’). They all did OK, in my opinion, though none blew me away. Sanders and Clinton are the only real possibilities. Joe Biden waited too long to decide and certainly his son’s death figured in his delay—we need to remember that this was not the first sudden death of a loved one that Biden has endured. The son he just lost was the same son that barely pulled through an auto accident many years ago where Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed. The son’s death now must have made those memories more acute.
Ed Walker, a blind radio personality who was at the helm of NPR’s Sunday evening “Big Broadcast” died on Oct. 25, only hours after his last show ran. In his early 80s and suffering from cancer, he had already announced that he would retire on that day and had pre-recorded the show and his remarks. It was reported that he and his family had listened to that last program together in his hospital room, a fitting finale to his long and productive life. Apart from listening nostalgically to radio programs from my youth, I was especially interested in Walker because of being married to a blind person myself for 24 years and because I have worked and still do with blind people in Honduras.

Again, besides school and college shootings that have become almost routine, there was another senseless child casualty, an 11-year-old killed an 8-year-old because she said he couldn’t see her puppy. In another family posing for a photo with their guns, one child accidentally shoots another in the face. Every day, there are gun killings. In Colorado, a shooter kills three strangers. Are Americans so enslaved to the gun lobby that we must keep tolerating such preventable disasters? Yes, Jeb Bush is right, “Stuff happens,” but not all of it has to happen—much can be prevented. Progress has been made in child survival and longevity. Vehicle accidents are less frequent. (That’s partly why we have overpopulation right now. Of course, the world is responding to that problem with birth control. At least, all these gun deaths are reducing the population somewhat—a small silver lining perhaps? One could say the same of wars, but what a terrible way to go!). On the pro-gun side, in Chicago, a gun owner kills a would-be mugger. Such instances, especially where the attacker is not actually killed, are hard to document, but do not outweigh the number of people injured or killed by careless or illegal gun use.

While Donald Trump raises false expectations among his base, bloviating about a wall across the southern border that Mexico will pay for, it’s good to hear now, after President Obama was labeled “Deporter-in-Chief” due to the record number of deportations taking place on his watch, that the pace of deportations has finally slowed. However, as an Amnesty activist, I’ve had a number of requests from pro bono lawyers for help with staying the deportations of people who have paid their price in jail or otherwise long-ago and now, after years of upright living, with families, jobs, homes, they are being detained for deportation after a review of old records. This is all part of the new deportation thrust against “criminal aliens.”

At a school interpretation with a group of first-grade parents one evening, the teacher was giving them reading and math exercises to do with their kids along with groups of colored plastic letters and numbers. One man (more Hispanic fathers are now getting involved in school affairs) from Mexico said he had never gone to school and didn’t know anything about either reading or math. I asked about his wife—she was equally unschooled. I asked the other parents around my table about how far they had gone in school and 8th grade was the highest. It’s certainly a handicap for children if parents are illiterate, especially regarding homework. Since the teacher had given each parent a score for where their child stood in terms of being able to read words or do addition problems, I was able to see that the child of the man who had never gone to school had the lowest scores and the child of the 8th grade woman had the highest. Of course, there may be other factors, but that was very telling.

If prostitution is considered desirable, or at least not undesirable, behavior, then full decriminalization should be supported, as is being advocated now in some quarters, even within Amnesty International . But there’s certainly a downside. Rightly or wrongly, when alcohol and marijuana use are decriminalized, their use goes up, as do motor vehicle accidents attributable to them. Likewise, if prostitution is fully decriminalized, it will increase, as in countries where that has happened. Then it’s hard to turn back.
And most prostitutes—or sex workers, as advocates like to call them--begin as minors, are from disadvantaged groups, are coerced, and desperately want to get out.

Folks, you never know where cyber-hackers will be hiding. I was having a terrible time getting into my main Yahoo account—the system kept freezing up, Yahoo kept going off line. Finally, I looked on the Yahoo help line to find tech support. That guy went through my whole system, then asked for $249 to fix it! That was when I hung up, only to see porn filling up my screen as payback for refusing that offer. Thanks to a knowledgeable friend, all eventually got fixed. He also switched me from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome which, so far, is working much better.

for the first time, I participated in a Skype meeting, in this case with Amnesty International activists for the Caribbean from around the world. I don’t have Skype myself, so used the system at the DC Amnesty office. It’s certainly cheaper than actually traveling and, while not as satisfactory as face-to-face, it’s certainly better than e-mail.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Grandson (Again), DR Citizenship, El Sexto, Pope-mania, Cuba (Again), Haiti Elections, Nicaragua, Adios Sabado Gigante, PC Recruitment, Hafa/Hapa, Boehner, Print Books, Mideast Christians, Interpretation, Toilet Etiquette, Bulger Girlfriend, Gun Violence (Again)

If some topics are repeated throughout these postings, it’s because they are recurring, like
my new grandson Kingston, who is growing and changing daily.

On Oct. 2, on a stormy afternoon, my local Amnesty International Group 211, along with students and activists from all over the Mid-Atlantic region, participated in a series of rallies at several embassies, including that of the Dominican Republic, where we were protesting the court decision of 2 years ago that essentially stripped Haitian descendants of Dominican nationality, leaving them stateless and often unable to work or go to school.


#Rights4ALLinDR Fact-Checking the DR Ambassador to the US:
"Despite the government's assurances that no one born in the Dominican Republic or with legal documents will be deported, several media and human rights organizations have interviewed people whose harrowing experiences contradict that claim: 33% of the people forcibly removed to Haiti were Dominican-born. In one such case, Juan A. Corporán, a construction worker, was picked up by immigration officials and told he was Haitian, even after showing the officers his Dominican ID." #UncertainFate #WeAreAllDominican
Danilo Maldonado, nicknamed El Sexto, a Cuban performance artist who painted 2 piglets with the names Fidel and Raul, has been held without trial since December, placed in solitary confinement,
and on Sept. 8, went a hunger strike, having said his farewells.
We at Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience (POC) and sent out Urgent Actions on his behalf, also  supported a campaign by artists around the world, among them Venezuelan artist Carlos Luis Sánchez.

Orlando Zapata, another Cuban hunger striker and Amnesty POC, did die in 2010, so it could happen again, even if we at Amnesty International, as well as the Obama administration and Raul Castro’s regime, would not want to see El Sexto die. Well on Oct. 2, the Cuban government promised to release him in 15 days if he would start eating again, which he reportedly agreed to do. Hunger strikers do take some time to recuperate, slowly taking on nourishment, reportedly usually beginning with sugar water.
Whew! The Pope left DC after 3 tumultuous days with events occurring near my home. Mostly, I liked what he said and did in the US, but in Cuba, he could and should have been a bit more forceful against the regime, especially after having gone through the “dirty war” of military rule in Argentina. He visited with US prisoners, but not Cuban ones. He might have reached out and been more accommodating to dissidents who desperately wanted to see him, though his friend Cardinal Jaime Ortega may have urged him not to do so, fearing harm to the church’s slowly growing role in Cuba. I do hate crowds, so I failed to see Francis. President Obama’s first inauguration, where we were all squished together and stepping on each other’s toes, was the last crowd I ever want to be in. I admire the pope at his age going so gracefully through such a grueling and packed schedule, first in Cuba and then immediately on to three major US cities. In general, I admire him, but on Cuba, he was uncharacteristically not up to the task. Did he have a blind spot or was his seeming indifference calculated? It’s hard to square the image of a benevolent pope, man who showed himself in the US to be funny, spontaneous, and kind, preaching forgiveness, charity, and tolerance—someone who kissed the disabled and babies, who visited prisoners here—but, in Cuba, going out of his way to ignore disenfranchised and officially reviled Cubans who desperately wanted to see him and give him a message while he met cordially with Fidel, arguably the main architect of their long decades of desperation? Maybe he said something privately to Raul and Fidel, but the beleaguered dissidents and disenfranchised Cuban people never heard it.
Nestor Campanería Angel, a Cuban exile living in Miami, wrote a letter to Pope Francis in February and has never received an answer. In the letter, he told how his older brother, law student Virgilio Campanería Ángel, age 23, was executed in 1961 by firing squad along with 7 others after a trial lasting one hour. He invited the pontiff and everyone else to visit the Cuban Memorial to 12,000 people who had lost their lives to the Castro regime.
I’ve heard that some of those gathered for the pope’s Masses in Cuba were forced to attend. A Cuban American tells me: I learned recently from a sister of a friend who lives in Cuba, that the crowds at the pope events in Cuba where composed of the military, security officers, and their family posing as ordinary citizens.  Her sister is Catholic and she said that the people in her church were not able to attend because no transportation was available (transport is controlled by the government) and they were not able to arrange anything else. She said that other Catholic churches were in the same situation. The visit of the pope was for international consumption. 
 Outspoken Archbishop Bruno Musaro, former papal nuncio in Cuba, found himself last Feb. being sent to Egypt, a country almost devoid of Catholics.
The Cuban leadership and the pope may show distain for capitalism, but both rely on it—Cuba is betting on American capitalist bounty to rescue it from the mess made by its presumably more benign and generous “socialist” policies.
Cubans brace for the American invasion, Oct. 4, 2015
Raul Castro, speaking at the UN, declared that the US embargo against Cuba is the main “obstacle” to Cuba’s development. Is there a need to reiterate here the exaggeration of such a statement? Food and medicine are exempt from the embargo, a record number of visitors are arriving in Cuba from the US—more than from any other country—and Cuba trades with the rest of the world. The main obstacle to Cuba’s development is the stranglehold that the elite and the military have on the Cuban economy, which enriches the few and impoverishes the many and has led to a country largely self-sufficient in agriculture before the revolution to one that must import most of its food. If something is repeated often enough, such as by Cuba’s leadership saying “Poor little Cuba, the giant US is picking on us”—the David and Goliath myth—people begin to believe it’s actually so.
Ideals or blueprints can never be fully realized. They have to be tweaked and modified. To his credit, Raul has tweaked the blueprint Fidel originally gave him. Clinging too strongly to an ideal can be harmful, leading to estrangement between spouses or between parents and offspring on a micro level and, on a societal level, to coercion and dictatorship—like the molding of the “new man” that failed in the USSR, China, Nicaragua, and Cuba. But a guiding set of principles is essential—democracy, human rights, women’s rights, racial equality, living wage—all those can be guides without being coercive, even though there may be divisions of opinion about their proper realization. Capitalism may be considered evil by Pope Francis and certainly by Raul Castro (except for the state capitalism that benefits him, his family, and his associates), but Raul is counting on the capitalism and relative bounty of the US economic system to rescue him and ensure his own position and hold on power. It is hard to believe that Raul, perhaps unlike Fidel, has been personally and philosophically wed to “socialism,” whatever that is, except to give it lip service. Surely he is too savvy to fail to see that what exists in Cuba today is nothing like economic or social equality and that the fault for that inequality is not the US embargo.    
Oct. 25 is the date set for presidential elections in Haiti, with a record 54 candidates vying for office out of 70 originally declared candidates. Incumbent President Michel Martelly is constitutionally barred from running for a second term.
Translation: We’ve had rain, but little, and I don’t believe it’s a good idea [referring to the Chinese canal being built through Lake Managua]. Now we don’t all have access to work; the situation here is bad and sometimes I feel like going “wetback” to your country.
Sabado Gigante (Giant Saturday), a Spanish-language music and variety show with Chilean-born host Don Francisco, now in his 70s, finally went off the air after 53 years. While for almost 2 decades, it has been broadcast from Miami, it was transmitted all over Latin America. Where I had TV access in Honduras, it was a Saturday night staple, a loud, cheesy sort of show, with half-naked women, risqué jokes, pratfalls, and simple contests, not really my cup of tea, but Hondurans loved it and many will miss that Saturday family TV-watching ritual. However, apart from the host getting older, apparently ratings in the US were falling, so advertisers considered it time to pull the plug, though advertisers in Latin America might have been more reluctant to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised to see reruns south of the border.
 More Peace Corps recruitment ads are appearing in magazines and on the radio, about 7000 volunteers of all ages serving in more than 60 countries. I do hope to be able to serve again before I get too decrepit, but am too busy right now.
Hafu is apparently the Japanese term for a mixed race person, half Japanese, of which someone half Japanese, half African American (as with a GI father) has been especially looked down upon in that purist culture due to the double stigma of African “blood” and illegitimacy. But a recent Miss Japan whose GI father was African American has helped win more acceptance for Hafus. Hawaii has Hapa-Haoles (in this case half-Caucasian), including my own daughter Stephanie, but there, being mixed race is pretty common, so does not carry any great stigma, although full Haoles (Caucasians) are in the minority (the only state where that’s the case) and, it seems, are not held in quite as much esteem at “pure-blood” Asians and Native Hawaiians. Since Haole tourists predominate, the term is sometimes applied to ignorant mainlanders untutored in local ways. (Photo shows me in 2003, at daughter Stephanie's wedding in Honolulu in 2003, an event I had to travel to from Peace Corps in Honduras, quite a trek.)
 More than 13% of people living in the US are foreign-born, the highest percentage since the 1890s. Apparently Asian immigrants are the wave of the future, projected to edge out Hispanics over the next decades.
 You can’t blame John Boehner for quitting the House leadership and Congress. I’m sure he’s sick and tired of such a thankless task. He not only cries easily, but, with good reason, always has looked to be on the verge of tears.
I love print books, holding them in my hand, turning pages, and viewing photos and illustrations. My home office holds a whole library of books old and new. But truth be told, print books are going out of style and even famous world libraries are pruning or jettisoning parts of their collections.  Many libraries no longer accept collections willed to them. More and more, only rare and historical physical books are being kept, while both patrons and libraries are going digital. What is easier and more convenient in this mobile world than having hundreds of books saved on a single hand-held device, words at your fingertips wherever you are and whenever you have time to read them?
I attended a book event in my neighborhood at the home of George Marlin, Chair of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. He was distributing his new book, Christian Persecutions in the Middle East, about a topic that hasn’t gotten much attention. After millennia of living in the area, Christians are being harassed and expelled and essentially cleansed from the Middle East. The book quotes Catholic bishop Macram Gassis, whom I met in south Sudan in 2006 and about whose work I wrote in America magazine. One-fourth of Syrians are Christians, certainly represented among the migrants now flooding Europe. The book offers little in the way of solutions, especially since the US is moving away from the role of the world’s policeman.
 Just finished reading another book called The Yankee Comandante about the life and execution by Castro forces of William Morgan, an American who first fought with Fidel, then turned against him. The co-authors worked for the Toledo Blade, meeting his widow Olga Rodriguez, who eventually ended up in Toledo after Morgan’s death in 1961, joining his mother living there. The authors had featured articles about her and Morgan in the paper in 2002. Olga herself had spent 11 years as a Cuban political prisoner after his execution. Whether they were actually married is a little murky, as Morgan already had a wife and children back in the US. In any case, he and Olga were joined in a guerrilla ceremony and had 2 daughters before he was executed by firing squad. Of course, Fidel never showed mercy to anyone he suspected of disloyalty. The book, cast as a love story based mainly on Olga’s recollections long after the events, is what I would call “faction” or novelization. It makes for an engaging story, but may be wanting in historical accuracy. Olga must have had a photographic, and indeed keen auditory, memory if she is the source for the dialogue, including conversations when she wasn’t present. “Morgan didn’t know what to say. He never expected this kind of questioning.” Morgan is dead and Olga wasn’t there, so how do we know what he expected or what was said? Another time, apparently, he buttons up his shirt and leaves the top button open. Maybe he habitually did that, so it’s a detail Olga remembers? Other people are said to have thought or feared certain things, again, how would the authors know? Then in the middle of a tale woven by omniscient narrators, there suddenly appear photocopies of Morgan’s actual FBI files, as well as traditional family photos, which is jarring and makes the reader wonder what part is actually true and what is embellished? I’m a translator, as well as an interpreter, and so am also knit-picky about Spanish grammar and usage, finding myself annoyed by the irregular and inconsistent use of accent marks throughout the book. But what annoyed me most was that Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, another Castro guerrilla fighter who fell out of favor and ended up spending decades in prison, is referred to consistently as Menoyo, that is, by his mother’s maiden name. Either it should have been Gutiérrez or Gutiérrez Menoyo, but not just Menoyo, although occasionally even Spanish speakers use the mother’s maiden name as a sort of familiar nickname. Americans seem consistently unable to fathom usual Spanish last name usage. Likewise, they habitually refer to Gabriel García Márquez as Márquez, when García was his real last name, though he used García Márquez to distinguish himself from his father Gabriel García. An article about Morgan’s life and death by David Grann that appeared in 2012 in the New Yorker seems more factual, but he also refers to Gutiérrez Menoyo, as simply Menoyo. Cubans who knew him in prison, many of my acquaintance, always refer to him as Eloy or Gutiérrez Menoyo.
I’ve started Spanish interpreting again at DC public schools at a recent Back-to-School night. I was impressed to see several fathers there. Years ago, Hispanic fathers rarely attended school events. So many public school students have Spanish-speaking parents. Only 17% of the US population is Hispanic, according to 2010 Census data, but the population of those under 18 is much greater. Thanks to immigration and birthrates among this group, the US population is not shrinking, as it otherwise would. (Europe, also with an aging and shrinking population, is now getting its own influx of immigrants.)
I've worked as both a translator and an interpreter (English-Spanish), also in rehabilitation, social work, social policy research, as a writer and editor, and as a Peace Corps volunteer. All the latter experiences have helped inform my translating and interpreting work, also given me a preference for interpretation with live people over translation of the written page. Being an interpreter means entering lives I might not otherwise know (though in strict confidentiality), often on an intimate basis. Surprisingly, when I am interpreting, the client often gets into the rhythm and doesn’t even seem to notice that I’m actually there, even when talking about sensitive subjects. But that was not the case for one memorable child welfare interpretation involving a deaf girl apparently sexually molested by her Spanish-speaking father (interpreters are not given background details, but I’ve been a child welfare worker). She and her mother were being interviewed by an English-speaking child protective services worker. The girl communicated via American Sign Language, interpreted into spoken English by a sign-language interpreter, and I, in turn, translated that into Spanish for the mother. It was a cumbersome exchange, and, so, it was rather hard to ignore the role of interpreters in that particular case. But under more usual circumstances, I keep a straight face and use a clear, but not excessively loud, voice, trying to blend into the wall paper.
Of course, more and more, enterprises are using computer translations, not 100% accurate, but much cheaper than human translation and often sufficient to convey the gist. Of course, for book translation, a human being is required. And telephonic interpretation, paid by the minute instead of the hour, is also a money saver; I don’t particularly care for it but it does make the interpreter less intrusive. Sometimes I’ve done it with a speaker phone on the other end, usually with a group of people gathered for a meeting, and I have to figure out who is talking to whom. Savings on one side, such as this, are someone else’s loss of income (mine in this case). Oil and coal workers are now feeling that pinch, while the rest of us enjoy cheaper fuel prices.

I’ve been consulted on what to do about Central American migrants, especially in public parks in suburban Maryland, throwing toilet paper on the floor and not flushing. Restroom problems are something I have not confronted lately, but I know why they throw toilet paper on the floor. That's because in Latin America, the plumbing cannot accommodate toilet paper, so it's thrown into a receptacle and burned periodically. I guess, it has been drilled into them--never put toilet paper into the toilet. Since I travel to Honduras annually, I have to switch gears myself, though, really, putting it into a receptacle to be burned is not the greatest solution. Some also have habitually used latrines, not toilets, and you don't flush those. Others have only gone outside behind the bushes. I’d suggest that school kids make bilingual signs with drawings for those who cannot read, showing proper bathroom conduct: someone throwing toilet paper into the toilet, then flushing, then washing hands and throwing the paper towel in the trash. I suspect local schools that have accepted Central American migrants have to give them the same instructions.
The girlfriend of convicted Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger was indicted for contempt of court for refusing to testify about the couple's time in hiding. Catherine Greig, 64, had been ordered by the U.S. District Court in Boston to answer questions before a grand jury about people who helped Bulger while he lived on the lam for 16 years to avoid arrest. My prediction is that she will not testify, as the worst crime for a mobster is “ratting out,” considered even worse than murder. So, at least as long as Bulger is alive, she is likely to stay mum, even if it means she spends more time locked up herself.

Another mass shooting—is the unrestricted right to bear arms so sacred that it supersedes the right to life of innocent others? According to CDC figures (as reported on, US firearms deaths (suicides, homicides, accidents) from 2000-2013 exceeded those from wars, terrorism, AIDS, and illegal drug overdoses combined.  

In the NYTimes, columnist Nicholas Kristof (Oct. 3) posits ways to make guns safer, though most such measures have been opposed by the NRA: Public health experts cite many ways we could live more safely with guns, and many of them have broad popular support. A poll this year found that majorities even of gun-owners favor universal background checks; tighter regulation of gun dealers; safe storage requirements in homes; and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses. We should also be investing in “smart gun” technology, such as weapons that fire only with a PIN or fingerprint. We should adopt microstamping that allows a bullet casing to be traced back to a particular gun. We can require liability insurance for guns, as we do for cars.

Dear Readers, believe it or not, I’m trying hard to be less wordy, as there are only a few faithful readers willing to hear me out. However, I have so much on my mind and so many issues engaging my attention that putting it all down on paper helps me sort it out, so thanks for your patience. I’ve also figured out how to place photos with the corresponding text. And you can always skim and focus on bolded key words. Gracias.