Saturday, September 13, 2014

Late Son Andrew’s Birthday, Family and Work Events, Immigration Reform Delay, Obama Economics, Whither Scotland?, Latin America, Cuba Again





 
 A couple of family photos here, first of my daughter Stephanie doing conservation work in the jungles of Oahu, having been dropped off by helicopter. She’s a biologist who likes to be directly in touch with nature. The second is of the front door of the house where daughter Melanie moved recently with her daughter and grandson, shown here. Another is of the panel at a forum described below. And, finally, a young female lion found abandoned and rescued in Africa, when let out of her enclosure, instead of darting away, embraces her benefactor. (I simply liked that image.)
 September 4, would have been my late son Andrew’s 47th birthday. It has been 20 years since he died, still greatly missed.
The other evening, I participated in a “Back-to-school” night for parents where other interpreters for Mandarin were present. That’s the first time that I’ve run into them. This was for a public school near the White House. Whenever interpretation clients thank me for being there, I say, “Mi deber, mi placer,” which has an alliterative sound in Spanish and means, “My duty, my pleasure.”
 No doubt Democratic candidates are heaving a sigh of relief that Obama has put off any new moves on immigration until after the November elections. At the same, voters sympathetic to immigrants won’t have lost hope entirely. Yet, immigration reform advocates and Hispanics generally are reportedly angry at the delay, but where do they have to go? Perhaps they will simply sit out this election?
 Here’s a surprise from Forbes on the Obama administration’s economic record:
Economically, President Obama’s administration has outperformed President Reagan’s in all commonly watched categories.  Simultaneously the current administration has reduced the deficit, which skyrocketed under Reagan.  Additionally, Obama has reduced federal employment, which grew under Reagan (especially when including military personnel,) and truly delivered a “smaller government.”  Additionally, the current administration has kept inflation low, even during extreme international upheaval, failure of foreign economies (Greece) and a dramatic slowdown in the European economy.
 On my father’s side, I have Scottish inheritance. My paternal grandfather came from the Isle of Isle in Scotland to Canada, where my father was born in Alberta. Although my ties to Scotland are more historic than current, I still will weigh in against Scottish independence. As with Quebec nationalism, I believe most such partitions are ill-advised.
 On September 9, I attended a wide-ranging panel discussion, conducted mostly in Spanish, about corruption, crime, and dictatorship to varying degrees in Latin America, primarily in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Chile, it seems, is pretty clean.  I won’t identify the sponsoring organization further except to say that the meeting was held in an enormous House chamber with high, ornate ceilings, huge chandeliers, and frigid air conditioning. The all-male suited panel was on raised podium removed from the audience when a roundtable discussion would have been more appropriate. The auditory system was fuzzy and while there were two simultaneous interpreters who took turns, they expressed to me privately that it was hard to hear and understand what the speakers were saying. Even under the best of circumstances, simultaneous interpreting requires enormous concentration and the use of equipment which always arouses anxiety in me as an interpreter.  I was sitting closest to the speakers, still recovering from a pulled muscle in my back, so was somewhat uncomfortable, especially when the calf of one leg began cramping. Sitting exposed that way, I didn’t think it appropriate to jump up and stretch my leg. Still, at the break, I chatted with some folks I knew, so it was worthwhile being there. One gave me a book of selections from Cuban independent blogger Yoani Sanchez. There is always something to learn in any situation.
 How’s this for a modern-day prayer? "Our Chavez who art in heaven, the earth, the sea and in us delegates," red-shirted delegate Maria Estrella Uribe read in front of a vast image of the former president, "Lead us not into the temptation of capitalism, deliver us from the evil of the oligarchy, like the crime of contraband, because ours is the homeland, the peace and life — forever and ever. Amen. Viva Chavez!" she exclaimed to applause. [Reuters]
 I missed this when it first appeared, but the Washington Post issued another editorial, this one on July 21, 2014, asking for an investigation of Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Payá’s death 2 years ago. Of course, his is not the only suspicious death of a Cuban dissident.
 The Cuban regime is making a full-court press around the world, focused on 20 countries, including the US government and Congress, making the case for the liberation of the remaining 3 prisoners among the original “Cuban Five,” convicted of spying for the Cuban government and of direct involvement in the deaths of 4 Brothers-to-the-Rescue, who used to pick up stranded rafters in open waters. Members of the Five notified Cuban authorities of the rescue plane’s flight path, resulting in their being shot down by the Cuban air force. The Cuban government is alleging irregularities in the original court case and describes the three prisoners as “heroes.” The Cuban government wants to exchange them for former USAID contractor Alan Gross, who was probably seized with that objective in mind. I would not expect any “deal” to be made until after the November elections. After that, because poor Alan Gross has been imprisoned for five years already, I would expect an exchange, though it would be nice to get something more in terms of expanded freedom for the Cuban people as well. I don’t know all the details of the trial of the Five, but from the records I’ve reviewed, I would not say they necessarily had an unfair trial, though some have questioned the Miami venue. Many Amnesty members have sympathized with them.
 I am certainly fighting an uphill battle with my Cuba book and see that support for the Cuban dictatorship is not just a matter of gullible people buying into Castro propaganda, but is part of a concerted effort by the Cuban government to influence and win over left-leaning academics and organizations with visits to Cuba and other perks. The aim is create sympathy toward the regime, especially in such people’s careers in instructing students or in their positions in government service. A great hue and cry went out when a single such regime-sympathetic ideologue, former Senate staffer and CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong, kept revealing USAID “bumbling” in Cuba via leaks about the now-defunct Twitter program and efforts to “infiltrate” Latin American students to get Cuban students thinking more creatively. It turned out that he himself was the source of the very reports about which he was making such derogatory comments. The USAID efforts in Cuba, which he labeled “bumbling” and “ineffective,” were not aimed directly at “regime change,” as he and Cuban authorities alleged, but just at facilitating the free flow of information and communication. In contrast, the Cuban government’s efforts with American academics is aimed at fostering positive support for a dictatorship.
Another Cuba commentator, who has interviewed Fidel Castro and written 2 books on Cuba is Julia E. Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations. She recently had a piece in The Huffington Post which seems to place all the blame for poor US-Cuba relations on the US side, not only for the embargo, but for the USAID programs that Armstrong highlighted. The embargo arguably has done virtually nothing to dislodge the Castro regime; indeed, it may have helped the brothers stay in power by shifting the blame for every failing on the US. However, these US policies, as failed or misguided as they may be, are not simply aimed at poor Cuba because its leadership fails to follow our dictates. Rather, that leadership is not only bumbling (if I may borrow a term from Fulton Armstrong), but also cruel and oppressive. Cuban Americans with family on the island are rightly concerned that their relatives are suffering. These Cuban Americans are not a “Miami mafia,” as the Cuban regime depicts them, but people with legitimate concerns about their family members’ well-being. They do what they can to help by sending money and taking massive amounts of goods, but the political and economic system in Cuba has to change. Obviously, the tactics used so far haven’t worked. Maybe eliminating the embargo and forcing to Cuba to act like a “normal” country would foster its evolution toward that goal?
Here from Newmax: According to an unclassified FBI report reviewed in the Washington Free Beacon, the Cuban government, under the guise of seeking “friendship,” is recruiting left-leaning “Intelligence officers [who] will come into contact with the academic travelers. They will stay in the same accommodations and participate in the activities arranged for the travelers,” it said. “This clearly provides an opportunity to identify targets.” The FBI also alleged that, apart from collecting classified information and governments secrets, Cuban officials are attempting to recruit key people who will portray the country in a positive light and “sway policymakers into particular courses of action” through either disinformation or propaganda. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy appears to be one of those swayed by Armstrong and others of his persuasion.  See http://www.Newsmax.com/US/Cuba-spying-Cuba-secret-service-spy-recruiting-in-academia/2014/09/05/id/592833/#ixzz3CTFOGvQw

Cuban migrants head back to sea after being turned away in Caymans
Aug. 29, 2014 GEORGE TOWN Cayman Islands (Reuters) - Sixteen Cuban migrants who sought refuge in Grand Cayman have resumed their voyage in a small, homemade aluminum boat after local officials turned them away, citing a migration agreement with Cuba. The 20-foot (6-meter fiberglass and metal with large inner tubes attached to makeshift outriggers, left on Thursday night, headed for Honduras, about 400 miles (644 km) away. They were last seen being trailed by a police boat and helicopter about five miles (8 km) off Grand Cayman, drifting west in five foot (1.5 meter) waves with a squall approaching.
Boats smuggling Cubans who are seeking to flee the communist-run island are frequently seen off the Cayman Islands, located in the Caribbean less than 100 miles (160 km) south of Cuba. They are usually headed for Honduras from where migrants make the long journey overland to reach the U.S. border with Mexico. Under the U.S. so-called "wet foot, dry foot policy," Cuban migrants who make it onto United States soil are allowed to remain while those intercepted at sea are turned back.
The U.S. Border Patrol said in late July that more than 13,500 Cubans without proper travel documents had tried to cross the southwestern U.S. border since Oct. 1, 2013, more than during all of the previous 12 months. Four years ago, the 12-month total was about 5,500.
"We left (Cuba) because there are no jobs or the basic items for living," said the boat captain, who was briefly interviewed close to shore before the boat departed. The captain, who identified himself as Angelo, said the passengers, 11 men and five women aged 18 to 40, were from Manzanillo in eastern Cuba. He said the boat had been at sea for five days since leaving eastern Cuba, surviving rough seas whipped up by the passage of hurricane Cristobal to the east. The boat had no shade from the blazing summer heat, and the group appeared to have run out of water.
Under a 1999 migration accord with Havana, Cuban boats are allowed to pass through Cayman waters as long as they do not seek any assistance. If the migrants come ashore, they are taken into custody and usually repatriated to Cuba. Cayman immigration officials estimate about 244 Cuban migrants have passed through its waters so far in 2014, while 76 were repatriated.
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tool goes heCatholic archbishop in Cuba criticizes government
By Nora Gamez Torres el Nuevo Herald
In an unusual gesture for a member high in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy in Cuba, the Apostolic nuncio Bruno Musaro spoke openly about Cuba’s “extreme poverty and huBy Nora Gamez Torres, Miami Herald 8-29-14
In an unusual gesture for a member high in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy in Cuba, the Apostolic nuncio Bruno Musaro spoke openly about Cuba’s “extreme poverty and human and civil degradation.”
Musaro made his controversial remarks while on vacation in Italy after holding a Mass in the San Pio de Pietrelcina park, in the Italian municipality of Vignacastrisi. The Cuban people are “victims of a socialist dictatorship that has kept them subjugated for the past 56 years,” Musaro said, according to the Italian newspaper, Lecce News24. “I’m thankful to the pope for inviting me to this island, and I hope to leave once that the socialist regime has disappeared indefinitely,” said Musaro, a Vatican ambassador living in Cuba since 2011. “Only liberty can bring hope to the Cuban people,” he said.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/29/4317220/catholic-archbishop-in-cuba-criticizes.html#storylink=cpy
 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Family Photos, Ex-Gov. McDonnell, Hamas Executions, Cuban Medical Care, Cuban Dissident in Mortal Danger?



Though hardly my own style, my 26-year-old granddaughter Natasha loves decorated fingernails, no two alike. The other photo is of my son Jonathan near his home outside Honolulu, in the town of Kaneohe, a community of 35,000 on the windward side of the island, a really lovely place.

 Former Va. Governor Bob McDonnell is fighting for his freedom. A former trial lawyer himself, his strategy in his corruption trial seems to be to put all the blame on his wife, who was not a public servant, hence cannot be charged. They are even living apart, though I would not be surprised, assuming they emerge from this ordeal without prison time, that they will “reconcile” once it is over. Or maybe this strategic rift will end up permanently damaging their marriage. Apparently the former governor is quite a convincing speaker, so may sway the jury with his marital problems story, while infuriating the prosecution--which has presented a pretty strong case until now. A jury trial is like a chess game, with each side trying to sway the jury. The “truth” is whatever the jury believes.  

 Witnesses said over a dozen suspected informants were executed by Hamas in Gaza, presumably without trial or solid evidence, without due process, after Israeli attacks on Hamas leaders. Hamas seems completely uncompromising. There is no evident “peace” movement in Gaza. At least for now, the two sides have stopped firing on each other. Both are claiming victory. I do have a friend whose parents were Holocaust survivors who signed the letter in the NY Times protesting the destruction in Gaza.

 WHO made a visit recently to Cuba and declared its health system a model for developing countries, according to a French physician, whose article appeared in The Huffington Post. I will vouch that Cuban doctors and other health workers are well-trained, at least according to my experiencing working with them in Honduras, where many have stayed on after completing their tour of duty. Honduras, like many poor developing countries, also has a universal health care system (unlike the United States), perhaps not of the highest quality, but available to all. I’ve worked in that system as a Peace Corps health volunteer and subsequently in return visits to Honduras. I have not made a comparison with other developing countries, but doctors from Cuba visiting or exiled in the US report that the Cuban system report has deteriorated over the last 25 years and is now only excellent for the political elite and medical tourists. Perhaps those are the facilities that WHO visited. Recently arrived doctors tell me about patients having to buy their own medications, bring bedding with them to the hospital, and have their relatives provide food and clean up around their bedside. Electricity and water, I’m told, are often shut off. I suspect that WHO may be perpetuating the myth of excellent health care in Cuba because the government only showed its delegates model facilities, as in Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” which I saw a few years ago and recognized the Cuban hospital featured as one for the political elite that I had once visited myself.  And while Moore’s American patients got free care, medical tourists usually pay going rates for care. Not long ago, a Cuban woman visiting relatives in Havana from the US paid $100 per session of dialysis.   

 Fears have been expressed privately in the Cuban diaspora for the wellbeing of Antúnez, the Afro-Cuban dissident mentioned last time, who wrote a long, open letter to Raúl Castro, accusing him of being an assassin, among other things. As Antúnez himself emphasizes in his letter, other dissidents have died under mysterious and suspect circumstances. His supporters in this country fear the same might happen to him because of his outspokenness.  Is he asking to become a martyr? Raúl cannot allow him to ignite Cuba’s large disaffected and disadvantaged Afro-Cuban population, so if Antúnez meets an unexplained death, you first heard about it here.

 I’m a mother whose 11-year-old son, years ago, was shot in the foot (fortunately, not fatally) when another boy dropped a loaded gun found in a parental bedroom. So, I cannot fail to comment on the 9-year-old girl at a shooting range who accidently shot and killed her instructor with an Uzi. Gun advocates might argue that people should start learning to use guns as children so as to be proficient as adults. But learning to shoot an Uzi, a weapon of war? This year so far, at least 45 American children have been killed accidently by guns they found at home, calling into question the merits of keeping guns around for personal protection.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eggs, Volunteers Needed for IHS Medical Brigade Feb. 2015, Tiny Homes, Rhino Horn, Pyongyang, Salvadoran Consul, Israel-Palestine, Obama, Cuba Again, Prostitution Debate, Whither Hillary?





My patient readers have indulged my actual and speculative wanderings into all sorts of byways, large and small, so thanks. Among those generous readers are my kids for whom this blog serves as a sort of running diary of their mother’s life. So, perhaps, I’ll be excused for mentioning that when I was first in Honduras, I marveled that eggs were left out of refrigeration indefinitely no matter what the outside temperature, yet in the US we always refrigerate them.  It turns out that eggs here are washed with a disinfecting solution that removes a protective coating, making it necessary to refrigerate them afterward, while in many countries they are stored just as they came out of the hens.  Under both systems, eggs can keep quite a long while.

 Recruitment of volunteers is now underway for IHS (ihsmn.org) all-volunteer medical brigades in Honduras for Feb. 13-27, 2015. (See photos above from last Feb.’s brigade.) I’ve participated now since 2005 and plan on going again for my 11th return trip to Honduras since leaving the Peace Corps there in 2003. We still need volunteer doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants, pharmacists, dentists, Spanish interpreters, and short-wave radio operators for 6 clinic sites and 3 surgery sites. Although Honduras has a well-deserved reputation for being a risky country, IHS takes very good care of its volunteers, escorting them in special buses and vans from city airports to safe rural communities where their work takes place. Interested parties may either contact me, Barbara E. Joe (barbaraj100@yahoo.com), or John Kirckof, IHS communications & recruitment, 320-634-4386 or cell 320-219-0368.

 Jose Manuel is a former Cuban rafter librarian depicted in my new book, Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People. He had spent over a year in Guantanamo and stayed with me years ago when he first arrived in DC. We just celebrated his 50th birthday at a local Cuban restaurant where he once worked when he lived with me. He was 30 when I first knew him, bewildered and trying to get his footing in this new country with a different language.  He has now come out with a commemorative book displaying artwork produced by rafters when they were at the G’tmo refugee camp before President Bill Clinton finally allowed them entry into the US. (Our photo is at the end of this blog.)

 So-called “tiny” dwellings, the smaller, the better, especially in urban cities, are now in vogue. It’s become a challenge for architects and designers to come up with space-saving amenities, like pull-out beds and dining room tables. Certainly, practical living spaces no longer need to be McMansions surrounded by large yards that need to be tended, watered, and mowed. I’ve learned this myself after living since 1969 in a huge old house in Washington, DC, built before 1900 and which, at one time, housed my husband, myself, our four kids, and our faithful dog Claire. Now I live alone except for visitors mostly from abroad, none  of whom none are staying with me right now, my Argentine visitor having gone home to deal with the debt default crisis there, leaving me rattling around alone in my home right now. I’m very fond of my convenient neighborhood, blocks from the US capitol, and of my lovely unique house, if one can be said to be fond of a house, with its 4 working fireplaces, original woodwork, and pocket doors. But it needs constant repairs and upkeep and is really too large for just one person. It has three floors and its stairs are hard on my arthritic knees. Yet, I hesitate to part with it and face sifting through belongings accumulated over a lifetime. Meanwhile, during 3 ½ years in the Peace Corps in Honduras, I lived quite comfortably in a cozy space, most of the time without running water, reliable electricity, or a flush toilet. That taught me that a big house can be a liability, as well as a luxury. Media stars and other wealthy people often build an enormous “dream house” containing all conceivable amenities, then end up putting it on the market. Even they may come to feel burdened by “too much.”

 
Someone urgently needs to make a credible placebo for rhino horn to peddle to aging Asian men trying to recover lost strength and sexual prowess. It’s ironic and even more terrible that rhinos are being brutally sacrificed for their horns when consuming rhino horn has no actual impact on the human body beyond the aforementioned placebo effect.

 I spoke too soon last time in observing that Pyongyang’s buildings seemed well-maintained. Indeed, they may have looked well-maintained, but apparently a 23-story apartment building there has just collapsed. Someone’s head will roll for that.

 The Salvadoran consul here in DC has warned the US government that his country will only receive mothers and children being deported who are returning of their own free will, as has happened with a few already. Those asking for a judicial process must be allowed to wait for that, he said.

 On the topic of child deportations, jpmassar, who blogs on various sites, comments:
Between five and ten migrant children have been killed since February after the United States deported them back to Honduras, a morgue director told the Los Angeles Times. San Pedro Sula morgue director Hector Hernandez told the Los Angeles Times that his morgue has taken in 42 dead children since February. According to an interview with relatives by the LA Times, one teenager was shot dead hours after getting deported. Hugo Ramon Maldonado of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras believes that about 80 percent of Hondurans making the exodus are fleeing crime or violence.

 At this point, whatever the possible past wrongs involved in its formation, Israel already exists and its people have a right to continue to exist. After almost half a century, Israel is a fait accompli (even though it has established itself in a hostile neighborhood), much as are here in the United States and other countries in the Americas despite having once decimated and double-crossed native populations. But Palestine and Palestinians also have the same right, including not live under the domination of a neighboring power. In a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma, does Hamas attack Israel because of its occupation and restrictions or are such Israeli measures made necessary because of Hamas aggression? The answer is probably “both,” making a solution so difficult. But at least now, while not sitting at the same negotiating table as Hamas, Israel has been forced to acknowledge Hamas’s existence, a small but perhaps significant reward to Hamas fighters.

Why does Hamas continue to fire rockets? And how did Hamas get all the rockets it has fired if Israel maintains such an air-tight blockade? (Apparently Qatar is involved.) It’s hard right now to foresee any rapprochement between Hamas and Israel, except perhaps a prolonged ceasefire. How can each side possibly trust the other? The US cannot be faulted for a lack of effort in this endeavor. Secretary Kerry has done a heroic job under impossible circumstances. President Obama rightly stresses that there are limits to American power, and that the chief executive is not omnipotent. Therefore, it’s heartening that the EU has stepped in, offering to monitor border crossings. Let’s see if the parties can accept that.

 Meanwhile, an editorial in the New York Post, not exactly a high-class rag, accuses the US of deserting its ally Israel in a time of war. The US hardly deserted Israel, having provided it with the Iron Dome and many weapons.  Still, the US and the rest of the world have a right to question the massive killing of civilians and destruction of property through the bombarding of a small, trapped population, excessive actions which expose both Israel and the US to future terrorist attacks and continued resentment from the Muslim world. Some people I know cite the US atom bombs dropped on Japan and the destruction of Dresden during World War II as precedents for Israel. First, even as a child with a father who was an officer in the American military in Europe then, I never accepted the rationale for dropping atom bombs on Japanese cities, so, for people like me, that’s no excuse for what Israel has been doing. Furthermore, world opinion has evolved since WW II and the wanton killing of innocent civilians is no longer acceptable.  Why Hamas continues to lob rockets into Israel is a mystery and probably does not have the support of most people in Gaza or the West Bank.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called on Israel to show restraint. However, disapproval of Israel’s actions must not spill over into anti-Semitism against Jews in general.

 President Obama, like the do-nothing Congress, has often been accused of inaction. Some think that like LBJ, he should crack heads and twist arms. Apart from that not being his style, he is in an impossible bind, because if he goes ahead without congressional approval, cries of “impeachment” ring out. Also, as someone of African American heritage, he may feel he needs to tread lightly because of genuine prejudice against him (many still believe him to be a Muslim), both among segments of the electorate and perhaps even in Congress. As Norman Ornstein noted in the National Journal, certainly no pro-Obama rag, “LBJ and Reagan had willing partners from the opposite party. Obama has had none.”

 Independent blogger Yoani Sánchez, who is constantly harassed and sometimes arrested by Cuban authorities, nonetheless has not been jailed for long periods, probably because of her international fame. Inside Cuban, because of blocked communications, she is not well known. In a recent column, she tells about a foreign correspondent being cited by the press police for referring to the Cuban government as “communist.”  The surprised reported asked: wasn’t the country governed by the Communist Party? Well, yes, but the term “communist” has unfavorable connotations abroad, so don‘t use it.

 Someone who does not mince words in expressing his view of communism and of the Castro regime is Antunez, an Afro-Cuban activist mentioned in my Cuba book. He has written a long, bitter, and scathing “open letter” to Raul Castro, recounting his arrest as a young man followed by 17 years in prison, accusing the Castro government of various recent murders of activists, and calling communism “the plague of the 20th century.” He closes by saying: “Raúl Castro Ruz, in the name of the Cuban people, of my imprisoned fellow citizens, and of the victims of your dictatorship, I say to you no, no, and no.” If he were ever to gain a following among Cuba’s disaffected and disadvantaged Afro-Cuban population, Raul Castro would in big trouble. Raul is making sure that never happens.

 I’m curious about how Cuban official media is reporting on Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing unrest. On the one hand, the Cuban government is always anxious to highlight American racism and other faults, but would not want to give the increasingly restless, disadvantaged, and aggrieved Afro-Cuban population any similar ideas. So maybe the regime reports about it mostly on official media aimed abroad.

 The Nation is a well-known progressive magazine to which I once subscribed and which I still often read. It treats a number of issues in greater depth than do other publications. The May 26 issue, recently passed along to me, contains a moving remembrance of the late Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez by Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-Argentine author (now a US citizen) who teaches at Duke. I’ve heard him speak at Amnesty International forums and, as a former election observer myself for the Chilean plebiscite that defeated Augusto Pinochet, I share his disdain for that late dictator. Since Dorfman was an Allende confident, maybe it should not have been surprising that Dorfman avoided mention in his fairly extensive tribute that García Márquez was a stalwart ally of Fidel Castro. The Colombian author once wrote what he described to the New York Times as “a very frank book” about Cuba that he refused to publish because it would damage Fidel’s reputation, as I report in my new book. As I have said before, it would be very enlightening to find that manuscript now and finally publish it, thus revealing inside details not otherwise available. It would also do so much more than my own book with its modest readership to enlighten the world about the true nature of the Castro dictatorship. I can only hope that the manuscript still exists and that García Márquez’s heirs will release it after Fidel’s own death.

That same issue of The Nation contains a full-page ad for a Nation-sponsored 8-day trip to Cuba leaving from Miami and costing a whopping $6,000-$6,500. Billed as an educational tour, as required by US law, presumably the profit was being shared between the magazine and the Cuban regime which collects all payments from tourists, arranging their schedules and hiring only loyalists to address and escort them.

 Below is another message from the blogosphere, about Mariel Castro, Raul’s daughter, and her unprecedented “no” vote over a year ago in the Cuban assembly.  Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro — and the niece of Fidel Castro — is making waves by voting "no" on a workers' rights bill, saying it didn't protect people with unconventional gender identities. It seems that before the December 2013 vote was publicized recently in a Cuban blog, no one could recall anyone voting against a measure in Cuba's legislation. Some say a dissenting vote has simply never happened in Havana.

In Foreign Policy, in an article entitled “Damn Yanquis-- Why is President Obama still allowing covert operations in Cuba? It's just one failed disaster after another,” USAID former Senate staffer and CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong cites slanted AP stories to bolster his main contention. It turns out that he himself planted the very AP stories he uses to make his case against USAID's Cuba democracy programs, describing them as secretive and bungled and a series of disasters (talk about a circular argument!). Armstrong was once a National Intelligence Officer who worked closely with convicted Cuban “mole” spy, Ana Montes, now serving prison time. He also once worked for Senator John Kerry. He has a reputation for being an apologist for the Cuban regime, also for the current Venezuelan government, and is speculated to be the original source of the leaks of secret USAID programs in Cuba, although that’s not an official
 allegation. However, he has admitted to being the source of derogatory articles about USAID’s Cuba missions, which are characterized by him (parroting the Cuban government) as aggressive “regime-change” efforts. Those efforts were content neutral, simply to facilitate communication. He is exactly the kind of guy spewing out misinformation about the Cuban government that I am trying to counteract with my new book.

USAID’s efforts in several other countries are also less than transparent, though USAID does not characterize them as secret, just “discreet.” USAID simply doesn't openly tout information regarding such programs, keepimg them mostly under wraps, not only in Cuba, but in Iran, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Burma. These nations don’t welcome information they don’t directly control.

 Meanwhile, the same copy of The Nation cited above features a debate about whether prostitution is an occupational choice or exploitative of women. The magazine's discussion centers on Europe, particularly Sweden, where paying for sex is illegal, but receiving payment is not. High-end sex workers there argue that theirs is an individual choice and nobody else’s business, so shouldn't be sanctioned in any way. However, a Swedish women’s advocate argues, “How can a few persons’ right or freedom to sell sex stand above the vast majority of women who are trafficked and exploited in prostitution?” I would agree that the “freedom” of a relative few highly paid sex workers should not be allowed to eclipse the genuine anguish of those who, because of trickery or poverty or drug addiction, are lured into virtual prostitution slavery. I've met quite a few of the latter both as a probation officer and in other countries. On the high-end scale, we have Eliot Spitzer and his costly dalliances, also a woman I once worked with years ago, who, by day, was a demure office worker and, by night, supplemented her income acting as an elite “escort.” The high-enders, especially with the internet, probably can remain anonymous and their earnings are tax-free, so whether or not their activities are considered legal, they are not likely to be found out.

Meanwhile, whatever is Hillary up to? She doesn’t want to peak or start campaigning too early, but she’s placed herself in a kind of limbo, perhaps waiting until after her grandchild is born and after the November elections to announce her candidacy? Quite understandably, she may really have needed a break to recover her strength from her grueling schedule and head injury and take time out to write her memoir, which, however, has not made such a big splash. Enough already! By being so coy for so long about her plans, she risks voter apathy and keeps other potential candidates from coming forward. So far, no compelling dark horse, like Obama himself years ago, has appeared on the Democratic presidential horizon. Tried and true Veep Joe Biden has expressed interest in the job, but even more than Hillary, he suffers from voters’ fatigue and is already age 71, five years older than Hillary, who is no spring chicken either.  If she’s going to try this next time, it’s her last chance.

 Here I am last night at Jose Manuel's 50th birthday.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Orange Garden Lanterns, South Sudan in Turmoil, Pyongyang, Nicaraguans, Iraq, Castro Turns 88, Israel/Gaza, Che on the Big Screen, Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution

 
Every summer, colorful orange lanterns spring up in my front yard, as per photo. When picked, they retain their shape and color for a very long time.  We’ve had a mild summer so far, which is very nice. Last night, I believe it went down to the 50’s and this is August in DC?
 
Having been there in 2006, before independence, I am totally broken-hearted and devastated by the continuing civil war in South Sudan, a nation that only came into being 3 years ago. It started out with nothing and now has even less because of the rivalries of its two ambitious leaders. I see no solution if they are unwilling to compromise and come up with a genuine power sharing agreement. Their warrior followers have been dragged into fighting, which will stop instantly when the leaders command them to do so.
 
Here is a video of Pyongyang, at least the best showcase parts, showing it to be a more modern city than some of us would have imagined. http://vimeo.com/102051605.
Of course, this video was shot with North Korean government approval and only in selected areas of the capital, but, still, the subway system looks quite modern. While the architecture is grim, the buildings do appear to be well-maintained. Those buildings reminded me of some I saw that had been constructed in post-communist Cuba. And, although some of its people may be going hungry, North Korea has been able to maintain its nuclear arsenal.
 
Apparently Nicaraguans are not flocking like other Central Americans to the US because it’s much easier for them to cross over their southern border into Costa Rica. While Costa Rica is not exactly welcoming or as prosperous as the US, it’s a Spanish-speaking country with a somewhat higher standard of living and does not require a terrible and risky journey north, including through very dangerous Honduras.
 
The news media and many elected officials have been inflating the border crisis, in my opinion. And the debate continues in the usual polarized way: are those arriving genuine refugees fleeing danger at home or are they simply blatant law-breakers?  Their actual numbers compared to an overall US population of over 300 million means that they could probably be absorbed with little effort or effect. However, many non-Hispanic Americans are fearful of being outnumbered and of the unfamiliar, which has always been the case with immigrants. As I’ve said before, without immigrants, both legal and illegal, US population could shrink. Cities such as Detroit welcome them. However, Congress keeps fees for citizenship high to deter newcomers from actually becoming citizens and voters.
 
In rare good international news, Maliki finally resigned in Iraq.
 
Fidel Castro has celebrated his 88th birthday, and while he is now a shadow of his former self, people around the world are remembering both his triumphs and his misdeeds. A website called Plataforma Cuba Democracia Ya (Platform Cuba Democracy Now) describes him as “a psychopath and murderous dictator,” incapable of any sympathy for human suffering, who will die safely in his bed without ever acknowledging his crimes. Will Fidel survive me? I’d like to visit Cuba again before I die.
 
Most of my readers are not particularly bellicose, but a few, perhaps rhetorically, have suggested that the US might simply invade Cuba and thereby finally get rid of the Castro regime. Someone of Cuban heritage has even urged targeted drone strikes to finally wipe out both Fidel and Raul. Quite obviously, in this day and age and under present circumstances, a military attack on Cuba is not going to happen, quite apart from President Kennedy’s long-ago missile crisis pledge.
 
Freedom of communication and association are fairly universally recognized human rights that the Cuban government has formally signed onto, but does not actually allow in practice—for example, a gathering of more than 3 unrelated persons requires a permit. Furthermore, Cubans never voted for such restrictive laws, nor for their own government for over 55 years, a government whose support is so fragile that it does not dare permit Cubans to talk with each other or meet freely. When I was in Cuba, people were using sign language to keep from being overheard. From the dictatorship's perspective (and Cuba is not alone in this), open communication is considered subversive, hence USAID’s necessarily secret efforts to facilitate communication in Cuba, which have been labeled subversive and USAID contractor Alan Gross is now serving time for bringing in satellite phones. Although he may have been seized on the excuse of the phones, it was more probably to exchange him for the Cuban Five incarcerated in the US--now only Three, as two have been released and have returned to Cuba. After Bergdahl’s prisoner exchange and release, Gross’s family asks why not the Cuban Three for him?
 
USAID has been roundly accused of bungling—and it arguably has bungled since its secret practices in Cuba have been revealed. Yet, European groups and embassies have not been particularly criticized for providing communications equipment, often in secret,  and allowing Cuban dissidents to use their internet.
 
In the Peace Corps, which has wrongly been conflated with USAID and even accused of being a CIA front, we were not allowed to take sides in any election, local or national, or to make statements that might be construed as political--those were our "rules of engagement," rules for our participation and also for our own protection as we lived out in the boondocks away from other Americans, and  is also why the PC is allowed in China, a one-party state.
 
Is Cuba now justified in accusing USAID of trying to undermine its government? Yes and no. No, in the sense that the actual content of communications was not being dictated or even suggested by USAID. Yes, in the sense that the Cuban government does not allow free speech or assembly, so facilitating those would be a violation of its laws, laws dictated by the regime and contrary to international treaties that Cuba has signed, and not formulated with citizen consent. Cubans flocked to USAID’s discredited Twitter program and often pass thumb drives hand-to-hand, so they appear eager for modern communication. It’s probable that the indirect intent of USAID’s communications measures has been to open a space allowing citizens to decide whether they really want the Castro regime to continue in power; the likelihood is that many or even most do not.
 
On the other hand, revelation of USAID’S secrecy undermines diplomatic trust, and trust between US and Cuban leaders needs to be improved if there is to be peace and cooperation between our two nations. Trust is always a two-edged sword. Trusting opens each party up to a double-cross. Also, in the case of the Cuban regime, it means supporting and doing business with an oppressive government and thereby strengthening its hand.  As with opinions regarding any dictatorial regime, there are Cuban exiles on both sides of this argument, some pushing for more cooperation, others for more isolation.
 
Nationalism and national sovereignty are the Cuban regime’s main claims to legitimacy and to non-interference in its internal affairs. At the CELAC (Spanish initials for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States,) meeting held last Jan. in Havana, rights were declared to inhere in states, not in individuals (the US was not invited). (In the US, the Supreme Ct. has ruled that corporations also are individuals with individual rights to free speech.)
 
Nationalism and today’s existing nation states are not sacrosanct, being relatively new entities on the world stage with somewhat arbitrary and artificial boundaries that are not always fixed, as we have just seen in Ukraine. Diplomacy is sometimes useful, sometimes not—it depends on whether it’s being conducted according to agreed-upon rules. Rules of diplomacy may make for smoother interactions—Obama shook hands with Raúl Castro, yet the Archbishop of Santiago, Dionisio García Ibañez, pointedly dared to avoid shaking Raúl’s outstretched hand during Pope Benedict’s visit.
 
Nationalism has begun eroding as a result of the internet, global travel, and international commerce. International reputation in an internationalized world is also becoming increasingly important, as Israel is finding out. People are questioning whether Israel needed, in the name of national security, to massacre Gaza civilians to "pay back" or prevent those puny rockets, given that the US had already furnished Israel with the Iron Dome, not to mention sophisticated weapons. Destroying the tunnels into Israel was understandable, but, regrettably, that apparently required hitting civilians crowded into in Gaza’s small territory.  Hamas’s motives for inviting attack are unclear and it’s doubtful that Palestinian civilians would have wanted Hamas to continue with the suicidal rockets, although now positions on both sides have hardened making it difficult to see a solution, except that both sides should want the fighting to stop. Probably Hamas wanted Israel to talk with it, to acknowledge its existence, which is now finally happening, though indirectly. All that bombing by Israel only increased anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments in the Muslim and wider world --and against the US as well, with consequent risk to us.  Israel absolutely needs US support to survive in a hostile neighborhood, yet Netanyahu dares to bite the hand that feeds him, publicly criticizing and going over the heads of President Obama and Secretary Kerry knowing that most Congress members and a majority of the American people either support or dare not oppose him.
 
The notion of universal human rights, including the right of Palestinian civilians to life, however, is also gaining ground and has influenced my own perspective as a long-time Amnesty International member. Even where there is considerable internal citizen support in a country, national laws and practices may still yield to international pressure, such as has happened concerning child labor and child marriage, polygamy, FMG, religious freedom, and, most recently, the overturning of Uganda’s draconian anti-sodomy laws.
 
A woman from Argentina staying with me recently urged me to view Part I of Stephen Soderbergh's "Che, El Argentino," quite lengthy by itself, over 2 hours. It came out in 2008, but I missed it then. It's very carefully done, interspersing scenes in color of the guerrillas' campaign with black-and-white newsreel-type footage at the UN and of Che’s interviews in the US. Sometimes what appears to be actual newsreel footage from that time is shown together with grainy movie footage making it hard to tell the difference; it almost seems like a documentary. No subtitles for either Spanish or English, but occasionally in the NY scenes, an interpreter is present. Even there, it was a realistic touch that the interpreter when speaking English has the slightest hint of a Spanish accent--nearly all of the Spanish interpreters I’ve encountered in my work are native Spanish speakers and have that slight accent in English. Many of the Cuban characters have Cuban accents. However, the Che figure, while very skillfully played by Benicio del Toro, a native of Puerto Rico, did not sound to me like he had an Argentine accent. His 1964 UN speech appears in the film, cited also in my Cuba book on pp. 154-155, Fusilamientos, sí, hemos fusilado, fusilamos y seguiremos fusilando mientras sea necesario. Nuestra lucha es una lucha a muerte.” [“Executions, yes, we have executed, we execute, and will continue to execute as long as necessary. Our struggle is a struggle to the death.”]  
 
According to the credits, the movie was filmed in NY, Spain, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, but since I've traveled the whole island of Cuba, I can vouch that it looks like the real thing. The second part apparently deals with Che’s mission in Bolivia and his death, overall a very realistic portrayal. The Che figure calls some of his recruits "maricones" (faggots) and stragglers are shot out in the mountains with their hands tied behind their backs. The Fidel character nods his head and wags his index figure while talking, something I saw frequently during Fidel's endless speeches on Cuban TV back when I was traveling to Cuba. My housemate downloaded it, she says, from piratebay.se for the movie and Vuze.com for the player, in case you're interested.
 
While Che and Fidel promised free speech and press, in the film and in real life, they never actually allowed it. Nor was Che strictly truthful when he declared, "We don't belong to either the USA or the USSR.” It's no surprise that many who fought against Batista then moved over to fight Fidel when his direction became apparent, consequently spending more 20 years as Fidel’s political prisoners, as recounted in my book.
 
I asked a fellow Spanish interpreter now living in another city about the Che film, as he had also seen it and was actually present in Cuba during the revolution. He once worked high up in the Cuban bureaucracy and his late parents had been declared "Heroes de Revolución." Here’s what he said about the film:
I thought it was an adequate representation of what happened, but did not delve into why it happened and gave a very one-sided and overly sympathetic view of Che's personality. I never met him and only saw and heard him three or four times during his public appearances and have a very ambivalent, contradictory view about him.
 This portrayal seems difficult to reconcile with tales of Che as the Butcher of La Cabaña fortress who never responded favorably to appeals from death sentences and who liked to be present during executions. There are also conflicting versions as to how he behaved when he was captured and executed. My temporary conclusion is that although as a human being, he might have had some positive qualities, he became a fanatic whose beliefs in the justice of his ideals and the necessity to struggle for them overrode all humanitarian concerns. For him the end justified the means and this was his fatal flaw because it led to violent human rights abuses which totally dehumanized him.
For an actual documentary about Cuba, I recommend one mentioned on pp. 348-351 in my Cuba book, Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution (Nietos de la Revolución Cubana), available for free via Google on Vimeo.com and Lockerz.  
 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Translators/Interpreters Get Together, Honduran Friends Move to Texas, Ebola Efforts, Cuban Regime Prisoner Alan Gross Expresses Desperation, More on USAID in Cuba & Elsewhere, Cuban Health System










At the annual summer party of a DC-based translators and interpreters’ organization (see above), I gave a talk and a reading from my Cuba book, two copies of which were given away as raffle prizes. I met a Honduran woman at the gathering, someone who may want to help us as a volunteer interpreter with our IHS (ihsmn.org) medical brigades, and who also is considering an interpreting career.
            I received a complaint about a too-small font on the last blog post, so am trying to make it bigger before posting again, so see if that makes a difference.
            A Honduran friend, nicknamed Betio, whom I had once helped obtain asylum in the US and bring his wife and 9 children here, has now moved with his 2 oldest sons to Texas where construction work is more plentiful and better paid. Whew!  What a brave family. First, they all moved here from Honduras after Betio’s life as an environmental activist was threatened, which was quite an undertaking. Then they bought a house, enrolled the kids in school where they learned English and have been doing very well. I thought that was an achievement in itself. But now the parents are planning to move the whole gang to Texas before school starts. I raised 4 kids myself, and a Cuban foster son for part of that time, much of it as a single parent, but If I had had 9 kids and had to move them fifteen hundred miles, I’m not sure I would have had the strength. But Betio and his family seem up to it, despite shaky English on the parents’ part. Betio must be close to 50 now, so needs to make the most of his working years.
            It’s a real dilemma what the US should do about the kids arriving at our national doorstep. Conditions are fairly dire in their home countries (as in many other nations around the world). Probably children under 12 are not a particular danger to us here, but they would be a burden, at least initially. Some fear a disruption in our “American way of life,” though accepting immigrants has always been part of that way. Furthermore, since the European-descended population in this country is not reproducing itself, maybe we need them. The dilemma is that if some were allowed to stay, more would come. We seem to be torn between a hospitality tradition of the “Golden Door” variety and incapacity to actually deal with the current influx. As on other questions, the electorate and its representatives appear sharply divided.
             In an effort organized by a Nigerian member, my Communitas Catholic community has been collecting donations of money and medical supplies to send to West Africa to help with the Ebola outbreak.
            Former USAID contractor Alan Gross, in his 5th year of imprisonment in Cuba for bringing in cell and satellite phones destined for Havana’s dwindling Jewish community, has hinted at taking his own life. Neither the US or Cuban government would want that to happen. The Cuban regime wants its three convicted spies returned in exchange for Gross’s freedom. They were involved in the killing of 4 Brothers-to-the-Rescue operatives shot down and killed while flying two small planes picking up Cuban rafters at sea. Even so, maybe they could now be released? Two of their members are already back in Cuba and Gross was probably seized by the Cuban government precisely as a bargaining chip for the release of those men, touted as heroes in billboards all over Cuba. However, it’s hard to imagine Obama exchanging them before the November elections—on the other hand, if Gross should die in prison, both Obama and Raul Castro would be blamed. Is Gross really going to try to kill or starve himself, or is he simply expressing a desperate plea for freedom? He and his family cite the case of Sgt. Bergdahl being exchanged for 5 G’tmo prisoners.
            For USAID to engage in or fund activities in Cuba considered hostile by the regime carries a big PR risk. Even though such activities would be considered benign elsewhere—like encouraging youth to think for themselves, financing twitter, or supplying communications equipment—the fact that in Cuba these activities must be kept secret and are not permitted by the authorities undermines the reputation of USAID worldwide. Already, in the Peace Corps in Honduras and other countries, some local people suspect volunteers are CIA operatives (why else would they leave to US to help perfect strangers?). President Morales of Bolivia ousted both USAID and the Peace Corps because of suspicions that they were undermining his government. Since I volunteer annually with US-based medical brigades in Honduras, I’ve heard through them that US-based brigades are not welcome any more in Bolivia either because of the same suspicions, although some folks are now participating with Canadian medical brigades, which are still allowed. So the revelation of secret USAID activities has unfortunate ripple effects.
            The Peace Corps bends over backwards to avoid any CIA taint, refusing to accept any applicant who ever worked in intelligence in any context, however briefly or long ago. I’ve talked with very capable people with language and cultural skills who would love to be PC volunteers, but are barred, for example, a young man who had been in the military and was assigned for a few months to an intelligence unit. Nonetheless, the taint of USAID still falls onto the Peace Corps, even though the two are completely separate and PCVs are forbidden to engage in local politics.
            Most Cubans seem to be waiting for something to happen--they are not accustomed to being pro-active, as that can be dangerous. One of my readers who visited Cuba not long ago, has suggested that the US might send in the marines. Not only would that be violating the pact made with the then-USSR when they took their missiles out of Cuba, but the world would be up-in-arms about an attack on a poor, defenseless country. And now that Putin has visited Cuba, forgiven its debt, and offered aid, maybe the Russians would rush in to help. So I don't see that in the cards. But when the Castro brothers have passed on, maybe some changes are possible because at least some of those even among the Communist elite want change, while others who have been wholesale human rights violators will fight to maintain status quo for self-protection.
            From what I know about USAID’s efforts in Cuba, there was no attempt to impose an ideology or even to advocate a change of government. Rather, all the attempts, from Twitter to Alan Gross bringing in phones to the sending of Latin American youths, seemed aimed at facilitating communication and independent thinking. Yet another human rights volunteer colleague, born in Latin America, opined that if Cubans wanted to rise up and oppose their government, they would do so without prompting from the US. That shows considerable naiveté about the severe restrictions imposed by the Cuban regime for generations and the punishment by death or imprisonment for those “rising up.” Another human rights activist pointed to a critique characterizing USAID in Cuba as a “Maxwell Smart” effort, referring to a bumbling well-meaning comical British detective who leaves chaos in his wake. Certainly these revelations of secret programs (secret because in Cuba, they must be) don’t enhance the reputation of USAID; maybe the CIA, which has more experience covering its tracks, should have been in charge. But what was being done was not hostile in any way to the Cuban people, their interests, their nationalism, or their patriotism.
            I don’t think USAID deserves a bad rap everywhere. For example, when I served 3 ½ years as a health volunteer in Honduras, we collaborated usefully with USAID, although they were totally separate. Both USAID and Peace Corps in Honduras always endeavored to see solutions to local problems coming from the people actually living there—we bent over backwards not dictate solutions, but to act as advisors in helping Hondurans achieve their own goals. Much of the inertia displayed by ordinary people derives from their feelings of helplessness, whether in Cuba, Honduras, or elsewhere. We tried to help Hondurans overcome those attitudes and USAID, operating on a much larger scale and with more resources than PC, seemed to be doing the same. We knew that as Peace Corps volunteers, we would be leaving and that local folks would have to carry on by themselves. Little did we know then that the Peace Corps would pull out of Honduras altogether, a real tragedy, but since I still travel there yearly, I’ve seen the security situation getting progressively worse and realize that the decision was probably justified. Obviously neither USAID nor the Peace Corps did enough in Honduras to help improve life there or so many people would not now be arriving at the US border.
            However, in thinking more about USAID in Cuba, if it were to work there at all, it would necessarily have to do so without the approval of the Cuban government and would need to operate in secret, hence the appearance of subterfuge and clumsiness when such secret operations are later revealed.  When the recent USAID program of infiltrating, if that’s the right word, Latin American young people into Cuba was revealed, I thought, as did many others, “Not again!” From the Bay of Pigs to exploding cigars, the US has often screwed up in Cuba. Yet, the fact remains that USAID’s actual recent activities in Cuba have not been propagandistic or ideological per se, nor was an overthrow of the current government actually being promoted. As far as I know, the now-defunct Twitter program did not influence what Cubans had to say on Twitter. When the unfortunate Alan Gross brought communications equipment into Cuba—passing it openly through Cuban customs, I’ve heard—he was not decreeing what the content of the communications should be. And now, the revelation that Latin American youth were being sent into Cuba to get young people there thinking and talking among themselves does not amount to a crime. Cubans do need to be preparing themselves for when Cuba is no longer a dictatorship. It seems that the Castro government, which absolutely squelches any sort of independent expression or assembly, has characterized USAID as part of an American plot to dominate Cuba and many observers have bought into that characterization.
            We could rightly characterize USAID efforts in Cuba as bungled, since they neither opened up much independent space for Cubans, did not remain secret, and, in fact, may have led to even greater harassment and control of activists, yet we still need to question the Castro government’s narrative that those activities were explicitly designed to overthrow a legitimate government that most Cubans actually support, a very questionable conclusion. If, indeed, a majority supports the current government, it would not so consistently engage in draconian measures to prevent any free expression or assembly.  Is citizen government support in Cuba so fragile that the slightest whiff from the USA would upset it? Would our own or world opinion be so condemnatory of USAID-type activities being carried out in North Korea, Iran, or Russia, for example? Weren’t Americans and other westerners active internally in South Africa against apartheid and didn’t they support an embargo against that country? Certainly Cuba is not the only country subject to a US embargo—the US is supporting a partial embargo against Russia right now. Arguably, the US embargo has not led to any more freedom for ordinary Cubans—quite to the contrary, it’s used as a convenient excuse for abridging their freedom.  I’m just asking whether or not world opinion is being influenced by the Cuban government’s own “spin” more than under similar circumstances elsewhere and whether, perhaps, this is due in to a very successful propaganda campaign by the Cuban regime itself? If so, we need to guard against applying a more lenient double standard to that government. We should hold the Cuban government to universal standards.
            I doubt that most observers would condemn European embassies for allowing dissidents to use their internet facilities or would denounce European civil society groups that bring in communications equipment, but when Americans do it, the Cuban government cries “imperialism” and many people around the world believe it. So I don’t believe that USAID efforts in Cuba deserve to be condemned outright. Their execution was not optimal to say the least, but their intent was to help Cubans open up a little more civil space.
            On a related matter, a translation of an article by a French physician praising the Cuban medical system, has appeared in the Huffington Post. Interested parties can search for it; I don’t want to give it more publicity than it already has by citing the author and title. Those who do find it, to get a first-hand contrasting view, should read my book, Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People.