Thursday, June 23, 2016

Grandson, PC Logo, Muhammad Ali, Honduras Equipment Appeal, My Cuba Articles, Honduras, DR, Sanders, Trump, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Orlando

New Peace Corps logo, my youngest grandchild, Kingston, age one in July, living in Hawaii

Back in the 1990s. when I was writing articles for OT Week, a magazine published by the Amer. Occupational Therapy Ass’n, I covered a meeting with Muhammad Ali, who by then was unable to speak, so his wife read his speech for him. I remember him as a tall, well-built man with a slight smile who shook my hand fairly vigorously, despite his Parkinson’s, but who said nothing. I then took a photo of him with his wife for our magazine

After making my medical supply appeal on the last blog, I decided to look up new wheelchair prices on the internet and ever since have been bombarded by wheelchair sales ads. Whew! Your life on the internet is an open book. I can readily understand why some people have told me that they aren’t on-line because of privacy concerns. Now someone living in St. Augustine, Florida, has a good wheelchair for me to take to Honduras, but it needs to get to DC before next Feb. If anyone is driving from there to DC, please let me know so you can bring the chair.

Last time, I made an appeal for medical supplies and medications to take to Honduras next Feb. Now, I’d like to add to that appeal for a working laptop, not necessarily the newest and lightest model, but one with life still left in it. About 3 or 4 years ago, I’d given a new one to the family where I stay in Teguc, and it was used by the whole family, especially the teenage daughter. I also used it when I stayed there, but last Feb. it was no longer working. Computer repair is not that easy in Honduras, so this family could use another laptop (and so could I when I'm at their house). Obviously, when out with a medical brigade in a village, I don't have computer access, but it's nice to get caught up when I'm in the capital, just in case you hear of someone upgrading. I will leave the laptop there.

All my Huffington Post Cuba articles are available at this address:

The first and last ones have been republished on another blog, Democracia Participativa, which mostly posts in Spanish, where I’m told they have gotten hundreds of hits despite being written in English:

I also posted a comment there, but being IT challenged am not sure if it went through. I asked readers to ask their congressional reps to intervene with the US Embassy in Havana (what are embassies for, if not for such requests?) to take up (quietly) Avila’s protection with the Cuba government when she returns. She has already suffered repeated attacks on her property and person and is now disabled, so she is evidently at risk and needs special protection, whether or not the Cuban government was actually behind the numerous previous attacks against her. I would ask my readers here to do the same. I contacted my own non-voting delegate Eleanor Holms Norton on Avila’s behalf, as well as former MLKing associate Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) with whom I exchanged correspondence after he broke with the Congressional Black Caucus to meet in his office with former Amnesty Cuban prisoner of conscience, afro-Cuban Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (see my book for more about Garcia Perez, nicknamed Antunez).

One of my correspondents has raised a controversial question: Are there really certain universal human rights, and, if so, what are they, or are they just those on which there is some consensus? Do they change and evolve? Or is the whole idea of universal human rights an effort, as per critics in more traditional societies, to impose Western values on the rest of the world? Even in the U.S., gay marriage, transgender bathroom rights, gun rights, abortion rights, and the death penalty are controversial. Of course, support of universal human rights is the raison d’etre of our Amnesty International work.
Honduran President Juan Hernandez, together with global consultants McKinsey & Co., has rolled out a plan to increase jobs locally and to reduce child migration by half by 2020. The plan, which also relies on US aid, claims to have already reduced child migration from Honduras, but sceptics doubt investor confidence in the country will result in generating enough jobs to reduce migration substantially.

HRF Met with OAS Chief in the Dominican Republic
 (June 17, 2016) — Earlier this week, Human Rights Foundation’s (HRF) chief legal officer Javier El-Hage met with Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS). El-Hage praised Almagro’s moral courage and congratulatedhim for activating the Inter-American Democratic Charter’s (IADC) 2001 democracy clause, which could lead to the suspension of the government of Venezuela from participation in all organs of the OAS.
“Prior to Almagro’s report and for nearly 17 years, Venezuelans saw their democracy gradually erode to the point of complete breakdown without receiving any support from the OAS,” said El-Hage during a speech that praised Almagro’s “moral clarity” and the “technical strength” of his report activating the OAS democracy clause.  
Could the reduction in the price of oil be due partly to a reduction in demand? Maybe alternative energy sources are making inroads. Cuban energy is being impacted, with blackouts at factories and homes because of reduced oil shipments from Venezuela, just when American tourism to Cuba is surging and hotels have to keep the lights on.

Thanks to Bernie Sanders, just before our DC primary on Tuesday, June 14, for bringing up the fact that we are disenfranchised here, with no voting congressional reps or senators, unlike other US jurisdictions. Most American citizens take for granted that they can appeal to their representatives and probably don’t even know we don’t have that right, although we have a larger population than Wyoming, where our former VP Dick Cheney was a senator. Also, we are not so far behind Delaware and RI in population. So Bernie, even though you won’t become president, many thanks for that acknowledgement.

While I’m a Democrat and agree with that party’s stated positions on many, but not all, issues, I do think there is some utility in having the Republicans (Donald Trump not included) pushing back sometimes to provide a moderating effect, assuming it doesn’t result in paralysis.

Donald Trump is certainly like a bull in a china shop—no one knows what he will say or do next. Many seem to identify with his freedom to do or say whatever he wants. But for many in the middle, he is so goofy and extreme that he is pushing them either to sit out the election or vote for Hillary. Republicans down the ticket must be worried about not only losing the White House, but also the Congress or Senate. For some brief moments, he heeded the teleprompter and a pre-prepared script and seemed do better, then he went pff on a rant about not being a racist and ending up calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” (He’s not getting the Native American vote.) Republican leaders must be tearing their hair, trying to figure out how to stop or control him. Of course, his diehard supporters will say this is just the Republican “Party establishment” working against him, much as Sanders’ supporters have said of the Democratic Party regarding Hillary’s nomination.

While I haven’t closely followed the Stanford rape case, it seems pretty much to follow the usual college pattern of excessive drinking by both parties. Not to excuse the young man, but if the woman got so drunk that she passed out, doesn’t she have some contributory responsibility? She may not even have been aware of being raped—witnesses told her later, apparently—but she claims to have had suffered irreparable emotional damage.

According to a weekly conservative magazine, Washington Examiner, Justice Clarence Thomas may retire from the court next year, which would be a welcome development.

I suspect that at least some of Puerto Rico’s financial problems are due to a drop in tourism because of fear of the Zika virus and because so much American tourism has been diverted to Cuba.

Six US airlines are now making regular flights to Cuba

A popular Cuban comedic program is going to be rebroadcast in the US. While I remain critical of Cuba’s human rights practices, I am totally in favor of such “soft” exchanges, whether for sports, the arts, educational courses, or, now, TV, which helps normalize the atmosphere between citizens of both countries.

Here is pretty extensive article about the differences between Raul and Fidel Castro, with an excerpt below, about a real threat to the Cuban Communist Party, namely, the indifference toward it of much of the populace:

“There is no more discipline within the traditional ranks,” a retired government official told me. ‘No one wants to belong to the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood snitch organs]. No one feels they have to belong to the Communist Party.” He added: “Five years ago, if you didn’t belong to the CDR or the Party, you weren’t going to get a promotion or could get in trouble. But there is no more fear about it.’
Likewise, such bastions of the Revolution as the Federation of Women, the Workers Union, and the Young Communists League are losing members, I was told. these organs that have buttressed the Revolution are in decline, losing momentum as membership oozes away. “Everybody’s looking down the road about how to be an entrepreneur or a capitalist,” said a man who has turned his home into a casa particular.”

Scarcities are becoming an emergency in Venezuela, where, as in Cuba, food is increasingly unavailable. Cuba jumped ship from Venezuela to the US in the nick of time. Interesting that apparently in Cuba, because of strict media control, most people are unaware of the current problems in Venezuela and still hold Hugo Chavez—and to a lesser extent, Nicolas Maduro—in high esteem. Days before Obama’s visit, (a probably worried) Maduro got the full diplomatic treatment that was withheld from Obama.

Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro gave his endorsement to Bernie Sanders, “our revolutionary friend.” Is that an endorsement that Bernie and his supporters would appreciate? A spokesman for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly given a favorable nod to Donald Trump.

It still amazes me that the former Guatemalan president was forced to resign and now faces charges. That almost never happens in Latin America.

Much turmoil still over last year’s Haitian elections; Our Haiti country specialist Randy Mont-Reynaud, PhD, considers Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born University of Virginia professor quoted in the article to be a sound observer.

Looks like Haiti’s (re)elections are scheduled for next Oct., a year late, and will the controversy be over then? Hardly.

U.S., EU criticize Haiti presidential elections rerun ( 
Haiti’s decision to rerun its disputed first-round presidential vote continued to ripple through the international community Wednesday as the European Union and the United States criticized the move, and the Organization of American States announced its continued support for the process. All three donors had contributed to last year’s $100 million elections price tag and had praised the Oct. 25 presidential vote that pitted government-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse against Jude Célestin of the opposition. “Despite a certain number of flaws and irregularities that were observed, they were not however of the nature to alter the results,” the EU’s Electoral Observer Mission said.

A UN Peacekeeping mission, including British soldiers, has gone to South Sudan to try to keep the fragile peace there.

As for Orlando, the most recent mass shooting in the US, where were gun advocates who claim that “the right to bear arms” protects citizens? Reportedly, an armed security guard was on duty at the club. Gun-toting citizens never seem to be on hand to prevent or protect against these shootings. And does self-protection include the right to own an assault rifle? What about explosives or bombs? At the biker brawl in Texas, having both sides armed actually resulted in more casualties. (A more recent biker brawl and exchange of gunfire in Ohio left 2 dead.) Senator Rubio says to focus on the ideology, not the weapon, but it seems more feasible to control access to firearms than to try to ascertain or control someone’s beliefs or find out if they are mentally ill or have some serious grievance. I doubt that the Orlando shooter was truly motivated by ISIS—that seems more like an afterthought.  I’ll grant that control of access is hard when so many guns are already in circulation and, of course, gun sales shot up after this most recent mass shooting, as always happens. Is it because people feel the need to be armed for self-protection or because they fear that access to guns will be curbed? And many gun owners have a whole arsenal. What is this? Fortress America? Certainly, there is a segment of the population that expresses a culture of gun violence. Such a culture also exists in Honduras, where every city shop has an armed guard, providing jobs and resulting in one of the world’s highest murder rates—a high rate that is further fueling the gun culture. In the US, suicides and accidents, especially by children finding guns, apparently count for a majority of gun deaths.

Not every gun death can be prevented, no matter what laws are in effect. Probably there actually are instances where a gun-owner prevents a death, but it’s a matter of statistics and odds. And in Britain, an MP was killed by a gun despite strict gun laws. Still, annual gun deaths in Britain are probably about the same as the daily total in the US.

We interpreters, like everyone else, are finding our work being outsourced or automated, so that live, face-to-face interpretation is becoming less frequent. Written machine translation is also growing, though I do less translation than interpretation. On-site medical interpretation is one of my preferences, but now doctors and hospitals are not only using telephonic interpretation for cost savings, but also on-line or Skype interpretation from anywhere—maybe to a lower-cost interpreter living abroad? The days of my late-life career are numbered!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Advance 2017 Medical Items Appeal, Peace Corps in Vietnam, Hiroshima, AI’s Controversial Sex Worker Policy. Hawaii’s Kiluea Volcano, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras, Hillary & Bernie

Myself, guests of honor, at farewell party for departing members of Amnesty International Group 211, Washington, DC

2017 MEDICAL ITEMS APPEAL-Starting out early this time, needed are (manual) wheelchairs, folding walkers, crutches, canes, slings, and boots and braces for feet, legs, and arms to take with me on my next annual volunteer medical brigade mission to Honduras, in Feb. 2017. If you have access to any of these items, we’ll have to figure out how to get them to me. None are made in Honduras, but all can make a big difference; photo is of some previous recipients. Also need un-expired medications, good at least through March 2017. 

Feb. 2016 recipients

The Peace Corps will be going to Vietnam, mainly to teach English. The Peace Corps is already in China, so why not Vietnam? I've predicted Peace Corps in Cuba (as per my Huffington Post blog on that), but that's a long way into the future. None of those 3 countries has a good human rights record, but why not improve what we can through the "soft power" and people-to-people exchange of Peace Corps? PCVs do not engage in in-country politics and are NOT CIA (even if Evo Morales of Bolivia has suspected that). 

Even as a child, I never accepted the rationale for dropping the atomic bomb—twice even—on Japanese civilians and always considered President Truman’s legacy tainted by his approval of that action. So, I certainly welcomed President Obama’s overdue visit to Hiroshima. For this, his last year in office, he is completing many activities he might have wanted to do all along. But, realizing his goal of closing the Guantanamo military prison seems unlikely.

The Obamas have already made plans to lease a DC mansion when the President’s term ends:

Here is more on Amnesty International’s controversial sex worker policy, controversial within, as well as outside, the organization. (Many members not only object to the new policy but feel that it was rammed through in an undemocratic manner):

Former President Jimmy Carter (someone I knew in my past life) has come out for punishing the buyers of sex, not the sellers (Washington Post, June 1, 2016).

 Kiluea, the volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island that has been flowing for more than 30 years and which I have seen, very spectacular, especially at night, has new eruptions:

Haiti still in turmoil:
Rather belatedly, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro is holding talks with the opposition in the DR, where the newly re-elected president has been one of his allies:

In Canada, glad that the devastating fire, too close for comfort to Alberta’s tar sands, is finally coming under control and that no one died, which is a miracle.  Alberta was my late father’s birthplace, but his family lived there before the oli boom—they were wheat farmers, a much more benign occupation.

In South Sudan, where I had a mission in 2006, has a high maternal mortality rate, which does not surprise me:

Here’s the NY Times changing its editorial tune as the mood and times change in Latin America:The Left on the Run in Latin America,” now even promoting a comprehensive trade agreement between the US and Latin American countries, an effort that had been abandoned in the wake of resistance due to the alliances created by Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Obama’s outreach and accords with Cuba may have played a part in this changed mood in Latin America, although the death of Hugo Chavez and the fall in the price of oil are also important factors. Raul Castro saw it coming and decided to throw in his lot with the USA.

Cuban foreign minister expresses solidarity with Maduro in Caracas

Fox News Latino Tue, May 24 Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, where he traveled - he said Tuesday - to bring a message of "solidarity" from Cuban President Raul Castro. "We were with President Nicolas Maduro. We had an extraordinary meeting," said Rodriguez on Venezuelan state-run VTV television regarding the encounter at which, he added, he confirmed "Cuba's full solidarity, which is the message from Raul, the embrace of Fidel and the Cuban people, which is what I've brought to Caracas."

Gen. Cliver Alcala, retired from the Venezuelan military and once a strong Chavez supporter, apparently now has turned against Maduro, but doubts there will be a military coup because of all the benefits given to the military—the same thing that happens in Cuba. Why would a military leader risk sacrificing that at the risk of his life and freedom if he should end up on the losing side?

Cuba campaign to diminish Obama’s visit:

One of my correspondents, a retired academic librarian, sent me an article about the recent visit to Cuba by a group described as “the first official delegation of American librarians” to Havana’s International Book Fair. One member of the delegation was identified as a retired director of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) “Office for Intellectual Freedom.” The group was reportedly impressed by Cuban librarians’ apparent pride in their profession and with the results of the long-ago literacy campaign which, the article said, had “turned Cuba into the most literate country in Latin America.” That might possibly be true, but is questionable. My late foster son Alex, from the eastern province of Holguien, was barely literate, even in Spanish, but eventually became so in English and eventually attended college in the US. I met some Cubans in the 1990’s who had been taught to read during the literacy campaign but said they had later “forgotten,” not so surprising since there are few books in circulation in Cuba and because independent libraries have had their books confiscated and even burned. As recently as 2014, copies of my own book have been reported confiscated at the Havana airport. So is that the sort of “intellectual freedom” ALA stands for? And what about Argentina and Chile? Is there less literacy there than in Cuba? I would doubt it. So many Americans are now excited about going on Cuban government sponsored tours, returning home none the wiser. Another of my readers, who recently went on a religious-themed Cuba tour, said their guides assured them that dissidents were few and not well-respected. That’s probably true, given the draconian attacks against them. In my book, I recount how my own Havana friends in the Gil family, certainly no supporters of the regime, steered clear of the home of a local dissident (whose place I recognized without telling them I knew him), whom they described disparagingly as a “rightist person.”

Cuba’s campaign to diminish Obama’s visit: Cubans migrants stuck in Panama and Costa Rica are now able to fly to Ciudad Juarez on the border with El Paso, Texas. Local churches and refugee agencies are not equipped to handle such a large influx, up to 350 Cubans per day, when previously, they were processing only 60-100 per month.

Cuban authorities may have initially resisted cruise ship travel because of the potential for stowaways. Perhaps it didn’t happen on the cruise ship’s maiden voyage, but 3 hidden Cuban migrants suddenly disembarked in Florida from a cargo ship returning from the filming of “Fast and Furious.” Ships leaving Cuban will now be meticulously searched before leaving. As readers of my Cuba book may recall, I once sailed to Cuba with my daughter, a friend, and a feisty Canadian called Captain Dave. Soon after that trip, Captain Dave was barred from Cuba, because, my friend thinks, he used to often smuggle people out with him after his frequent sailing trips, perhaps for a price.

Its verges on the obscene for the Kardashians, fashion shows, and movie shoots to invade impoverished, so-called “socialist” Cuba, especially when local people are kept away by barricades and police, and receive none of the financial benefits. That three stowaways managed to escape Cuba on a transport ship for the filming of “Fast & Furious” is poetic justice.

Cuban democracy advocates are discussing running opposition candidates in that country’s 2017 elections; can the Cuban Communist Party continue to claim exclusive jurisdiction over promoting the goals of “socialism” and “the Revolution”? If the idea of other parties and candidates better able to promote the goals of socialism and the revolution is able to actually pick up momentum, it will either result in a stronger crackdown or a wider citizen revolt and clashes. President Obama may have planted a seed when he advocated voting for the leadership in his televised address—indeed, the Cuban Communist Party was right in reacting defensively against his visit, characterizing it as undermining “the Revolution” (code for those now in power) by friendly means. In the short term, such resistance may continue to result in more and harsher attacks. “Nos vamos a presentar a las elecciones y vamos a ganar”, [we’re going to present ourselves for election and we’re going to win] said opposition leader Manuel Cuesta, spokesman for a collective of small dissident organizations not recognized by the government. The government has reacted on Granma, the official newspaper and website, saying that debate is open as long as it does not try to undermine socialism and replace it with an outdated capitalism and that debaters are not provided (moral or financial?) support from outside the country. Under those rules, can the opposition say, with some justification, that it is promoting the original ideas of the revolution: equality, justice, freedom of expression? They should emphasize that they are not capitalists, but true socialists wanting a more equitable distribution of wealth. That message might resonate even with some members of the Communist Party.

21 Cuban rafters who made it to a Florida lighthouse are clinging there claiming “dry-foot” privileges, while a Miami benefactor has filed suit in court asking that they be allow to stay. The lighthouse is located several miles south of the Florida Keys—is it dry land or not?

A series of vignettes about Cubans crossing the border at El Paso

Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer was in DC, but I missed him because our meeting place was changed—will try again if he comes back later:

Here he is in the Washington Post:

His biography from Wikipedia: José Daniel Ferrer García (born July 29, 1970) is a fisherman and Cuban dissident from Santiago de Cuba.[1] A member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) founded by Oswaldo Payá, he participated in collecting signatures for the Varela Project, in which 25,000 signatories petitioned the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as well as institute a multi-party democracy. Ferrer was detained during the subsequent Black Spring crackdown of March 2003 and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. His brother Luis Enrique Ferrer García, also an MCL activist, was sentenced to 28 years. In May 2003, José Daniel began a hunger strike after he was allegedly refused medical treatment for an intestinal issue. He was also subjected to punishment cells for refusing to stand in the presence of military or prison guards. The prison cells are reportedly and habitually below the international standard and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.[3]
Amnesty International declared both Ferrer brothers to be prisoners of conscience.[3] US President Barack Obama called for Ferrer's release in 2009, urging the Cuban government to allow him to "fully participate in a democratic future in Cuba."[4]
Ferrer remained in prison until 2011.[5] He and Félix Navarro Rodríguez were released on 23 March 2011 as part of an agreement between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church. They were the last two prisoners of the Black Spring to be released. Ferrer refused the option to emigrate to Spain, stating, "I want to see a free people, and the best place to fight is here inside." 

Ferrer was detained again in April 2012 for "public disorder", and again for two days in August 2012 for his work with Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU). Amnesty International described the arrests as part of "a pattern of harassment by the Cuban authorities against UNPACU members and other political dissidents." In 2009, Ferrer and fellow Cuban dissidents Librado Linares GarcíaIván Hernández CarrilloJorge Luis García Pérez, and Iris Pérez Aguilera were jointly awarded the Democracy Award of the US National Endowment for Democracy. Ferrer was unable to attend, as he was still in prison. Ferrer's wife, Cantillo Belkis Ramirez, is a member of the Ladies in White, a group of wives of political prisoners protesting every Sunday for their release. She was herself detained for 48 hours in March 2012.

A baby with microcephaly was born in NJ to a Honduran mother who had contracted the virus on a visit to her home country--

Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo was arrested in Haiti and extradited to the US on drug trafficking charges. Lobo was president after I left Peace Corps in Honduras, but was in office during my subsequent medical brigade trips. He was a member of the conservative National Party, as I recall.

A friend just forwarded me yet another internet item, this one from TruthOut, tying Hillary Clinton to the Zelaya “coup” in Honduras and, by extension, to the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres. Is this an effort by Bernie Sanders supporters to further tarnish Hillary’s reputation? All this blaming of Hillary Clinton for supporting a "coup" in Honduras and for the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres is a total stretch and a figment of an overactive imagination. First of all, Manuel Zelaya, now a member of the Honduran legislature, who ran his wife in an unsuccessful presidential bid, was thought to be going against the Honduran constitution in seeking a second term and ordering the army to support him. Whether or not there was actually a "coup" in 2009 is therefore a matter of debate, but a debate that has long been over in Honduras itself, where people have moved on. As for lawlessness in Honduras, it existed before, during, and after Zelaya's presidency. Caceres, touted as an indigenous Lenca leader, was not actually Lenca, but supported Lenca people opposing the building of a local dam. Of those arrested for her murder, two are associated with the dam project. So, is Hillary to blame? Hillary may have other faults, but this is not one of them. If you don't like Hillary, don't vote for her, but don't pin the so-called Honduran coup or Caceres' murder on her. Zelaya won the presidency with the financial backing of an American who had been supporting the establishment of local libraries in Honduras, but suddenly diverted his money to Zelaya, a candidate of the traditional Liberal Party, who governed in a traditional way until halfway through his presidency when he struck up an alliance with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who gave Honduras free LED light bulbs and low-priced oil--this allowed Zelaya to raise the minimum wage--even Peace Corps volunteers there asked for a raise as a result.  

Bernie Sanders’ supporters are unhappy now that it looks like their candidate won’t win the Democratic presidential nomination. They feel “the system” is against them. (I do not argue with my friends who still support Sanders, as they certainly get an “A” for passion, something rare among Hillary supporters.) While both Sanders and his supporters may feel strongly and sincerely that he is not only the most principled candidate, but the best one to win against Trump, I think he is now on a quixotic quest. When the campaign started, I was willing to support either Hillary or Bernie, whoever got the nomination. Now, with Trump rising dangerously in the polls (why??!!) and Hillary falling, it’s time for the Democratic Party to unite behind their current front runner. I would make the same plea to Hillary supporters were Bernie ahead now in terms of delegates. Voters have often been faced with voting for the lesser of evils and no candidate is without faults. Sanders, who has an appealing, but fairly predictable, stump speech, has already made his point about Wall Street and income inequality. He might actually have more influence on the platform if he were to gracefully withdraw now instead of fighting on, which he may be doing not only to further his own ambitions and influence, but in order not to disappoint his fervid supporters. As a declared “Socialist” for all his years in the Senate, he has not made a big splash previously, though he has always been beloved in Vermont; now he is enjoying a national platform and may want to make the most of his moment in the sun. However, his persistent fight may come to be seen not so much as a defense of principles, but as a stubborn and grudging effort to hang on, not the best way to unify the Democratic Party to defeat Trump. Sanders’ attacks on Clinton now may actually be weakening her against Trump. I considered it a mistake for Sanders to agree to debate Trump, but he had wanted to give himself more visibility in a last-ditch effort to win in California. If he wins there, we will have an even more divided Democratic Party and electorate, but Hillary will still be ahead in delegates. It’s hard to make the case for changing the rules because you are losing according to the existing rules. As a septuagenarian myself, I understand Sanders’ need to make an impact on the world while he’s still living in it. But Donald Trump, in my opinion is not just not “politically correct,” he is “politically incorrect.” He and his supporters must be resoundingly defeated, not only for the sake of our country, but the world. Bernie, do the right thing. It’s too late now for you to get the nomination.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Family, Local, National, and International Issues, New Huffington Post Cuba blog

Back yard picnic with neighbors Kilof and Pris and friends

Amnesty International Group 211, Capitol Hill 

 Mother's Day with daughter Melanie, granddaughter Natasha and great-grandson De'Andre

The two photos above are about the subject of my latest Huffington Post blog in my Cuba series, explained below, link is (sorry these photos appear out of order here)

Mother's Day continued 

With friends Jose and Manolo at
Shakespeare's 450th birthday
celebration, Folger's Library, DC

Please excuse the long time between postings, too much going on. I let excessive time elapse between postings, so it became harder then to actually post. Mea culpa. Look in bold below for a topic of interest.

This local murder by a man of his estranged wife took place at a high school where I have served as a Spanish interpreter. Apparently, he went on to kill at least two others at suburban malls, incidents too close for comfort.

DC Emancipation Day
You never heard of it, but District of Columbia offices were closed on Friday, April 15, in advance of a holiday celebrated locally, Emancipation Day. On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, granting freedom to 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia. The act was passed nine months before Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation and granted freedom to enslaved persons in the District of Columbia, those first freed from the institution of slavery in the US. Now, all we need is voting representation on Congress and the Senate, as enjoyed by all other Americans.

Mexican Flag Flies over Trump Tower in Vancouver, Canada
put there by a Mexican construction worker, where it apparently stayed all day.

Fires raging perilously close to the Alberta tars sands. Alberta was my father’s birthplace, back when it was a wheat-producing province before the oil boom. Our family never cashed in on the oil.

Pope Francis provided a good example by taking Syrian families back to Rome (chosen by lottery, the luck of the draw). Francis is certainly a skilled PR and political operative, much more so than any recent predecessors, though all popes have had a bully pulpit, which they’ve used more or less. Benedict did travel, including to Cuba, but seems to have been mostly interested in parsing the philosophical and historical fine points of church doctrine and tradition. With the European refugee crisis, as with the minors’ border surge previously in the U.S., migration is always a combination of push-pull factors. “Push” are wars, crime, and poverty in the original country, while the pull factors are the attraction and receptivity of the receiving country. There can be too much “pull,” as Sweden and Germany have found out. Certainly, the US has lots of “pull” power, like it or not.


I've been trying to make Cuba a bipartisan issue, but a friend in Florida wrote to her Democratic Congresswoman about the subject of my latest Huffington Post Cuba series (below) and got a call back from a staff person suggesting my friend contact Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, not even her own Congresswoman and a member of the opposite party. Is Cuban human rights only of concern to Republican Cuban American lawmakers? That's stereotyping the issue.  My book has been trying to make the case that even non-Cuban American Democrats, like myself, can support Cuban human rights. Here’s the latest (4th item) in my Huffington Post Cuba series

As an admittedly IT challenged author, I tried to make some changes to my post after it was submitted, along with requested links to statements and quotes, which were not published—supplied for the reviewers, I guess. But it was published without those references or changes, so will mention some additional information now. After Avila found her animals poisoned, house vandalized, and well contaminated, she later had her pig and cherished mare killed. Also, the full statement of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission last Sept. was that she "is at serious and urgent risk, inasmuch as her safety and life are threatened.” Fortunately, her rehabilitation is progressing well and she is starting to walk again. But, she needs protection when she returns home, especially as she is now disabled and more vulnerable, so, as a life-long Democrat, I would hope that both Republicans and Democrats might ask their elected representatives to request that the U.S. Embassy in Havana assure Avila’s protection, as that diplomatic channel is now open to us. Protection of peaceful Cuban citizens, like those anywhere, should be a bipartisan effort.

Personal note: As a former social worker myself who then worked 16 years at the Amer. Occupational Therapy Association, 3 ½ years as a Peace Corps health volunteer in Honduras with 12 return trips for medical volunteering since, and now as a Spanish interpreter in hospitals and schools, I consider it important to focus not only on the physical injuries that Avila and other Cuban dissidents endure, but also on their psychological trauma and recovery.  So I trust that Avila’s rehab takes that into account. I recently helped a Venezuelan woman referred to me by Catholic Charities prepare for an asylum hearing. She lost her job, then was threatened and physically attacked after joining Leopoldo Lopez’s political party. In one of the documents I translated, a Venezuelan psychiatrist diagnosed her with PTSD because of those attacks.

From her own description of her previous life, Avila was a confident woman coping well with daily problems and family responsibilities, a respected member of the community, elected by her neighbors to fulfill a government-sanctioned position. However, after running into government opposition and joining a dissident group, her home and person were attacked and while she tries now to put on a brave front, it is evident from her hesitant demeanor that she is suffering from psychological as well as physical wounds, so that should be considered in her rehabilitation. Since she plans to return to her community in Cuba, where she will no longer feel safe, she needs to learn some coping mechanisms for the attacks she is likely to confront after her trip to the US. Belonging to UNPACU and having support there will certainly help. The psychological aspect must also be addressed for the Women in White and other dissidents who are not only beaten up and often detained, but suffer psychological trauma in addition to physical harm. It’s not surprising that most Cubans are afraid of stepping out of line.

We might ask Cuban authorities in Las Tunas what happened at the hearing for Avila’s attacker. While a response is unlikely, it would not hurt to ask and might afford her a modicum of protection when she returns.

In AI, we advocate the end of the US Cuba embargo in part because the Cuban government would no longer be able to use that as an excuse to attack its citizens. However, the protection of “socialism” and “the Revolution” will remain as justifications for human rights abuses. We can only hope that the Castro offspring and others designated to inherit the crown after the Castro brothers’ demise will follow the example of the Burmese generals and start making some reforms on their own. Meanwhile, Sirley Avila will require continuing support.

Message received by Amnesty International regarding our former Cuban prisoner of conscience of painted pig fame:
Danilo Maldonado Machado, “El Sexto,” has been detained four times in the past month of April, and was detained again today until further notice. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, called CANF to inform of his situation. As is typical, there are no paper trails or legal explanations for his continued arrests. Danilo’s family will be visiting the police station tomorrow to inquire on his behalf. In the meantime, Maria Victoria has asked that Danilo’s friends outside the Island be informed and circulate the details of his situation throughout the international community.

Cubans stuck in Panama will be flown to Mexico, but Panama says it’s not accepting more Cuban migrants on its territory. First Nicaragua, then Costa Rica, would not let them enter their countries any more.

An open letter was instigated by former Costa Rican President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias and signed by 80 Latin American leaders, urging Cuba, at the start of its recent super-secret Communist Party Congress, to  open up to its own people:

As my Cuba book readers know, I met Arias back in 1990, when he was president. I saw him inaugurate a municipal pool by swimming the whole length under water without coming up for breath. A photo in my book shows me greeting him as he emerged afterward. In 1987, he had gotten the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Central American conflict. I just Googled his age and he is said to have been born either in 1940 or 1941, making him a little younger than I. In 1990, he was about 50, so his swimming feat was pretty good for his age. I felt then and still do that Arias knew the score on Nicaragua and Cuba.

In 1990, I'd been scheduled to be an election observer in Nicaragua, back when Ortega lost, though he has come back now in a somewhat muted form. Just before that 1990 election, I’d gotten a letter from the Nicaraguan Embassy in DC, saying my visa had been revoked and that I'd be turned away at the Managua airport, no explanation given. So, I went to Costa Rica instead, met with then-president Arias, and saw him inaugurate the pool. I then traveled to the Nicaraguan border by ordinary bus to an obscure jungle crossing where the Nicaraguan guards there saw my visa in my passport and let me through. As we all know, Violeta won that election against all predictions. I was at her house that midnight when former Pres. Carter strode in, acknowledged her victory (speaking Spanish with a Georgia accent!), though he advocated delaying the announcement until morning to give him time

The recently concluded Cuban Communist Party Congress included dire warnings from Raul and others that Obama was trying to provoke internal change by friendly means and hence the need to guard against US stealth attacks on “the Revolution” (code for the ruling elite).The US government has been wise to ignore this rhetoric and just continue with friendly overtures.
When Fidel goes (in photos, he looks almost gone already), while some will continue (at least rhetorically) to support policies in memory of their late great founding hero Fidel, gradually that support will fade in practice. Fidel's reign was mostly a disaster for Cuba and Cubans, but it did have some good aspects. Although he pushed the country into the arms of the USSR, he increased its independence from the US (now reverting to that former dependence) and, initially, he inspired many Cubans to work hard supposedly for the greater good. Also, there were gains in education, especially medical and health related education (partly to prepare graduates to earn money for the regime). But the health system for ordinary Cubans, especially in rural areas, is not that different from what's available to Hondurans in rural health clinics—Honduran rural health clinics that are sometimes under the direction of Cuban doctors who have defected. 
I never met totally illiterate Cubans, as I still do among Central American adult interpretation clients; at parent-teacher conferences, it is not uncommon that Central American parents aren't able to monitor students' homework because they never attended school themselves or dropped out in first or second grade. Most Cubans, at least, have had a rudimentary education, although some, like my late foster son Alex or Armando, my kidney patient friend, make frequent spelling and grammatical errors in Spanish. 

One reason for the Cuban government's initial prohibition against allowing Cuban-born Americans to be cruise passengers is because they are still considered to be Cubans (partly to force them to get Cuban passports and pay extra fees to visit their land of birth) and Cubans are not allowed to get into boats and to travel by sea. 
Omar Everleny, a Marxist economist, for years a darling of the party as well as an internationally recognized scholar, has suddenly been dismissed, stripped of his party membership and banished to what is known in Cuba as the “Pajama Plan,” namely retirement into ignominy. An acquaintance of his now living in the US thinks he should come here to teach in a university because his career is obviously finished in Cuba. What did he do or say? Something about the excessively complicated import bureaucracy, while giving a nod to perhaps extending more involvement to private actors.

Well-meaning friends have been urging me to try going back to Cuba. One asked me to join her group to visit Protestant churches (bravo for them, I mean that sincerely). She doubted that I would be turned away, but I certainly wouldn't dare spend money to be stopped at the Havana airport and turned back.
The following case is illustrative: US citizen Arturo Villar, born in Spain of a Cuban mother, decided to attend a family reunion in the small town of Caibarién (I’ve been there) and bought a ticket and visa through Gulfstream Air Charter. At the Havana airport, he was taken aside and questioned by two Cuban agents regarding a story he had freelanced to the Wall Street Journal 23 years ago about the dollarization of Cuba. Villar, now 82, had been on a family visit back then, when he found out that Fidel Castro was getting ready to make that change. His story was a scoop, well-regarded in the U.S. but taboo in Cuba. When he was put on a plane back to Miami five hours after landing, he discovered that the Cuban government holds a grudge. (He did not get his money back.) (The Miami Herald, April 20, 2016, "Usher, Smokey Robinson in Cuba for some cultural diplomacy, but U.S. consumer beware")

I don't think even a small country like Cuba can survive economically only with tourism, remittances, and the earnings of its medical workers sent abroad. All that is money from other sources--charity to some extent. Long gone are the days of the Sugar Daddy USSR. Cuba itself has to begin to produce something, make something, grow something, sell something, and more than just rum and cigars. That Cuba must import sugar from neighboring DR is totally ridiculous.

Cuban Cardinal retires at age 78.  As my book readers know, I met Jaime Ortega in Cuba before he became a cardinal. At that time (in the 1990s), he and his deputy, Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, since deceased, argued that the church had to walk a very fine line to maintain such influence as it was able to muster. Their efforts have allowed the Catholic church to enjoy a little more space than other religions.

A partial way around Cuba’s internet restrictions:
Bystanders protect Woman in White from arrest:
Although the following is in Spanish, it’s also showing that ordinary Cuban citizens can intervene when the authorities are mistreating someone, which may have a moderating effect:
There are parallels between what happens in Cuba when authorities are being filmed and the same happening with police interactions here in the US.

These vintage pre-Castro Cuba travel posters make it look like we’re now going back to the future,

Maybe the Castro government really doesn’t want the embargo gone, as now everything is blamed on the embargo, since they can no longer blame "the Empire" directly. See

Cuba already trades with 120 countries and the US embargo has been gradually rolled back, no longer including food and most medicines and medical supplies, so the end of the embargo, if and when it happens, is not going to make a dramatic difference unless and until the USA actually gives actual aid to Cuba because Cuba is not producing much of anything. One of my correspondents paraphrases Shakespeare: The fault, dear Castros, is in yourselves rather than in the stars …on the US flag.

The following is a thoughtful article that takes a long-term view.

South Sudan
Apparently, the two warring leaders in South Sudan’s civil war have agreed to a truce, a sort of stalemate rather than actual cooperation, so let’s hope their fighters agree? It took a long time for rival vice president, rebel leader Riek Machar to actually return to the capital, Juba, to mend fences and show unity with the president, Salva Kiir. South Sudan has not been helped by the fall in the price of oil, its only export commodity. My heart goes out to the struggling people in South Sudan whom I met there in 2006. Seeing photos of the leaders and South Sudanese people, I am again struck, as I was when I actually saw them in person, by how very dark-skinned they are compared to other Africans, many of whom may have more of a mixed heredity—or perhaps that more intense blackness is a particular characteristic of South Sudanese? Most African Americans, including members of my own family, have a mixed-race heritage.


The current Honduran president, not a very likable guy in my opinion, prone to gestures and histrionics on TV, vows to be tough on crime, corruption, and police misconduct (even recruited a new force, but some have been the same guys). However, is he really doing anything? Is he able to accomplish anything? I wonder if a Honduran president might be worried about losing his own life if he goes too far?
In 2009, former Costa Rican President Arias tried to mediate the conflict in Honduras over the ouster of President Mel Zelaya. Bernie Sanders’ supporters and maybe Sanders himself have accused Hillary of supporting a "coup" against Zelaya. There is much disagreement about whether there ever actually was a coup there--it's complicated--certainly Hondurans don't have a consensus on the question. Zelaya did go back to Honduras, ran his wife as a presidential candidate for a new party he formed; she lost, but he won as a legislator for that same party and now is a gadfly in the legislature, a thorn in the side of his opponents. I do not blame Hillary for supporting a "coup" in Honduras because there is major disagreement there about whether there actually was such a coup. I especially don't blame Hillary, as some are doing, for the recent murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cacares, when her murder had more to do with her activism and her opposition to a local dam project. Hillary has faults, but, in my mind, but failing to call Zelaya's ouster a "coup" was not one of them nor is she omnipotent and all-knowing. However, when the Sanders camp makes such unfair accusations against Hillary, it almost makes me want to actively support her. 

Berta’s daughter Bertita and other Honduran environmental activists are taking their message to Europe with a tour of Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, and Germany. Amnesty International in the various countries is accompanying and supporting these visits.

In the FIFA scandal investigation, it has been revealed that former Honduran President Rafael Callejas (1990-1994) admitted to taking bribes and will be sentenced Aug. 5. He was president before my time there, which began in 2000.

Presidential Election USA
Former presidential candidate John Kasich said that he's against giving us in the District of Columbia voting representatives in Congress and the Senate because we are mostly Democrats—a very sore point for us living in DC. The Republican Party is in a big mess, but Donald Trump has confounded all predictions, so we cannot be sure he wouldn't actually win a presidential election. Many of us had expected him flame out long ago. 

So, it looks like we will have to go with Hillary. No one is perfect--and she certainly is not. But I'm influenced by a couple of small meetings on health care (when I worked at the Occupational Therapy Ass'n) and also on gun control that I attended when she was First Lady; she seemed quite alert and genuine then--now, she's (necessarily) more scripted. Bernie was never really an option, though he does seem genuine, but is always shown frowning and apparently righteously angry (an occasional smile wouldn’t hurt). Single-payer health care would be nice, but Hillary tried that and failed. Her vote for the Iraq war was based on the GWBush administration’s faulty intelligence that many believed at the time, including Gen. Colin Powell. Bernie has never said anything about his previous endorsement of Fidel Castro and of the Sandinistas, certainly mistakes when viewed in hindsight. If it's Hillary against Trump, of course, we have to go with her.

Perhaps Donald Trump, if actually elected, would get some advisers to moderate his positions, but he's unpredictable, like a bull in a china shop, so who knows? I hope if he gets the nomination that he not only loses, but takes down some of the most obstructionist Republican senators and congress people with him. His front-runner status should enliven an otherwise dull Republican convention. If nothing else, the guy is entertaining.

I wonder what Obama plans to do after the presidency, as he says he plans to stay in DC at least until his younger daughter graduates? I wonder where they would live?

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida--recent presidential candidate--was sitting across the aisle from me on my return flight from Miami to DC. He tried to shield his face as he consulted an electronic device during the flight, but I noticed the American flag on his lapel, so there was no doubt. I told him I was surprised to see him flying coach like the rest of us. "It's the way to go," he said. He helped me get my luggage down from the overhead rack. I wonder what his future plans are now that he isn't running again for the Senate? Maybe he hopes for a position in a Republican administration, but no chance of that if somehow Trump wins--not after his remark about Trump's small hands! 

 Above photos of myself, acting as interpreter for Afro-Nicaraguan environmental activist protesting route of proposed Chinese canal, AI USA annual conference 2016

At Amnesty International USA’s annual conference held in Miami, April 1-3, I moderated a panel on human rights in Cuba and internet prospects there and served as interpreter for the Nicaraguan activist shown above. Our local group, 211, received a national award for our activism. 

Use of the death penalty worldwide appears to be on the increase after apparently waning. China is thought to have the highest rate of executions, several thousand a year, but does not release figures nor do Vietnam and Belarus. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan account for most of the current increase, countries in which not all executions are for capital crimes. Of course, the US is a death penalty nation, at least in some states, which saw 28 executions in 2015. Japan and Singapore also use the death penalty.

It does seem that the whole transgender phenomenon and conflicts regarding it have been made possible by modern surgery and hormone administration, but it could further bankrupt the medical system if more people want to do it, as it apparently involves not only multiple surgeries, but also continuing hormone use. Even prisoners have been asking (i.e. Chelsea Manning). What did people who felt they were born with the "wrong" gender do in the old days? Just cross-dress? That would be a lot easier. I agree that no one should be harassed, especially someone who feels vulnerable or looks a little odd, but I do think the bathroom opponents have a point--how to distinguish between someone who is genuinely transgender in "their" heart and a guy wearing a dress who just wants to spy on women? 

Researchers are working against the clock to develop a Zika vaccine, based on some success with closely related vaccines for diseases associated with various forms of encephalitis, including Yellow Fever, West Nile, and dengue.  When I was in Honduras in Feb., contracting Zika was everyone’s the greatest fear. Heavy fumigation, unfortunately, kills not only harmful insects, like mosquitoes, but helpful and necessary ones like bees.

Yahoo in Transition?
Yikes! Yahoo, my main internet provider, is up for sale. If they jettison free e-mail, I am in trouble, though I do have a g-mail account. I wonder if my Yahoo address book could be transferred? If it has to be done one by one, that might force a much-needed pruning.

The following article from the New York Times Magazine prominently mentions the debate within Amnesty International about the decriminalization of sex work.®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0