Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Fest, Wasp Nest, Franciscan Catacombs, Interpretation Adventures, Friend Loses Her Son, Gay Marriage Quirk, Malala, Cuban Migrants, Cuban Five, Drones, Healthcare Efficiency, Peace Corps Adjustment

Again, mysterious underlined words appeared in my last blog. Why?

 OK Folks, here’s your chance to stop by to chat with the author and get your signed copy of either or both of my books, Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras and Confessions of Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People. Meet with me and other outstanding local authors at ML King Library, 901 G St. NW, on Saturday, Oct. 18, 9 am to 12:30 pm or 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm, across the street from Gallery Place metro stop (9th & G exit).  Mark your calendar today!

A wasp nest appeared mysteriously clinging to a cloth embroidered wall hanging that I had gotten in Kenya, a scene featuring ostriches. I carefully removed the mud nest, which was empty, and scraped the cloth with a butter knife, but a residue of mud-dust remains, as seen in the corner depicted. I am wondering how to clean the rest without damaging or staining the fabric, as I fear using water or alcohol would do. Maybe a vacuum cleaner? Any other suggestions would be welcome.
Above photos are from a visit to the Franciscan monastery located in DC, with its underground catacombs, a smaller  copy  of those in Rome. They’re kind of macabre, with shrines and replicas of tombs of saints, including one of St. Sebastian, killed by an arrow in a thigh, of particular interest because of preshooler Sebastian in our party. Included is a bas-relief representation of purgatory, with unfortunates struggling to get out. You’ll be surprised that I met Pope Francis there! Perhaps the most eerie was the glassed enclosure containing an actual desiccated body, that of a little girl who died centuries ago, nicely dressed with a cherubic face mask, but with her actual dark shriveled hands emerging from her gown.

 At a recent hospital interpretation assignment, I ran into another interpreter, I think for Hindi. His client was spectacular-looking, wearing a turban, robes, and a long beard. My own patient that day was very hard of hearing and needed an MRI test requiring her to remove her single hearing aid. I then had to shout instructions to her, wearing out my voice until I was almost hoarse by the end. Another patient told me he works nights on the current capitol building repair project, something I can see from my neighborhood, the dome now surrounded by scaffolding. With interpretation, we never know whom or what to expect, which keeps it interesting.

 I was devastated to hear that my kids’ childhood friend, who used to live 2 doors away, has died suddenly. I just talked with his mother and, of course, there is no consolation for such a loss. I mentioned The Compassionate Friends to her, a support group for bereaved parents, but it only helps them feel less alone and does nothing, obviously, to bring back the lost child. The death of a child is simply something a parent never gets over. If an analogy can be made with a physical loss, it might be like learning to live without a limb or eyesight, though most parents would gladly give up a physical attribute in exchange for the life of their child. Most would even give up their own life for their child’s life. But we are not given that choice. We are acutely aware of the fragility of life and how any of us and those we love could die tomorrow, or even today.

 Now all local jurisdictions, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, allow gay marriage. A young woman I know works in a restaurant where a waitress from Eastern Europe asked her to marry her, only on paper, so she could get a green card. When my younger daughter was a college student out in Washington State, she had similar marriage proposals from foreign students, but back then, all were men. Now the marriage possibilities have doubled! When I travel, I wonder if foreign women will begin to ask me to marry them just as men do now? Who would have envisioned this consequence of the gay marriage boom?   

 Kudos to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a brave, well-spoken young woman. In a recent radio interview, a prominent Pakistani newspaper editor, whose name escapes me, declared that the prize was all part of an American (?) plot to undermine Muslim values and mix boys and girls together in schools where immoral acts could take place. Of course, girls can always be educated separately from boys to avoid such risks. And Malala is still targeted for death by the Taliban and must live under guard at all times, probably even more so now because of her increased notoriety and recognition in the west. The editor said he didn’t believe that she had actually been shot. It was all a conspiracy against Muslims.

 A New York Times editorial for October 12, 2014 urges ending the US embargo against Cuba, a process that has been occurring gradually already de facto, but is unlikely to end completely until perhaps after the November elections. Jesse Jackson, whom I met in 1984, along with 26 long-term Cuba prisoners that our local Amnesty International group had asked him to get released (as per my book), has also come out in favor of jettisoning the embargo, in a statement in the Chicago Sun-Times. If the embargo is gone, what will be the Cuban government’s justification for restricting and punishing its own citizens?

 It would not surprise me, as part of his post-election immigration reform efforts, if President Obama rescinds the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy for Cuban rafters established by Bill Clinton, allowing them to remain if they touch US soil. I know several successful rafters and also heard of those arriving at the Honduran Caribbean coast while I was living there, some of whom stayed in Honduras. But others were picked up at sea by the US Coast Guard or in the Bahamas and returned to Cuba, so must have suffered reprisals. And, who knows how many have been lost at sea, like the unfortunate rafters mentioned below? The safest, but most expensive, way for Cubans to cross into the US is via Mexico, requiring relatives outside Cuba to obtain for them a flight to Panama or Ecuador and, from there, usually ground transportation through Central America and Mexico, then across the Mexican border after paying off Mexican border guards. I brought Armando, my Cuban kidney patient to the US that way, 16 years ago, and he did the same with his own son, as recounted in my Cuba book.

Reuters, Oct. 5, 2014 [excerpts]

A group of Cuban migrants drank their own urine and blood after the engine of their homemade boat failed, leaving them adrift in the Caribbean for three weeks without food or water, according to survivors who reached the United States this week.

 "I’m happy I made it, alive, but it was something no-one should have to go through,” said Alain Izquierdo, a Havana butcher, and one of 15 survivors of the 32 passengers. Six passengers are missing after they tried to swim to shore, while 11 others died of dehydration.

 “I just feel sad for those who didn’t make it,” said Izquierdo, sitting under a sun shade by the pool of his uncle and aunt’s home in Port St Lucie, on Florida’s east coast.

 The survivors were rescued by Mexican fishermen 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and were briefly detained in Mexico before being released late last month…

 U.S. authorities said last month more than 16,200 Cubans arrived without visas at the border with Mexico in the past 11 months, the highest number in a decade.

 I missed this article about Cuban US Dept. of Defense “mole” spy Ana Montes when it first came out, but I did know about her. Many thanks to an alert blog reader for sending it to me, a fascinating story,

While the Cuban government has made a full-court press for the release of the three remaining Cuban Five prisoners, with a relentless US and European campaign and the arrest of Alan Gross 5 years ago, it has said virtually nothing about Ana Montes. A reader speculates that the Cuban government isn’t going to waste its time on Montes, a lost cause, as the evidence against her was pretty overwhelming. But, apparently, it considers the Cuban Three not to be a lost cause and certainly I’ve heard from a fair number of Americans involved in campaigning for their release—considering them innocent and victims of an unfair trial, as the Cuban government alleges. There is also a vocal contingent of Europeans convinced of their innocence and involved in the same campaign to free them. So an exchange of Alan Gross for the Three after the November elections would not surprise me, along with a further easing of the embargo and immigration measures including getting rid of wet-foot/dry-foot (on grounds that it puts rafters in serious danger), as I’ve said. I’m not sure how much Congressional approval might be required for these last two measures.   

 I have a Cuban-born friend who fears in the abstract—he has absolutely no actual information on this—that with the growth and proliferation of drone technology, Cuban exiles might attempt a drone attack on Cuba, perhaps from another country, causing all hell to break out there. The US government would certainly want to prevent such a scenario. I don't know how easy drones are to make or acquire, but if they were launched into Cuba from another country--such as the DR or Haiti--the US government might not be able to stop them. And there's nothing to say that drones from elsewhere won't be launched against the US. We don't have an iron dome over the whole USA. This whole drone business, like anything else, is a two-edged sword, potentially very scary for us, as well as protective.  Certain nations, like Iran, have captured American drones and have studied how they are made and operate. Once nuclear weapons were the big fear in the arms race; now, it’s drones. If our country can use them, others cannot be far behind.

The US is number 44 according to a ranking of healthcare efficiency done by Bloomberg, examining "health care costs as a share of GDP and per capita, as well as life expectancy and improvements from last year." If it’s any solace, Russia was the worst at #51.

 Reading about the usual struggles and adjustment of Peace Corps volunteers, I realize again how lucky I am that when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras and during my 10 return trips so far, I’ve never felt or been treated like a foreigner or a second-class citizen. Of course, most (but not all) people there know objectively that I'm a "North American," but sometimes they forget during their conversations and I'm always welcome as a guest in their homes. Often, I'm offered the "Honduran" price for something, including the senior citizen price. I was perfectly happy to be the only foreigner living in El Triunfo during PC. It must be harder for most volunteers, as I’ve come to realize reading their memoirs and postings.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Great-grandson is 7, Computer Gremlin, Ebola, Leader Deaths-Past & Present, Hong Kong, Netanyahu at the UN, Collateral Damage, Jeb Bush, Canadian Investor Sentenced in Cuba, Gun Accidents

Readers, it’s a complete mystery why some words in the previous posting appeared in blue and underlined—I did not do that intentionally and have no idea what it was supposed to signify, but it seemed best to leave well enough alone. Has a gremlin gotten into my blog?
A gremlin definitely kept invading my computer system, messing everything up. My daughter Melanie got rid of it one Sunday, but the very next day, it popped right up again. After thoroughly blocking everything and making my life miserable, it boldly asked for a credit card number (are they crazy?), warning of a dangerous invading virus that could destroy all my files, then offering to sell me an anti-virus program to get rid of the very virus it had provoked. It was driving me crazy! How much we depend on our computers and internet access! My sister, who refuses to have e-mail or a computer, may have the right idea. An IT-savvy friend was able to enter my computer remotely via something called Team Viewer and eject the unwelcome intruder. I suspect that the virus sneaked in through a Yahoo news item on whose title I had carelessly clicked.
While sending a Moneygram to the guy who helped me vanquish the computer virus, a gentleman waiting in line insisted on taking a photo with me. He said he was 72, a little younger than me.  Photo appears above.
Another photo shows my great-grandson, De’Andre, with his mom, granddaughter Natasha, on his 7th birthday.
How is that a Texas hospital examined an ill man who mentioned that he just returned from Liberia and failed to imagine he might have Ebola, instead, in a glaring breech, sending him home to endanger others and allowing his own illness to worsen? Apparently there was some glitch in the hospital’s record-keeping system (since remedied) and the patient also lied, saying he had not been in contact with Ebola victims in Liberia, which was untrue. He apparently didn’t want to miss his flight to the US. Now we have 2 possible cases in the DC area.  With air travel from the affected countries, some contagion is inevitable.
Incredibly, a Delaware State U. professor, Dr. Cyril Broderick, has apparently speculated that Ebola and AIDS are both conspiracies of the US Dept. of Defense unleased to harm helpless Africans, just for the heck of it—allegations quoted in a Liberian newspaper.
Efforts to bring Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier to justice have ended with his death, so, like many other dictators, he won't pay the price for his misdeeds. He had said he wanted to die in Haiti and now he has.
President Cristina de K. of Argentina speculates that the United States is trying to kill her, on a par with Hugo Chavez saying that the US gave him cancer. Some people may actually believe that the US is so all-powerful that it could do such things. A woman from Argentina tells me that Argentines are posting humorous responses on Twitter #SiMePasaAlgo.
Not that political assassinations are beyond the pale for the American government. Witness the killing of Osama Bin Landen, not to mention targeted drone strikes against other militants. And the apparent paranoia and present-day vigilance of the Cuban government is not without historic foundation, as recently released details of the early hostilities between the US and Castro’s Cuba have revealed.  
“I think we are going to have to smash Castro”; Ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made plans to attack Cuba, AP, Oct. 1, 2014
Kissinger was incensed over Cuba deploying troops to Angola, so he advocated for strong action to stop Fidel Castro, according to declassified government records posted online Wednesday. He created a contingency plan that outlined military options from blocking outgoing Cuban ships carrying troops and war material to airstrikes against Cuban bases.
Another recently declassified top-secret memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, dated March 13, 1962 and titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba,” recommended an invasion. Of course, we all know how an invasion the previous year went, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba, ill-fated not only in its abject failure, but also in providing the Castro regime with a perpetual grievance against the United States and an excuse to crack down on its own citizens ad infinitum. Yet relations among former enemies can change after more than half a century, provided both sides are willing; witness the US today with Germany and Japan.
In confronting the unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities don’t dare risk another Tiananmen Square, but it’s hard to imagine them meeting any of the protestors’ demands. The government’s likely tactic is to just outwait the demonstrators until they get tired and finally go home. The rest of China is not likely to learn much about the actions and grievances of Hong Kong residents because of strict media controls, thus avoiding any contagion, especially since there is no regular movement between the two sectors. China is many times bigger and much more open to the world than Cuba, but I’ve always marveled at how well the Cuban government, assisted by its secluded island status, manages to control the news reaching its citizens. Most Cubans have never heard of the Ladies in White’s silent Sunday marches, never heard of world-famous blogger Yoani Sanchez, don’t know about dissidents dying on hunger strikes or under mysterious circumstances, and, now, are probably unaware of the protests and demands of Hong Kong citizens, reminiscent in a perverse way of the massive gatherings in support of Fidel Castro after his 1959 victory.
Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN: The people of Israel are not occupiers in the land of Israel. History, archaeology and common sense all make clear that we have had a singular attachment to this land for over 3,000 years. Now waters of that conflict have been stirred up even more by Sweden’s recent unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
It’s very troubling that American air strikes in Iraq against ISIS are hitting civilians, considered unavoidable collateral damage. Logistically, of course, civilian casualties are hard to prevent, as Israel found when striking back at Hamas. However, it is regrettable and obviously should be avoided as much as possible. Gone are the days, as in World War II, when carpet bombing and even nuclear strikes in cities, such as the US visited upon Japan, were considered acceptable (though, even as child, I never acceptable H-bombs hitting cities). In ancient wars, although weapons were less lethal, the rules of war were wide open and killing, pillage, and rape were routine—rewards of the victors. Fortunately, as weapons have become more deadly, more restraint is being used, but not enough to avoid harm to innocents.
If Jeb Bush should become the Republicans’ presidential choice for 2016, he would have to overcome the tarnished legacy of his brother, not to mention wariness of dynastic succession (something Hillary also faces). However, I suspect he would attract Hispanic voters, since his wife is Hispanic and he speaks quite credible Spanish himself, at least from what little I’ve heard, certainly much better than his brother’s efforts.
Readers of my Cuba book may recall my mention of Canadian investors arrested in part because of giving their Cuban employees direct supplementary payments beyond the meager salaries passed through to them by the Cuban government. Now, negotiations are underway for the investors’ release. I wonder if the jailed Canadian entrepreneur mentioned below is allowed any contact with American Alan Gross?
Cuba asked for $55 mln, assets to release Canadian CEO -company
Reuters, September 29, 2014 [excerpts]
TORONTO, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Cuba had offered a deal to release a Canadian executive sentenced to 15 years in prison last week in return for C$55 million and company assets, the Canadian firm's officials said on Monday.
Cy Tokmakjian, 74, was convicted of bribery and other economic charges. Two of his aides from the Tokmakjian Group, an Ontario-based transportation firm, received sentences of 12 and 8 years. Fourteen Cubans were also charged. The Tokmakjian Group, which did an estimated $80 million in business annually with Cuba until it was shuttered in September 2011, filed claims worth more than $200 million through the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and an Ontario court.
The case has strained Cuba's relationship with Canada, one of its biggest trading partners. Western diplomats have said it would dissuade foreign investors at a time Cuba is actively seeking partners from abroad to do business on the communist-ruled island.
After Tokmakjian was detained in 2011, company lawyers met with Cuban officials about the case. "They were ... told 'We're taking all your assets and in addition you're going to have to send another $55 million down before Cy will be released,'" Lee Hacker, Tokmakjian Group's finance vice-president, told reporters at the company's Ontario headquarters. He did not say why the deal fell through…A call on Monday to the Cuban embassy in Ottawa for comment was not returned…The bribery charges included salary top-up payments to employees in joint venture operations, the company said. Tokmakjian is the distributor for Hyundai vehicles and construction equipment in Cuba, as well as other mining equipment…
"We would pay incentives to everybody, from the lowest person to the highest person, and it was clear that there was no link between any incentive payments versus any advantage that was given to Tokmakjian whatsoever."
Tokmakjian, the company's founder and president, has been transferred to a military hospital, his son said on Monday.
Someone who formerly worked in the Cuban bureaucracy and is now exile, has commented on the Canadian affair: It's very difficult to understand how the Cuban government would be interested in fostering foreign investment in Cuba and at the same time following such a policy with the Canadian businessman. I suspect that what is really involved was a desire on the part of the ruling clique to kill two birds with one stone. First to get him out of the way because he was interfering with some money making scheme of their own and to do it in a profitable way by taking over his business. They simply prioritized their private interests over the country's.
A recent terrible gun accident in Pennsylvania stays in my mind. A father was holding his newborn son when a hunter’s stray bullet came through the window, leaving the child blind and brain damaged and perhaps unable to survive. Of course, it was not intentional, but has devastated a life and a family nonetheless. My readers know that I’m not a fan of private gun use and ownership for any purpose, either for personal protection or hunting. While there may be cases where a gun has been protective, the odds of harm far outweigh them, according to statistics—and odds are all we have for anything. Here in Washington, DC, voters have repeatedly expressed approval of strict gun control, especially given all the sensitive areas in this city—the White House, Congress, embassies, military bases, and federal offices. However, second-amendment advocates have forced us to have less restrictive gun laws than most residents really want, putting us all at risk.  
Here in Washington, DC, several young teenage boys were playing with a loaded handgun when it went off, fatally shooting a 13-year-old in the chest, a chilling reminder of a similar incident years ago when my then 11-year-old son Jonathan was shot in the foot by boys playing with a loaded handgun found in a parents’ bedroom.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Loss of a Buddy, Brazilian Patient, Corporal Punishment, Empathy, Scotland, Israeli Human Rights Group, Cuban Doctors in Africa, Castro’s Secrets, Computer Meltdown

The photo is of my biologist daughter Stephanie, checking out herbicide effects in a forest, in  Oahu in Hawaii.
A semi-homeless dark-skinned man named Buddy, with a gap-toothed smile, who used to greet me daily on a local street corner, suddenly disappeared. A guy approximately in his 60s, he used to search daily for small change ejected from parking meters and hung out with sidewalk T-shirt vendors, often sitting out on a fire hydrant smoking a cigarette or chewing on a toothpick, always wearing the same grimy jumpsuit and cap, rain or shine, heat or cold. When I didn’t see him for several days running, I asked the vendors where he was. They told me that he had suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. That was sad news, but seemed not such a terrible way to go. He’d appeared hearty and engaged up to the very end and never suffered the indignity and discomfort of being hooked up to hospital machines day after day, as happens to so many now at life’s end.  The day I learned about Buddy’s death, a friend told me how her brother had died after 3 unhappy months of decline in hospital intensive care where every kind of intervention was made. Of course, we don’t always get to choose the time and manner of our death.
I have to recount a recurrent annoyance. Yesterday, my hospital interpretation patient was Brazilian, from Sao Paolo, actually—things like that happen now and again and no longer surprise me. A Brazilian patient, who usually has been exposed to Spanish, and I do the best we can under the circumstances. Hospital staff who request an interpreter should realize that just because someone is from South America and has a Hispanic-sounding name doesn't mean they necessarily speak Spanish! Our agency has Portuguese-speaking interpreters who would be glad to have an assignment. The man I was with yesterday indicated that his Spanish-speaking friends have tried to teach him Spanish, but when he tries to teach them Portuguese, they don't seem interested. Anyway, we got through a complicated medical procedure with him, consents and all, but it would have been much easier and more proper to have a Portuguese-speaking interpreter. His appointment started at 7 am, so, obviously, at that point, we had to make do.
A sports’ star’s beating of his 4-year-old son, to the point that he was hospitalized, has sparked a national debate in cyberspace and on radio shows about the use and propriety of corporal punishment with kids, also on whether hitting children is a normal part of “black culture” and whether a man’s home is his castle, where outside meddlers should not intrude. (Those same arguments are often made regarding spousal abuse.) The very existence of this debate indicates a difference of opinion. Many defenders of spanking and hitting children say that’s how they themselves were raised and are none the worse for it. Others see the practice, especially among African Americans, as a holdover from the beating culture of slavery.
As a single mother of four, struggling to work and put food on the table, I was often stressed and frustrated, but don’t recall (selective memory?) ever hitting my kids, except my youngest, once in moment of frustration and much to my regret. Earlier, as a social worker, I saw excessive physical punishment and outright abuse of children among black and low-income parents of all races, including among military wives whose husbands were deployed overseas. Sometimes, we had to remove children into foster care. Later, in Honduras in the Peace Corps, I saw mothers using sticks against their kids, sometimes just picking up the stick as a threat. Those mothers were also being beaten by their husbands, who often drank heavily and openly consorted with other women. Perhaps the mothers’ aggression against their offspring was displaced anger against their husbands. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was in a delicate position trying to advise the women to tone down their actions in disciplining their children without putting them on the defensive. Sometimes, I would take an erring youngster out for a walk alone to give the mother time to cool down. I have no problem with a parent snatching a small child running out into a busy street or, very rarely, giving a slap on the behind. But to physically hurt a kid, just to show them who’s boss and that might makes right, goes against my grain, is unnecessary, and ultimately breeds resentment in the child. I myself was hit with a hairbrush by my mother and learned to immediately cry out to make her stop. I don’t remember my infractions nor did I feel I deserved the hairbrush; I think Mother, in retrospect, was mostly frazzled because she was caring for 3 small children alone and our dad was away in Europe during World War II. In any case, I believe that for most kids and parents, corporal punishment should be used never, or only as a last resort. Apparently a shrinking majority of American parents still use corporal punishment, at least sometimes. Only the US and Somalia have failed to sign the convention on the rights of the child that prohibits it. However, from my experiences abroad, if all other countries have actually signed, then protection of children from physical punishment is being honored in the breech in most countries.
Apparently the size of the amygdala helps determine altruism and empathy toward others, including spouses and children. Bigger means more altruistic, while psychopaths have very small ones. Maybe that's why my "nunny bunny" critic in my Cuba book became so infuriated at me--his amygdala is too small.
I’m relieved that Scotland decided to stay in the UK, not only because of my Scottish heritage and what it means for that country, but because of the example set for other independence movements, most, in my opinion, ill-advised. However, maybe those in Texas who wanted to secede from the union should be allowed to do so—let them keep GWBush and Rick Perry!
I was recently among a group of 25 people meeting at the local office of Amnesty International USA to talk with 3 members of an Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem , located in Jerusalem, sending Palestinian-affiliated investigators into Gaza to gather information on the individual human impact of the bombing campaign. They urged the human rights community worldwide to react more forcefully than during the conflict of 5 years ago, when everything reverted to status quo ante. They reported that bombed homes were not always of those of combatants nor were warnings always given. Liberal and rights-oriented voices in Israel are very marginalized, though social media helps overcome this problem and US support and leverage are crucial. The group’s message is that human rights are universal, something that everyone can address. Counter-arguments that the problem is “too complex” or “you are not there on the ground” must be dismissed. They will be glad to work with us at Amnesty. Someone at the gathering startled some attendees by identifying himself as the son of Holocaust survivors and a signatory of a letter published recently in the NY Times advocating a “one-state solution,” not a single, expanded Jewish state, but, rather, one where Palestinians and Jews would live together in apparent harmony. If a “two-state solution” is controversial, “one-state” along such lines seems almost utopian and completely unfeasible under present circumstances—maybe under any circumstances. However, times and circumstances do change and attitudes evolve. One hundred years ago, who could have imagined the very existence of Israel?
Kudos to Cuban medical personnel for going to Africa to help with the Ebola epidemic. “Boots on the ground” are needed in that humanitarian health fight and, in my experience, Cuban medical staff are well trained and competent. Of course, the Cuban government also benefits, not only in terms of its international image, but also financially from such “medical diplomacy” by keeping most of the money its medical personnel earn. It also regularly confiscates the passports of medical missionaries just in case they decide to jump ship.
I’ve just read a provocative book, Castro’s Secrets, by Brian Latell, who once worked for the CIA, taught at Georgetown, and is now with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Probably the most incendiary allegation he makes is that Fidel Castro knew when and where President Kennedy would be assassinated. Castro had put island forces on high alert beforehand in case of an American invasion after the Kennedy murder.  Author Latell falls short of saying there’s definitive proof that Castro himself was directly behind the murder, instead waiting for the pertinent Cuban secret service archives to be opened in the future—assuming they will not have been destroyed. At the very least, Latell makes a convincing case that Castro lied when he said he and his government had never heard of Lee Harvey Oswald. Shortly beforehand, Oswald had approached the Cuban consulate in Mexico City and declared his intention to kill Kennedy, something about which micro-manager Fidel could not have been unaware. A number of Cuban and American officials alleged that Castro believed Kennedy wanted to kill him, so he acted first. According to author Latell, those believing that Castro himself had had Kennedy killed included former North Carolina Senator Robert Morgan and President Lyndon Johnson.
Lying about his foreknowledge of the Kennedy assassination was not the only significant lie that Fidel Castro has told, according to Latell. During the Cuban Missile crisis, he sent a note to Khrushchev asking him to make a preemptive nuclear strike on the US, advice the Soviet leader fortunately ignored, later in his memoirs, chiding Castro for wanting to start a worldwide nuclear war wherein Cuba “would have been crushed to powder.” Later, Castro denied ever advocating nuclear war, saying he abhorred the very idea of attacking innocent civilians, including women and children. Likewise, as mentioned in my recent book, Castro denied ever knowing that his government had persecuted gays. Even Cuban school kids at the time were well aware that homosexuality was forbidden. Raul’s daughter Mariela has been able to reverse that policy, but only for gays who are loyal communists.
Castro was a leader for whom no detail was too tiny to escape his notice and who tracked down and sometimes managed to assassinate members of his intelligence service who’d defected to the West. He also ordered assassinations of foreign leaders, including Somoza, often using ideologically disposed nationals of other countries to carry out the deed, but failed with Pinochet, while Batista, exiled in Spain, died of a heart attack two days before an alleged Castro assassination attempt. Defectors have reported having come to a point when, suddenly, they couldn’t take the system any more. Most of them still living in the US have assumed new identities. A few became double agents, which protected them from assassination. Cuba’s spy system, according to author Latell, is one of the most sophisticated in the world, despite Cuba’s small size, and is aimed mostly at Fidel Castro’s lifelong target of hatred, the US. I would add that the internal spy system against Cuban citizens is equally pervasive and sophisticated.
Latell describes labyrinthian schemes with trickery on both sides, such as with Ana Montes, a Cuban spy who worked for the CIA for 16 years and is now in prison. He estimates that there are about 300 Cuban agents currently in the US.  It’s fairly easy to infiltrate them in via the 30,000 Cubans who enter the US annually, 20,000 from the visa lottery, 10,000 by sea or through Mexico. The former are checked out beforehand, but not the latter. The “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy of admitting Cuban refugees without screening as long as they touch American soil makes infiltration relatively easy.  
As for the Cuban Five, of whom three still remain in US prisons and on whose behalf American Alan Gross has been held hostage as a prisoner in Cuba for the past 5 years, the evidence presented by Latell indicates that they were a definite part of the Cuban spy network responsible for some US citizen deaths, but that the Cuban regime always advocates for its spies to keep up the morale of those who remain in service. The strong evidence of their crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that after the November elections, the Three won’t be exchanged for Gross. Remember, you heard it here first. Also, the Cuban government, in addition to planting bugs in the US Interests Section building in Havana, also chooses the Cuban staff for that mission, planting its own operatives inside. In my book, I mention, after getting a constant busy signal by phone, having sent a FAX to the Interests Section advising them not to grant a visa to Dr. Angel. But now I’m wondering whether a Cuban operative at the section might have seen that FAX first and simply trashed it?
Latell believes it unlikely that another Gorbachev would emerge from the current Cuban leadership. Rather, a hardline authoritarian is more likely in his opinion.
While I found Latell’s book enlightening, as a fellow author and a Spanish translator, I must take issue with his carelessness about Spanish spelling, especially in the use of accent marks. His is a book by a mainstream publisher, found in many public libraries, including my own, and yet, accent and other Spanish spelling inconsistencies occur throughout, such as misplaced accents and an accent appearing on a name in one place, then omitted on the same name 2 sentences later. Most readers might not notice, but I do, and feel that if I, as an unknown and self-published writer, can provide correct Spanish proofreading, then a prominent author like Latell can do so too. My other quibble is with his statement (p. 36) that a peasant named Eutimio Guerra was executed by Raul on orders from Fidel (p. 154). In fact, as I said in my own book, Guerra was executed by Che, who boasted about putting a bullet in his brain.   
This posting might have been made earlier except for a complete computer meltdown. I’m not talking here just about jumbled or lost files. My modem/router got so hot and the cord reached such a high temperature that it actually burned my fingers, melting into the router itself. Could a virus have caused such an event or was it more likely a mechanical failure? In any case, computers, like everything else in life, are subject to unanticipated events.

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 Payรก’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

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: