Friday, February 5, 2016


Having said I wouldn’t make another blog posting before my annual departure for Honduras, here I am back with 2 last-minute items, the first below, my own latest Huffington Post blog entry on Cuba.

Since I am going into territory where the mosquitoes that carry Zika and also Chikingula, dengue, and malaria abound, it occurs to me that the country’s ubiquitous pilas for storing water unfortunately are ideal mosquito breeding places. Everyone needs resident fish to eat the larvae.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Winter with a Vengeance, Jimmy Carter, Trump, Honduras-bound Again, Peace Corps Exits El Salvador, Sandinista Textbooks, Cuba, MLKing Day, Interpretation Challenges

Daughter Stephanie on recent India trip

Scenes from Snowzilla

Recent visiting Zambian graphic artist Milumbe giving talk at Smithsonian Museum of African Art 

A few years ago, I missed Snowmaggedon in DC because I was in Honduras, but when I came back last time on March 5, 2015, there was a lot of snow and my daughter was unable to pick me up at the airport, though fortunately, metro was still operating. This past weekend, the snowstorm was called Snowzilla and even metro was shut down. We in DC were snowbound, big time. Still, out the window, I saw a man riding a bike out on a plowed street. Some good Samaritan shoveled my front steps. Everything was closed, school stores, banks, and the federal government, though a few buses were running.

As I had expected and predicted, former President Carter’s virulent cancer has not been eradicated completely and his treatment may need to be ongoing.

Donald Trump is certainly a showman and an entertainer, improvisational, fun, funny, and ridiculous. His demeanor is the opposite of what we would expect from a statesman. If by some fluke he were actually elected president, unless he sobered up, public life would be unpredictable and chaotic and the public would soon tire of his antics. Other political leaders here and abroad would be flummoxed about how to deal with him. I thought GW Bush was pretty clueless, but he at least made an effort to appear presidential. Trump is off the charts. It’s hard to imagine him getting elected—“When I’m elected, everything’s going to be great again.” But if ever that happened, both Trump and the electorate would sober up pretty quickly.  Trump himself never smiles for the camera—usually, he’s squinting and scowling, maybe trying to look serious? Even if he’s not elected, he seems to have enjoyed his notoriety and it probably can help his business. He has a big project underway in downtown DC, converting a lovely historic postal building into a hotel. A huge sign erected outside the renovations just says TRUMP!

I foresee a highly plausible political compromise on immigration reform after the presidential election, whoever wins (even Trump), namely that most undocumented people established here will not be deported, but also will not have a path to citizenship (where they might become Democratic voters). For most, that will be sufficient, as actually becoming a citizen is a fairly arduous and expensive proposition that most would not undertake anyway. It might be better if they did, as they would become more invested in this country, but that’s not likely to occur politically. Their children will have to fulfill citizenship duties.

Meanwhile, undocumented people continue arriving, including unaccompanied minors.

People have asked me whom I plan to vote for. Well, that depends on who the Democratic candidate is. None of the likely Republicans attracts me in the least. Maybe a minor one like Gov. Kasich is less objectionable, but I cannot get behind any of them. I’m not wildly enthused about the Democratic choices either. Senator Sanders appears to be a very honest, straightforward, likeable kind of guy with whom I would agree in theory about the desirability of universal health care, free college tuition, and other issues, but I also must agree with Hillary Clinton (and, apparently, the NYTimes)that many such measures are unrealistic given the range of opinion represented by the actual electorate and its political representatives. Of course, saying they are unrealistic makes that a self-fulfilling prophesy. At the same time, the weight of current public opinion is not on Sanders’ side, alas. Unless we had massive revolution in public opinion, a President Sanders would face even more gridlock than Obama has. But if he should win the presidential nomination, I’d certainly vote for him. Or how about a Clinton-Sanders ticket? Is that even a possibility? That would be a winner.

Back to Honduras again in Feb., my 12th return trip since leaving Peace Corps there 12 years ago. I won’t be posting on this blog again until March 2016 at the earliest. If you check the weather for Choluteca and El Triunfo on line, you will see that I do not exaggerate about temperatures there at this time of year--every day, a high around 100F, even as high as 102. It's hard to even think straight at those temperatures, but I will do my best, because I need to go south to see if we can revive the library project I started there in Peace Corps. That's really debilitating heat--no wonder folks in southern Honduras don't seem very energetic. Honduras cannot tolerate additional global warming, except maybe in La Esperanza and other high elevations. Yikes, not only is there a new mosquito-borne plague, Zika, actually apparently a new form of dengue, in addition to Chikingula, so those are new risks. Also, people have been telling me about 3 Americans students participating in medical brigade not so different from mine being killed in a bus crash. Well, yes, I already know about it.

Honduran authorities recently rescued 27 Cuban rafters off the north coast. When I was in the Peace Corps, occasional Cuban rafters would wash up on Honduran shores. Some would stay in Honduras, while others headed north.

Speaking of Honduras, I just got a surprise call from a Honduran father of 9, nicknamed Betio, a threatened environmental activist, whom I helped obtain political asylum 11 years ago. He moved from the DC area to the outskirts of Houston, where the cost of living is cheaper, and still has 5 kids living at home. He and two sons work in construction. He is 55 years old, so I don’t know how long he can keep it up. In Honduras, he mostly farmed and planted trees.

Not surprisingly, the Peace Corps has now suspended its program in El Salvador because of security concerns. Probably that’s the first step in pulling out entirely, as happened in Honduras. As in Honduras, the pressure to do so is probably a combination of increased actual danger and pressure from parents of young volunteers. If the history of such pullouts is any guide, most volunteers will resist leaving their local communities and will argue that they know how to protect themselves in that environment. In Honduras and elsewhere, some volunteers have actually stayed on stubbornly on their own.

Someone gave me 3 Sandinista-era school textbooks, circa 1979, with exhortations to support the revolution, “long live the FSLN” (Sandinista Party), and praise for a revolutionary hero fighting against the imperialists, Carlos Fonseca. Photos are shown of militant children marching in school uniforms with neck scarves, looking much like uniforms still worn by Cuban schoolkids. Seeing those books fills me with a certain nostalgia for a more innocent time. I remember how Nicaraguans felt soon after Somoza’s overthrow—wildly hopeful and excited, only to fall into despair when reality and promises did not match expectations and when the Sandinistas began cracking down on every aspect of life, failing especially in the economic realm. Although I wasn’t in Cuba right after the revolution, I suspect something similar went on there, except that the aftermath and its dire consequences have lasted so much longer, generations really. Is it any wonder that most ordinary Cubans see no future in their country and would leave if they could? The whole revolutionary process seems akin to “falling in love,” whereby emotion overcomes common sense and reason, after which the parties end up either splitting up in disillusion or making peace with a less exalted version of reality.

A pilot internet project through a Chinese company will allow Cuba to avoid using a US-based company. This is a big breakthrough.

Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company, ETECSA, reportedly announced late Sunday a pilot project to bring broadband internet into homes in Havana. According to the announcement, cafes, bars and restaurants would also be allowed to have broadband connections, which would be offered through fiber optic cables. Odalys Rodríguez del Toro, director for Havana at ETECSA, made the announcement, adding that three parks would also receive wireless internet services, according to a report in the Cuba Journal. The new broadband services would be made available through fiber optic connections which are operated by Chinese telecom operator Huawei, Cuba Journal reported. Del Toro did not provide a timeline.

The Cuban government has approved the publication of 1984 in Cuba, a book that has been banned—this is a definite sign of progress, though the book will not be readily available.

(January 25, 2016) National security and police have arrested more than 150 activists from various Cuban pro-democracy opposition groups on Sunday, the International Society for Human Rights reports (ISHR).  Among those arrested was a German journalist [Dr. Benedict Vallendar] who observed the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters, the ‘Ladies in White’, in Havana. 

Fight brewing on latest Obama Cuba proposals:

A Canadian woman died recently after becoming ill during a holiday trip to Cuba. It’s not surprising that the Cuban hospital is described as being dirty, lacking in supplies, and using outdated equipment and treatment. (In his film “Sicko,” Michael Moore was given access only to a showplace hospital.) The Canadian patient was apparently staying in an outlying location, not near a facility for foreigners paying in hard currency, where she might have gotten better care. What she experienced is what ordinary Cubans go through in seeking health services, despite Cuba’s reputation for providing top-notch health care. and

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” the Cuban “piglet” artist recently released from prison, says that ever since the accords, "There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression." His statement is no surprise--he said as much here in DC and he has vowed to try his pig caper again next Christmas. If the Cuban leadership were smart, they would just ignore it next time. When he recently won a $25,000 prize for his art, he publicly donated it to help Cuban migrants stuck in Central America as they attempt to reach the U.S. But he also used the occasion to call on his fellow Cubans not to leave the island, but to work instead towards solutions to the problems they face at home.
His commitment has fueled El Sexto’s desire to try again to stage his performance piece with the two painted pigs for Christmas 2016, when he is back in Cuba. The public announcement is likely to get him arrested again if he tries a repeat performance. But this is a man who spent almost a year in prison for his art, without facing formal charges and without seeing a judge. If Cuban authorities were smart next time, they would ignore him. Their response last time in arresting him went viral.

Here’s a blog posting whose title is self-explanatory:

Here’s a contrary view reminding me of the position of my “nunny bunny” accuser, as recounted in my Cuba book:                       
(Counterpunch is a monthly journal described as “left-wing” in Wikipedia)                      
When he stated that the White House and the administration “positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people,” what did he mean? An important objective of the policies designed to improve the “lives of the people” is geared toward the 500,000 people in the expanding self-employed sector of the Cuban economy. The immediate tactical goal of the administration is to strengthen this sector. In developing this policy, administration officials barely hide the policy’s long-term objective. The goal is to develop this sector as a potential breach in Cuban society. This sector, according to the US game plan, would become at the very least indifferent and apolitical, if not hostile, to the Cuban government and the Cuban political system. This tendency would go hand in hand with these 500,000 self-employed people, as the US would like, looking to the US and its “values” (capitalism) as the savior. Such a scenario, with its made-in-the-US branding, would be a cancer eating away at the Cuban socialist project and even its sovereignty.
 The Cuban government is very aware that the US has only changed its tactics while maintaining its long-term strategic goal to subvert the Cuban Revolution. In this context, the Cubans are valiantly opposing US interference in Cuban affairs. President Raúl Castro and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs have publicly warned the US. 
World domination has not ceased to be the objective of US imperialism. World supremacy is its very nature. Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba, is one of its targets in achieving world domination.
 Arnold August, a Canadian journalist and lecturer, is the author of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997–98 Elections and, more recently, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion. Cuba’s neighbours under consideration are the U.S., Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador
One of my commentators observes about Arnold August's views:
If we isolate and boycott Cuba, it's because we are trying to dominate them?
And if we open a policy to engage with Cuba, it's because we are trying to dominate them? As for Cuba's future, it may well be that the military steps out from behind the curtain and openly assumes power, even as state socialism is scrapped in the post-Castro era. So maybe the future regime will be right-wing, as has happened in Russia after its brand of communism went onto the scrap heap.
I would further ask if self-employment and self-direction are necessarily expressions of evil "capitalism" or just expressions of normal human preferences? What, in practical, everyday terms for ordinary people, is the "Cuban socialist project"? A dictatorship that enriches the few over the many is what the Cuban "project" is in practice. The self-employment sector is reportedly shrinking in Cuba as the military sector grows, so hurrah for "socialism." I know some people believe the US is bent on world domination. The US is already pretty dominant, so why does it need to dominate little Cuba? At any given point in time, some country is likely to be dominant—now it is the US, ipso facto—other nations have had their place in the sun. Maybe US domination is waning, as it inevitably must, but, so far, no other country is vying to take its place—maybe China?

A problem with the internet and the proliferation of on-line sources is that anyone can find kindred souls, whether for extreme political positions or for other rare proclivities, whether love of the Cuban dictatorship, tattoos, guns, or odd sexual practices. And those kindred souls reinforce each other. With my Cuba book, I had hoped to break stereotypes, but because my book doesn't fit any recognized literary genre (sterotype), it doesn't appeal to an identifiable interest group. As I’ve said before, my Peace Corps book, even years later, is still selling a bit better--and is being read by more people.  

Excerpt from Cuba visit article by Barbara Demick in The New Yorker(Jan. 10, 2016, on-line):
[T]he economic fundamentals in these last bastions of Communism are much the same. Like North Korea, Cuba maintains a distribution system in which citizens pay a low cost for inadequate rations of staple foods. (At one state shop, the provisions, listed on the blackboard, were grains, washing soap, bathing soap, toothpaste, sugar, salt, coffee, evaporated milk, eggs, and oil.) As in North Korea, archaic laws prevent the private sale of commodities that have been deemed strategic to the nation. Fishing is limited in both countries on the grounds that the bounty of the seas is the exclusive property of the state.
Posted: 08 Jan 2016 06:46 PM PST
Rubio Demands Answers From Administration on U.S. Missile in Cuba's Possession [apparently, the Cubans have had this missile since before the accords—why wasn’t its return part of the deal?]

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, today demanded answers from the Obama Administration regarding reports of a U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba’s possession. In a
 letter to the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson, Rubio asks the State Department about its prior knowledge of the missile, and he warns of its significant implications on U.S. national security.  Apparently, the missile went astray before the Obama/Raul Castro accords.

Dr. Martin Luther King said “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I spoke briefly (in Spanish) on MLKIng Day, as I was there in 1963 with my late ex-husband when King gave his “I Have  Dream” speech and, again, 50 years later at Obama’s commemoration of the same. Berta Soler, leader of the Women in White, was also interviewed on the program. Dr. King said “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I made the case for more understanding of the plight of Afro-Cubans by African Americans in the US, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, and mentioned that King associate Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) had broken ranks with other Black Caucus members by meeting with Cuban Afro-Cuban democracy activist Antunez in his office—and I said I had sent a copy of my Cuba book to Lewis who sent me a letter of thanks.
Chaos and strife in Haiti after electoral postponement once again, in a country that can ill afford it:
Some Iraqi Christian refugees, with Christians becoming an endangered species in the Middle East, have resettled in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. A friend who works with them tells me they are not in refugee camps with majority Muslim refugees because of attacks against them, hence are not in the usual refugee streams.
One night before a heavy interpretation day, I woke up with hiccups. They persisted. I fretted: What can I do if they don’t stop? I’ve heard of people in that situation who had to have surgery. Not only was I unable to sleep, but how could I possibly be an interpreter with hiccups? I held my breath, drank lots of water, jumped up and down—finally, they stopped.
I’ve been doing interpretations at Workers’ Compensation hearings in a center located out in the middle of nowhere in Beltsville, MD. Already, the name of the area gives an idea of the kind of place it is. There is not even a bus stop nearby, so it requires considerable walking between bus stops to get there without a car. It’s not my favorite sort of assignments, but work is work and I won’t be doing any or getting paid in Feb. while in Honduras. One day, I got there early and the door did not open until 8:30 am, so I stood out in the cold. That day, I also had 4 consecutive cases and we went right through to the afternoon without a break for me or the judge. The center has three complete courtrooms, with the public sitting in the benches and observing, the swearing-in of claimants and interpreter, lawyers for both sides, and lots of documents. Decisions are sent in writing later—the same thing that used to happen when I did appeals of unemployment compensation denials. However, in driver’s license suspensions, which I also used to do, the decision was rendered immediately. From what I have observed so far about workers’ comp, the decision comes later and the situation is not always clear cut—I suppose otherwise, we wouldn’t be having the hearing. From my observation, there usually seems to be fault on both sides for a worker’s injury—a malfunction of equipment coupled with a mistake in its use. Of course, the older the worker, the more likely that an injury will have serious consequences. And employers will go to great lengths to represent the injured worker as an independent contractor or ay fault, so as not to have to pay compensation, though some situations are blurry. I would not want to be a judge in such cases. And, frankly, I still prefer to work in schools and hospitals.
However, in schools now, especially high schools, Hispanic students are staying away for fear of immigration raids, although the schools deny that this is allowed in the schools.  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year, Feliz Ano Nuevo—Looking Back on 2015

 Cuban artist and former prisoner of conscience Danilo Medina (El Sexto) shown at Amnesty International's DC office with a former Nigerian prisoner on Human Rights Day, Dec. 10.

Christmas photos of daughters Stephanie and Melanie, granddaughter Natasha, great-grandson De'Andre, and myself.

Apologies, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, so hardly know where to begin in this new year. I’ll try to be brief, sort of like Yahoo News or other on-line news services with snippets or websites, since attention spans now for any topic are short. If readers are inspired to explore further on something of interest, that’s great. I tried to make all the fonts the same, but failed and don't know how to do it once it's on the blog site, so please bear with me. 

December was Human Rights Month and Dec. 10 is Human Rights Day. At Amnesty International, we write a lot of letters in marathon sessions at Write-for-Rights events, more than 3 million letters already during December. Surely some of those will have an impact beyond filling up in-boxes. Some letters are even sent directly to prisoners and their families, though those may never get delivered to the intended recipient—still someone in that country will see them.

According to a recent poll, more than half of Americans are unaware we DC residents are disenfranchised and those who know don’t seem to particularly care. We are fighting an uphill battle to enjoy rights other citizens take for granted.

It’s really horrific that Saudi Arabia, our supposed mid-east ally, executed 47 people to mark the new year.

In South Sudan, where I went on a humanitarian mission in 2006, unfortunately, power hunger there apparently overrides commitment to a new independent nation, achieved after so many years of civil war. I’m referring to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir now creating 28 new states to further his hold on power and his drive to divide South Sudan along ethnic lines. Apparently, for him, as for so many other heads-of-state, wielding his own unfettered authority is more important than citizens’ well-being.

Haiti is one of the countries I monitor in my role as volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty International USA and the news from there is rarely good. (legislative election results announced) Haiti delayed presidential run-off is Jan. 17.

In Chile, where I was an election observer in the 1988 plebiscite that went against General Augusto Pinochet, more details are finally emerging.

As usual, lots of news and commentary regarding Cuba, especially in light of the anniversary of the accords, with the web titles revealing subjects: (Our efforts helped free him and we got to meet him in person at Amnesty International’s DC office)

Below, articles about the stand-off between Costa Rica and neighbor Nicaragua on the Cuban migrants, which apparently is being resolved now by allowing the 8,000 migrants to pay for a flight between Costa Rica and El Salvador, providing someone a profit and costing relatives in the US who are financing most of the journey. The Costa Rican prsident’s trip to Cuba to personally appeal to Raul Castro seemed to go nowehere. The US government kept out of the issue, except to say the Cubans must set foot on US soil by land and not arrive by air.  Costa Rica partially pulled out of SICA, a regional body promoting Central American cooperation, after neighboring nations failed to help handle a growing Cuban migrant crisis.

One of the prisoners released as the result of the accords last year was re-arrested, went on a hunger strike, and is now near death. Last I heard, he was in cardiac arrest in a local hospital. I don’t think the Cuban government would want him to die. If he recovers, he, of course, should be immediately released.

Probably because of my advocacy for Cuban dissidents or perhaps because of my Cuba book, I discovered that some folks at Amnesty Int’l thought I was Cuban! In terms of heredity, I’m as far from being Cuban as can possibly be imagined. In fact, that was the whole basis of the “nunny bunny” critique against me that propelled me to write my second memoir focused on Cuba and Latin America. The initial accusation made by a Latino man, as explained in the book, was that I am not Hispanic or Latina, so how could I possibly dare comment on events in Cuba? In the book, I tried to make the case for my credibility and experience, despite that handicap. If anything, not being Cuban should give me more credibility as an objective observer with no skin in the game. I also corrected the folks at Amnesty that I am not actually of Cuban descent. I thought it was obvious—certainly it would be to a Cuban or Cuban American. Another Amnesty member interested in Cuba, who lives in another city and also has no Latino heritage or appearance, told me that he is also often thought to be a Cuban American—and, though he speaks Spanish, it is with a marked gringo accent. It apparently is just assumed that someone in favor if Cuban democracy must be some sort of retrograde and partisan Cuban American still evidencing a Cold War mentality. (Patrick Symmes) I disagree with Symmes, in saying there is little evidence to implicate the Cuban government in Oswaldo Paya’s mysterious death—I’ve spoken at length with his daughter Rosa Maria and agree with the Washington Post editorially and with several human rights organizations that the issue deserves an independent and more thorough investigation. Otherwise, Symmes tries to be balanced in his article. I am sure he knows that if he said otherwise about Paya’s death, he would have no future access to Cuba, at least as long as the Castro brothers are still alive.

A reader had this to say about President Obama’s comments on the anniversary of the accords with Cuba: More bullshit from the procrastinator in chief. I couldn't finish reading it. He's running out the clock, is all. Of course Raul will promise him full access. Then he'll either renege with no explanation, or the activists who could have given Obama clues of the type he seems to lack won't be there -- gone to Spain, being treated in one of Cuba's excellent hospitals for a mysterious, highly contagious condition, or unavailable for other bullshit reasons. Then there'll be the presidential Potemkin tour in which carefully selected "average Cubans" who've exercised their well-known freedom of speech to criticize the regime will be trotted out. Raul has months to select these folks, bribe them, and coach them. & of course he knows everything everybody's said, so the show of dissenters will be beautifully managed. Anyone who gets brave and goes off-script can be taken out and shot as soon as Obama is airborne. Dictatorship made easy. Obama is smart, but not smart enough to pick up on the practical lessons available in totalitarian states all over the world.

Another reader, familiar with Cuba, says about Obama’s anniversary statement: I am advocating that a prior condition to allow American businessmen to invest in Cuba is that they be allowed to hire, fire, and pay their own workers directly in dollars and that the workers do not have to pay an income tax superior to the US income tax for their yearly income and family size. In other words, that it be guaranteed that American businessmen will not be accessory to slave labor. Until these conditions are met the US government should prohibit US investment in the island.

According to another reader, Negotiations seem to be stuck because the Cuban government wants the lifting of the embargo to consolidate the rule of its ruling elite and to permit this ruling elite to become wealthier while the US government want the lifting of the embargo to introduce reforms in Cuba that will weaken the ruling elite and eventually lead to human right and political reforms.

Already this year, tourism to Cuba has hit a new high mark, 3 million, probably the majority from the US. Of the 53 political prisoners released a year ago during the signing of the Obama/Raul Castro accords, most have reportedly been rearrested. Cuban democracy advocates have been buoyed by the victory of Maduro opponents in parliamentary elections in Venezuela, but not sure how to proceed because of their much greater strictures and lack of real elections.

On the anniversary of the accords, Cuba says Obama is welcome to visit, but not to treat internal matters. The Cuban regime will be in a quandary if Obama does decide to visit, as it can scarcely limit his movements and whom he wants to talk with and also what he wants to say—and his arrival in Cuba would generate a huge amount of excitement. He absolutely should go there and speak with whomever he wants—also say publicly (hopefully on national TV) that Cuba should consider allowing foreign companies to hire and pay workers directly. Freedom of movement and engagement, and the direct hiring and paying of workers, after all, are not just matters internal to Cuba, but involve freedoms of Americans vis-à-vis Cuba. There must be accommodations on both sides.

AFP, Dec. 11, 2015
[Castro's] Attorney General Dario Delgado asserted that Cuba has no political prisoners, only jailed common criminals who "call themselves dissidents."

"It is sometimes said there are political prisoners here. There aren't," Delgado told the official Communist Party daily Granma.

"The majority of those who call themselves dissidents are common inmates who have been attracted by counter-revolutionary organizations, internal or external, and receive payments directly or indirectly," he said.
"But they aren't prisoners of conscience."

One swing of the political pendulum, in the wake of Macri’s presidential victory in Argentina, is the substantial loss of Maduro’s party in legislative elections. Maduro is saying he accepts the results, but he may have some tricks up his sleeve, such creating new government entities to circumvent or supersede existing ones, as he did to override a successful mayoral candidate in Caracas. I’ve volunteered to help a very worthy Venezuelan asylum applicant with interpretation and translation of documents in preparation for her asylum hearing. She fled Venezuela after losing her job during Chavez’s time because she joined an opposition political party. As a result, she was further threatened, beaten, and suffered what her physicians called PTSD, so after the last physical attack, which included a gun being held to her husband’s head, she fled to her sister’s home in suburban Maryland. She is quite hopeful about the legislative election outcome in Venezuela, but knows from past experience, notably with nullification of the Caracas mayoral election, that Maduro may have some other schemes in mind. Before the election, he threated to call out the army if the election did not go his way, but he may now not be so sure that the army would obey him. The legislative victory against him was overwhelming, but there are still 3 years left in his 6-year presidency, which he won by a narrow margin. He and his cronies, under the wily tutelage of Raul Castro in Cuba, will be an obstacle to any democratic reforms, and, in any case, even the best intentions will not allow the opposition to turn matters around quickly. And the price of oil continues to plummet, going at times even below $40 a barrel. Look who’s claiming election fraud—Nicolas Maduro, the king fraud, but only if his side loses.

Mongolia has abolished the death penalty.

A nurse in Sierra Leone was considered to have died of Ebola, but she sneezed when her body was cleaned with chlorine and so was revived. 

He was shot visiting his north coast hometown of La Ceiba.

Central American recent youth arrivals to the DC area are finding themselves being teased by long-standing Hispanic students, being called “chanchi”, which, roughly speaking means “piggish.” Adolescents—even younger kids—can be cruel and prone to being bullies, creating groups that arbitrarily exclude others. After all they have been through, young migrants don’t need that sort of “welcome.”

Organ harvesting
I’ve mentioned this issue before, but here goes again because of serious rumors circulating in Amnesty International circles that China is massacring Falun Gong members to harvest their organs. I objected recently on this blog when a popular (very self-promoting) writer claimed in a radio interview that Central American immigrants were being killed in Mexico for their organs. Falun Gong members are certainly persecuted by the Chinese government and Central Americans are also being murdered in Mexico, but, in neither case, is it for their organs. I’m quite sure of that. As a Spanish medical interpreter for 12 years in DC, including with patients undergoing organ transplants, I am very skeptical of the many rumors circulating around the world of people being killed to harvest their organs. Organ transplant is a very meticulous and sophisticated medical process of matching donor and recipient. In the case of a partial liver or a kidney transplant from a live donor, both parties are usually hospitalized together after undergoing careful testing. In the case of a lung or heart transplant from a just deceased person, usually an accident victim, speed is of the essence and often the victim still has some bodily functions, though may be declared "brain dead." Organ transplants require very careful prior tissue matching and immediate transfer from either a live donor or one barely deceased. In Guatemala, the rumor that adopted children were being killed for their organs led to American humanitarian workers being killed and the shutting down of inter-country adoptions, so the rumors had real world consequences. In China, organs reportedly are sometimes transplanted from prisoners undergoing the death penalty, usually corneas, but if so, there is careful tissue matching before the execution and immediate organ transplant. It's not possible to "harvest" organs and keep them on ice until they are needed, but rumors persist all over the world that mass killings for this purpose are taking place.  

Former President Jimmy Carter announced that his cancer is gone. That’s pretty amazing in such short order, given that it had even spread to his brain. He underwent a new, experimental treatment that seems to have worked for him. I’m glad, as he is a remarkable man, more so post-presidency than during his presidency. Carter’s cancer may be gone for now, but it would not be surprising if it recurred or if a different type of cancer affected him, despite close monitoring. After all, the man is 91 and so may be vulnerable to cancer and other maladies. I recently wrote a letter of condolence to Carter regarding the sudden death of his 28-year-old grandson, as my son died suddenly at age 27 after a work accident and our family just observed the anniversary of his untimely death.  

For the most part, I’ve applauded President Carter’s humanitarian efforts around the world, setting an example for future presidents (GW Bush painting pictures of his dog or himself in the bathtub does not qualify for particular applause). Carter can be rightly proud of his legacy, though I do consider him a bit naïve—if that’s a right word to describe a former president—in Cuba, where he has allowed himself to be shown and to praise showcase AIDS treatment facilities and has made statements that appear not to realize the extent of Cuban repression. Whether that’s a calculated stance to win over the Cuban leadership, I cannot say. I also would fault him as an election observer in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez first was declared the presidential winner for not delving deeper into apparent irregularities. He wanted the Carter Center to demonstrate its complete objectivity in judging an election outcome, despite the political coloration of the candidate, but he might have spared Venezuelans and citizens of allied nations much suffering and strife if he had been more careful in investigating accusations of fraud and manipulation. Otherwise, in Nicaragua and Haiti, where I was an election observer with him in 1990, I fully agreed with him on evaluating those events and he has been successful in the eradication of the Guinea Worm in Africa and in promoting Habitat for Humanity. Kudos for Jimmy Carter.

After Connecticut enacted a law in 1995 that required that people to get a permit before purchasing a gun, a 40 percent reduction occurred in the state’s homicide rate. Soon after the San Bernardino massacre, there was an apparent terrorist attack in Britain with a knife that wounded three people. Knife attacks against several people have occurred in China, but with much less death and injury, obviously, than from an attack with firearms. In Israel, likewise, there have been recent knife attacks, many that were not fatal. Now even gun advocates may be willing to consider some controls.

In Florida, a mother recently shot her daughter to death, fearing she was an intruder. What can I say? If someone insists on having a loaded gun trigger-ready, they need to be very careful with its storage and use and think for a moment before they shoot—and that may include police officers. How about calling out when you hear a strange noise at night, to see if someone familiar might actually be there? Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean that every little situation that surprises or scares you needs to be responded to with lethal force. Think ahead about how your weapon is stored and secured, the (very few) situations that might require its use, and always anticipate what might go wrong, as people are, by definition, accident prone and impulsive, including you, the gun owner. (If you were actually thinking in terms of probabilities, you wouldn’t have a gun to begin with.) Don’t carry a loaded gun in your purse in a grocery cart next to your small child, who may open the purse and shoot the gun, as one little boy did, killing his mother. And don’t leave a loaded pistol at your bedside when you go out for the evening, leaving your pre-teen son and his friends alone in the house, which is how my younger son Jon got shot in the foot, bad enough, but fortunately nothing worse. Maybe you have warned your son never to go into your bedroom, but once you are out the door, you cannot guarantee that the lure of showing off the bedside gun to his friends won’t be too much to resist. 

It’s a dilemma on how to react to the San Bernardino shooting in terms of attitudes towards Muslims. As I’ve said before, obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but many if not most terrorists around the world these days identify as Muslim. How to tell the difference between them? It’s always hard to predict on the basis of membership in a particular category who will actually become a mass shooter, as their numbers are relatively few. For example, most persons with mental illness are not dangerous, but some of them have become so. And if we treat all Muslims (or mentally ill individuals) as potential terrorists, that’s going to make them feel alienated and more likely to become violent or radicalized, a self-fulfilling prophesy. But if members of suspect groups have no extra scrutiny, are we going to miss chances to thwart any plans they may have? It’s very hard to keep every Muslim or potential murderer under surveillance at all times,
especially since Americans want privacy and don’t like a nosey or intrusive government. We all complain about airport screening, for example, but what’s the alternative?

There seem to be oscillations in public policy and public opinion, a self-correcting Hegelian dialectic that goes in the opposite direction when a position seems to have become too extreme. For example, the hue and cry was that too many children were being born, creating overpopulation (the “population bomb”), so many couples decided (aided by birth control) to remain childless or to have only one child, a policy enshrined in China’s one-child policy. So when it became obvious that this was creating a demographic imbalance, some nations, including China, Japan, and European countries, began encouraging people to have more babies.

I’m wondering  if a tipping point has also come for Latin America’s leftist leadership, whereby constituencies who can still vote will start going in the other direction—as in Argentina and Venzuela. Now Correa in Ecuador, instead of trying to remain in power indefinitely as originally planned, like some of his Latin American counterparts, has announced that he has decided to step down in 2017 after all. What this may mean for Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders?) after 8 years of a Democratic presidency we shall soon see. I am trying to imagine the least bad, least goofy, Republican candidate who might actually have a chance, just in case, not that I would vote for any of them. If Republicans will sober up and get serious, get rid of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, then I could perhaps stomach Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or even Marco Rubio, though I cringe just thinking about them, but, at least, they all have some government experience and wouldn’t be completely off-the-wall. Rubio, the other day, referred to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria,” blatantly courting Israel and hardline Jewish voters, which didn’t endear him to me nor are his finances all on the up-and-up. Still, I’d rather see him elected than his fellow Cuban American Ted Cruz. I hope not see any of them!

I’ve never watched or listened to the Republican candidates’ debates—I just cannot stomach them. Most of them say, “On Day One, I will [blah, blah, blah]…” repeal Obamacare, put up a wall to keep Mexicans out, bomb ISIS into oblivion, etc.” Donald Trump would be entertaining if his poll numbers didn’t keep rising. He seems to be deliberately creating a caricature of himself, saying whatever he wants, bluffing to see if he can get away with it. It’s almost hard for comics to get any traction, because he is already so outrageous. He said recently, “100% of blacks will vote for me.” I’m sure that’s news to African American voters. I can barely stand to listen to Democratic candidates either. What can we do now, move to Mexico? Mexico will have to build a wall to keep us out!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Cuba Issues, Venezuela, Refugees, Other Items, Gun Violence, Life Span

Cuba Issues, Venezuela, Refugees, Other Items, Gun Violence, Life Span
Good news, una buena noticia. Amnesty International's Cuban prisoner of conscience, Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, whose US visa was initially denied by the US Embassy in Havana, is now in the US. El Sexto, as you will recall, was imprisoned for 10 months without charge and on hunger strike after being arrested last December for performance art inspired by Animal Farm (a banned book in Cuba); he had painted the names “Raul” and “Fidel” on two piglets. After his release, his request for a visa was denied by the US Embassy in Havana, a decision he posted on Facebook. Due to many efforts, that decision was declared a mistake and was reversed, so now he is in Miami. He had originally been invited to Art Basel, an international art show in Miami starting on Thurs., but his name was not on the program because of the visa delay, though someone paid his way to Miami and he apparently showed up the show. He is scheduled to join us in Washington, DC, at the Amnesty International office on Human Rights Day, December 10, for a group lettering writing event.

Posted: 01 Dec 2015 06:30 AM PST
There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression. The wave of Cuban migration you're seeing in the crisis in Central America right now is the strongest indication of that.
-- Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto"), young Cuban artist and Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience," who recently spent 10 months in prison for a critical performance, WLRN, 11/30/15
Article about El Sexto’s receipt of Vaclav Havel Award in Miami and participation in Art Basel

GENEVA (November 24, 2015) — Yesterday, Human Rights Foundation (HRF) submitted a petition and legal report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (U.N. Special Rapporteur), requesting that he send an allegation letter to the government of Cuba regarding the inconsistencies of the government’s official investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá in 2012. HRF documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system.

My readers probably know about the Cubans, now some 4,000, who have gathered at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, which recently decided not to permit passage, although it has been going on all year. Now that Ecuador has stopped automatically allowing Cubans to travel there without a visa, that outflow will end. The latest idea is to airlift the Cubans over Nicaragua. Who will organize and pay for that? The US has stayed out of public comment on the situation, seeming to prefer having Central Americans find their own solution.

The question that needs to be asked is: If [Cuban migrants] can obtain $15,000, why do they prefer to invest it in a dangerous escape, rather than in creating a business or prospering in their own country? The answer is painful and overwhelming: because here there are no guarantees, nor hope and because their lifespan is not long enough to wait for the fulfillment of promises of a better tomorrow, which are like the horizon: moving farther away every time we are near touching them.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio, 11/21/15 .

Highlights from the Atlantic Council's Heartland poll include:
·         Republicans' View: Despite a negative view of Cuba, the majority of Republicans favor the restoration of diplomatic relations and lifting the travel ban. 
·         Trade Embargo: 58 percent of Heartland voters support ending the trade embargo -- Ohio was the largest majority with 70 percent. 60 percent of voters believe that ending the embargo would benefit US agriculture.
·         Travel Restrictions: Nearly seven in ten Heartland voters (67 percent) want all travel restrictions to be lifted, including 66 percent of Independents and a majority of Republicans. 
·         Engagement -- the Best Option: Over six in ten voters in each state -- and 68 percent of overall Heartland poll respondents -- agree that the United States did the right thing in reestablishing relations in July.
Follow along on Twitter: #ACOpenCuba

However, critics of that poll say it was a very select and tiny sample of mid-west agricultural producers wanting to increase exports to Cuba, chosen to obtain the desired outcome. The poll only surveyed 150 people in each state. Any poll with such a small sample size is universally considered unreliable. 
I did not see Alan Gross on “60 Minutes” because I don’t have TV. His release was the only tangible benefit to the US from the Obama/Raul Castro accords so far.;_ylt=AwrC1CrzclhWOB8AczXQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--------------------------------------------
I volunteered to translate some documents for a Venezuelan woman applying for asylum here after she was fired, repeatedly threatened, and physically attacked more than once after joining Partido Popular, the political of imprisoned Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez five years before. Legislative elections in Venezuela are scheduled for Sunday.
Commentators not enamored of the leadership of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Brazil think Macri’s victory in Argentina may signal a trend in the other direction, while those sympathetic to those regimes take pains to characterize Macri as “rightwing” and his victory as just a fluke. Of course, there is just so much he can do to reverse the previous course.

Pope Francis visited Kenya, where a national holiday was declared.

At a recent parent-teacher meeting at a local school, where I was an interpreter, a son’s academic performance had reportedly fallen precipitously after his father was deported, a sad, but not surprising, result of an abrupt family separation.

A very skilled carpenter from Honduras working for me brought along as helpers his teenage son and step-son, both from the Yoro province of Honduras. The boys are now together in the same 11th-grade class. The son came first, presenting himself at the border, saying he was looking for his father. He was held in detention in Texas for a month, then the father went to pick him up. Next, the step-son followed--my carpenter's wife is his mother--but he was detained 7 months before his release. The carpenter and his wife also have a younger American-born daughter, a not atypical Hispanic family configuration. The boys had not seen their parents for more than 10 years.  

According to my friend at the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute, Syrian and Iraqi Christians are not even in the refugee resettlement stream because they don’t stay in refugee camps, being subject to persecution and isolation by majority Muslim refugees there.  Instead, they may be assisted by local churches or local humanitarian organizations, or simply create their own informal settlements. So, the idea of accepting only Christian refugees, put forward by some countries and US states, would be hard to implement. But, she told me, a group of Christians is on its way to Slovakia, which has expressed a willingness to accept only Christians.

While we feel immense sympathy for Syrian children being rescued (or for those drowning) in turbulent seas, those same youngsters ten years hence could become objects of suspicion and subjects of radicalization efforts. Will some of today’s appealing young refugee kids become tomorrow’s alienated teens and young adults, vulnerable perhaps to jihadist appeals? Or, at least, feared to have possibly become vulnerable? It’s a vicious circle—because they are suspect, they feel stigmatized and may then actually become dangerously alienated. It has happened, including to Somali kids growing up in Minneapolis. Few Muslims are terrorists, but a disproportionate share of terrorists turn out to be Muslims all around the world. There is a whole ideology and network supporting them and they are willing to die for their beliefs. The Hungarian prime minister has pointed out that 2 of the Paris attackers came to Europe just in October’s Syrian refugee stream. Of course, they needed to have support from jihadist sympathizers already in Paris to carry out their attacks. And it’s also true that while 99% of Syrian refugees are not jihadists nor likely to become radicalized, it takes only a handful to wreak havoc and death.

To a much lesser degree and extent, a similar to vicious circle is happening in low-income majority black and Latino communities here in the US—people living there are suspect, so they have fewer opportunities, then they commit more crimes, making them more suspect as a group.

South Korea’s per capita economic output is reportedly 20 times that of North Korea. North Koreans are, on average shorter than their southern compatriots and their average life expectancy is several years shorter.

Perhaps now, the Russians will become the West’s allies in the Middle East, as happened against the Nazis in World War II?

The American woman killed in the terrorist attack on a Mali hotel, Anita Data, was a former Peace Corps volunteer. Another American was killed in the Paris attack. There have also been attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon. It seems jihadists are going all-out now to hurt and scare people all over the world. Of course, Washington, DC, is on the target list.

Here at home, gun violence continues with the shooting near a Planned Parenthood clinic, obviously by someone who should not have had firearms. If, indeed, his rampage was motivated by anti-abortion sentiments, killing people hardly makes sense. Now, his deed has been eclipsed by the San Bernardino killings. There is a reason that the rate of gun deaths in the US is many times greater than in any other developed nation—we must be doing something wrong. Having a lot of people armed is not preventing gun deaths. In Georgia, a 6-year-old girl finds a gun hidden under a couch cushion and kills herself. Enough said. Guns, improperly handled and stored, obviously are lethal. A man in South Carolina possesses over 12,000 guns, many stolen. What is to be done? Hand-wringing and prayers are insufficient. I am just grateful that the handgun that went off when preteen boys were playing with it (after finding it at a father’s bedside) only injured my then-11-year-old son Jonathan in the foot, a painful injury, but one from which he thankfully recovered.

If humankind keeps extending the average lifespan (despite gun violence, wars, and terrorism), using more medical and other resources to do it, then world population will keep growing older and using up more resources. Does each of us have an obligation to live a limited lifespan, to limit our time occupying this earth? Population is growing now not only because of infant births and child survival, but because of elder survival (myself included), often thanks to expensive medical interventions, not only lifetime drugs, but joint replacements, pacemakers, stents, dental implants, hearing aids, and cataract removal. What about putting a consensus cap on a normal lifespan, say 100 years, after which extraordinary measures will not be taken to prolong a life—no more surgery or heroic measures, just palliative care, with pain and infection relief—could that be supported? Of course, I can afford to contemplate a 100-year life span now, being far from that age, but as each of us approaches it, we might change our mind.