Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another Book Talk, Barbara Is Honduras Bound, Zelaya Leaves for DR, Lobo Assumes Presidency

On Friday, Jan. 29, I gave a talk at the annual dinner of Volunteer Readers for the Blind, who had recorded my book on tape. About 30 people attended the dinner, including some who were blind and had “read” my book on tape. Among them was Sarah, a blind woman who works for the Census Bureau and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. She is also a neighbor and one of the proofreaders for my book, catching errors that eyes had missed. At my dinner table, we had an interesting debate, triggered in part by recent articles in the NYTimes and other publications, about the pros and cons of blind students no longer being taught Braille now that so much material is available in audio format. The consensus among blind people sitting among us, having themselves learned Braille, was that mere listening is not the same as reading via Braille, which allows the student not only to keep a more permanent record, but to learn to write, compose, and edit material in a way that more passive listening does not. Of course, Braille texts are cumbersome and expensive to produce, while audio can be relayed via computer to both blind and sighted students alike. However, the articles appearing recently on this subject indicate that blind students who rely on audio alone have a lesser grasp of grammar and sentence structure and are less able to express themselves creatively and correctly in composition than those who have mastered Braille. Now that blind students are being mainstreamed, often there is no one to teach them Braille, a loss in terms of their educational development.

My departure day for Honduras approaches, Feb. 1, so this will really be my last blog entry until after my return. Those of you who have been following the Honduras saga know that the Supreme Court dismissed charges against military officers and, on Jan. 27, hours after Porfirio Lobo was sworn in as the new president, he accompanied Zelaya and his family to the airport, where they left for the Dominican Republic. A Wall St. Journal column called it Zelaya’s “Get out of jail free card.” That same article mentioned that US economic sanctions were still in place before Lobo assumed office, but, presumably, they have now been lifted. As for international loans and grants, that remains to be seen.

I am so glad to learn that Port-au-Prince’s Hotel Oloffson where I stayed several times and the proprietor, Haitian American Richard Morse, survived. That place is so old, it’s a Victorian gingerbread structure, yellow with white lacey trim, as recall, so I don't know how it was spared, but maybe it was not along the fault line. Last time I saw it, it seemed to have barely changed since Graham Greene described it in The Comedians. Pretty amazing that a 16-year-old Haitian girl was rescued alive after 15 days of being buried, lucky that her faint cries were eventually heard. At least one political prisoner identified by Amnesty International, Ronald Dauphin, seems to have escaped with thousands of others from the Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary when it collapsed. (It’s an ill wind that blows no good.) An Italian commentator noted that going to Haiti now and being seen and filmed or interviewed there is now a “vanity project” for officials, media, and entertainers. Yes, that certainly seems to be the case. And Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have reportedly weighed in to blame the US for causing the Haiti earthquake with a nuclear detonation, something that apparently only they were able to detect.

Haven’t had many Cuban interpretation clients, but I happened to have a Cuban woman and her daughter and niece earlier this week at a hospital setting. The daughter is a medical student at Howard University, the niece is a physician newly arrived from Cuba on a rare visitor’s visa. The patient and her daughter came to the US ten years ago, many years after their husband/father came to this country after being released as a political prisoner. That explains their preferential treatment from US immigration authorities and being allowed to join him—the delay, apparently, was with Cuban authorities not wanting to grant them exit visas. The niece is now considering staying here, but her husband is still in Cuba. It would be years, at least, before he could join her, so she is torn between returning or staying. Both young women were very curious about the medical procedure the older woman was undergoing. Most surprising is that this family is from Holguien, the poor rural province where my late foster son Alex was born and had lived. I was there in 1997 and met Alex’s mother and sisters. When I was searching for the family, Cuban authorities told me he had been a gusano, a worm, the term reserved for people who desert the fatherland. But Alex did not desert, he was forced, as per Fidel’s orders, onto a boat at Mariel because he was in jail, for what, he never said, but probably for being gay. He died of AIDS in 1995, one year after my son Andrew had died of other causes. That was a terrible time.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Library Talk March 10, Rwanda Foreign Minister, DR Solidarity with Haiti, Pierre Pan, New Mass. Senator, So. Sudan Again, Adios Zelaya

This may be my last blog posting for a while unless something really monumental comes up, so this one is rather long. I’m leaving Feb. 1 for Central America, with a brief stopover in Panama at the insistence of Peace Corps volunteers there before the main task: helping out with medical brigades and touching crucial bases in Honduras. I’ve been returning to Honduras every year since I left the Peace Corps six years ago.

For those living in the DC area, I’ve been invited to give talk about my book at the main DC public library, Martin Luther King, 901 G St NW, Auditorium A-5, 6:30 pm, Monday, March 8, (202) 727-1161 (Gallery Pl. or Metro Center). Mark your calendars now, because I’ll be away in the meantime.

What a surprise! Victoria, International Rescue Committee worker responsible for placing Marielito foster son Alex in my home in 1980, called to tell me that a former colleague of ours is now the foreign minister of Rwanda. Yes, indeed, Louise Muschikiwabo, former director of the board of the Rwanda Children’s Fund (RCF), of which both Victoria and I were members, was just interviewed in Newsweek regarding her new position. Rwandan-born Louise, who married an American, lived for a number of years in the DC area and was actually here when the genocide took place. She returned later to find out what had happened to her family members, several of whom had been killed (her family is Tutsi) and then, with a co-author, wrote a very long, dense book called Rwanda Means the World. Victoria and I can always say we knew her when… RCF financed boarding school education for genocide orphans regardless of ethnicity, but folded after I left for the Peace Corps in 2000.

Our Peace Corps fundraiser for Haiti held last week raised over $1,000. My housemate, whose first name I will not even mention, a water expert for USAID, says she and other technical staff are having trouble getting into Haiti as higher-ups are taking up flights to be able to put the Haiti disaster on their resumes.

On the BBC, I heard interviews with Haitian President Rene Preval and DR President Leonel Fernandez, who were scheduled to meet in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. The two nations, of course, share the island of Hispanola. Flying from the DR to Haiti, we passengers have often remarked on the stark division between the two countries: lush trees on the Dominican side and barrenness on the Haitian, where trees are routinely sacrificed to make cooking charcoal. President Fernandez declared the brotherhood of the two nations and announced that Dominicans had donated $1 million to Haitian relief. In 1996, I was an election observer when Fernandez was elected to his first term. I spoke with him then in Spanish at a campaign rally, not realizing that he speaks excellent English, as he demonstrated in the BBC interview, and Preval speaks fluent English also. (English seems to have eclipsed French as the language of diplomacy.) Fernandez is now in his second term as president, thanks to taking a time-out after his last term. Latin American nations allowing only one consecutive term usually allow for a second term after a period of absence. While Fernandez’s pronouncements of solidarity with Haiti are welcome, there is much anti-Haitian feeling in the DR as the result of Haitian refugees coming across the border to work in the sugar cane harvest and construction and not going home. Their children born on the Dominican side are not considered citizens, nor are their descendants. As volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty Int’l-USA, I, along with others, have advocated for better conditions and rights for Haitians living in the DR, including their children born there, but we’ve encountered resistance from the DR government. Of course, the DR has plenty of economic and social problems itself without having to cope with an influx of Haitian refugees. Fortunately, so far, Haitians have not been swarming across the border, perhaps because they are still sitting traumatized in Port-au-Prince without the means or strength to even think about traveling. However, reportedly, the DR has militarized its border anyway to stave off any attempted influx, should it occur.

France is reportedly miffed about the swift and comprehensive response of the US to the Haiti crisis, considering itself to have certain proprietary rights over its former colony. Some in France have accused the US of wanting to occupy Haiti. The Haitian elite speak French and Haitian Creole is derived from French, though—to me—much harder to understand. Some French and French Canadian organizations have been working in Haiti, but their presence has never been particularly more prominent than other international groups. US troops have been in Haiti previously without much complaint from France. France needed to get on the ball with earthquake relief more quickly if it wanted to be “in charge.”

About a week after the massive earthquake, Haiti suffered another, less severe 6.1 tremor, literally shaking a nation still in throes of the first. Nonetheless, there were some hopeful stories, such as small baby being pulled alive out of rubble after 7 days. And a 69-year-old woman rescued after 10 days, though the outlook for her survival appeared unfavorable. A move is underfoot by Catholic Charities in south Florida to bring Haitian children, mostly those apparently orphaned, to the US for refuge under a program being dubbed “Pierre Pan,” modeled after “Pedro Pan,” the airlift of Cuban children that occurred after the Cuban revolution. Many of the Cuban children were later reunited with their parents.

In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post (Jan. 22, 2010), Elliott Abrams argues for the US, Canada, and France, which already have substantial numbers of Haitians, to allow more to migrate to create a larger Haitian diaspora that can help sustain the island nation over time.

The Republican senatorial win in Mass. is a disaster in my opinion. But, of course, it was not the only recent setback for Democrats—witness the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia before it. One reason for our economic troubles, I’m convinced, is the ever growing proportion of health care costs, threatening to consume the whole economy. Maybe health care lobbyists contributed heavily to Brown’s campaign, given his avowal to block the health care bill. Certainly that bill is imperfect, but it’s a start. It would be wonderful if a few Republicans, like Maine’s senators, would dare break ranks with their party and vote for health care reform and other agenda items, putting their own stamp on them. But that probably won’t happen, given that Republicans have decided to block en masse everything Obama proposes, whatever the merits. And Obama will be blamed by voters for the state of the nation, even though Republicans are thwarting him at every turn, not only on health care, but everything else. Republicans opposed regulation of financial markets, bringing about the economic collapse, which is proving harder to remedy than it would have been to prevent. They supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, with voters only waking up after the fact. And by voting for Bush, they allowed him to appoint Supreme Court justices who have now dealt a body blow to campaign finance reform. Perhaps with health care, the consequences have to be felt in their pocketbooks and their lives before voters come to their senses.

Democracy has its downside, in that voters have limited vision. While I’m on my soapbox, it also seems pretty obvious with all the mass shootings lately that better gun control is absolutely necessary. Nations that have it have much lower murder rates. But Obama is having enough trouble without tackling that. The US is probably on the decline as a world power, in part, because the electorate is so short-sighted and ill-informed, but still self-confident in its simplistic understanding, later blaming the government and the representatives it originally voted for unfavorable outcomes.

On another subject dear to my heart, I attended a forum held at the Hudson Institute entitled “Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement Five Years On.” Sudan seems to have moved off the world’s radar screen, especially southern Sudan, which was never really there to begin with, all emphasis having centered on the crisis in Darfur. Yet, there have been 4 ½ million deaths in the South Sudan, quite apart from Darfur, and the future looks ominous, with the North digging in its heels against partition. Since the signing of the peace accords between north and south in 2005, a number of deaths have occurred instigated by the North, some 2,500 in 2009 alone. Infrastructure has not been rebuilt, the North-South border has not been defined, and the South, which was supposed to receive 50% of oil revenues originating from its territory, has not been given its share.

Nonetheless, the South has slowly become repopulated and rebuilt and now has some 12 million inhabitants. There has been high voter registration recently, despite intimidation and arrest of candidates by northern officials. In April, the first elections in 24 years will be held in South Sudan, and a year from now, the South will vote on secession. If the latter vote is fair, surely the South will vote to secede. That sentiment was clearly evident when I was there in 2006 and has only grown since.

One of the forum speakers, Roger Winter, a former USAID official and Special Representative to Sudan until 2006, bluntly urged the audience to contact Obama and Hillary Clinton directly about replacing Scott Gration, a former Air Force officer, as special envoy to Sudan. According to Winter, Gration has undermined the South’s government and played into Bashir’s hands by declaring the South to be incapable of self-governance. While the South is still on a learning curve regarding democracy and self-governance since taking charge of its own affairs five years ago, its record, Winter argued, is miles ahead of the Bashir government that is mired in corruption and came to power originally via a coup. He called on the US and the international community to take a swift and pro-active role in this vast territory that borders nine African countries that would become destabilized in any new outbreak of a civil war. With everything else facing the US and the international community, however, his appeal is apt to go unheeded.

A staff member for Republican Representative Smith made a plea for bipartisan support for a measure the Congressman has introduced on South Sudan, but given that Republicans have not demonstrated bipartisanship on Democrats’ measures, reciprocity is unlikely. We seem to be in for a period of prolonged party warfare in the US and Sudan may become one of the casualties.

It looks like Zelaya will finally be leaving Honduras under a safe-conduct agreement, going first to the DR, then to Mexico, and planning a return to Honduras, though, apparently still facing charges and not allowed to run again for president again. Reportedly, the Honduran constitution, unlike some others, does not permit a second term, even a non-consecutive one.
New York Times, January 22, 2010
Honduras: Ousted President Agrees to Leave

The ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has accepted a deal to go to the Dominican Republic next week when his four-year term ends, his top political adviser said Thursday. “If all the conditions are met, then he will go,” the adviser, Rasel Tomé, said in a telephone interview from the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, where Mr. Zelaya has taken refuge since September. In a statement, Mr. Zelaya called the deal “a first step” toward national reconciliation.

Zelaya plans Mexico stay, later return to Honduras
Associated Press
Friday, January 22, 2010

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Ousted President Manuel Zelaya will leave the Brazilian Embassy next week and travel to the Dominican Republic before settling in Mexico and planning his eventual return to Honduras, an aide said in an interview published Friday.

Zelaya seems destined to continue what has been a peripatetic existence since he was ousted in a June 2009 coup. After being hustled out of the country by his own soldiers, he traveled across much of Latin America seeking support for his reinstatement before sneaking back into Honduras in September and taking refuge at Brazil's embassy. "Zelaya will remain only briefly in Santo Domingo" before traveling to the Mexican capital, aide Cesar Ham told Tiempo newspaper.
Earlier this week, Ham represented Zelaya at the signing of an agreement giving him safe conduct to leave Honduras on Jan. 27, when President-elect Porfirio Lobo is sworn into office.

Another adviser, Rasel Tome, who is inside the embassy with the ousted leader, told The Associated Press that Zelaya would leave for the Dominican Republic "if the necessary conditions are provided." He did not give specifics, but Zelaya has previously rejected the idea of exiting without guarantees to respect his dignity and safety. In a statement, Zelaya praised the deal - though he did not confirm that he would definitely leave under its terms. He said the agreement "allows me to maintain the dignity of my person and my office" as a guest of Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

Zelaya still faces arrest on treason and abuse of power charges stemming from his campaign to change the constitution despite the Supreme Court ruling his effort illegal. Honduran chief prosecutor Luis Alberto Rubi said the agreement does not cancel out the charges.

Zelaya says he was illegally ousted by Honduras' powerful elite who felt threatened by his attempts to help the poor and give them more voice in the government. The constitution bans former presidents from ever running again for the top office.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

MLKing, Haiti Earthquake, Book Discussion, Honduras Military on Trial

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is a good time to reflect on how one person can have an impact on the course of history. Back in 1963, my late former husband and I were among the crowd listening (barely heard from a distance) to King’s “I have a dream” speech, not knowing then that it would have historic impact.

Our Amnesty International Human Rights Day write-in at DC Politics & Prose bookstores on Dec. 10, mentioned earlier, netted $2,000 for the national organization.

On Sunday, Jan. 10, I gave a talk—held a discussion really—with members of a local group called Capitol Hill Village (CHV), a membership organization dedicated to helping residents “age in place.” That’s sometimes a challenge in these old Victorian houses with their many stairs inside and out. A century ago, folks didn’t live so long and those who did probably were pretty much homebound to one floor. CHV includes members from age 50 and beyond. It charges a small annual fee; keeps lists of people who can do household chores, repairs, and adaptations; and its more fit members help others with trips to the doctor and on neighborhood outings.

We met at a member’s home and held a free-flowing round-table discussion about Honduras, Peace Corps, and memoir writing. Since my book has come out, I’ve participated in a number of events for diverse audiences, all learning experiences for me and for them. Some who attended were this last forum former Peace Corps volunteers. I encouraged them to think of joining again—or they could volunteer for Peace Corps Response, usually six months on short notice, with little or no training component. Upcoming invitational book talks include Volunteer Readers for the Blind, Kiwanis, and the DC Public Library system. With Kiwanis, I will be allowed to sell copies of my book to benefit the Honduras projects of that organization.

On Jan. 1, my “publisher” Amazon switched printers and suppliers to a new company based in California. On Wed. Jan. 6, through the new company, I ordered 200 books in anticipation of need throughout 2010. While the previous printer had used UPS delivery, this one uses the US Postal Service, as I found out to my great surprise, when boxes of books arrived at my doorstep on Sat. morning. I’m amazed that an order put in at midday Wed. could result in that many books being printed, boxed, and sent through the mail (at book rate) to arrive 3 days later. By the way, checking for my book on Amazon, I was surprised to see that I now have 21 reviews!

I first became aware of the Haiti earthquake on Wed. morning on assignment in Rockville at Md. Juvenile Services, waiting for my clients, when I saw what happened on TV in the waiting room. What a terrible situation, all the more so because Haiti has suffered so many calamities of nature, politics, and economics over the years, so was hardly in any shape to endure a catastrophe that would have challenged even the strongest nation. The first thing that popped into my mind was the Victorian-style hotel in Graham Greene's novel, The Comedians—Hotel Oloffson—where I always stayed in Haiti, which is probably destroyed also. This earthquake struck just when, at long last, Haiti had gotten control of AIDS and was making humanitarian, security, and political progress during the last year. The only thing that Haitians have going for them is that they have endured a lot and maybe have a certain emotional resilience because of that—hope so. However, given their magical thinking, no doubt most are going to see divine retribution in the devastating hurricanes of last year and now this. Here’s another tragic twist, adoptive parents who have already been approved in Haiti, are having trouble getting their kids out of now, as documents have been lost and flights delayed. Some children are nearing the 16 upper age cutoff. (FYI: I’m on the board of a local adoption agency, Holy Cross.)

The question now is what can we do? On Jan. 14, returned Peace Corps volunteers held a fundraiser at a local pub in which I and other Honduras former volunteers participated. Emotional volunteers who had served in Haiti led the appeal. PC Director Aaron Williams has announced plans to send PC Response volunteers to Haiti. I wish I could go, but I’m already committed to Honduras next month and cannot be afford to be away that long anyway (usually 6 months). Also, I don’t speak Creole.

From Amnesty International, we’ve posted a statement in the name of our Amnesty International executive director, Larry Cox, on the aiusa website. The outpouring of immediate support and financial aid has been gratifying, though the public’s attention span in such disasters is short before another crisis comes along to grab world headlines. We in Amnesty are one of the organizations that has been asking the US government stop interdictions at sea and to have Homeland Security grant TPS (Temporary Protected Status) to Haitians already in this country, as was offered to Salvadorans and Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch—and which is still in effect a decade later. Now TPS was just granted to Haitian for 18 months. The no-interdiction policy is more controversial, as we don’t want to encourage an influx of Haitian boat people.

Sec. Gates is right that American efforts in Haiti are welcome, but should not be too intrusive. Most Haitians admire the US beyond reason, considering it the Promised Land. But Americans are not magicians who can set everything right. And there is the ever-present specter of fraud and corruption in the distribution of relief funds in Haiti (and elsewhere) and the threat of violence and insecurity. There needs to be better coordination, too, since so many organizations are getting behind the effort. I'm suspicious of groups that had little or nothing to do with Haiti before, now trying to raise funds in the name of this disaster.

This appeal came in from Haiti: urgent need of 5 satellite phones for the President, Prime Minster, Minister for the Interior the Chief of Police and the Haitian Ambassador to the UN. The communication is severely limited and their ability to talk to each other as well as the US and other coordinating agencies is compromised. By helping the Haitian government with this, literally we could save thousands. I believe that only the US government can provide such phones, although someone has told me to contact Google Earth, which uses them. I remember the bishop in Sudan talking on a satellite phone, very expensive to buy and use.

Meanwhile, Honduras has faded to the back pages. In our local Spanish-language press, President-Elect Porfirio Lobo is reported to be calling for both sides to comply with the San Jose Accords, brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and signed on Oct. 30. He chides both Zelaya and Micheletti for intransigence. He hopes that the congress will approve a general political amnesty. I’ve had an unusual number of Honduran interpretation clients lately, rare because not many live in this area. More are in Miami and New Orleans. I usually ask them what they think about the political situation in Honduras, but they say they have no opinion and are just focusing on surviving the economic downturn here and confronting the medical or social service problem that has required my services.

The website Democracia Participativa includes an interview with Honduran Gen. Romeo Vasquez, who describes himself as being close to deposed President Zelaya, whom he characterized as a hard worker who had the army’s best interests at heart and was cooperating in modernization plans. However, when the justice of the supreme court gave an order [to remove Zelaya], Vasquez said he considered it his sacred duty to obey.

Now the top military brass who removed Zelaya are on trial by order of the same supreme court. While that court has confirmed that the Honduran constitution prohibits referenda and second terms, it is now charging the military who removed Zelaya from the country, as the constitution also prohibits the (forceful) removal of Honduran citizen. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking to end Zelaya’s presidential term, which has only days remaining. Both Zelaya and Micheletti have been quiet lately and a Jan. 15 deadline proposed by the US for Micheletti to step down has come and gone. President-elect Lobo has announced his support for amnesty for all participants, which would make the military’s trials moot. But the delicate task of getting Zelaya out of the embassy and the country still remains (and Zelaya needs to leave for his own safety).

Honduran judge charges top military chiefs in coup
Associated Press
Thursday, January 14, 2010

TEGUCIGALPA--A Honduran judge on Thursday charged the country's top military commanders with abuse of power for exiling President Manuel Zelaya in June. Honduran Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera has ordered all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to remain in the country and testify in court next week. The charge carries a sentence of three to six years in prison. The military chiefs, who wore their dress uniforms, met with Rivera for six hours before the charges were announced late Thursday. They didn't speak to the news media. "The army officers won't be able to leave the country and will have to go to court periodically," said prosecutor Mario Cabanas.

Last week, Honduras' chief prosecutor, Luis Alberto Rubi, asked the Supreme Court to issue arrest warrants charging the top military commanders with abuse of power for sending Zelaya out of the country. The prosecutor's case doesn't question Zelaya's June 28 ouster itself, only whether the military went too far in flying him to Costa Rica after he was arrested by armed soldiers in a dispute over a constitutional referendum.

Those named by the prosecutor include the head of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, and five other top-ranking military officers, including the air force chief, Gen. Javier Prince, and the navy commander, Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez. The military commanders' defense lawyer, Juan Carlos Sanchez, said there is enough evidence to show their innocence. "We will concentrate on showing the facts and they (the military officers) want to face this process to prove the charges are baseless," Sanchez said.

Outside the court, Dozens of Zelaya supporters booed the army officers as they went into the meeting with Rivera while a group of their relatives and supporters held signs of support.

President-elect Porfirio Lobo has said he supports granting amnesty both to Zelaya and to all of those involved in the coup. He takes office Jan. 27.
Zelaya has been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into Honduras in September.
Protection of human rights must accompany relief efforts in Haiti
From Amnesty International, Jan, 15, 2010

Amnesty International called on the United Nations to put in place measures for the protection of human rights and the most vulnerable among the survivors of Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

Amnesty International saluted the speedy and courageous efforts of UN, relief and development workers in Haiti and around the world assisting with humanitarian efforts to save lives, clear the devastation and restore basic services and the country's crumbling infrastructure. The organization also asked for particular attention to be provided to ensuring respect for human rights and protection of children and those left orphans as a consequence of the earthquake. Girls in particular are at higher risk of sexual abuse and attack.

“The current situation of lawlessness in Haiti and the increased vulnerability of women and children creates the perfect environment for human rights abuses and crimes such as rape and sexual abuse to take place undetected and go unpunished,” said Gerardo Ducos, Haiti researcher at Amnesty International. “Protecting vulnerable groups from sexual violence is as important as providing them with relief.”

Amnesty International made the call as thousands of Haitians are feared dead after a 7.1 earthquake struck the country on Tuesday. Thousands of people are still unaccounted for and survivors await relief efforts from international donors to provide them with access to drinkable water, food and medical care. In the wake of the disaster, the law enforcement capacity of the Haitian National Police and the justice system are severely compromised as most of its infrastructure has collapsed and many officials remain unaccounted for.

Amnesty International has previously documented shocking levels of sexual violence against women and girls across the country. “Before the devastating earthquake, Haiti was unable to effectively protect human rights and in particular, women and girls from sexual violence. Unless action is taken now while relief efforts are ongoing, the situation is only likely to deteriorate,” said Gerardo Ducos.
Amnesty International conveys its deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and a message of solidarity to the Haitian people.
Here’s an appeal just received:

I'm a student at Miami Dade College and I'm an undocumented immigrant.
On January 1st, I started walking with three other young people from Miami to DC to raise awareness about the broken immigration system. We are walking to promote awareness about the need for just and humane immigration reform that includes equal access to education, comprehensive worker's rights, a pathway to citizenship, and an end to the separation of families.

This effort is called the "Trail of DREAMs," and is a project of the Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), which received an Organizing Grant from Campus Progress. We'll be stopping in communities in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia organizing events and sharing our stories, hopes and DREAMs.But we can't make it from Miami to DC on our own. Since you live on the trail, I wanted to see if you could help out.

Here's a few things you or someone you know can do:

Provide meals, water, or snacks, and supplies
Provide shelter along the way
Provide medical or legal assistance/represen tation
Plan an event where walkers can share stories

Email us at info@trail2010. org if you or anyone you know can help out in any way (or just reply to this email). If you want to plan an event, Campus Progress has offered to help with funding and logistics, so make sure to let them know as well by filling out the their event request form.

Our efforts have already been featured in the New York Times (twice), the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and Univision, but that is just the beginning. We need your help to make sure that just and humane immigration reform is passed this year. If you have any questions about the trail, check out our website at www.trail2010. org.

Thank you for your help,


Friday, January 8, 2010

Continuing Trouble in South Sudan, Danish Cartoons Back in Spotlight, Honduras Prosecutor Seeks Military Arrests

I've been concerned about southern Sudan, where I was in 2006, especially now that the Khartoum government is trying to renig on the peace accords signed in 2005. Just heard a report that 2,500 people were killed in southern Sudan in 2009 and the killing is continuing into 2010. The Khartoum government is trying to derail the upcoming referendum because of the south's oil, knowing that the vote will surely result in an almost 99% victory for cession of south from north, and is fomenting strife among the southern factions, trying to use that as an excuse for delaying the vote. Remembering my visit to southern Sudan, courtesy of the Sudanese Liberation Army, I’m distressed to think that all the arduous progress made since the 2005 peace accords could become instantly destroyed in a new civil war. Civilians, some recently returned from exile and starting out anew, would be caught up n the crossfire or would side with the rebels, making them targets, just as in Darfur. What to do is the question. No effective action has yet been taken on Darfur after several years of world attention. I'm afraid we're going to see Darfur and the south under attack together from Khartoum.

Readers may recall that some time ago, I attended a discussion at the Hudson Institute with Danish author Jyette Lausen on her book, The Cartoons that Shook the World. Now, with the recent, attempt to attack one of the Danish cartoonists in his home, C-SPAN is airing that discussion on Sunday, Jan. 10 at 8:30 am and Monday Jan. 11 at 5:30am.

Zelaya: charges against army officers 'a trick'
Associated Press
Thursday, January 7, 2010

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Thursday that charging military commanders with abuse of power is "a trick" to avoid punishing them for the June 28 coup. Zelaya said the nation's top prosecutor is trying to avoid bringing to justice the army officers who rousted him out of his home at gunpoint and other officials who planned and ordered his ouster from the presidency. "It's a trick from prosecutors to charge the army officers with a minor crime instead of with the grave crimes they committed," Zelaya said in a statement. He said they should be charged with treason, murder and human rights violations.

Honduras' chief prosecutor Luis Alberto Rubi on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to issue arrest warrants charging all six members of the Joint Chief of Staff with abuse of power for sending Zelaya out of the country - but not for removing him from office. The charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Defenders of Zelaya's ouster argue that he violated the country's constitution, meriting removal from office, and say that the army's move to arrest him was legally backed by the Congress and the Supreme Court. But they have often acknowledged that it was also a violation of the constitution for the military to send him out of the country.

The court has yet to decide whether to grant Rubi's request.
Honduras Prosecutor Seeks Charges Against Military
Associated Press, Jan, 6, 2010

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - The chief prosecutor asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to issue arrest warrants charging Honduras' military commanders with abuse of power for sending President Manuel Zelaya out of the country in his June 28 ouster. The court will have three days to decide whether to grant the request from prosecutor Luis Alberto Rubi. It would be the first legal action taken against the armed forces since soldiers rousted Zelaya out of his home at gunpoint and forced him aboard a flight to Costa Rica.

The measure could be largely cosmetic. The high court has repeatedly ruled or advised against reinstating Zelaya as president. It has also said he faces charges of treason and abuse of power, in large part for disobeying court orders to drop a plan to hold a referendum on changing the constitution. Moreover, President-elect Porfirio Lobo, who won the Nov. 29 election to succeed Zelaya, has said he supports granting amnesty both to Zelaya and to all of those involved in the coup.

Zelaya's critics say he was removed because of his defiance of the court orders against the constitutional referendum. Zelaya says he was ousted because he was trying to bring more equality to this poor Central American nation.

If the Supreme Court agreed to charge the military officers, their case would be heard by one of the court's 15 magistrates. Those named by the prosecutor include the head of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, and five other top-ranking military officers, including air force chief Gen. Javier Prince and navy commander Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez. The charge carries possible prison terms of three to four years. ''We have not received any legal notification, but we are prepared to defend ourselves in court,'' Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

US Returns to Honduras, So Is Monroe Doctrine Really Dead?

While the US may have withdrawn the heavy hand of past decades from Honduras, it has not withdrawn completely. A US diplomat is there again, apparently encouraging Micheletti to resign by Jan. 15. Is that so Zelaya can occupy the presidency for the last waning days of his term? The agenda is not clear. Micheletti is correct in saying that Chavez and company will do everything possible to assassinate him, but he will have to give up the presidency soon anyway. He and Zelaya might both do well to seek a new life abroad, though when other Latin American leaders have gone into exile, assassins have often tracked them down in their new refuges. I just hope the whole matter is settled by Feb. when I go to Honduras myself with medical brigades. If any volunteer physicians (or nurses, dentists, pharmacists) are willing to join our Feb. International Health Service brigade or others being held in Honduras throughout the year, please contact me at my e-mail address above. It’s no-frills basic medicine practiced under primitive conditions and everyone pays their own way.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------January 6, 2010
The Yanquis Went Home
The New Republic

Today’s idea: Say adiós to the Monroe Doctrine, under which Washington long called the shots in its own backyard. “For the first time in centuries, the United States doesn’t seem to care much what happens in Latin America.”

[portrait] President James Monroe, of the 1823 doctrine that bears his name.

Latin America | America’s retreat from the Monroe Doctrine began even before the Obama administration decided to sit on its hands in Honduras’s continuing leadership crisis, writes Jorge G. Castañeda in The New Republic. It started with the end of the cold war: The absence of a global rivalry with Soviet Communism sharpened the question of just what were the United States’ national interests in Latin America.

And the answer seems to be: many fewer now. Sure, there are trade accords, immigration worries and the odd military or antidrug collaboration. But since the first President Bush’s invasion of Panama in 1989, there have been “no unilateral military interventions, no coup plots or new embargoes, not even the propping up of decaying regimes.”

Now, “a strange and centrist hemispheric consensus has emerged in support of U.S. indifference,” Castañeda writes, “unless things get nasty.”
“With the rise of Chavismo” — the anti-Americanism of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — “it isn’t always possible to see the salutary benefits from this new U.S. policy,” he writes. “But they are tangible. It has grown increasingly difficult for certain regimes to blame Washington for their failures.”

January 6, 2010
De Facto President Objects to US Request He Leave

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- De facto president Roberto Micheletti responded harshly Wednesday to U.S. suggestions that he resign weeks before a new president takes office on Jan 27. Micheletti has been serving as president since a June coup deposed his long-time political rival President Manuel Zelaya, who later took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa and remains there.''The U.S. wants me to withdraw on Jan. 15,'' said Micheletti, calling U.S. diplomacy erratic. ''Washington should respect the sovereign decisions of our people.''

U.S. State Department diplomat Craig Kelly is currently in Honduras attempting to reunite leaders in the bitterly divided Central American nation.

Micheletti's interim government has said Zelaya faces arrest on various charges if he leaves the embassy under any terms other than an asylum arrangement in another country. President-elect Porfirio Lobo has hinted that he will be more conciliatory. Lobo says he has invited to his inauguration Latin American leaders -- including Zelaya's leftist allies Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
Chavez has lobbied for Zelaya's return to office and urged the international community not to recognize results of Honduras' November election. ''If they don't want to come, oh well,'' Lobo said. ''But we've invited them.''

Meanwhile, Micheletti says he is concerned that Chavez will eventually retaliate against him.''I know I should take precautions because Chavez has the capacity to send assassins to kill me.''

Chavez initially put his military on alert after a coup in Honduras and vowed to do whatever is necessary to restore President Manuel Zelaya to power.
January 5, 2010
US Diplomat Back in Honduras Seeking to Heal Rifts

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- U.S. State Department diplomat Craig Kelly returned to Honduras on Tuesday to make his fourth attempt in five months to reunite leaders in this bitterly divided nation. U.S. Embassy spokesman Michael Stevens said Kelly ''came to make intensive effort to achieve a breakthrough agreement'' during a two-day visit.

Kelly met with ousted President Manuel Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been living since sneaking back into Honduras in late September. Kelly also plans to meet with interim President Roberto Micheletti, who took power after Zelaya was ousted in June and is to cede his position in three weeks, and with the winner of the country's Nov. 29 presidential election, Porfirio Lobo.

''I thank the United States for seeking a solution to Honduras' problem ... and that the United States is interested in having Micheletti leave the post as soon as possible,'' Zelaya told the local Radio Globo station following his meeting with Kelly.

''Kelly assured me that his government does not support Micheletti and is seeking the possibility of the international community recognizing the new government'', Zelaya said, referring to Lobo.''Washington recognizes that I am president of Honduras,'' Zelaya said.

While Zelaya appears to have few remaining options -- even negotiations to fly him out of Honduras to another country have stumbled -- he remained unbowed, calling on supporters in a broadcast speech later to ''not retreat one centimeter in the fight for their rights and social progress.''

Micheletti's interim government has said Zelaya faces arrest on various charges if he leaves the embassy under any terms other than an asylum arrangement in another country. Zelaya's term ends Jan. 27.The Honduran crisis has been one of the biggest diplomatic challenges in Latin America for the Obama administration.State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington that ''we are encouraged by comments by President-elect Lobo,'' who has talked about national reconciliation.

But Crowley said Kelly ''is there to communicate clearly to a variety of parties that there are still things that Honduras has to do'' to restore the constitutional order and mend the divisions caused by the coup. He mentioned a truth commission to sort out responsibilities in the coup, which interim government supporters said was triggered by Zelaya's refusal to obey court rulings against his plan to hold a referendum on changing the constitution. Zelaya says he was illegally removed from office by his opponents. ''Most importantly, you need to have this truth commission that is part of a healing process that has to occur if Honduras is going to, to advance,'' Crowley said.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Effigies of Zelaya, Micheletti, and Chavez Burned in Honduras on New Year’s Eve

Happened to look up my book on Amazon and saw I now have 19 reviews, 17 5-star, 2 4-star. What a nice surprise! The latest on-line reviewer says she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. While some book buyers may dismiss reviews as being planted by an author’s friends, that’s not true for most reviews of my book. I always wonder how folks out there happen to find my book, buy it, and decide to read it.

Another welcome surprise was an invitation from the city-wide library system to give talk about my book. This, even though, as far as I know, copies I donated last year are still not in the catalogue and on the shelves.

A new book is out in Spanish, El Poder y El Deliro [Power and Delerium], by Mexican writer Enrique Krause. It’s a critical examination of Chavez’s rise to power, taking advantage of vulnerabilities in democratic institutions.

Readers of my book will remember straw-filled dummies, representing either the old year or discredited politicians, being burned in Honduras on New Year’s Eve. The article below recounts the burning of foam-filled dummies in that traditional ritual. The next article reports on Zelaya’s supporters celebrating outside the Brazilian Embassy, while inside Zelaya vowed to fight on beyond Jan.27, the official end of his term.


Honduran leaders' effigies up in smoke for New Year
By Gustavo Palencia
Friday, January 1, 2010

GERMANIA, Honduras - The main players in Honduras' dramatic 2009 coup went up in smoke on Friday as one village said good riddance to a difficult year. Hondurans burned life-sized dolls of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti in a traditional New Year ritual near Germania, a small town south of the capital Tegucigalpa.

Villagers also set fire to an effigy of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who supported fellow leftist Zelaya and even threatened military action. "The three of them are guilty for everything that has happened, they have greatly hurt us," said Luis Lagos, 22, an upholsterer who also makes the dolls, known as monigotes.
Soldiers grabbed Zelaya on June 28 and threw him out of the country in his pajamas, sparking Central America's worst political crisis since the Cold War. The Honduran president has failed to be reinstated and has been holed up since September in the Brazilian Embassy, where he welcomed 2010 playing his guitar and singing with his family and supporters. His future is unclear since Honduras elected a new president in November.

Monigotes are made of pieces of foam, fabric, leather and rugs. Traditional at New Year, they are popular across Honduras and other Latin American countries.

200 gather to cheer Honduras' ousted president
Associated Press
Thursday, December 31, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- About 200 people gathered outside the Brazilian Embassy to show support for ousted President Manuel Zelaya inside while they celebrated New Year's Eve with food and music.

Supporters of the deposed leader, who has been in the embassy since late September, began arriving at dusk Thursday and were allowed on one of the streets next to the compound, which is blockaded by Honduran troops. "I am here for celebrating and being near President Zelaya," Aida Rhodes, 50, said as people danced and a group of women distributed meals.

Zelaya, who was ousted in a June 28 coup and sent into exile, sneaked back into the country and took refuge in the embassy as he mounted a failed effort to prevent an election to choose his successor. The ballot had already been scheduled before Zelaya was forced out of office after he ignored Supreme Court orders to drop plans for a referendum on changing the constitution.

President-elect Porfirio Lobo is to take office Jan. 27, the final day of Zelaya's term.

In an interview with Radio Globo, Zelaya sent good wishes for 2010 to his supporters and to the civil servants in his government. He added that said he was not giving up his struggle against those who ousted him. "My fight is for the transformation of Honduras; it does not end on the 27th of January," he said.