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,


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