Saturday, March 20, 2010

Barbara Debuts on U-Tube & Visits Texas, Some Honduras Is Aid Restored, Zelaya Plans Memoir, Crackdown Underway in Cuba

Early this morning, my daughter Stephanie returned to Hawaii from DC. Daughters Melanie and Stephanie met me on March 12 in San Antonio, Texas, where we visited my son Jonathan’s little boy for a few days (a long story as to why Jon was not with us). We did all the touristy things with him in balmy weather under bright sunny skies: Sea World, the zoo, the River Walk, and shopping at Toys-R-Us. While I am not a big fan of either zoos or Sea World, it doesn’t seem that animals in either particularly suffer. If anything, their life is too cushy. The whales, sea lions, seals, and dolphins are certainly smart and seem to enjoy performing. (Of course, they are rewarded with tasty treats. But they also seem to enjoy applause.

Then Steph came to DC to see old high school buddies and I went back to my interpreting work. We also celebrated my birthday early, the 72nd, while she was here. Is there an alterative to growing older? I tell my reflection in the mirror: “Face it, grandma, you’re an old lady now.”

I recently gave a book talk at the main DC public library. Unbeknown to me, as I mentioned before, an audience member took a video and placed excerpts, a little disjointed, on U-Tube: Most confusing and somewhat embarrassing is a launch right into a reading starting with a sentence saying “I have to pee” without identifying that as the middle of a paragraph about my 3-year-old self. At least, it’s an attention-getter.

I must first finish my tax calculations before writing up a report of my Honduras visit and, for me, taxes are a complicated proposition, since I am technically a self-employed interpreter and now also have book purchases, promotions, and sales in the mix. The trip had poignant and interesting twists and turns, but the report will have to wait.

The US and some European countries have now restored aid to Honduras and a few Latin American countries have recognized the new president, among them Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama. However, most have not and the OAS and other international bodies have not restored aid and loans to my knowledge. Sec. Hillary Clinton has called upon other countries in the Americas to recognize the Lobo government, but, so far, they have not done so. While the US is not keen to have Insulza return to the helm at the OAS, he seems to be running unopposed.

The latest is that Zelaya is going to write a book, giving his side of the story.

His friend Hugo Chavez has now launched a critique and investigation into a website called Noticiero Digital (Digital News) because someone posted something critical of the government.

As you are probably aware, the death of an imprisoned hunger striker in Cuba, designated by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience (someone who has not engaged in or advocated violence), has called the world’s attention to ongoing human rights abuses in that country. Another hunger striker is near death. Both are Afro-Cubans, by the way. And the Women in White, mothers and wives of political prisoners and subjects of a documentary by that same name by Norwegian film maker Gry Winther, which some of you have seen (and in which I appear briefly), have been physically attacked by the government. In my humble opinion, the Cuban leadership is deliberately being provocative now in March 2010, the anniversary of “Black Spring,” to prevent any further easing of the embargo, as is now being proposed in Congress, because it wants to have that as an excuse to round up dissidents, by calling them agents of a hostile power.
(See below.)

Cuba’s ‘ladies in white’ At Risk of Beatings and Intimidation, Says Amnesty International

(Washington, DC) Amnesty International urged Cuban President Raúl Castro to ensure the safety of a group of female relatives of prisoners of conscience ahead of a scheduled demonstration today.

The call came after a protest by the Damas de Blanco (ladies in white) was forcibly broken up by Cuban police yesterday, who briefly detained several women.

After the incident, some of the women said they had been beaten by the police. They include Reyna Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on February 22, 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger strike to demand the release of prisoners of conscience.

“The Cuban authorities must stop repressing legitimate dissent and harassing those who are only asking for justice and exercising their freedom of expression,” said Kerrie Howard, deputy director of the Americas at Amnesty International. “Instead, they should review their repressive legislation and release all those who have been detained for years sentenced in summary trials on charges that are often baseless.”

The Damas de Blanco, an unofficial group of women relatives and friends of individuals imprisoned around a major crackdown around March 18, 2003, have organized daily demonstrations in Havana during the week of the seventh anniversary of the arrests. 53 of those arrested in March 2003 continue to be detained.
Since the start of their campaign, members of the Damas de Blanco have been victims of threats and intimidation by Cuban security officials.

On March 15, state security officials visited Soledad Riva’s home and advised her against taking part in the events organized by the Damas de Blanco. The officials warned her that if she took part in a demonstration she could risk being beaten and would not see her children again. Her children live abroad and Soledad has been seeking an exit visa to visit them, which so far has not been granted by Cuban authorities.

Soledad Rivas’ husband is a former prisoner of conscience Roberto de Miranda Hernández, a demonstrator who was detained in March 2003 but released in June 2004 on health grounds.

On March 16, several members of the Damas de Blanco were intimidated by government supporters during a march they had organized to call for the release of their relatives in prison.

Government supporters shouted insults at them and physically assaulted William Cepero Garcia, a man supporting the protest. Hugo Damian Prieto and Juan Carlos Vasallo, two men who were supporting the demonstration, were detained.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
Amnesty International calls for greater rights in Cuba
Makes demand on anniversary of crackdown

By Paul Haven, Associated Press. March 17, 2010

HAVANA — The human rights group Amnesty international appealed to President Raul Castro of Cuba to release political prisoners and scrap laws that restrict fundamental freedoms, using the seventh anniversary of a major crackdown on dissent to call for change.
Amnesty was especially critical of Cuban laws that make vague offenses like “dangerousness’’ a jailable crime. Police are allowed to arrest somebody who has committed no crime if they can show the person has a proclivity to be dangerous, Amnesty said.

“Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly," Kerrie Howard, a deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement yesterday. Howard said Cuba “desperately needs political and legal reform to bring the country in line with basic international human rights standards.’’

The group said it was making the call for change around the anniversary of one of Cuba’s largest recent crackdowns on dissent — the March 18, 2003, arrest of some 75 people, including many independent journalists, on charges including treason and working for an enemy state. Fifty-three of them remain jailed, and many have received lengthy sentences.
The government did not respond to a request for comment on the Amnesty report, but routinely dismisses such human rights groups as tools of the United States.

Cuba’s human rights situation has been brought back into the spotlight by the Feb. 23 death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a long hunger strike in jail. Another man, Guillermo Farinas, has refused to eat or drink since shortly after Zapata Tamayo’s death, though he has intermittently received fluids and nutrients intravenously at a local hospital.

The European Parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to condemn Cuba for Zapata Tamayo’s death, which it called “avoidable and cruel.’’ Cuba responded quickly, saying it “rejects impositions, intolerance, and pressure.’’

Yesterday, a leading official group for Cuban intellectuals issued a statement calling Zapata Tamayo a common criminal. It denounced international criticism as part of a smear campaign against the country and singled out foreign “media corporations and hegemonic interests" as leading culprits in what it called a coordinated anti-Cuban effort.
“We know with what malice and morbidity they distort our reality and lie daily about Cuba,’’ the National Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba wrote of the foreign media. Mexico is the latest country to openly criticize the Cuban government, with the Foreign Ministry saying Monday that it regretted the death of Zapata Tamayo and was worried about the fate of Farinas.

“With all due respect to the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba . . . Mexico urges the Cuban government to take the actions necessary to protect the health and dignity of its prisoners, including those accused or convicted of the crime of dangerousness," it said.
It is not clear how Cuba’s small, fractured opposition is planning to mark the March 18 anniversary. The Ladies in White, a group of mothers, wives, and sisters of those jailed in 2003, has declared a week of protest including marches, prayer gatherings, and the reading of letters from their jailed loved ones.

Yesterday, dozens of government supporters screamed at the women as they marched peacefully in Havana, shouting slogans like “Long live Fidel!’’

Such “acts of repudiation" have become somewhat of a ritual in Cuba. The government claims they arise spontaneously as a result of Cubans’ disgust with dissidents. Others believe that the government organizes them and that many of those taking part are members of state security.

In a statement sure to anger Cuba, Amnesty linked the fate of the dissidents and Cuba’s overall human rights record to the eventual lifting of the 48-year US economic embargo, which Cuba considers an illegal blockade.

“The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself," said Howard, “but also constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo against Cuba.’’

Cuba has refused to link political change it sees as an internal affair with its own demands that the embargo be lifted. It denounces the dissidents as common criminals and mercenaries paid by Washington to destabilize the country and insists all nations have the right to jail traitors and others seeking to overthrow their government.

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