Friday, March 26, 2010

Some Trip Photos Posted, Health Care Passes, Insulza Re-Elected at OAS, Barbara Turns 72, Cuban Human Rights Effort Gains Momentum

Next time, my full Honduras trip report will be posted, I promise. Meanwhile, my daughter Stephanie, who was visiting me recently from Hawaii and took back the camera she had lent me, has posted some trip photos on this blog, without captions and in reverse order, with Panama appearing last instead of first. I will explain the photos more at length, but for now, they include some of the medical brigades and other places in Honduras, including several shots of women peeling vegetables because a vendor at the Eastern Market, my friend Bob King, now plying his trade in sunny Florida until winter has completely passed, donated a number of the Swiss peelers that he sells and I promised to show them in use. Other scenes, my faithful readers may have guessed, are of students hanging out at the Teguc blind school, where I briefly stayed. In Panama, you can see Bob Arias, one of the Panama volunteers who had invited me there, having his shoes shined; a curb cut for wheelchairs (one of many US-type innovations visible in Panama); a cathedral in the town of Chitre; a San Blas Indian woman, and myself standing in front of Peace Corps headquarters in Panama City (a building shared with the local fire department). More later.

Am breathing a sigh of relief. Finally, a hodgepodge effort at health care reform has passed, thank goodness, admittedly with many flaws, precisely what flaws depends on your point of view. But, at least, it’s a modest start, challenges notwithstanding. If something like this could have been done in the Clinton administration or even before, we would not have the huge costs we have now with the provision of unnecessary and sometimes harmful care and excessive payment to many sectors. Physicians, nurses, and other health care practitioners would have been content to live with satisfactory, but somewhat lower, salaries, as they now do in other Western countries that achieve better health outcomes at much lower cost. And pharmaceutical prices would not have skyrocketed as much. I’ve already mentioned that US-made drugs in Honduras (and Panama) are available at half the price and must still be making a profit if they are being shipped there. There has been a “bubble” in US health care, just as in real estate and finance. Also, I have long thought we need to admit that none of us is going to live forever and there is a point when costly, painful, and multiple interventions to keep someone alive are not worth it. Preferably, the person involved, or otherwise close relatives, would make that decision; no one should try to pull the plug on Grandma arbitrarily (I’m a grandma, after all) if she is contributing to and enjoying life. And thought must be given to eliminating costly mass screenings that yield little benefit, despite the opposition that will arise, when such resources might be better devoted to other interventions, medical or otherwise, that would enhance quality of life and longevity. It’s a truism, but true, that are pluses and minuses in any course of action and all medical interventions have risks and side effects as well as benefits.

While I am on the topic of longevity, just got word of the death of a friend I’ve known for over 50 years, Nancy Tovar of Los Angeles, who died after years of battling ovarian cancer. She was an artist, humanitarian, and activist in her Latino neighborhood. Having already undergone the loss of my son and foster son, parents, ex-husband, and other friends, I am steeling myself for further losses of wonderful people in the coming years. I remember my mother, in her 90s, not being able to keep up with attending all the funerals of her contemporaries until, finally, it was her turn.

There’s always something to add to my to-do list, this time, a notice from the DC DMV informing me that my driver’s license, which expires today on my 72nd birthday and can only be renewed after I get a physical and eye exam. At least, I don’t have a car and have 90 days to do it. But sometimes I do want to rent a car, like recently in Texas visiting my grandson. I understand the reasoning behind such a requirement, but it’s still annoying and an expense of time and money. I have now gone to the eye doctor and, it turns out, I don’t have to wear glasses for driving after all and he recommended no additional eye check for driving purposes for four more years, so that’s a relief. (I do use reading glasses.)

Insulza seems to have had little or no opposition in the OAS secretary general election, where he won a second term by acclimation on Wed. The effort cited below to derail him began too late and there was no alternative candidate. Regarding the accusations leveled against Insulza, I would even say that Fidel Castro is worse than the other dictators cited because he has also ruined the Cuban economy (the US embargo notwithstanding, which is more scapegoat than reality) and has been in power for more than 5 decades!

In our local Hispanic press, articles appear citing that Venezuela has released the president of Globovision, whose channel had dared to criticize Chavez and who was accused of trying to flee the country, which he denies. In Cuba, the 40 Women in White, another article reports, have kept up their protests, despite arrests, beatings, and intimidation. Last Sunday, a half million immigrants marched on the US capital, demanding “Immigration reform now!” And in a photo taken earlier this month, Manuel Zelaya is shown meeting with Hugo Chavez and vowing to return to Honduras. The current president, Porfirio Lobo gave him safe conduct out of the country and says he may return at any time, but the attorney general insists that he will face arrest.

Here is a U-Tube video with a plea from the mother of the deceased hunger striker, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra4ERlGmsQ8. You will recall the documentary I recommended, Women in White, about the wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners (in which I make a brief film debut). These women are getting some notice now, but mostly outside of Cuba.

This from one of my blog correspondents, who has visited Cuba, on the on the current situation there: Even Chile's Socialist Party, including the daughter of Salvador Allende, has issued a strong statement, contrary to all past history. Lula is being severely criticized in Brazil for his lame support of the regime.

Following yesterday's Miami march organized by Gloria Estefan, today's Penultimos Dias blog has a strong statement by Shakira, the most popular female singer in Latin American music. Shakira said: "I join with the demonstration called by Gloria Estefan in support of the Women in White, true heroes of our time, standards of feminine courage and victims of repression and the violation of Human Rights in Cuba."

But the fact remains that major change will occur internally only when the Cuban people throw off their apathy and fear. Sadly, this pattern of what the Cubans calls "inmovilismo" (immobility) has not yet been significantly altered. Yesterday a foreign reporter asked a Cuban waiting in line outside of a store to receive his meager food rations about the Women in White, who were marching nearby, harassed by the usual rent-a-crowd. I don't have the exact quote before me, but the Cuban responded with a shrug, saying something along the lines of: "The Cuban people are dissidents, but lack of food is our main concern."

But at least there appears to be a decisive change within Cuban intellectuals residing on the island. Most of them are afraid to speak out strongly, but more and more, they are voicing muted concern over censorship, repression and the nation's economic stagnation. I think Fidel Castro's eventual demise (and, in my opinion, he better be wearing a suit of asbestos underwear when he goes to meet St. Peter) will be the decisive event in allowing Cubans to throw off their submissiveness to a failed regime.


From another correspondent, a Cuban American who recently returned from the island, commenting on the U-Tube video: The documentary was very well made. But I believe that it has much more impact abroad than inside Cuba where, due to the government control over the mass media, the population ignores what is going on or is fed a slant to the news that justifies the government's position. There, things have to have a huge impact to be spread by word of mouth and for the population to become aware of them and sometimes, due to distance, the news does not arrive…

On my last visit, I left Cuba in late Feb. and there was no mention about Orlando Zapata in the Cuban mass media. I found out about it when I reached the US. So, even though I believe all that is happening is repugnant and involves huge human rights abuses, I doubt that the international reaction will have much of an effect within the island. Nor am I surprised by these human rights abuses. Absolute power tries to defend its grasp and incessantly commits human rights abuses for this reason and does so with impunity because of its repression, its control of the mass media and the fact that there are no periodic elections where the opposition is able to compete and to denounce the government's excesses.

I am appalled by the suffering these human rights activists have to endure and it seems to me the whole process is very inefficient and that there are very few results to show for it. There must be a more intelligent and more humane way to bring about Castro's downfall that requires less human suffering, I am frankly searching for it but haven't found it. Maybe my reaction is just wishful and utopian thinking and there is no way to arouse the population to struggle against a dictatorship except by people suffering and laying down their lives by becoming martyrs.

I also have to recognize that by extending their protests marches for a whole week and that by carrying them out in different parts of Havana, the Damas de Blanco have made their protest known effectively to the population at large and have broken the government conspiracy of silence. Their efforts have reached a sufficiently high scale for the population to notice them and to spread the instances of governmental repression by word of mouth.

This and foreign news has also forced the government media to talk about Orlando Zapata and Fariñas, thus acquainting the population with the demands of the dissident movement. However, repression has taken its toll and it is quite evident that this level of protest can not be maintained and will probably die down even though external events like the death of Fariñas or other future hunger strikers could periodically reignite it for short periods.

But I seriously doubt that all this will result in mass protests or popular uprisings in the short run. Castro has been a very charismatic leader and, despite all his mistakes, he still has considerable popular support. It is doubtful that all these events could lead to widespread opposition and open revolt throughout the island.

The best hope for regime change is that with Fidel Castro's death, his successors will launch reforms to remain in power and that these reforms, instead of saving the totalitarian regime, will acquire their own momentum and eventually turn out to create the conditions to subvert the regime. I also think that the US government can nudge the process along by following a policy of conditionally lifting the embargo in exchange for Cuban government measures to create a market economy and to promote democratic reforms.

Castro needed US government opposition to foster Cuban nationalism and remain in power. His successors will need an agreement with the US to obtain the foreign exchange to make the reforms that they believe are necessary to remain in power. The question is whether these reforms will foster their objective or undermine it. I believe that, although in the short run reforms may help them, they will eventually bring about their overthrow. Once the path of reform is taken, it is very hard to stop traveling along it since the population is never satisfied and demands new reforms. However, I am afraid that the US government does not have a coherent long-range Cuba policy to take advantage of these trends and that Castro's death will probably be followed by the unconditional lifting of the US embargo due to business pressures and misguided policies of liberals and the left reacting against the stupid strategies of the extreme Cuban right wing. As to the latter, I believe that their emphasis on using the embargo to subvert the Cuban government has been totally counterproductive and may even result in the potential unconditional lifting of the embargo and unnecessary prolongation of the Cuban totalitarian regime for years, if the lifting of the embargo is not used as a carrot to stimulate capitalism and democratic change
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NEW YORK (March 17, 2010) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) launches www.Insulza.no, an interactive website that denounces the terrible role played by José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), in the promotion and protection of democracy in the Americas.

We hope that Insulza.no can be a place where millions of Latin Americans, tired of watching helplessly as authoritarian governments dismantle democracy in their countries, can express their frustrations about the silence – and sometimes even complicity – of the OAS secretary general,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “We invite everyone who opposes authoritarianism and endorses accountability to visit Insulza.no and send an e-mail to the OAS representatives asking that they vote against Insulza’s reelection next week,” continued Halvorssen.

Insulza.no details how the OAS secretary general has neglected his duties by failing to act, or by acting improperly, in the face of the erosion of democracy in Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The site contains information about the OAS’s stated mission as guarantor of democracy in the Americas, and about the specific powers given to the OAS secretary general to act in accordance with this mission. Insulza.no also presents a thoroughly documented account of the abysmal role played by Insulza as head of the OAS.
In addition to highlighting Insulza’s 2009 campaign calling for the OAS to lift its 1962 suspension of the anti-democratic government of Cuba, Insulza.no features a video interview where Insulza asserts that “Fidel Castro is one of the great sources of legitimacy of the Cuban system. I say this with great respect and almost an admiration for the figure.” On the contrary, currently Cuba is the only country in the Americas that does not comply with any of the elements of a democracy, as defined by Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Cuba is ruled by a single-party totalitarian regime that neither allows for separation of powers, nor an independent judicial system, nor freedom of expression. The Cuban regime has installed a repressive system comparable to those that existed under the bloody dictatorships of Batista, Pinochet, Somoza, and Trujillo.

HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

1 comment:

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