Monday, April 26, 2010

Computer World, Micheletti: Zelaya Has Mental Problems, Cuba’s Women in White Attacked Again

During a recent interpretation assignment at a special education school, I noted that a teenage student, whose IQ was estimated at 40 because of a congenital condition, seemed pretty competent at using a computer (his mother, who was present, was Spanish-speaking). I’ve also seen blind and severely physically disabled people using computers for communication and learning otherwise difficult or impossible. Computers have not only facilitated communication for most of us (despite glitches, frustrations, and annoying viruses) but they have absolutely revolutionized it for the disabled (think Stephen Hawking). And it seems that often the method opens up a whole new world and awakens abilities otherwise dormant. My own mother, nearing 90, mastered e-mail to stay in touch with me in Honduras and a nephew with learning disabilities communicates appropriately with me via e-mail.

I had another interpretation, this time at Wilson High School, the school from which both my daughters graduated, but, alas, students must now pass through metal detectors as they enter. Still another recent interpretation involved a family with four small kids, where the oldest, about 9, had come to school with a bruise on his cheek reportedly inflicted by his father. The whole family came into child welfare services and the children were interviewed first, with the parents waiting outside. The kids did not give a picture of a father run amok; they said he rarely used physical punishment. When the dad himself came back into the room and had a chance to speak, he said that this son, who had had good grades before, had suddenly gone downhill, especially in his classroom behavior, which had been consistently bad lately. The father said he had acted out of sheer frustration. The boy himself said he did not like his teacher. The child welfare worker suggested family counseling in an effort to find the cause of the recent behavior problems. She said that while parental corporal punishment is to be avoided, it is not totally prohibited, provided no marks are left on the child, at most, a light swat on the behind with the hand (never a belt—in Texas, however, paddling has been reinstated in some schools). Still, time-outs and suspension of privileges are preferable, the worker said. On the way out, the parents told me they were astounded by this sort of intervention, which would never have occurred in Mexico (their native country), since corporal punishment of kids there is the norm and no one would ever dare to interfere with parental authority. That’s true also in Honduras.

Cannot recall if I’ve mentioned before on these pages that Solei (AKA Reinita), daughter of Reina and granddaughter of the late Dona Marina, has finally found out that she is adopted? Readers of my book will recall that Solei and her twin, adopted by a neighbor, never realized that they were biological sisters. Both mothers refused to tell them, despite my advice to do so, since, I warned, the whole town could not be trusted to keep that secret forever. Additionally, Solei would eventually figure out, being decades younger than her mother’s other offspring and having been born after Reina’s childbearing years (and long after Reina’s husband had died), that she could not possibly be her biological daughter. Indeed, around the time that Solei celebrated her quinceanera (coming-of-age 15th birthday) last year, someone in town spilled the beans to Solei and her twin, causing them both to shed copious tears, but only temporarily. The whole issue was so distressing to Reina that she’d called upon one of her older daughters to confirm to Solei the facts of the adoption and explain why she had kept it secret all these years.
When I saw Solei in February, even though Reina was then spending a few months in the US with her sons, the girl seemed pretty accepting of the fact of her adoption and very loyal to Reina, though anxious for her to return. The shock of finding out still lingered, but was much diminished. “I know Mami loves me,” Solei said.

In the local Spanish-language press, former Honduran interim president Roberto Micheletti is quoted as declaring that Zelaya has mental problems, which he has transmitted to some of his supporters, who keep agitating in the legislature for unwise constitutional changes. In other news, a Honduran journalist was murdered this week, the fifth so far this year.

This from an on-line posting forwarded to me: Cuban medical experts have prepared a plan for a new Haitian health care system. It was adopted at a joint meeting of the Haitian, Cuban and Brazilian health ministers in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on March 27. (Havana Times, March 31) The public ceremony announcing the plan took place at a Cuban-Haitian field hospital in Croix des Bouquets, a community a few miles due east of the Port-au-Prince airport.

In front of 400 Cuban medical staff and graduates of Cuba’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM), the Brazilian government announced that it had pledged $80 million to help build the health care system in Haiti. Brazil has commanded the U.N. forces in Haiti since soon after the 2004 coup that ousted elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haitian Health Minister Alex Larsen stressed the importance of the plan: “This accord complements the trilateral pact signed among Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela, putting us on the right track to rebuild our public health system.” Minister Larsen also expressed gratitude for the Cuban doctors who on Jan. 12 “responded immediately, offering medical services and attending our dead. I truly don’t know how to thank the Cuban medical team for their extraordinary work during those days.”

Bruno Rodríguez Parilla, Cuban minister of foreign affairs, called on “all governments, without exception, to contribute to this noble effort.”

It's fine that Cuba helps to reorganize the Haitian health system, but it should not work alone, rather in conjunction and coordination with other governments and organizations, preferably an international or UN body. Cuban medical personnel have genuinely assisted in other countries (though they were kicked out of Panama when I was there). But mostly, this effort is another way for the economically strapped Cuban government not only to get brownie points for its humanitarianism, but to earn hard currency and avoid having to pay its excess medical workers. The money that Brazil is donating to this endeavor is not going only to the medical workers and infrastructure in Haiti, but will be funneled through the Cuban government, which will take its cut. Lula knows this and is willing to help out the Cuban government this manner. It's an effort that other countries and entities should be wary of contributing to. Cuba should be invited to assign staff to a truly international effort carried out under more transparent financial and program controls and also, in the spirit of other organizations, to start training Haitian medical workers to take over.

One of my correspondents makes the following comments about the report of the unfortunate American deported after trying to deliver medical supplies to Cuba:
Might it also have been an off-the-books undertaking by persons of ill intent who know enough about loci of opportunity to frequent airports? From my experience with that case in Boston…big municipal or international airports are natural incubators of nefarious schemes and employers of bent cops. (There was a Mass. State Police barracks in Logan that had a big say about the movement of drugs in the northeast until a crackdown finally happened.) Things may not be all that different in a state where the thugs are openly in charge.

My answer is “yes and no.” It’s likely that Cuban officials now, after the recent arrest of an American distributing free cell phones and laptops, are going overboard in their zeal to be even harsher than is absolutely authorized, either out of revolutionary fervor or hope of winning praise from higher-ups. They are probably being exhorted to be especially suspicious of Americans. But there are no freelance persons of ill-intent frequenting Cuban airports, first because transportation to an airport is difficult at best, second because only passengers and employees are allowed into airports, and third because there are few flights in and out and relatively few travelers, so any unauthorized individuals would stand out and would be swiftly dealt with. There are no milling crowds in the few Cuban airports (I know of only two, Havana and Santiago) stopping at Starbucks or a bookstore and, of course, no stores except for small duty-free shops staffed by state-employed party loyalists. But that doesn’t mean that officials might not go beyond their mandate. Or might they have been looking for a bribe? Bribes are a way of life in Cuba to get around red tape. However, in the case of the American medical supplies traveler, it would have been risky for him to offer an outright bribe, which might have backfired as further proof of his perfidy and landed him in jail instead of just getting him deported. Instead, he might have tried offering, in broken Spanish, to pay a duty on the medications, thus claiming innocence if accused of bribery, and the officials might then have quietly pocketed the payment and let him through.

The Women in White are still being harassed (see below). It seems that they have now become a nuisance to the government, which had pretty much left them alone before for fear of provoking a European tourist boycott.

Now even Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega, usually silent on political matters, is calling for urgent economic and political changes. That seems to be the consensus as well among the party elite, according to confidential reports of Cubans who have visited the island recently, but Fidel is standing fast. However, he did acquiesce to the privatization of hair salons and barber shops, a small step undertaken in part because such places were probably costing the government more than they were taking in.

Apparently, Venezuela, the country propping up the Cuban system, is in trouble too, both politically and economically. The two aspects go hand-in-hand everywhere, including in our own country, where economic recovery has been sluggish at best and is prompting mistrust of government, so we have nothing to crow about here. But it is just as well that Honduras, whatever hardships it has endured over the Zelaya affair, did not become overly reliant on Venezuela, which may be a sinking ship that takes Cuba down with it.
Cuba Clamps Down on 'Ladies In White' Protest
By REUTERS April 18, 2010

HAVANA - Cuban authorities blocked the weekly protest march by the dissident group "Ladies in White" on Sunday and set government supporters shouting and jeering at them for more than two hours. The incident appeared to signal the government's determination to end the silent marches the women have conducted for seven years seeking the release of their family members from prison.

Nine women from the group showed up on Sunday at their traditional gathering point, a mass at the Santa Rita Catholic Church in Havana's Miramar neighbourhood, but when they went out to make their usual silent walk along Fifth Avenue, officials said they could not unless they had a permit.

"We are not going to stop until you give us an order in writing that we need a permit," leader Laura Pollan told authorities before the crowd set in. The women linked arms, held up flowers and stood mostly silent under the verbal abuse from government supporters.

The incident ended when state security agents forced the white-clad dissidents into a bus and whisked them away. They were driven to their homes. Three of the nine women were helped from the crowd earlier when they grew faint after standing for so long under the warm sun and the hot breath of 100 chanting government supporters.
The women, who dress in white, have staged the marches since shortly after their husbands and sons were jailed in a government crackdown on its opponents in March 2003. The marches, held under the watchful eyes of state security agents, have been the only known public protests regularly allowed by Cuban authorities since the early 1960s.

But officials appear to be clamping down after the women marched through Havana for seven days last month in widely publicized protests. Those marches drew international criticism when the women were harassed by large numbers of government supporters, and they came at a time when Cuba was already under fire for the February death of imprisoned dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
Authorities recently told the women they would now have to get a permit to march each week, which they refused to do. The Cuban government considers dissidents to be mercenaries for the United States and other enemies.

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