Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup, Best Books for Humanitarians, The Compassionate Friends Conference, Burma, Gaza, Jamaica, Cuba

Now Honduras and Spain have met on the soccer field and Honduras has lost again. Still, it was an achievement for Honduras to have even made it to the World Cup. Too bad the US lost to Ghana, but Africans must be happy to have a team still in the running. At least here in the DC area, World Cup fever ran pretty high as long as the US was in contention.

Got the following request, though sorry my own book is not among the 100 listed there, It’s a good list and I have read many of those books already. If anyone else has feedback on the list, please let me know on this blog or via e-mail (or directly to Online Classes): We at recently came across your blog and were excited to share with you an article “100 Best Books for Humanitarians” was recently published on our blog at (, and we hoped that you would be interested in featuring or mentioning it in one of your posts. Your Feedback on this article will be greatly appreciated.

An interpretation client, age 23, with developmental disabilities and her mother came in for a work evaluation. The family had arrived only months before legally from the Dominican Republic, on the petition of the father, a US resident, after a wait of over 15 years. The young woman in question had been suffering seizures since infancy, probably the cause her apparent brain damage. She spoke little, but was able to answer questions put to her in Spanish, such as “How many brothers and sister do you have?” She was extremely overweight and kept snacking from her bag during the interview. However, what was most striking to me is that her mother said that for the last 5 years in the DR, she had been working in a sheltered workshop putting tops on bottles. The mother wondered if a similar opportunity might be available for her here. That indicated that the DR is way ahead of Honduras in terms of opportunities for the disabled, where no such workshops exist and where even the non-disabled might covet a bottle-top job.

At a recent meeting of our local chapter of The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a support group for those who have lost children, one woman said, “I’ve lost mother, father, sister, husband, survived cancer twice, but nothing hit me like the death of my son.” Yes, she’s right; there is no other loss quite as painful. We don’t expect our children to die before us; we expect them to carry on and be our tie to future generations. Probably their loss hits particularly hard for both genetic and cultural reasons. On July 4th weekend, the national TCF organization is holding an annual conference across the river in Virginia, where I will be a panel speaker. After that, I’m going to Honolulu to visit my kids Stephanie and Jonathan living there, so this blog will be silent for a couple of weeks. I will remind you again of my absence before I leave.

Well, the high temperature every day this week was predicted to reach into the 90’s, which it actually has, and, so, last Monday, I broke down and turned on my central A/C, which I do at least once a summer to make sure it’s still working. Until now, out of concern both for the environment and my pocketbook, I’ve survived with fans, the only option available to me in Honduras, whether I was living there as a volunteer or on my annual visits ever since, provided, of course, that the electricity is working. My housemates in DC do have window units that they can turn on as needed.

Though I’ve never been very handy, I’m proud to say that I fixed a plumbing problem with a toilet my housemates have been using. Despite hot steamy weather, I walked a number of blocks to a hardware store, found the right replacement part, and using tools such as a kitchen knife, installed the new part successfully. Who says that old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

Another country of particular concern for me personally is Burma (Myanmar) where our local Amnesty group has had a prisoner, an associate of Aung San Suu Kyi, for more than a dozen years. I do my duty by writing to Burmese authorities and US officials, but have not been active otherwise because I simply have to focus and can be most useful, first, regarding Honduras, where I go every year, second, re Cuba, where I have visited half a dozen times and have had many connections. Unfortunately, Burma is another country where the US is also not focused, saying the right things, but committing virtually no blood and treasure. We cannot be everywhere and fix everything in the world.

One of my correspondents has chided me on what she took, last time, to be my endorsement of Hamas: I was surprised to see you speak of sympathy for Hamas. I think this is a case where people feel great sympathy for the long-suffering population but disgust and hostility toward the government -- the way Americans hated the Stalin of the massacres but felt very bad for the Soviet people. Hamas are crooks of a different sort than Fatah, but they are still crooks, and they are shamelessly manipulating the situation in Gaza; few are fooled.

Last time, I had said: I am glad to hear that the Gaza blockade is being eased. It does not seem that ordinary Gazans should be punished by being deprived of non-threatening items because Hamas shoots rockets into Israel. Such collective punishment only foments distrust of Israel and sympathy for Hamas, not only among Gazans, but worldwide.

In saying that, I did not mean to imply that I am personally in sympathy with Hamas, condone rocket firing, or believe Hamas is not cynically manipulating the situation. Hamas rockets aimed at Israel are not only reprisals for what Hamas considers hostile Israeli actions, but also probably designed to provoke Israel’s further repression of Gazans and greater enmity toward Israel as a result, and to keep that cycle going.

Certainly, condemnation of the fatal Israeli raid on a Gaza relief ship was worldwide, as I’d contended, and the Israeli government seems to have acknowledged as much and responded by greatly expanding the items that can now enter Gaza. That implies that the previous restrictions were not strictly necessary and were a form of punishment against all Gazans and, rather than turning Gazans against Hamas, if that was their intent, they turned them against Israel. Now, I believe, in response to Israel’s easing of the blockade, it would be appropriate for Hamas to make a reciprocal gesture. If each side could continue in this vein, some progress toward peace might actually come about.

Of course, there are differences of opinion, both within Israel and in the world-at-large, about whether any sort of agreement with Hamas is possible or even desirable. But, like it or not, Hamas is in charge of the government in Gaza. Is it best never to trust Hamas and consider it a permanent pariah or to try to see if any dealings are possible and engage in a limited effort at cooptation and cooperation? It’s a problem similar to that confronting the US vis-à-vis Iran—and even little Cuba. And always, it’s a gamble. Any slight concession or opening may lead either to favorable reciprocity or to a complete double-cross. It’s the same in all human relations—how much can and should we trust others? We can try to wipe out or defeat our adversaries, avoid or ignore them if possible, or attempt to engage them for mutual benefit, however distasteful to either side. I don’t claim sufficient knowledge of Gaza to even dare express an opinion about the right course there. But I do stand by what I said last time and am glad that the blockade is being eased. In that respect, the flotilla and the resulting deaths did have a positive effect.

Reputed Jamaican drug lord Christopher Coke, whose attempt evade capture and extradition to the U.S. on drug and weapons charges resulted in over 75 deaths, apparently gave himself up or was intercepted at a checkpoint—in any case, he is now in custody in the US. Jamaica is one of the countries within my jurisdiction as Amnesty International’s volunteer Caribbean Regional Action Coordinator. That number of homicides (see article below at the end of today’s blog posting) in a population of less than 3 million is phenomenal--even worse than Honduras, which is pretty bad. (In Cuba, there may be bribery, black market activity, and petty theft, but at least homicides are rare in a heavily policed state where ordinary citizens cannot obtain firearms.)

From an AP report, June 20, 2010: Church officials hope Pope Benedict XVI can come to Cuba in 2012, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's patron saint.

The Cuban prisoner whose release was announced last time, Ariel Sigler Amaya, incarcerated since 2003, was not only in poor health, but is a paraplegic using a wheelchair, making his health problems even more risky. His non-disabled brother, arrested at the same time and on the same charges, has not been released.

Another dissident was released, physician Darsi Ferrer (see article below), who had already served a year of a 15-month sentence for purchasing black market cement, a common offense often overlooked by authorities. However, Dr. Ferrer has been a government critic.

Message received from Amnesty International’s secretariat in London, June 24, 2010: In our conversation yesterday with Darsi and Yusnaimy, they sent these lovely words to AI members, please distribute to everyone involved in his case:

English: Darsi Ferrer: I am deeply grateful for the solidarity, the support and the work done by members of Amnesty International in my name. I was moved when I learned that I had been declared a prisoner of conscience, it gave me strength to continue my stay in prison. I would like to thank you for all your work during all this time. I am very happy to be out of prison and with my family and friends.

Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, his wife: We would like to give our eternal gratitude to all of you for being aware of what happened to Darsi and for supporting us in those difficult moments. You were of great help for us; you were continuously well-informed of his situation and this has helped for my husband to be among us now.

These prisoner releases, plus permission to march (with restrictions) being restored to the Women in White, may signal a slight softening of the regime’s treatment of dissent. Now may be the time for the US to reciprocate by further loosening of the embargo and travel ban.
24 June 2010

Dissident doctor and reporter paroled after nearly a year in pre-trial detention

SOURCE: Reporters Without Borders (RSF/IFEX) - Darsi Ferrer, a dissident public health activist who contributes to independent news media, was finally tried on 22 June 2010 on charges of "irregularities" and "assault" and was granted a conditional release after being held without trial since July 2009. A physician who heads the independent Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Centre, Ferrer angered authorities by gathering and disseminating information about the current state of the Cuban health system and the situation of political prisoners. Ferrer had been held in Valle Grande prison, west of Havana, since his arrest on 21 July 2009, for which the official reason was his "illegal" acquisition of building materials to repair his house. Prosecutors requested a three-year jail sentence, but the court sentenced him on 22 June 2010 to 15 months and said he could serve the remaining four months under house arrest. "We are obviously relieved by Ferrer's release even if he was finally given a jail sentence to match the time he already had spent behind bars," Reporters Without Borders said. "No one is fooled about the real reason for his detention as this is a country in which the authorities tolerate no public expression of dissenting views. His release was not in any way an act of clemency or, even less so, a sign of an improvement in respect for basic rights and freedoms."

Cuba still has approximately 200 prisoners of conscience, who include 24 journalists. One of them is the Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, who has been held since the "Black Spring" crackdown of March 2003. Dissidents continue to be the target of harassment, repression and hate campaigns by the authorities and their supporters. Hablemos Press, a small independent news agency, reported that two more journalists, José Manuel Caraballo Bravo and Raúl Arias Márquez of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA), were arrested on 21 June 2010. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the community of Latin American countries to intercede on behalf of Cuba's imprisoned journalists and dissidents, some of whom have fallen seriously ill since their arrest. For more information:Reporters Without Borders47, rue Vivienne75002 ParisFrancersf (@) Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84Fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51Reporters Without Borders
Jamaica Gleaner Online June 24, 2010

Tuesday's capture of the fugitive Christopher Coke is a welcome and symbolic development for the rule of law in Jamaica which, hopefully, will translate into a lasting reversal of crime and violence in our country.

Not much more than a month ago, Coke was a powerful figure, a reputed crime boss and community don, who seemed to have the protection of the Jamaican Government. The Golding administration, it appeared, was willing to go to all lengths to prevent his extradition to the United States to answer charges of drug and gun smuggling.

Indeed, when pressure from civil society forced Mr Golding to buckle, militias loyal to Coke barricaded his west Kingston redoubt of Tivoli Gardens and openly challenged the authority of the Jamaican state. That aggression was beaten back and Prime Minister Golding, perhaps to salvage his reputation, has sought to assume the role of champion against crime in Jamaica.
Which is where Christopher Coke's capture is important. It is a signal that even the powerful and politically well connected are not immune from the law and should not assume that they can, as appeared to have been the intent with the west Kingston uprising, behave with impunity.

Coke's day in court
So, the Christopher Cokes of the world must have their day in court to prove their innocence, based on accepted principles of justice - not muscle.
Mr Golding, of course, has to be aware that although the Jamaican state may have won the initial skirmish, actual and figurative, the larger battle against criminality and violence is far from over. Neither the arrest of Coke nor the dismantling of his command and control apparatus in west Kingston achieved that.

There is much more to be done. For despite the seeming respite of violent crime over the past month, the decline in homicides, at more than 60 so far for the month of June, is significant only relative to our circumstance. That number remains far too high.
There are many gangs to be defeated across Jamaica - particularly in Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine and St James.

In that regard, this newspaper, the reservations of civil liberties advocates notwithstanding, welcomes the decision by the administration to extend the state of emergency in Kingston and St Andrew for a second month and to widen it to the parish of St Catherine. Our concern, however, is that it was not made to cover the entire island and proclaimed until at least to the end of this year.

Special measures necessary
As we have observed before, it is not that we do not understand the bluntness of this instrument or do not care for civil liberties. We are aware, however, that Jamaica, with regard to crime, with its nearly 1,700 homicides a year, faces abnormal circumstances which will require special measures to return to a semblance of normality. The state of emergency has, in this regard, demonstrated its efficacy, which cannot be allowed to lapse.

Prime Minister Golding, however, has to assume full ownership of this project, displaying the kind of robust leadership he allowed us to glimpse in defending Coke's supposed constitutional rights against extradition. There are reports of resistance to the initiative by ruling party and even Cabinet members who operate in constituencies with powerful gangs. Mr Golding's oath, however, is to the people of Jamaica. And we demand better.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

World Cup, GAO Fellows, Honduras’s Mosquitia, Violence in Mexico, Cuban Prisoner Release, 60th Anniversary Celebration, Arizona Anti-Immigrant Law

On June 16, Honduras played its first World Cup game, losing 1-0 to Chile. It still faces Spain or was that today? I know that Hondurans are glued to radio and TV these days, especially when the home team plays. It’s been a while since Honduras qualified to pay in a World Cup, way back before most Hondurans now living were born (the medium age there is under 20).

Had a patient this week scheduled to have an MRI scan on his heart through an NIH research program. However, years ago in El Salvador, he had been shot several times in the chest and although he was pretty certain any bullets had been removed, we had to make sure before he had an MRI scan, done with a huge magnet. When sitting inside the chamber with a patient, I’ve had my watch batteries zapped before and also my metro fare card erased when I’ve forgotten to leave them outside. Several x-rays were taken of this man’s chest, revealing two bullets and some fragments still inside, to his very great surprise. So his MRI was replaced with a CT scan, less precise for diagnosing cardiac problems, but the only option available to him.

Saturday, sitting out at the Eastern Market in 90+F heat, I sold only two books, but got into some interesting conversations, including with an RPCV (returned PC volunteer), an occupational therapist (OT) who’d been working in special education in Jordan. I hope to connect her with a rehab brigade in Honduras and she said she might also give me some used OT equipment, which would be very useful for the Choluteca rehab center. I learned from a couple of people who stopped by to chat that anyone who has once been in intelligence cannot join the Peace Corps, nor can someone who is HIV+.

As mentioned previously, I have a visitor from Kenya staying at my house this summer, a government auditor called Nancy, attending an annual course given at GAO (Government Accountability Office). This year, there are 22 fellows from 20 countries and on June 16, they held a cultural information day in the main hall of GAO, each one with a table set up with artifacts, folk art, products, and brochures, with posters and maps hung on the wall behind them. Most wore native dress and many had a video running continuously. Nancy looked very cute in her tribal Kikuyu dress. Most of the African countries touted majestic mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife, as well as products like coffee. The spread of coffee cultivation around the world has lowered the earnings of Honduran coffee farmers, among other traditional growers in Latin America. I picked up a brochure for Zimbabwe, wondering what tourist attractions that beleaguered country might have to offer. On the brochure’s cover was a photo of a white man playing golf. Is that what you would think of when Zimbabwe is involved? Samoa’s brochure included a map showing the geographic relationship between Samoa’s two main islands and the nearby smaller islands of American Samoa. Why we still have American Samoa is probably an accident of history.

Have attended Amnesty International (AI) information sessions on Sri Lanka and DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), but don’t feel I can devote myself much to bettering human rights in those countries, however desirable, being already spread much too thin. Unfortunately, those conflicts are ones where the US government cannot afford to invest too much in resolving either, because our nation also is spread too thin. People in those countries will have to rely on civic organizations like AI and their own diasporas.

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island off the Indian coast where a 26-year civil war between the government-backed majority Sinhalese (ethnically related to a sector of the Indian population) and the minority Tamils finally ended in 2009, when the Tamils were defeated. The Tamils, who have a different language and religion, had been seeking to establish a separate homeland. Some 100,000 people died during the conflict and many Tamil civilians are still displaced. Civilians were used by the Tamils as human shields and many were killed in the last months of the conflict.

Three DRC women, at least one of whom reported suffering brutal rapes and said she was now
engaged in helping other women in similar circumstances, spoke to us at the local AI office (in French). This main spokeswoman told of recently taking a 90-year-old woman who had been serially raped to the hospital, where she died. Soldiers, both from government forces and rebels militias, engage in rape, she said, thinking that it makes them stronger. Impunity and corruption mean that perpetrators go free; victims who complain suffer reprisals. (All that is similar to what happens in rapes in Latin America, including Honduras.) Children of rape are sometimes not accepted by their mothers or their communities, she said. (In Honduras, rape was so common that the children were accepted, and sometimes there was a question of whether a rape had actually occurred or if a woman had invented it to explain her pregnancy.) One tactic DRC women have used to prevent being raped is to warn against the transmission of HIV (even though they are not HIV+ and HIV transmission from men to women is much more common than the reverse). Also, with the reduction in hostilities, rapes in the DRC have gone down as combatants have returned home. As one panelist put it, “War is the major cause of violence against women.”

However, stopping that violence or any established pattern is fraught with its own risks. Look at Mexico, where the campaign against impunity, corruption, and reprisals has stirred up a hornets’ nest amounting almost to a civil war, fueled by demand for illegal drugs on this side of the border and illicit arms shipments from here as well.

I am glad to hear that the Gaza blockade is being eased. It does not seem that ordinary Gazans should be punished by being deprived of non-threatening items because Hamas shoots rockets into Israel. Such collective punishment only foments distrust of Israel and sympathy for Hamas, not only among Gazans, but worldwide.

The other evening, went with a friend to a bar/restaurant on U St., fast becoming a trendy DC neighborhood, after being considered deep ghetto for many years. Actually, Ben’s Chili Bowl, where I ate lunch with my brother and company over Memorial Day weekend, is in the heart of the U Street neighborhood, a pioneer establishment in attracting tourists and young party-goers to the area. The evening in question, we were outside on the roof deck of a local restaurant. Young people wearing all sorts of interesting outfits, piercings, and hairstyles milled around carrying drinks and jiggling to very loud, extemporaneous music created by a disk-jockey putting his fingers on two spinning LP records and doing something with an Apple computer. Meanwhile two documentary filmmakers’ works were running continuously on large screens. I talked, as best I could over the din, to one filmmaker, Michael Bonfigli, whose scenes of the Feb. DC snow blow-out, which I had missed by being in Honduras, gave me a close-up look at that event, which had paralyzed the capital for days. Reportedly a native of Argentina, Michael must be a US citizen, as he said he had served in the Peace Corps in Honduras, spending three years in the remote Eastern Mosquitia, which he described as almost a separate country. Of course, he speaks Spanish, but he also learned to speak Misquito, the local indigenous language. Since he had once filmed Operation Smile, the harelip-cleft palate brigade in which I have participated in Tegucigalpa, I hope to get him interested in filming International Health Service’s October brigade to La Mosquitia. I’ve never joined that particular effort myself because I’ve been told it’s even more rugged that the Esperanza-area Feb. brigade that I normally join and, furthermore, takes place during the rainy season, which turns the ground into a muddy mess and causes mosquitoes to proliferate. Since I don’t speak Misquito, I would probably be more of a burden than a help. But Michael might really be useful because of his language skills. He seemed somewhat interested, but said he didn’t know if he had the time or money. Still, I planted the seed.

While on the subject of Honduras, the local Spanish-language press reports that a TV-reporter was shot and killed at point-blank range as he left his nightly news broadcast in Santa Clara de Danli and as associate of deposed president Manual Zelaya was shot and killed after an argument in a bar in San Pedro Sula.

On a more upbeat note, today, I attended the 60th wedding anniversary celebration of a couple belonging to our small church group, Communitas. Although in his 80s, the husband is still teaching graduate courses in sociology and doing research at Catholic University. They have six children and countless grandchildren, including a granddaughter adopted from China, and several great-grandchildren. Apparently, it’s possible to have a satisfying relationship that lasts that long. Bravo!

More than 90% of Cubans work for the government and although their monthly wages are less than $20, they have always had a free lunch at work. Now 5% are seeing that benefit cut and more such cuts are anticipated. No more free lunch.

According to the Cuban Catholic church, Ariel Sigler Amaya, convicted in 2003 is being released from prison in Cuba for health reasons. He was accused, among other alleged crimes, of gathering books for an independent library. He is the first prisoner released following the dialogue opened up between the government and the Cuban Catholic Church.

A rarely heard-from correspondent says this: It appears to me that Raul finally summoned up the courage to read the riot act to Fidel, banning him from criticizing Cuba's economic reforms while requiring him to stick to foreign policy themes in his Reflexiones [lengthy commentaries published in Granma, the official press]. In his latest, the Maximum Leader accused the U.S. of torpedoing the South Korean navy ship!And the voices of the "revolutionary reformers" (condemning the dissidents while cautiously calling for greater freedom of expression and economic reform) are growing stronger.

Cuba and the US are reported to be collaborating on oil spill containment preparations for the island. Such instances of cooperation can increase mutual trust and, let’s hope, lead to reduced hostility.

Finally, I was disheartened by the report of a survey that found a slight majority of Americans in favor of the new Arizona law allowing police to ask for proof of citizenship or residence from anyone they think may be in the country illegally. If I recall correctly, a somewhat smaller majority also believed that children born in the US of non-citizen parents should not be allowed automatic citizenship, which would be a major shift in longstanding American policy and against the norm in the rest of the world. There were few undecideds, indicating that immigration is a highly polarizing issue, with strong feelings on both sides. Denying citizenship to children born in the US is not going to happen, nor are 11 million people going to be deported, because it’s not logistically feasible and would have a seriously negative impact on our economy, also creating havoc in other countries sustained by remittances. We already have a deep recession that would only be aggravated by attempting such a disrupting tactic. Not only is it impractical, but how anyone can be so myopic and mean-spirited is beyond me; if only they knew these “illegals” as individuals, as I get to know some of them through my interpretation work, they might feel differently. But I suppose it’s not surprising that the recession has made people want to lash out and undocumented folks are an easy target. If folks were feeling more optimistic, they wouldn’t have look for scapegoats.

Monday, June 14, 2010

South Africa’s World Cup, Gaza Aid Flotilla, Communitas Mass, Cuban Prisoner Negotiations

How about that? The US tied with England in the World Cup! Having hosted a number of foreign visitors from Africa, including from South Africa, site of this year’s World Cup, I find myself wishing I were there right now, not to see the matches, but just to get to know the people and soak up, however, briefly, that unique environment. Someone who grew up in Argentina and has traveled widely in Europe and Latin America once told me, with an expression of obvious distaste, that he had no interest whatsoever in visiting Africa. Probably his attitude is shared by many people who have never been there. Africa has the reputation of being poor, conflicted, and afflicted with AIDS, malaria, and other plagues; a number of African countries are governed by despots; and ethnic and religious violence is all too common. All that is true, but fails to capture the diversity and cultural richness of that amazing continent, which has fascinated me on visits there, regrettably few, mainly due to the cost and distance, but which have left me wishing for more. I’ve been twice to Kenya and once each to Morocco and Sudan. In all cases, it was an exhilarating experience and I could envision myself living in any of them—in fact, it was a matter of love at first sight always, even in hot, dusty South Sudan, despite the physical challenges and language barriers. However, since I have only one life to live—and probably not many years left at this point (at age 72)—I’ve chosen to stick with Honduras, which, given my connections there, language facility, and other responsibilities right here to family and local community, is a more practical choice. Still, I’m grateful to have had a taste of both Africa and Asia and a feel for those other worlds, each so different from those I’m more familiar with in North America and Latin America.

On Sat., over at the Eastern Market, a farmers' market near my house, I got to talking with a middle-aged woman, a little younger than me, wearing a "Free Gaza" T-shirt. She told me she had been on the aid flotilla and had been on the very vessel that was attacked, but a few hours before had transferred to another boat. She had just been released from jail and had flown home. I said I was very sorry about the deaths of her companions. She seemed a little shell-shocked, or maybe just shocked, and said they had expected to be stopped, but not killed. Israeli commandos really botched that one. Of course, I am no diplomat capable of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I tend to think it requires a "Nixon-to-China" type of intervention, either by the US or Israel. A really obvious and safe step that Israel could take to get the ball rolling and make amends, in my opinion, would be to stop all settlements. Of course, the Israelis may be waiting for the Palestinians to make the first move, but it would seem that the US would have more influence prodding our friend and dependent, Israel, than over the Palestinians. Anyway, if Israel wants to survive and if the US doesn't to be at perpetual war with Muslim forces, something has to be done about that impasse. Another knotty problem for Obama to try to solve.

I also met a woman who said she was from the Gulf and had poured oil over her head to make a point while visiting Congress. (Of course, most Americans don't know that we in DC have no voting members of Congress.)

Readers of my book may remember that when I came back from Honduras, instead of returning to my old parish, I joined Communitas, a small Catholic community in my neighborhood. We meet at a storefront church space, with priests from Catholic U. presiding. But last time I went, I asked Nancy, my Kenyan visitor, to go with me, although she is Anglican. No priest showed up, so Sister Rose took over. She’s a nun a little older than I am who has worked for decades in Haiti and with Haitians. She did an admirable job during the service and we all agreed that women could and should be priests.

The following is from my Cuban commentator regarding the negotiations between the Catholic Church and Cuban government regarding releases of ill political prisoners: The Cuban regime is Communist only in name. In reality, like any non-modern society, it is feudal in its outlook and its working principles. The basic cement in a feudal society is the loyalty that must exist between the top leadership and its minions in order to get things done.

This loyalty was already severely shaken in 1989 when Fidel Castro purged his closest most loyal subordinates to shake off a drug trafficking charge and is now being challenged once more by the fact that Castro snitched on his own agents when he gave information to the FBI that led to their later arrest and conviction. This fact is known to all his followers and there is a great deal of latent resentment due to it. It may not be expressed openly but the top government circles are aware of its existence and of its corrosive effect.For this reason, to ensure the internal morale of its forces, the regime is obligated to make an all out effort to get its five agents out of US prisons to attempt to revive a weakening loyalty. This means that to the Cuban government the primary objective of the present negotiations is obtaining the return of its five agents and that it is willing to do anything in its power to ensure that objective because it will strengthen its internal security...

Fidel Castro prefers to withhold all his incentives until the last minute to get the best possible deal that will suit his interests.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gores’ Separation, World Cup, Honduras’ Lobo Declares Plot Against Him, Chavez as Songster, Cuba Again

A comment here on the Gores’ separation after 40 years of marriage, which is really none of our business, except that they are in the public eye. Maybe there’s a new secret squeeze on either or both sides, or maybe they just became bored with each other and increasingly headed in different directions. Long-term intimate relations do pose a challenge, especially these days, when we are living longer and are not so consumed by sheer daily physical survival, when mores are changing, and when self-realization, “happiness,” and independence are common personal goals. It’s all the more remarkable that some couples do manage to go the distance, like one in our little church group, Communitas, celebrating their 60th anniversary on Father’s Day. And happy Father’s Day to all my readers out there who are fathers.

The World Cup is dominating news elsewhere, if not so much here. It will be quite some time before the US hosts a World Cup, much less wins one. Three of my kids played soccer and daughter Melanie’s team even won a trophy. But soccer (called “football” elsewhere) doesn’t seem to have fully captured sports fans here, as in the rest of the world. In Honduras, from an early age, all boys—even blind boys and poor barefoot rural boys—kicked around whatever sort of ball or substitute (i.e. ball of string) they can find. In Peace Corps, we encouraged girls to play as well.

Honduras qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1982. They will play against Spain, considered the stronger team, on June 21. When I was in Peace Corps during an earlier World Cup, everyone, men especially, congregated around radios and TV sets, eager to watch, whatever the hour. This year, matches will start about 7 am DC time and even earlier in Honduras, where people get up at dawn anyway. Since they often have little or no electricity and afternoons may become scorching, their lives follow the rhythms of the sun.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, according to our local Spanish-language press, is saying that three members of his own Nationalist Party want to overthrow him. More details were not available. It would be ironic if Lobo were now ousted in the same manner that Zelaya was. The same article reports that Zelaya remains living in the Dominican Republic, while Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela oppose recognition of Lobo and the re-entry of Honduras into the OAS, although that body will be sending a mission to Tegucigalpa on June 25, to investigate that possibility.

Perhaps feeling snubbed by Hillary Clinton on her tour of Latin America, Hugo Chavez has come up with a ditty sung over the airwaves saying that Hillary doesn’t love him and he doesn’t love her either. Chavez is quite the clown and Venezuelans are his captive audience.

U.N. torture investigator says Cuba blocked visit
Wed Jun 9, 2010 9, Reuters
· U.N. torture sleuth says Cuba blocked visit
· U.N. envoy accuses rights forum of turning blind eye

Havana issued invitation last year
* Austrian lawyer known for tough talking
* Cuba seen as sensitive on political prisoner issue

GENEVA, June 9 - Cuba has told the United Nations special investigator on torture that he cannot visit the island on a fact-finding mission despite an invitation issued to him last year, the official said on Wednesday.

Austrian lawyer Manfred Nowak, known for his frank talking to both developed and developing countries on the issue, said Havana had told him it could not receive him before his mandate runs out at the end of October this year. "I regret that, in spite of its clear invitation, the government of Cuba has not allowed me to objectively assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment in the country by collecting first-hand evidence from all available sources," he said in a statement.

Cuba invited him to visit in February 2009, but since then had failed to agree on a date, his statement said. Diplomats at the council -- now holding a three-week session -- said Havana was showing special sensitivity over its jailing of dissidents, one of whom died in prison in February. Cuba says it has no political prisoners and jails only criminals.

Nowak has been six years in the post, formally titled special rapporteur to the world body's Geneva-based Human Rights Council, and has already made clear he will step down when his mandate is over. Earlier this year, he told reporters he had been frustrated by the lack of cooperation he had received in his investigations from many governments -- including some, like communist-ruled Cuba, who are members of the 47-nation council.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Memorial Day, Flooding in Central America, Honduras not Welcome in OAS, Local Honduran Family, Cuban Perestroika?

My brother Bob and his significant other, Jean, were in town for Memorial Day, as Jean’s father had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge and she’d never seen the World War II memorial, to which my late mother donated in memory of my dad, who had also served in Europe, but came home to live on until age 82. On a computer search system, Jean found her father’s name and the date of his death, but little else. Apparently, the family has to post additional information. We looked up our own father, who was said to have been wounded, though, if so, it must have been minor as he didn’t get to come home and never mentioned it. We also visited the Viet Nam wall and other sites, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, on U St., located at quite a distance from downtown but doing a brisk business. Barak Obama, among others, has eaten there. On Sunday, evening, we met Jean’s cousin and several others on the west lawn of the Capitol, where we heard the touching Memorial Day concert, broadcast nationally. Colin Powell was one of the speakers, as he usually is on this occasion. Once, when I was attending the Memorial Day concert, my mother watching at home on television claimed to have seen me in the crowd. We did have a huge crowd this year and lots of security. I remember the days when we used to walk just onto the lawn with our picnic basket and bottle of wine, but now all alcohol is forbidden and concert-goers must pass through a metal detector and have their purses and backpacks searched.

On Sat. June 5, a friend hosted a Honduras party that featured my book and the Flores family, referred to previously on these pages. We attracted only a small crowd, mostly of people who already had the book, but it was a nice, intimate gathering featuring Latin American food.

While other news may have eclipsed it, there was massive flooding in Central America due to Tropical Storm Agatha, with Guatemala being hit hardest, though Honduras was not exempt.
Honduras is still not welcome in the OAS, though Secretary Clinton urged its reinstatement (see below).

Then, finally, speculations on the prospects for a Cuban perestroika.
From AP, May 31, 2010
Thousands more have fled their homes in neighboring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 15 even as meteorologists predicted three more days of rain. Two dams near the capital of Tegucigalpa overflowed into a nearby river, and officials warned people to stay away from swollen waterways. ''The risk is enormous,'' Mayor Ricardo Alvarez said.
Clinton urges OAS to let Honduras rejoin
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Monday, June 7, 2010
Last year's coup in Honduras, which took place shortly after the Organization of American States held a general assembly meeting in that country, continues to divide Latin America from the United States.

At Monday's meeting of the OAS, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged allowing Honduras to rejoin, saying new president Porfirio Lobo has shown "strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order." But a majority of ministers opposed even adding the question of Honduras to the agenda.

The Obama administration had joined with the OAS last year in ousting Honduras after then-President Manuel Zelaya was forced out of the country but shifted course after new elections were held, arguing it was time to move on. Washington's stance has split it from big players in the region, such as Mexico and Brazil, indicating how difficult it is to bridge regional divisions, even after Clinton talked with officials from Mexico and Brazil in Lima about Honduras.

Clinton has invested heavily in building ties with Latin America, making her second trip to the region this year. But the spat over Honduras -- as well as anger at Arizona's new immigration law and U.S. policy toward Cuba -- has made progress difficult. From Peru, Clinton later this week will travel to Ecuador, Colombia and Barbados.
Regarding the following detailed Cuba observations of an anonymous correspondent, I said:
I agree with you, doing nothing is a risk to the Cuban government and trying to make controlled and contained reforms is a risk as well, as the USSR found out. And when Fidel is no longer around, with his iron will and labyrinthian mind, the risks to the regime increase. When he dies, I wouldn't be surprised if some now within the higher echelons of government, actually seek to surreptiously guide it toward a more market-oriented, democratic system. Sooner or later (I hope in our lifetime), we will see what the Miami exiles call "a free Cuba."

His observations below) refer to the following article, which is not reproduced here:

Cuba’s largest newspaper publishes critical letters on economy
By JUAN O. TAMAYO,, 31 May 2010
[Accessed June 1, 2010 at]

Below are excerpts from my correspondent’s mailing, which was even longer in its entirety, responding to the previously mentioned article in the Miami Herald.

In answer to Raul Castro's request for ideas about how to fix the problems of Cuban socialism, a strong internal debate is going on which is being carried out not only in specialized magazines and web sites but also in the pages of Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. When the debate spills out into the ruling party's newspaper, it means that it is raging throughout the country and that the totalitarian rulers want to stimulate it and guide it instead of suppressing it...Limits set by government censure could be sufficient to protect from immediate regime change but the resulting debate is counterproductive in the long run since it prepares the ideological conditions for reforms that go far beyond the original intentions of those who promote it.

The predominant point of view in the debate seem to be let us find a way to fix and reform our socialism making a few changes to it that will allow some elements of capitalism like:1- Allowing individual and cooperative ownership and control over land and small businesses.2- Extending the role of free markets...The contributors to the debate apparently want to combine these measures with central macroeconomic planning and with government ownership of the principal industries and label the new concoction as "Socialism of the XXI Century" and hope to solve all of Cuba's existing problems and to be able to carry on as usual with the ruling elite hanging on to all their positions of power and preserving their existing privileges.

There is something deja vu about all this because the existing debate seems to follow many of the same ideas both in favor and against reforms that were put up in the first stage of the debate held in the Soviet Union in the late eighties when Gorbachev was in power.The danger certainly exists that something similar could eventually occur in Cuba. In fact, if we stop and think about it, it is certain that this will someday take place. The question that we should ask ourselves should not be whether it will occur but rather when and how should we expect it to happen?In the midst of the limited debate taking place, an increasing proportion of the Cuban intelligentsia and the apparatchicks are slowly and privately coming to the conclusion that the basic tenets of socialism are flawed and that debating its internal reform is a fig leaf, a euphemism to cover up the reality that these reforms represent.

Scenario one is that all these debates will generate sufficient public backing to overcome the nomenklatura's opposition and end in serious reform or even in a return to capitalism as it happened during Gorbachov and Yeltsin's time in the Soviet Union.The second scenario is exactly the opposite. This is that after a short period of debate in which "a hundred flowers are allowed to bloom" and all the gardener's come out of the closet and are identified, the public debate is shut down completely and violently, no internal reform measures are taken, strong internal repression is renewed and the hundred flowers and the gardeners are simply mowed down to guarantee internal stability. This scenario follows closely what happened in China in the period prior to and during the Cultural Revolution.The third scenario is that the ruling circles procrastinate and fail to take any measures either in favor or against the reforms. The can is simply kicked down the road. This would mean that the public debate is formally closed down some half hearted watered down internal reform measures that do not solve any of the internal contradictions of the existing economic socialist system are taken. But at the same time there is no return to previous strong internal (Stalinist or post civil war) repression. At the same time a lighter version of internal repression is carried out to maintain the opposition in line and the ruling circle in power...In the period from 1985 to 1989, Castro conducted his own "counter reformation" in Cuba to avoid internal reformers from allying with pro-perestroika Soviet politicians to depose him and carry out reforms the country sorely needed. In this period the pro-perestroika Cuban sympathizers were members of the Cuban elite: high economic officials, middle ranking party functionaries, army and Cuban security officials.He purged the Army and the Ministry of Interior by executing all those high officials he thought capable of plotting against him and decommissioning most of the officers who had assumed high leadership positions between 1959 and 1989 and had received an education and training in the former Soviet Union where they had caught the perestroika virus.

This does not mean that Castro did not kill when it was necessary to preserve his power. He did it in 1989 when he shot General Ochoa and several Army or Ministry of Interior officials who were in a position to depose him and knew about his involvement in international drug trafficking. Only that Fidel Castro did his killing on a smaller scale and with more skill than his Georgian predecessor. The difference between them was like the one between a surgeon and a butcher.But even an evil political genius like Fidel Castro cannot stop the economic and political laws of society from eventually taking effect. Perhaps he can forestall them while he lives and holds on to power. But after he leaves to reunite with Friedrich, Karl, Vladimir, Joseph, Mao, Uncle Ho and Il Sung in the communist paradise, his own successors, without the respect and fear he commands and without his exceptional Machiavellian talent will be forced to deal with reality instead of sidestepping or evading it. . .In the final analysis anything that will result in the shortening of the existence of this regime will have been worthwhile because it will eliminate unnecessary human suffering and facilitate progress.