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.

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