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.

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