Thursday, August 26, 2010

No Surprise: Dominicans Resent Haitians, Mosque, Late Son Andrew’s Pending B'day, Cuba Film Reminder, Publishing’s Future, Wagners, Elsie Arriving

This so-called Honduras blog has branched out into other areas in which I am involved, but next Feb., I plan return to Honduras and give you a full dose of what’s going on there.

Someone responded to my recent posting on Amnesty International-USA’s Spanish-language blog about how what Dominicans says about Haitians is what white-bread Americans say about Dominican and other Latino immigrants to this country, that is, “You are not welcome, you are not like us, you don’t belong here.” Now a Dominican has responded to me, complaining that France robbed her country of part of the island of Hispanola originally discovered by Spain and gave it over to what became the nation of Haiti. She says, The whole island rightly belongs to us, the Dominicans, and now the Haitians are trying to invade even the part that we have left. All I can say is that xenophobia seems to be a pretty universal phenomenon. And, I would point out that much of what is now the USA was territory “robbed” from Mexico and Spain.

On a related matter, apparently Muslim services have been conducted inside the Pentagon, a 9/11 attack site, ever since then, and no one has objected. It does seem the anti-mosque furor in NYC has largely been fomented by outsiders and now has spread all over the country, with opposition rising against mosque construction everywhere, especially “not in my backyard.” No lessons have been learned from the hysteria that led to Japanese Americans being interned during World War II nor from anti-black, anti-Italian, anti-Irish, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic movements throughout our history.

However, one of my blog correspondents, while acknowledging that the Ground Zero Mosque is not right at Ground Zero, not a mosque per se, and that “Imam Feisal is a very enlightened Muslim,” confesses that she still has reservations: Here is my worst paranoid fantasy, and I very much hope I never have to attend a memorial service and bite my tongue to keep from saying "told you so": They build the sucker; they start to use it; it develops that Muslim "pilgrims" are coming from all over the world to pray (in the one worship room) and study there. Unbeknownst to the people we count on to protect us, who don't speak or read Arabic any more than we do, all over the Muslim world advertisements are being published: "Come to Cordoba House and die a martyr's death in a historic blow against the infidel." Then one day when they have a full house, they blow everyone up, an event that also wreaks destruction on the neighboring porn establishments, delis, and other buildings not at all far from Ground Zero.

It’s true that the Islamic center location has gained so much notoriety now that it could become a magnet for extremists and, possibly, even suicide bombers in a way that would never have happened if the whole question had not gone viral.

Sept. 4 is my late son Andrew’s birthday. He would have been 43, but, of course, I’ll always remember him as age 27. Although I usually don’t have a special remembrance ceremony on that day, I do begin to feel a little blue starting now, even when I’m not consciously thinking about my son. From now through January is the down time for me, as the holidays bring bittersweet memories. December is when both my son and foster son died and my foster son’s birthday is in January.

For those in DC, don’t forget our free upcoming showing of the Cuban “Women in White” documentary with remarks afterward by Norwegian director Gry Winther and myself, Mon. August 30, 5:30 pm, at GWU, Lindner Commons Hall, 1957 E St. NW, Rm 602. The director also has a new film on women in Iran called “Lionwomen,” which we also hope to show when she is here, but have not nailed down a venue yet.

My nameless Cuba observer has this to say about the future of his country: I am convinced that the spread of democracy has more to do with the globalization of communications and ideas than with the specific struggles against a dictatorship at a given historical moment. However, if the struggle against a specific dictatorship opens up a country to the free flows of idea, it could help to introduce the ideas of democracy to its population and once introduced it will become more difficult, although not impossible, for new dictatorships to sprout there and for existing dictatorships to continue ruling there for long periods. Democracy and the enjoyment of human rights is like a mathematical equation that when graphed continually approaches an axis without ever getting there.

This does not mean that we should give up trying to work for democracy and human rights. Simply we should be realistic and know that everything in Cuba is not going to be hunky dory the day after Fidel Castro is buried. Our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are probably going to be involved in the solution of problems that will be similar to the ones we face today.

My reply: You are quite right, things are not going to magically turn around in Cuba the day Fidel Castro is buried, any more than they magically turned around when he first took power, though everyone expected that and many continued to cling stubbornly to that view in the face of mounting evidence against it. And here in the U.S., it's always a constant struggle. Most people are ignorant and many remain willfully so, like the anti-intellectuals wooed by a similarly ignorant woman like Sarah Palin and those who stick to the belief, against all evidence, that Obama was born in Kenya or that he is a Muslim (what if he were?), not to mention those who insist that the world was created in seven days. Americans are quite capable of holding conflicting views: no new taxes, government stay out of my life, but don't take away my social security and Medicare." We cannot expect Cubans to be any more rational or reasonable in the post-Castro era. But, as the saying goes, "While democracy may be imperfect, it's still better than the alternatives."

I saw changes coming and therefore decided to avoid the traditional publishing route. While I certainly cannot claim to be a best-selling author, my book probably would not have achieved that status in any case. Still, I’m pleased with the reception the book has gotten from readers and librarians. Now I can, “I told you so!” (See below.)

The Future of Publishing,

In a significant defection for the book industry, best-selling marketing author Seth Godin is ditching his traditional publisher, Portfolio, after a string of books and plans to sell his future works directly to his fans.

The author of about a dozen books including "Purple Cow" said he now has so many direct customer relationships, largely via his blog, that he no longer needs a traditional publisher. Mr. Godin plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, small digital files called PDFs and podcasts...One of his many concerns about the current publishing market is that the process often takes 12 months or more to get a new title into the hands of his readers.

Yesterday, on Aug. 25, I spent the whole day at Fed-Ex Field, the Washington Redskins’ stadium in suburban Maryland, but not because I’m a football fan. Rather, I was one of two Spanish interpreters trading off interpreting at a training session being conducted for employees of a new Wagners grocery store opening in Lanham October 24. Over four hundred new employees participated in the training. Two Spanish interpreters were assigned to only two Spanish-speaking employees, one from Mexico, the other from Colombia. We had a little telephonic/speaker device that would shoot our interpretation directly into the ears of our listeners. Both said they were legal residents, by the way, one of the questions asked on their job application. They both will be working in the bakery and were thrilled to just have a job. Two Mandarin interpreters were also assigned to two other new employees; likewise, two sign language interpreters to two deaf employees. So Wagners has hired a diverse staff.

I was not familiar before with the Wagners grocery chain, just now expanding southward, recession notwithstanding. People have to eat, after all. It apparently started off in the northeastern United States in the 1930s and is still a family-owned operation. The current CEO, a third-generation Wagner, greeted us, as did his daughter, also working with the company. The store emphasizes creating a family atmosphere among employees, satisfaction of and attention to the customer, provision of high quality products and service, and affordable prices. For example, generic antibiotics in the store pharmacy will be free with a physician’s prescription and rotisserie chickens always priced at only $4.99. The store offers cooked family meals for only $6.00 each and we had some samples at lunch, which were pretty tasty. The efforts to inspire the new employees inspired even us interpreters, but since I don’t have a car, I don’t expect to actually be shopping there. I wonder if other store openings begin preparation so far in advance? Our interpretees are already on the payroll, baking products now being sent to other stores until their own location’s grand opening in two months.

Finally, a new temporary housemate, Elsie from California, doing a three-month internship at the nearby Amnesty International office, will be arriving this evening. Unlike most of the other interns who are college students, Elsie is the mother of a college student.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

B&N For Sale, Muslims & Ground Zero, Muslims in Burma, Immigrat. Ct. Faults, Dominicans vs. Haitians, Ballet to Havana, Fidel & Bilderberg, So. Sudan

Don’t like to say, “I told you so,” but I saw it coming, both the decline of hard-copy publishing and of chain bookstores, as the recession relentlessly moved forward and folks became more attached to their electronic gadgets and less inclined to dedicate a whole room to an at-home library. That’s one reason that I decided in mid-2008 to go with Amazon and skip the agents and traditional publishers. And, indeed, now SmartMoney columnist James B. Stewart in the Wall St. Journal, comments on why the venerable chain Barnes & Noble is up for sale: The simple explanation for Barnes & Noble's decline is the Internet, which spawned, e-readers and digital books.

Amen, I say, to the end of an era when holding, smelling, and hoarding print books, displaying them alphabetically or by topic on fancy book shelves was in vogue. I still like to hold a physical book in my hands, but, it’s true, if you’ve read a book once or even twice, it usually ends up sitting around gathering dust. In this fast-moving world, we’re always moving on—new topics, new gadgets—although I like to believe my own Peace Corps book is still timely with something to say to a variety of audiences, not just to those interested in Peace Corps service.

As for the Muslim prayer room contemplated to open near Ground Zero, my first instinct is to say, let it be. How does it harm the memorial site, especially since it is reported that the Islamic Center housing it is operated by moderate Muslims and could even be a protection for the area and lead to more interfaith cooperation? It has even been suggested that the label “Ground Zero Mosque” is an intentionally inflammatory misnomer, since it would be neither a full-fledged mosque nor at Ground Zero, but, rather, a couple of blocks away, amid porn shops, nightclubs, drugstores, and neighborhood food stores. Those associated with the center had nothing to do with Ground Zero, after all. However, since opposition has been elevated to such a cause célèbre and political footfall, with a majority of Americans polled now being against its establishment at that location, maybe it’s time to think of situating it somewhere else. How far from Ground Zero is far enough? Another mosque is already located some four blocks away from Ground Zero. Moving the proposed Islamic center would be yielding to mindless scapegoating, but otherwise, it might be subject to terrorist attacks by those opposing its location there. Should it be moved out of fear, which might only serve to inflame and support the idea that it is somehow a true danger? Or should it stay put and install Draconian security measures? Will the whole thing blow over if does locate there and people find that no harm is done? We shall see how this polarizing issue plays out in this increasingly polarized nation and world. But now, it seems, the Islamic center’s funding is in doubt (perhaps in part because of the controversy), so that may seal its fate more than any political wrangling.

At the meeting of a group concerned with improving human rights in Burma, I learned for the first time that the Muslim minority in that country is even more persecuted than Burmese citizens as whole. They are not permitted to have more than two children, are restricted geographically, and are subject to arbitrary arrests and confiscations. More mainstream Buddhist Burmese are encouraged to move into traditionally Muslim areas to dilute the population (as the Chinese do among Tibetans and Uighurs). And when the Burmese Muslims flee to neighboring Bangladesh, they are repatriated across the border back to Burma (Myanmar). I was invited to the meeting because our local Amnesty group for about 15 years had a Burmese prisoner (not Muslim), U Win Htein, an associate of Aun San Syu Ki. Finally, he was freed in July.

Every time I’m riding a metro train above ground, I note vast swatches of giant graffiti painted on the cement side walls that the train passes through, on roofs of warehouses, and on sides of storage buildings, often in areas enclosed by high electrified fences and razor wire, so how did the painters get through? Many designs are clever, boastful, even artistic, though probably not appreciated by the buildings’ owners. Still, these murals and brightly-colored “tags” offer some relief to the eye from the monotony of the industrial vistas going by.

At an international interpreters’ conference held in the UK July 26-30, 2010, Erik Camayd-Freixas, PhD, gave a presentation citing examples of abuses by federal authorities in immigration court appearances. Some interpreters sided with him; others considered it a breach of interpreter ethics to air such concerns in public. It’s true that we court interpreters swear not to reveal what goes on in the courtroom, although I believe it is all part of the public record. I hinted in my Honduras book that I had witnessed errors in a minority, but troubling, number of cases when I was an interpreter for immigration court. But since we interpreters had sworn beforehand not to reveal anything that went on in court, I didn't know what to do about that. I was not as brave as the interpreter mentioned--I just quit immigration court.

While we are on the topic of interpretation, it’s recommended that the interpreter sit behind the interpretee (?) so that eye contact can be made between the parties conversing. Often the situation does not allow that, as the room is too small or chairs are set up side-by-side, so that the client usually looks at and addresses me ("what did she just ask me?"), while the doctor, judge, or social worker is looking at and speaking directly to the person. It's a bit confusing. It was even more confusing in a case I mentioned before of a sign language interpreter and myself doing a relay between a social worker, a hearing mother who spoke only Spanish, and her teenage hearing impaired daughter who communicated in American (English) sign language.

On a Spanish-language blog hosted by Amnesty International, a number of Dominicans have complained about illegal Haitian migrants and their desire to ship them all back to Haiti, along with their children. The DR does not recognize birthright citizenship, subjecting that country to international condemnation. Of course, the DR is a poor country that has experienced an increased influx of Haitians since the earthquake. I commented in Spanish on that blog that the arguments used against the Haitians were the same ones being used against Hispanics in the US, including against Dominicans.

Apparently, the Obama administration is opening up more cultural exchanges with Cuba, something I have always advocated. Now apparently the American Ballet Theater is planning a big run in Havana, bringing costumes, sets, and dancers, promising to be a major event. I predict that American artists of all stripes going to Havana will come into increasing vogue. More on Cuba below.

Excerpt from AP Report, on Fidel Castro, 8-18-10

Castro — who had an inside seat to the Cold War — has long expressed suspicions of back-room plots. He has raised questions about whether the Sept. 11 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government to stoke military budgets and, more recently suggested that Washington was behind the March sinking of a South Korean ship blamed on North Korea.

Estulin's own website suggests that the 9/11 attacks were likely caused by small nuclear devices, and that the CIA and drug traffickers were behind the 1988 downing of a jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that was blamed on Libya.
The Bilderberg conspiracy theory has been popular on both extremes of the ideological spectrum, even if they disagree on just what the group wants to do. Leftists accuse the group of promoting capitalist domination, while some right-wing websites argue that the Bilderberg club has imposed Barack Obama on the United States to advance socialism.

Some of Estulin's work builds on reports by Big Jim Tucker, a researcher on the Bilderberg Group who publishes on right-wing websites.

"It's great Hollywood material ... 15 people sitting in a room sitting in a room determining the fate of mankind," said Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank in New York.

"As someone who doesn't come out of the Oliver Stone school of conspiracy, I have a hard time believing it," London added.

A call to a Virginia number for the American Friends of Bilderberg rang unanswered Wednesday and the group's website lists no contact numbers.

Castro, who underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and stepped down as president in February 2008, has suddenly begun popping up everywhere recently, addressing Cuba's parliament on the threat of a nuclear war, meeting with island ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry, writing a book and even attending the dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.

Excerpt below from another AP Report, on South Sudan, 8-18-10, where I was in 2006, as my readers know. This sounds like an imaginative, but cockeyed idea, that will never get off the ground, given southern Sudan’s more pressing needs and the uncertainty that Khartoum will even allow the south to secede if the vote goes that way in next year’s referendum, as it certainly will if it is free and fair. However, floating the concept has put southern Sudan back in the news.

The $10 billion concept [to create cities in animal shapes] will take decades to carry out, officials concede, though it may never escape the planning stages. The southern government's own 2010 budget was only $1.9 billion, and the U.N. says more than 90 percent of Southern Sudan's population lives on less than $1 a day.The plans have evoked bemused smiles — or outright laughter — in Juba, a town that until two years ago barely had any paved roads.

"It doesn't seem like the (Government of Southern Sudan) should be using its resources or staff time when the people of Southern Sudan lack basic services like health care and water," Nora Petty, an aid worker in Juba with the Malaria Consortium.

Government officials concede that a lot of money is needed to finance the project, which includes a plan to transform two state capitals into the shapes of a giraffe and a pineapple.

Juba — the capital of Southern Sudan — is to be reshaped into a compact rhino with two pointy horns. The new area will be called "Rhino City."

Officials said the plan would bring order to the city's chaotic layout.
"Juba is made up of slums," said Jemma Kumba, the minister of housing and physical planning.

Detailed architectural drawings of Rhino City show that Central Equatoria's police headquarters would be situated at the rhino's mouth, an amusement park at the ear, an industrial area along the back and residential housing throughout the four legs.
"It's very innovative. That's our thinking. It's unique. It's the Ministry of Housing thinking you have to be unique to attract the people," said Daniel Wani, undersecretary of Southern Sudan's Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning.
If the animal-shaped towns come to be, they will join other famously shaped cities around the world. Dubai created several palm-shaped residential islands off its coast. In Argentina, planners shaped the town of Ciudad Evita into the form of Eva Peron, an actress and wife of former President Juan Peron who was known as Evita.

Of course, per capita income in the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located, is around $42,000 a year. In Sudan, it's just $2,300.

And unlike well-developed Dubai, Southern Sudan still lacks basic infrastructure such as roads to connect its state capitals. Outside the southern capital Juba, structures aside from mud huts are rare, and in Juba, services such as electricity and sewage are a luxury.

The Minister of Roads and Transport, Anthony Makana, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he needed up to $6 billion to pave 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of roads in the south.

Makana said the project would connect all of the southern state capitals, but he noted that funding is a concern, given that the government has not finished paying the contractors who built 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) of red clay and gravel roads since 2005, when the landmark peace accord between the north and south was signed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Real Simple (?), Honduras Grievances, Cuba Forum, Sudan, Rep.Waters, TPS, Immigration Reform, Uighur Oppression

Here again is my blog, which, I confess, covers a wide variety of topics. I’ll begin by an observation I made this morning at a local school, where I was the interpreter for a mother whose child was being tested for a hearing loss. While the mother and I were waiting, I picked up a magazine entitled Real Simple. You will not be surprised that this publication does not so much simplify life as offer alternative brands, both in its ads and feature articles, that might be considered less ostentatious and more politically correct than perhaps those in the mainstream—for example, bike ads, although there also were car ads, but of smaller and hybrid models. You get the idea. Consumerism and consumption are still the goals. Maybe that’s what makes this country’s and the world’s economy function, but if the goal were actually to get folks to simplify, they’d be urged to follow the example of the Amish or of my Honduran village friends, whose life, in fact, is “real simple.”

One of my correspondents has just e-mailed me an article entitled “Honduras Down the Memory Hole,” by Alyssa Figueroa, appearing in the August 2010 issue of Extra!, a publication I’ve never seen before, nor could I find it on Google. I tried copying it without success, so I’ll just tell you about it instead. It says that the abuses committed and the waffling on the Zelaya ouster by the United States and the media have been largely forgotten now and Porfirio Lobo’s November election has been accepted as a fait accompli. It’s true that when I was there last February, I found most Hondurans ready to move on and put the matter behind them. There were a few vociferous folks among Zelaya supporters who felt they had been mistreated and not adequately acknowledged or compensated. However, they were a small minority, as far as I could tell, which does not mean that their complaints did not have merit. They probably still have genuine grievances that have not been adequately addressed, which they should be, even though Zelaya himself will not be coming back.

A colleague and I have put together this showing, as the film maker will be in DC then, so please come if you are in the area. Probably the photo on the flyer will not come out here. I will speak at this event, also pass out an Amnesty International Urgent Action on behalf of one of the Damas.

“Damas de Blanco”

The Story of the women in White in Cuba

Join us for a Film Screening and candid Discussion

with Gry Winther, director, and Amnesty International

Monday, August 30th, 2010
Lindner Commons Hall, George Washington University, Washington, DC
5:30 pm – 7:15 p.m.

This award winning documentary highlights the founding movement of the women in white and their work to release political prisoners in Cuba, nominated for 2 “Golden Butterflies” awards at “Movies that Matter,” Haag 2010, and 2nd place winner for best documentary at “The Southern California Journalist Award” in Los Angeles in June 2010.
My IT challenges become most glaring when I try to post something on this blog, so I beg your indulgence if things just above look a bit peculiar. Would like to add that we at Amnesty International (AI) also have issued an urgent action appeal for one of the Women in White, Reina Luisa Tamayo, whose son was an AI prisoner of conscience and died in a hunger strike last Feb. She has been followed to her home and harassed by Cuban authorities, so appeals are going out to Raul Castro to leave her alone.

Glad to hear about some Sudanese student activists challenging the Bashir government and hope they aren’t in too much danger.

I have no way to judge the ethics charges against LA Congresswoman Maxine Waters, but do recall years ago being asked to give a briefing on behalf of Amnesty International to Congressional Black Caucus members preparing for a trip to Cuba and a meeting with Fidel Castro. Most seemed receptive to my message about Cuban prisoners of conscience, especially about the Afro-Cuban prisoners I identified and my request to please ask Castro for their release, as he often responded to personal appeals from those he considered his supporters abroad. But Waters, when an AI staff member and I met with her, said she wanted to hear nothing whatsoever about prisoners or human rights in Cuba, only about the deleterious effects of the US embargo. At the time, AI had no position on the embargo, but Waters would be pleased to know that now we at AI-USA are supporting the complete removal of what remains of the embargo and the ban on travel by American citizens.

TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status, the immigration status renewed every year allowing immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 to work legally in this country, though not to accumulate credit toward citizenship nor to return to visit their native country, except for emergencies with special permission. Haitians were also given 18 months of TPS after the recent earthquake. Now, after Central Americans with TPS have been in the US for 12 years, the Obama administration is considering allowing them to apply for residence, which would put them on a path to citizenship, provided they fulfilled all other requirements after 5 years. Only about 300,000 people have TPS, so it is not going to take care of the 11 or 12 million undocumented, but it’s a start. TPS people, after all, are not illegal. But citizenship is not easy to acquire. It requires payment of hefty fees, endless paperwork, and passing a test in spoken and written English regarding the structure, function, and founding documents of the US government, which most Americans long out of school could not pass either without studying. There is also the question of the capacity of the Immigration Service to cope with a flood of such applications, as there is already a huge backlog and the process is agonizingly slow.

I would hope (not crossing my fingers) that the immigration process could be streamlined in any reform effort and also that more people would be allowed to come legally from countries of origin. Let’s open up and simplify the process while retaining safeguards. If folks had hope they might be able to do that without waiting 10 or 15 years, they might not attempt illegal entry. Canada doesn’t put up so many barriers, though they probably have fewer immigration applications. A story was aired on NPR about a young man brought from Mexico at age 1, who grew up a small Illinois town without learning Spanish or even knowing he was undocumented. During his teen years, he was caught using marijuana (legal under certain circumstances in other states). He paid his fines, did community service, and, in most jurisdictions, juvenile records are sealed. But apparently not in immigration cases or at least not in Illinois, because he was a 20-year-old college student when he was suddenly arrested and taken into immigration detention, eventually being left off at the border and told to “go home” to Mexico. His parents and sister back in Illinois are US citizens.

As for the millions of undocumented already here, the establishment of long-standing “facts on the ground” does count for something. That’s Israel’s argument to support its border expansion after the 1967 war. Squatters’ rights, after a certain period, are often recognized. Common-law marriage confers certain rights and duties. So allowing legal status for undocumented persons who haven’t committed crimes and have been allowed to stay and have contributed to this country for years would not be unprecedented. Although the recession is a major factor contributing to opposition to legalization, it also seems driven by WASP Americans’ fear of losing their majority. The Latino birthrate is changing the complexion of this country and American-born Latinos will eventually become voters, perhaps explaining the push to repeal birthright citizenship under the 14th amendment. Contrary to popular belief, so-called “anchor babies” cannot petition for immigration status for their parents until they reach age 21 and are no longer babies; even then, it would take some years to have their parents actually approved, if ever. John McCain, fighting for his senate seat, was once an immigration reformer, but now even he seems in favor of repealing birthright citizenship. Ironically, he was cut considerable slack himself by being allowed to run for president, despite his birth in Panama. (He is also the adoptive father of a daughter born in India.)

Just learned that an honorarium that I’d asked to be sent to ACT, a small educational non-profit where I’m a board member, had never arrived. The honorarium was for a keynote that I gave at the end of Feb. to a national annual meeting of Kiwanis. Investigating, I discovered that the guy in charge, so hale and hearty when we last met, had died of pancreatic cancer a few weeks later. I’m well aware from personal experience that we never know when the Grim Reaper will strike. I’ve known a few others who have died of pancreatic cancer in short order too, but what’s amazing is how long Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has survived it.

A reader comments on the last posting about Fidel Castro: Does Fidel think he's immortal? That is, has he totally lost it? Or does he still see himself as the super-patriot who's succeeded in running the country into the ground and casting the blame elsewhere, although he remains sincere in his certainty that it would be best for the people if his policies were firmly in place? …Or is it a case of unresolved sibling rivalry? Megalomania undiminished by age and physical frailty? Maybe the answer is "All of the above."

A Wall St. Journal article entitled “China’s Uighur Oppression Continues” by Rebiya Kadeer dated August 6, 2010, exhorts the international community to press China to stop human rights abuses against her people. I’ve met Kadeer, a small but fiery advocate who spent years behind bars herself and has children still incarcerated in western China. She is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. She does not know English, so must have had help in writing the article; however, I’m sure it expresses her own sentiments. As sympathetic as I feel toward her message, I fear that the US government and the international community are not listening now—too many other issues are competing for attention. Also, the United States is in hock financially to China and cannot afford to become too confrontational on human rights issues. Meanwhile, as with the Tibetans, China’s orchestrated campaign to overwhelm the Uighurs, continues.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Amb. Palmer Irks Chavez, Hond. Family Buys Home, Canada Radio Interview Fizzles, Mormon Mission in El Triunfo, Gift of OT Items, Fidel Speaks Publicly

Larry Palmer was one of two ambassadors to Honduras during my Peace Corps tenure. He’s mentioned in my book, which also includes a photo of us together. Now Palmer, Ambassador-Designate to Venezuela, has infuriated Chavez by telling members of the Senate considering his nomination about low military morale in Venezuela and meddling by Cuba. I don’t know where the matter stands right now or whether Venezuela has veto power.

One of my correspondents observes about the previous blog entry: As for Ramadan, I couldn't get through a day without fairly regular hydration, and I don't know how those desert people manage it. As you said, one probably could get into a rhythm of no solid food before sunset, but the cost in terms of disruption of one's daily routine would be too high. In the cultures where the fast originated, people lived in big family groups. There was no need to consider the requirements of self-supporting singleton septuagenarians like us.

I wish all blog readers out there would respond occasionally, either on the blog or via e-mail (my address is shown), to let me know that you are alive. Only a few faithful readers have been responding and, while I’m glad to be in touch with them, I don’t know whether my wider public is still out there. Please contact me or post your own observations on the blog. Let’s get a discussion going!

Good news from the Flores family, whose father/husband Gilberto Flores, an environmental activist in Honduras whose life had been threatened, whom I helped to obtain political asylum, then to bring his wife and his seven youngest children to this country (two others being over 21, were not eligible). Last April, motivated by the first-time home buyer’s credit, they’d made an offer on a four-bedroom house, sorely needed, as they were nine people scrunched into a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath apartment always kept neat and tidy. But due to some apparent real estate hanky-panky, they weren’t able to settle the matter until just now, despite having already moved into the house months ago. They did not get the credit after all, though I’d urged them to seek legal advice from a Hispanic community organization on that. In any case, they are now proud legal owners of their house and have invited me to visit. It’s nothing like the considerable track of land left behind in Olancho, Honduras, but the best they can do here.

I began wondering if the radio interview request from that Canadian station could have been a trick or scam, just to get personal information from me, including my unlisted home number? If anyone knows about Rob McConnell and the X Zone Radio Show out of Hamilton, Ontario, let me know. Rather abruptly, I got an e-mail less than 2 minutes after the appointed hour saying they’d called 3 times and someone had hung up, so they were cancelling the recording session. Not so, because I was the only person home, the phone never rang, and I never hung up. I called them right back, but no response, much less an apology. Could a raging thunderstorm have interfered and been interpreted as someone hanging up? Friends tell me that phone connections from Canada come in by satellite, so the storm could have disrupted the line. It’s very curious and I really don’t know if it was an accident, like the storm or them possibly calling the wrong number, or a deliberate snub because they’d changed their mind about the interview. I was particularly upset because I’d given them, at their request, an advance list of questions and prepared mental answers (it was to be an hour-long show) and also had given up another interesting engagement to be at home for the call. But mentioning it on this blog does help me to vent. Also, one small advantage of having endured really big losses, like the loss of my son Andrew and foster son Alex, is that lesser losses, while annoying and disappointing, don’t register very high on the distress meter. Still, if anyone reading this could recommend me as a radio guest on another station, please give me the contact information, as I’m ready, willing, and able. (The X Zone will be sorry to have flubbed their chance when I become famous, haha.)

At the Eastern Market last Sat., for the first time in quite a while, I sat out trying to sell my book on a rather pleasant day. Beastly hot weather had been keeping me inside. When the temperature gets above 90F and humidity approaches 90%, not only do I feel disinclined to talk about Peace Corps or anything at all, but stopping to talk with me and look at my book is the last thing anyone else wants to do either. They all hurried past my table. But on last Sat., my friend Bob, who sells a nifty Swiss peeler, brought a folding table and umbrella for me and I set up in front of the Tortilla Café, where Jose, the Salvadoran owner allows me to sit. I have to be careful not to encroach on the outdoor sidewalk of the next-door establishment whose proprietor is quite proprietary. I only sold 3 books this time, but had fun doing it. I’m getting the hang of chatting up strangers. I advised a young woman half way through college that if she wants to join Peace Corps, she should study French or Spanish before she graduates. Several folks took my brochures and some said they’d check back another day, but I won’t be back again until late in the month, because Bob and his wife are going to the Missouri State Fair to sell their peeler there for 2 weeks. They’ve put four kids through college with that peeler, much more profitable than selling books, though books and Peace Corps make for more interesting conversation with would-be customers.

While out there on Sat., surprisingly, a young man stopped by who had actually lived in El Triunfo for 2 years as a Mormon missionary! He didn’t seem terribly fond of the place, which is not too surprising. So, he was one of those serious-looking young men who used to walk around in pairs wearing immaculate white shirts and ties. I told him their temple in El Triunfo was quite impressive, but there were never any people around. At most, he agreed, 100 local people were associated with the temple. Now he’s an intern with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

A big bonus came out of my last time at the market in July, when I never sold a single book. A woman stopping by was an occupational therapist who had served in Peace Corps in one of the former Eastern Bloc countries, I don’t recall which, maybe Moldova or Armenia? She was moving away and leaving her job, so she kindly delivered right to my house three huge plastic bags full of used arm and leg splints for kids! I was immensely thrilled, but now face the task of getting all that stuff to Honduras. Of course, I gave her a copy of the book for her trouble.

People-watching is my main occupation while I’m sitting out at Eastern Market: so many out walking dogs of different sizes, shapes, and colors; so many hugely pregnant women; so many couples pushing baby strollers, often with twins. Twins are apparently on the rise because of fertility treatments. One couple brought along their fuzzy black and brown pet rabbit while they lunched at an outdoor table. Exotic folks pop up among the scrubbed, Middle America types: a homeless man clad in multiple layers consuming food and drink discarded in the trash (reminding me of Honduras), a Santa Claus look-alike with white hair and a long white beard, a buff preening under-shirted man striving to be noticed, a wig-wearing African American woman shading her face with a toy parasol—the human circus is endless.

The latest from Associated Press is that Fidel Castro gave a speech, mercifully short, in public for the first time in a very long time. Raul was sitting apart and reportedly did not look at or speak to his brother. Fidel, sticking to the foreign policy themes from which he has apparently agreed not to stray, warned against the possibility of nuclear war and asked Obama not to bomb Iran. (Fidel has also accused the US of torpedoing the South Korean sub.)Is Fidel actually recovering and ready to re-enter the realm governance? If so, bad news for Cuba.

Here’s what my anonymous (to protect his family still on the island) Cuban friend, with ties high in the Cuban bureaucracy, has to say:

Fidel is unhappy with the pragmatic steps Raul has taken to begin to solve Cuba's problems and he wants to undercut him. He is saying the real boss is back, making it impossible for Raul to cut a deal with Obama and get the five Cuban spies back in exchange for Alan Gross and two Cuban Americans that were caught back in 2001 invading Cuba with arms. He knows that Obama could possibly cut a deal with Raul but never with him because the political price would be too high especially before midterm elections.

So instead of keeping a low profile and keeping mum, he chooses this worst of all possible times to make a move for the limelight to undercut his brother and take away the prestige he needs to negotiate successfully with the US and European Union. He and Raul are locked in a fight for ultimate power.

The conflict between them is going to erupt publicly before very long since Fidel wants a return to power to continue his previous policies while his brother wants Fidel to definitely retire, to silence and eliminate his public appearances in order to be able to carry out his reform policies without facing an internal opposition led by his own big brother.

If Fidel makes his move, it will be soon because he wants to stop Raul from reaching a deal for a prisoner swap with Obama and to avoid the approval of a law that would allow American tourism in Cuba. Fidel knows that if this were to occur he could never unseat his brother and regain power.

He also knows that people would begin to compare his results with Raul's and would say that Fidel in his fifty years running the country wrecked everything and that Raul in a much shorter time began to solve the mess that Fidel had created. This would wreck Fidel's historical legacy before he even died.

Before his illness, Fidel would have been the clear winner, but now it is not so sure. He has lost popularity because it is evident to all that the country is in a mess because of his leadership and that the policies he favors are more of the same and do not offer a way out. Raul, on the other hand, is more efficient, has proposed some reforms, and brings a breath of hope. Also his lack of results is blamed on his elder brother's continued opposition. He therefore has gained the backing of part of the population, intelligentsia, and younger and upwardly moving cadre, especially in the military and the Ministry of Interior. I believe the conflict between the Castro brothers will become public and one of them will have to retire from public life.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kenya’s Nancy Departs, Barbara’s Beacon Article, Ramadan

Yesterday, on August 4, Nancy, our temporary housemate from Kenya, left our home, creating quite a void. We appreciated her quick wit and sociability. Last week, I went to the graduation at GAO, where Nancy has been a fellow and where she gave the departing ceremony’s keynote address. As she said, and as those of us who have spent fair chunks of time abroad know, it’s hard to leave a place where we have made attachments, even while we still miss our home country and are anxious to return. I warned Nancy about reverse culture shock, even though she has only been in this country four months. Like other GAO fellows before her, she went home overloaded with luggage. After someone makes a trip to the US, all members of the extended family expect gifts. While she was in flight, Kenyans were going to the polls in a referendum on a new constitution that may help heal the political rift of two years ago.

My article about the Peace Corps, especially for older folks, came out in the August issue of the Beacon (p.30), a local monthly newspaper aimed at people over 50. Was also scheduled to record a radio appearance on the Canadian program the X Zone tonight, but there was a storm and their call to me did not go through, probably because of the storm, so the interview was cancelled. I was sitting by the phone waiting, meanwhile, they sent an e-mail saying I did not respond! Their loss as well as my own.

One blog reader comments on my last posting: Obviously Fidel has too many partisans to make it plausible for Raul to just march into his room, smother him with a pillow, and say "Adios, hermano." So what I'm wondering about is, suppose Raul goes first. Then, who?

Obviously, since Fidel has been hanging onto life against all odds, the possibility that he would survive his brother has certainly occurred to partisans of both Fidel and Raul, who must be jockeying for position themselves. But, in Cuba, that’s a dangerous and tricky business and, to my knowledge, no front-runners have emerged. If they did, they might be quickly slapped down and permanently demoted to a job cutting grass with a machete in public places.

The arrival of Ramadan puts me in mind of Muslims in the GAO program who have spent time in my house. Once, I tried observing Ramadan myself with a visitor from Yemen, going two days without eating or drinking during daylight, ending the fast with a date and glass of water. That ceremony and the feasting afterward was nice, but I found it hard to concentrate during the day, so, I abandoned the effort. However, I believe that if I had kept it up, then my internal clock would have gotten used to that eating schedule and it wouldn’t have been so difficult, but I didn’t have the patience to continue, to the disappointment of my Yemeni visitor, who also gave me a copy of the Koran in Arabic and English.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hawaii Photo Posted*, Cuba Prisoner Release, Raul & Fidel at Odds?, Mexican Cartels in Honduras, Cuban Cardinal in DC

Wasn’t able to do it on the same day as my trip narrative, but finally succeeded in posting the photo from Hawaii, showing how much my son Jon looks like his cousin, visiting there at the same time I was. Check it out! (* See previous “older post.”)

Spent last weekend in a two-day meeting of volunteer country specialists for Amnesty International-USA, since I am Caribbean regional action network coordinator. In AI-USA, since we do not work directly on cases of Cuban political prisoners and other civil liberties matters because we might be linked to the US government, we are now focusing on bills in Congress to reduce or eliminate the embargo against Cuba, which, I believe, has become a Cuban government scapegoat for everything going wrong now in Cuba. Of course, even if the embargo is removed or relaxed, the Cuban people may not be informed of such a development, since the regime strictly controls all media and ordinary people cannot access the Internet. For example, they do not know about the ongoing prisoner release. So far, ten prisoners have refused release if they will be forced into exile.

Meanwhile, Alan Gross, a 60-year-old American arrested for delivering electronic equipment to Jewish groups on the island, has been in prison for more than six months and is reported to have lost 80 lbs. It appears that the Cuban government is holding him to make a deal with five Cubans being held by the US government for spying.

The following is from a Cuban friend living in this country, who just returned from a visit to his homeland recently. There, he spoke privately with friends still in high government positions, leading him these observations, which may explain why neither Fidel nor Raul spoke at the July anniversary of the Moncada uprising, usually the biggest event on the Cuban calendar: Raul Castro is restricted in his capacity to adopt new policies and to put his cadres in key positions to implement them because of resistance to his policies by his elder brother’s supporters. This abnormal situation persists because Fidel Castro is a megalomaniac, and while agreeing that his brother should succeed him at his death or when he becomes mentally incapacitated, he insists, as long as this does not occur, on continuing to make the final decisions about all the principal matters that affect Cuba.

In order to ensure his capacity to do this, Fidel retains about him, as a counterweight to his brother’s followers, representatives that he continues to use as a parallel administration to run the country and keep him informed of everything that is going on so that he can countermand it if he disagrees.

Of course, this is no way to run a railroad, much less a country. But this is the way that his brother has agreed to try to run the country as long as Fidel is alive and Raul knows that he must keep that agreement in order to be allowed to run the country as he sees fit once his brother is gone. The worst difficulty of all facing Raul Castro when his brother finally dies and he finally inherits total power will be that he cannot be expected to live for very long since he is already nearly eighty years old and is said not to enjoy good health. This will give him very little time to carry out all the intended reforms that he wants to carry out to ensure the survival of the present Cuban totalitarian regime. So every additional day that Fidel Castro lives means his brother will have one less day without interference to try to fix the mess he will inherit.

Mexican drug cartels bring violence with them in move to Central America, William Booth, Wash. Post, July 27, 2010

In Honduras, where a military coup last year toppled the president, Mexican cartels have established command-and-control centers to orchestrate cocaine shipments by sea and air along the still-wild Caribbean coast, often with the help of local authorities, according to DEA and U.N. officials. Ten anti-narcotics officers were caught smuggling 142 kilos of cocaine last July. In December, Honduras's drug czar, Gen. Julián Arístides González, was killed after trying to shut down clandestine landing strips allegedly operated by Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.

[Excerpt regarding Normando Hernandez, whose Miami-based mother I know—not sure why he has to stay in Spain]

In exile, different type of survival begins

Normando Hernández was reunited with his mother, Blanca Rosa González, who flew in from Miami. But that joy will be short-lived. González must return to the United States -- and Hernández and his wife, Yarai Reyes, and 8-year-old daughter Daniela have to stay in Spain. The family remains at the hostel in an industrial sector of Madrid.

Daniela, who wrote moving poetry in Cuba about her jailed father, is showing signs of stress and sadness. "She has been through so much emotional trauma that we've had to have her see a psychologist," Hernández said. "First with her father in prison, then leaving Cuba at a moment's notice, and now all of this and the uncertainty"…

Hernández, 40, also has serious health problems. He is pencil-thin and gravely ill from malnutrition. His nose and Adam's apple are visibly deformed. He can eat only baby food, and even that gives him horrible cramps, yet so far he's only had one perfunctory medical examination.

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Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega will travel to Washington to receive an award -- and possibly talk with U.S. officials

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega is making a second visit to Washington, this time to accept an award and give a speech at the annual conference of the Knights of Columbus. But Ortega, who engaged in unprecedented talks with Cuban leader Raúl Castro, also is trying to meet with U.S. government officials and trade and business groups based in the capital, Cuba analysts said. During Ortega's previous visit to Washington, he informed U.S. officials about the status of the talks that led to a promise to free 52 political prisoners.

A Knights of Columbus statement said the Catholic organization would award Ortega its highest award, the Gaudium et Spes Award, during a dinner Tuesday. The Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus runs from Tuesday to Thursday.
Cuba analysts, who asked for anonymity because they received the information in confidence, said they were told Ortega would be in Washington Monday through Wednesday and has been trying to arrange meetings with officials at the State Department and the White House's National Security Council. He also has been trying to arrange meetings with major trade and business groups based in the Washington area, the analysts added. ``He's definitely trying to make the rounds, trying to make the best of his time here,'' one analyst said.

Ortega last visited Washington June 22, just days before he announced that the Castro government had agreed to free political prisoners jailed since a 2003 crackdown on dissent.

Officials in Washington last month confirmed to El Nuevo Herald that Ortega had met with Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee. Berman, who like Valenzuela has not confirmed the meeting, has endorsed a bill before Congress that would lift the ban on U.S. tourism travel to Cuba and ease restrictions on U.S. food sales to the island.

The Ortega-Castro talks, with support from the Spanish government, began in March after government-organized mobs harassed the Ladies in White during their Sunday marches to demand the release of male relatives jailed since the 2003 crackdown.
On July 7, Ortega announced that Castro had agreed to free 52 political prisoners over the next three to four months. Twenty have already been freed and left Cuba for Spain, along with more than 100 relatives. Cuba has not released any of the 10 or so political prisoners who have vowed to remain in Cuba and continue opposition activities.

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