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.

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