Friday, October 29, 2010

My profile in next April’s Woman’s Day? Thomas-Hill, BoomerBabes podcast, Blacksburg, Facebook Breaches, Cuba Layoffs

Had problems accessing my blog recently because my daughter Stephanie had originally set it up, using her e-mail address, which changed recently without my knowledge and somehow automatically affected my access. When I tried to find out the problem from the blog administrators, they wouldn’t answer me, because I wasn’t the designated person.

Was interviewed the other day for an article featuring "late bloomers" by a Woman's Day freelance contributor for an article scheduled for publication on April 1, 2011 (!)--so don't hold your breath. Will keep you posted nearer to the actual time.

Meanwhile, what's all this about Virginia Thomas calling up Anita Hill and asking her to apologize? How about Clarence apologizing to Anita Hill for harassing her and for lying under oath at his confirmation hearing? And now I understand that other women have come forward. I don't know whether Mrs. Thomas called Hill with her husband's knowledge, but she has certainly opened a can of worms that can’t be good for Clarence's reputation. She is also raising a lot of money for the Tea Party, but, of course, the Supreme Ct. ruled that donors don't have to be disclosed. It's very discouraging that nut cases like Virginia and Clarence Thomas have so much influence and that so many voters are also nut cases (a nut case is someone who disagrees with me, of course). I saw a number of bumper stickers in Blacksburg saying merely "Palin"--not McCain-Palin. Is Sarah Palin running for something already? Really, if she should be elected president, I would think seriously about moving back to Honduras.

Speaking of Blacksburg, I had a disappointing turnout for my talks at Va. Tech and the public library and only sold two books, hardly worth the expense of renting a car and driving all that way. Still, it was a beautiful drive during mild fall weather when many leaves had turned and I also got to see old friends. Also, maybe I planted a Peace Corps seed among members of my audience?

When I was in Blacksburg, an old friend opined that the CIA manipulates Peace Corps volunteers and they don’t even know it. Well, if we don’t know it, it’s hard to refute. In my observation, the Peace Corps bends over backwards to avoid any association with intelligence services, to the point that anyone who has ever worked in intelligence is not eligible to join. Occasionally, while I was in service, the PC was accused of having CIA ties, but we used to laugh about it, as it seemed so absurd. Here we were, daily trying to do very basic, hands-on work under challenging physical conditions among unsophisticated rural people in a manner totally unrelated to security or secrets. If I was giving a talk on AIDS prevention, taking kids to a surgical brigade, or helping deliver a baby, I’m not sure how the CIA would figure in that.

I mentioned this issue via e-mail to a friend who is a veteran volunteer and in the PC right now. He responded: The CIA hasn´t anything to gain from volunteers. What could they get that they don´t already have in the way of information? I have found the CIA to be very professional and respectful of Peace Corps... But people will believe what they want to believe. What information would the CIA want that a volunteer has...what?

Finally heard my interview on the podcast for Oct. 9 on the Baltimore NPR program 2BoomerBabes ( It’s an hour-long program and the first half was with a guy who investigated and wrote a book about the Villages, an enormous retirement community near Orlando with a Disney World-type design. It was actually pretty interesting, but if you don’t want to hear that, I don’t know how you can skip to my part, the second half hour. My daughter Stephanie says you can fast-forward, but I couldn’t figure that out. I think I did OK, you be the judge. A swirling pattern of colors is the only visual shown.

Glad Facebook is correcting its security breaches, as I had two ads put on my Facebook messages without my knowledge or consent. The first time, I changed my password, but don’t want to have to keep doing that, as my memory for constantly changing passwords is not the best.

Glad also that Haiti seems to have cholera under control, more or less. Having visited Haiti a few times and come to appreciate the people here, I have a lot of sympathy for all the recent travails of Haitians. It seems that one calamity just leads to another. If I knew Creole and wasn’t so committed to Honduras, I would turn my sights there.

In the local Spanish-language press, I note that Bolivian congress, where President Evo Morales’ party holds sway, recently passed a law setting the age of consent for sex at 12, provided that relations are consensual and there is no big difference in ages. Still, that seems rather young and, at the very least, would expose very immature kids to the risk of pregnancy and STDs. In another article, Judy Gross, a resident of MD, pleads for the release of her husband, Alan Gross, asking that he be forgiven for bringing in cell phones and electronic equipment to give to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. He was arrested last December and has been said to have lost 80 lbs. in captivity. She said that Alan loves the Cuban people and only wanted to help and that their daughter has cancer and needs to have her father by her side.

A recent issue of The Economist displays the per capita income in Latin American countries (except the Caribbean) and the rate of growth for 2000-2009. Different indices, from the World Bank to the IMF to the CIA, all give slightly different estimates of per capita income in different countries. Luxemburg seems to come out on top, at over $100,000 per year, and Burundi on the bottom, with less than $200. The US per capita in 2009 was around $47,000. That seems like a lot from my vantage point, but, of course, it’s an average of a few very rich folks and lots of not-so-rich ones. But back to The Economist’s Latin American rankings, Honduras is among the poorest countries with annual GDP below $4,000. Others in that category are Nicaragua and French Guiana. The next tier, $4,000-$7,000, is occupied by Bolivia, El Salvador, Guyana, and Paraguay. Then comes $7,000 to $10,000, with Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru. In the $10,000 to $13,000 rank are Brazil, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. At over $13,000 are Argentina, Chile, Suriname, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay, with Panama at the very top with $15,300 per capita and a growth rate of 5.8% from 2000-2009, the highest in Latin America. That does not surprise me after my visit to Panama last Feb. and seeing its relative prosperity. Yet, the Peace Corps is still working there. Honduras’s growth rate during the same period was not bad, 4.4%, according to The Economist.

In the same issue of The Economist, mainly focused on Latin America, some really horrendous murder statistics are shown. El Salvador is the worst, with almost 60 per 100,000 population in 2006. In my interpretation experience, asylum applicants here often cite gang violence directed at them as reasons why they fled El Salvador. Going down the list, next highest murder rate is in Venezuela, followed by Guatemala, then Honduras, with about 42 per 100,000. Mexico has only 11—or had in 2006; it’s probably gone up. From the chart shown, it looks like the US comes in at about 5 per 100,000, with a slightly lower rate in Argentina and Bolivia. The mother country, Spain, by comparison, looks like it had only about 1 per 100,000. Probably there are stricter gun control laws there.

You’ve already probably already seen the story, so I won’t run it again, just the headline (Oct. 1, 2010) about hunger striker Guillermo Farinas: Cuba dissident Farinas awarded Sakharov Prize by EU. ----------------------------

Czechs grant asylum to Cuban political prisoner
Associated Press, Oct 26, 2010

PRAGUE – Officials say the Czech Republic has become the second European Union country after Spain to grant asylum to a Cuban political prisoner. The Foreign Ministry says Rolando Jimenez Posada arrived in Prague on Tuesday. He's one of dozens political prisoners Cuba's communist government agreed to free on condition they leave the island.

Pavla Holcova of the People In Need human rights organization says Jimenez Posada, a lawyer, was arrested in 2003 and received a 12-year prison term three years later for subversion. Holcova said Posada arrived with his wife, brother, son and niece.
The Czech Republic is one of the strongest critics in the EU of Cuba's human rights record. The ministry says the country is ready to take 10 Cuban political prisoners.

It’s too long to reproduce here, but I refer you to an article about the proposed Cuban economic changes and one million state worker layoff by José Azel, (See also article below)

Cuba's creeping anxietyBy Nick Miroff
October 22, 2010

Jobs are disappearing and Fidel Castro is warning of nuclear war. It's an uneasy time in Cuba.

HAVANA, Cuba — For all its revolutionary slogans and radical politics, this island is actually a rather conservative place, at least in the classic definition of the word. Things tend to change slowly, if at all, as many Cubans have had the same jobs, neighbors, and of course, political leaders, for their entire lives.
Which is why recent developments have shaken this country's people and given rise to a creeping sense of insecurity.

The government has announced it will dismiss 500,000 employees from their state jobs over the next six months in a massive downsizing move that would likely spark street protests anywhere else. Another 500,000 or more workers will be laid off after that, as Raul Castro’s government attempts to shift 20 percent of the labor force off public payrolls, steering them toward more productive activities such as farming and construction.

Elsewhere too the government is trimming its social safety net, warning Cubans that the country’s cradle-to-grave entitlements — from free education to health care to subsidized electricity — can’t be sustained by current levels of economic output. Even the island’s ration book, a keystone of Cuban socialism, is being winnowed away amid rumors it may be eliminated altogether.

If such cutbacks weren’t already worrisome enough, Fidel Castro has re-emerged in recent months to spook Cubans with apocalyptic visions of nuclear war [6], warning that American tensions with Iran have put the world on track to atomic destruction.
The communist government has tried to sooth Cubans’ anxieties with promises such as “no one will be abandoned.” But many have been waiting expectantly for guidelines from the government on new employment opportunities or small business licenses, and the information has yet to materialize. Instead, official newscasts devote hours to reading Castro’s essays on world affairs or excerpts he’s selected from Bob Woodward’s "Obama’s Wars."

“There’s been a lot of talk and rumors, but nothing concrete. We’re still waiting,” said Alberto Ruiz, an employee at a state-owned restaurant who’s heard speculation that the establishment could be converted into a worker-run cooperative. Ruiz said he’s eager to find out more, but like many here, he’s in a state of suspense, aware that the country’s economy is poised for changes but not sure how the crisis might translate into new opportunities.

The government has said it will issue 250,000 new self-employment licenses in the coming months, allowing Cubans to hire themselves out as carpenters, accountants, birthday clowns and other occupations. But critical information about the new licenses — especially regarding taxes — has yet to be published, leaving many would-be entrepreneurs in the lurch.

The growing impatience has even surfaced in the pages of the communist party newspaper, Granma. “There’s a lot of interest in this new process, but we’re missing some important details, as well as phone numbers, addresses and other places where we can go for information, since the people aren’t prepared for these new changes, and they need to know — me included,” read one recent letter to the editor, signed by HM Alvarez.

Some of Cuba’s most skilled workers will likely benefit from the modest liberalization measures. But thousands of other Cubans lack the wherewithal to strike out on their own, even if their state jobs pay meager salaries that only average about $20 a month. Many laid-off workers will be offered alternative employment, but others will be encouraged to make a go of it in Cuba’s incipient private sector.

Losing a $20-a-month job can be more of a financial blow than it might seem. Often the true value of a job is determined by the opportunities it presents for theft and other scams, whether pilfering gasoline, stealing food or selling ill-gotten construction materials on Cuba’s sprawling black market. Eliminating state jobs, then, is also an unspoken government strategy for curbing workplace theft, as well as waste and redundancy. At one emergency medical service center highlighted in Cuba’s state media, 30 employees were assigned to a garage with a single ambulance. Other accounts describe similar workplaces, overflowing with useless custodians, technicians and assistants.

Meanwhile, businesses that earn hard currency, like Cubana, the national airline, or Cubacel, the mobile phone service provider, often seem to lack enough employees to answer the phones promptly or provide customer service. Raul Castro’s government aims to have at least 80 percent of state employees engaged in some productive activity. But that also means that thousands of Cubans face the possibility of long-term unemployment, bringing fears of rising crime.

The government does appear to be preparing for that possibility, too. Some 23,000 Cuban security guards are being laid off, according to Reuters, but many are being offered new jobs in the prison system and as police officers.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Egads! Forgot Work Assignment, Bereavement Panel, Bedbugs, Blacksburg, Cuba, Honduras, Sudan

Must be losing it or am just too overloaded. I forgot to check my calendar. So, for the first time on the 6 years that I've been doing interpreting, I FORGOT to go to an assignment! When I realized it, it was too late to get there! Not only did I forfeit what I (and my agency) would have earned, but it was a black mark on my record. I hope that agency (one of two I work for) won't avoid calling me again. I’ve never missed before, never even been late, despite snow, sleet, and dark of night--or of early morning--and having to go everywhere by public transportation, though if I need to take a taxi because of a missed bus connection, I will.

Last Tuesday, I was part of a panel on bereavement for a course for Howard University nursing students. The students will be confronting dying and death in their work, also in their personal lives. The professor for this course is a member of our support group for parents who have lost children, The Compassionate Friends. Other panel members were another professor of nursing originally from Egypt who had lost her brother and a young Howard University student who had lost her mother recently to breast cancer. Every type of loss and experience of loss is different and cultural factors also affect grieving styles and rituals.

The latest explanation I’ve heard for the recent bedbug infestation round the country is not that the critters have been brought in by folks from Latin America, as was suggested to me, but rather are arriving on linens and clothing manufactured in China and Indonesia, where bedbugs are common. So buyers might be advised to thoroughly wash new items manufactured elsewhere before using them.

Readers of this blog are captives of whatever is of interest to the writer, and that includes bedbugs, Cuba, and Sudan, the latter two countries because I’ve been there as well as to Honduras, though Honduras will always be first in my heart. Regarding the 2011 Sudan referendum (see below), which Bashir is trying to wriggle out of, it was clear to me in 2006 when I was in southern Sudan that support for secession from the north was near 100%. Bereavement, however, is not an interest I would have particularly chosen—it chose me.

At Eastern Market, when I’m out trying to chat up the Peace Corps (and my book), I avoid reaching out to people with small children or pregnant women, those who appearing very attached to their dogs (as they seem less willing to leave them behind than spouses or significant others), extremely overweight folks (PC won’t take them), and those with beards, nose rings, and lots of tattoos. Of course, beards and nose rings can be temporarily forgone for the sake of Peace Corps, which does not allow them, and tattoos can be covered (because of their gang connotations), but most people I’ve talked with these attributes have not been willing to consider giving them up, even temporarily.

Reminder: as mentioned before, I’ll be in Blacksburg, Va., Oct. 22-25 for a couple of talks on my book and Peace Corps, so you won’t hear from me again until after that.

According to Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, Yusimi Campos, Director of Welfare, Cuba’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security, has said: "It will be necessary to rectify the policy of providing those benefits [health and education] equally to all people. We should assess the situation of the family to assume total or partial payment of such services, according to their abilities. "
Another way of getting relatives abroad to send money? I’ve already heard that Cuban-Americans visiting sick relatives in Cuba have gotten better care and obtained scarce medications by paying dollars directly to nurses and doctors. Do the latter pocket the money themselves or is this new policy, already in effect?

Someone shot a bullet into the chair in his study usually occupied by Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, but, fortunately, he was out of the country at the time. Apparently, whoever made the shot didn’t know his travel schedule.
This is hurricane season in Central America. Hurricane Paula caused considerable damage in northern Honduras.

Hurricane Paula forms, heads to Yucatan Peninsula
Associated Press, Oct. 12, 2010

Hurricane Paula smashed homes and forced schools to close in Honduras on Tuesday as it headed toward Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula. Paula formed Monday off the coast of Honduras and quickly intensified into a hurricane early Tuesday, said the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Heavy rains and high winds destroyed 19 homes in northeastern Honduras, said Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' emergency agency. Officials closed schools along the country's Atlantic coast and some airports were reported closed. Around dawn Tuesday, it had winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and was centered about 190 miles (310 kilometers) south-southeast of the resort island of Cozumel in Mexico.

Paula was moving toward the northwest at nearly 10 mph (17 kph), bringing it near the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday night. The forecast track would have the storm a little offshore of Cancun, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres near the tip of the Peninsula late Wednesday night. The Hurricane Center said the storm was likely to gain force, though it was not expected to become a major hurricane.

Paula was expected to dump from 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) of Honduras, northern Belize, eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and parts of western and central Cuba. The government of Mexico issued a hurricane warning for the country's Caribbean coast from Punta Gruesa north to Cabo Catoche, including the island of Cozumel. Warnings are issued when hurricane conditions are almost certain to occur.

Forecasters warned of possible flooding and landslides and suggested residents avoid fishing trips or water sports. Forecasters said the storm would produce heavy rains that could cause flash floods and mudslides, especially in the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras. It said isolated, mountainous areas in Honduras could get as many as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain. Coastal flooding from heavy waves was also expected along the eastern coast of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.
Dead Cuban Hunger Striker's Kin Can EmigrateThursday, 14 Oct 2010, (Agence France Presse)

Cuba has authorized the family of dissident Orlando Zapata, who died in February after an 85-day hunger strike, to emigrate directly to the United States, Zapata's mother told AFP Thursday.

"They told me that the government had authorized the departure of the whole family and that we are going directly to the United States, but I'm not going until they give me my son's ashes," said Reina Tamayo, the dissident's mother.
In a related development Thursday, opposition leaders said five other dissidents had been granted approval to go the United States.

Tamayo said the government's offer was communicated to her October 11 by Roman Catholic Bishop Emilio Aranguren of the eastern province of Holguin, where she lives. Aranguren was traveling and unavailable for comment, while officials at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana had no immediate comment. Tamayo said she had received no information from the U.S. Interest Section. Tamayo, 62, was in Havana Thursday to meet with officials in the office of Cardinal Jaime Ortega to learn of the details of the offer. Ortega held a high-level meeting with President Raul Castro in May that resulted in the government agreeing to release 52 of the 75 political prisoners it jailed in a widespread 2003 crackdown.

Tamayo's four adult children -- three sons and a daughter -- along with their families were also authorized to travel to the United States. Church officials agree that they should leave "because we are being harassed, we cannot live here," Tamayo said.

The slow process of releasing Cuba's political prisoners is supported by Spain, which has welcomed 38 prisoners of the released prisoners and their families. One ex-prisoner traveled to Chile, and another traveled to the United States.
Orlando Zapata, a 42 year-old laborer who was single and had no children, died on February 23 after an 85 day-long hunger strike. His death unleashed a wave of criticism in the United States and European Union.

Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners and calls dissidents "mercenaries" funded by the United States and a conservative Cuban-American "mafia."

Meanwhile, Elizardo Sanchez, a key leader of the Cuban opposition, said five other dissidents who had been released from prison in recent years from the same group had been granted permission to go to the United States. He said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Jorge Olivera, Carmelo Diaz, Roberto de Miranda and Margarito Broche, who were released from prison for health reasons, were contacted because "apparently there is a tendency by the authorities to permit the emigration of those released." Espinosa and Olivera reportedly rejected the offer, while Diaz, Miranda and Broche accepted.

October 15, 2010, NY Times (Editorial)

Sudan’s Threatened Peace Deal

Time is running out on efforts to avert another civil war in Sudan. A United States-backed deal in 2005 ended two decades of fighting between the Arab Muslim north and the largely Christian south that killed two million people. That deal is now in danger of unraveling if two referendums set for early January do not go forward.
After neglecting the problem for far too long, President Obama and his top aides are pushing both sides to fulfill their commitments to ensure a credible vote and to accept the results. We hope it is not too late.

Voters in the south, which produces most of the country’s oil, are expected to choose to become independent. In the second referendum, voters in the border district of Abyei must decide whether to ally with the north or the south.
Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has dragged his feet on election preparations. Voter registration is months late. Election officials still must be trained and ballots printed and distributed. The two sides must put up their share of the election costs and resolve an impasse over who gets to vote in Abyei. Other critical issues remain unresolved. South Sudan also has to get serious about creating the structures of a new state.

Mr. Obama and his team vowed to end Mr. Bashir’s rampage in Darfur and to do all they could to ensure peace between north and south Sudan. The president quickly appointed a peace envoy and replaced a punishment-heavy strategy with one that leaned more toward incentives. When Mr. Bashir showed little interest, the policy was allowed to drift.

With activists warning of impending disaster, the administration finally beefed up its diplomatic mission in south Sudan and named a veteran diplomat to help mediate talks that ended without a deal this week and are supposed to resume later this month. President Obama headlined a United Nations meeting last month in which all the major players committed to respecting the “outcome of credible” referendums and holding them on Jan. 9. But a senior official with the Sudanese government said on Thursday that the Abyei referendum would either have to be delayed or the issue decided in negotiations rather than a vote. This reneges on the 2005 peace agreement and is unacceptable.

The Sudanese government should be able to make a deal with south Sudan — including on sharing oil revenues — that both sides can live with. What it can’t afford is another civil war or more international opprobrium if it is found stealing or stymieing this vote. Mr. Obama has offered more explicit incentives if Sudan lives up to its commitments — including help with food production, increased trade and eventually an end to all economic sanctions. He and his aides have also threatened more punishments if Sudan does not.

Mr. Bashir has thumbed his nose at an International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes in Darfur. We are not sure what will change his behavior. We are sure that China and the African Union, which have enabled Mr. Bashir for years, need to press a lot harder.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Radio Show, Va. Tech, Interpreting’s Horizons, Cuba Again

OK, just heard from the Boomer Babes, who interviewed me for their radio show, that they’ve scheduled that program for 11 am on Sat. Oct. 9. Unfortunately, the two stations where it will run, WSCL 89.5 FM and WSCL 90.7 FM, reach only Baltimore, but not Washington, DC, where I live.

Believe I already mentioned that I’m appearing on a Peace Corps panel at Virginia Tech’s Squires Hall on Thurs. Oct. 21, 6 pm, and at a book talk at the Blacksburg public library the next day, Friday, Oct. 22, at 11 am. If any reader lives in the area, please join us.

I’ve learned about a few things I never knew before and entered new worlds just by being a Spanish interpreter, such as inside juvenile lock-up, traffic and divorce court, organ transplantation, MRI scans, and even training for supermarket openings, among others. I also travel the length and breadth of the metropolitan area, from inner city to outer suburbs by public transportation. For example, last week, I first learned about chains of private schools dedicated exclusively to difficult or special-needs kids from surrounding public jurisdictions, schools located far from population centers. Buses pick up the students from their homes, wherever located. Some kids, I was told, are picked up at 5 or 6am and return home 12 hours later.

At parental interpretation assignments I had last week at three different outlying schools of this type, in no case did the parent show up for a school consultation, either cancelling at the last minute or, in one case, participating from her home via speaker phone. I can see why, because to reach that latter school, I had to travel to end of the metro’s blue line in Springfield, Va., take a winding bus ride, and walk the last 5 blocks in torrential rain. Could I have done it by phone myself?

Traveling to another such school from a different outlying metro station (Morgan Blvd. near Lanham, Md.), I noticed a day care center located only yards away from the metro entrance. So you park your car in the lot, drop your kid off at the day care center, then take the metro into your job in the city. Very efficient.

It does seem that the “developing world” is actually developing now, forging ahead economically, while the US and Europe are just creeping. I’m thinking Brazil, China, India, and several sub-Saharan African countries.

See Cuba items below.
Cuban hunger striker who sewed lips shut hospitalized
The Cuban dissident who sewed his mouth shut to prove he was on a hunger strike fainted amid spasms, according to a report.

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO, Miami Herald, September 23, 2010
Read more:

A Cuban dissident who sewed his lips shut after doctors made fun of his hunger strike was taken to a hospital Wednesday suffering from convulsions and blackouts, an independent journalist reported. Vladimir Alejo Miranda, 47, stopped eating 62 days ago, sewed his mouth Sept. 5 and stopped drinking water Tuesday, journalist Heriberto Liranza Romero told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.
Alejo's wife, Rita Montes de Oca, joined his hunger strike and also sewed her lips Sept. 12 with regular sewing thread and a needle, the journalist said. Alejo was taken to a hospital in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa on Wednesday after he blacked out and went into convulsions, Liranza added. No independent confirmation was immediately available.

He was receiving intravenous fluids and could be sent home or transferred to a larger hospital depending on his condition, Liranza said. Alejo and his wife also suffer from infections around the lips.

About 15 Cubans sewed their lips together in recent memory to protest against the communist government, said Ricardo Bofill, a founder of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights now living in Miami.``It's a kind of extreme sacrifice, very rare although it has been done on a few occasions,'' Bofill said.

Próspero Gaínza Agüero, arrested in the 2003 crackdown on 75 dissidents known as Cuba's Black Spring and sentenced to 25 years, sewed his lips for several days in 2004 to protest prison conditions. Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, arrested in the same roundup and sentenced to 20 years, did the same in 2008 to demand his transfer to a prison closer to his home in eastern Guantánamo province. Both were freed and sent to Spain in recent weeks as part of a Cuban government promise in July to release 52 political prisoners, the last of the 75 still jailed. About two dozen were freed for health reasons.

Alejo, a former political prisoner, is president of the Human Rights Movement Miguel Valdés Tamayo, named after a dissident who was jailed in the 2003 crackdown, was released in 2004 because of ill health and died in 2007.

Jobless because of his political activism, Alejo went on a hunger strike to demand the right to work, the right to receive assistance from abroad and live ``like a human being, not an animal,'' Liranza said. He's been taken to hospitals several times since he stopped eating, the journalist added, and has received about 30 bags of intravenous liquids but never before suffered convulsions.

Alejo sewed his lips together after doctors made fun of his hunger strike during one of the hospital visits, telling him that a good meal could fix whatever was ailing him, Liranza added. "I call on the international community to raise the alarm for the condition of Vladimir Alejo Miranda and his wife," Liranza told the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate, which supports dissidents on the island.

Wall St. Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady (Sept. 27, 2010), has criticized Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for letting Fidel Castro “use” him and for apparently not asking about Alan Gross, a Jewish American held on trumped up charges since last December.

I asked my Cuban commentator friend what he thought of her column. Here are excerpts of his reply: Of course Fidel Castro is using Jeffrey Goldberg to transmit a favorable public relations message to the Jews not only in the US but throughout the whole world and Jeffrey Goldberg is letting himself be used. But Jeffrey Goldberg in turn is using Fidel Castro because he is a reporter and whatever opinion anyone has about FC, there is one thing that cannot be denied and that is that Fidel Castro whatever he says or whatever he does is news!

This means that any true reporter would be willing to give his right arm to be able just to interview him for a few hours and FC spent several days with him and gave him unfettered access, even invited him to his home to have supper with him and his family. Who could pass up on an opportunity like that?

Maria Anastasia, in my opinion, is being unjust. She could also be a little envious because JG got an interview that she would have liked for herself!

As a public relations activity the interview was a complete success. Having Fidel Castro state to the world that he is no anti-Semite and that he understands and sympathizes with the Jews for all the persecutions that they have suffered and that he believes that the state of Israel has a right to exist struck a particularly sensitive spot on the Jewish people and the State of Israel who are so used to being disliked and marginalized by the world.

The problem is that realpolitik has its own rules that allow politicians to often contradict themselves in an opportunistic manner in accordance with the different problems they face in specific situations they find themselves in. Castro once called Mao a senile doddering old man and vowed that he would never try to hold onto office when he approached old age and today he does all that and manages to eat out of the same dish with the Chinese and the Chinese go along with it. He also backed the Arabs and today he cozies up to the Israelis.

If newspapermen could not criticize politicians, how could they earn their living? If politicians could not reverse their positions and contradict themselves, how could they try to solve their problems?

Another blog reader also commented on that Wall St. Journal column:
Re Mary Anastasia's report on the Goldberg interview with Fidel, the guy is truly amazing -- virtually an invalid, presiding de facto over a country in shambles, and yet he finds an influential useful idiot to bolster his image, and makes sure the effort attracts widespread attention by casually dropping that little remark about the Cuban model no longer working. I mean, I mean, . . . You gotta hand it to him!