Monday, November 15, 2010

Honduran Refugee Success Story, Employer Anger During Appeal, Aung San Suu Kyi, Pittsburgh Meeting, Bush at The Villages, Recommended Reading, Cuba

Last weekend, visited the house in suburban Alexandria, Va., purchased recently by my Honduran friend Gilberto “Betio” Flores. Some readers will recall that he was an environmental activist whose life had been threatened in his rural province of Olancho. I helped him obtain political asylum in the US and bring his wife and seven minor children here. (Two daughters over age 21 were ineligible to come and remain in Honduras.) Somehow, this large, tight-knit family managed to purchase a four-bedroom house with two bathrooms and a fireplace located in a quiet neighborhood on a large lot with many trees. The elementary school, which several of the children attend, is within walking distance. The children are now bilingual and doing well in school.

Their new home is certainly a cut above the tiny two-bedroom, one-bath apartment this family of nine occupied before. Both Betio (who is now 50) and his oldest son have learned to work in construction, although the family had been subsistence farmers in Honduras. The hours are long and the work is hard, but they are grateful to have it, enjoying the advantage of being legal residents and also union members. The oldest son and daughter have both learned to drive and have licenses and second-hand cars. Betio says he has not had time to learn, what working six days a week. I’m so happy and proud of this family’s success in making a new life, despite obstacles. They still miss Honduras, but it would be too dangerous for Betio to return, as several colleagues in his environmental movement have been murdered.

Last time, I mentioned a rare interpretation client appealing a denial of unemployment benefits whose daughters were angry about my services because it was evident that their mother was probably not going to have that denial reversed. This week, an employer appealing the unemployment benefits granted to his separated employee (for whom I was interpreting), became angry during the hearing because it was fairly evident that he was going to lose and that the former employee was going to continue to receive benefits. (Of course, it can never be said with certainty what an administrative hearing judge will decide, as they always send their decision later in writing to avoid clashes in the hearing room.) The employer stood up, looking red in the face, admitting that he was getting pretty hot under the collar, and saying that the former employee did not need an interpreter. My client, who had a fairly rare skill, had announced his plan to retire at the end of the year. His employer then began looking for a replacement because it was hard to find someone with that skill and, when he found one in September, he terminated my interpretation client. The client would have done well not to announce his retirement so far in advance.

After working for years with my local Amnesty International group to free Win Htein, an associate of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year, now, I salute the freeing of the lady herself, done strategically only after her country’s elections. She seems to be trying to strike a conciliatory note now with Myanmar’s junta.

Speaking of Amnesty, will be attending a regional meeting of that organization in Pittsburgh next weekend, reporting back after my return.

The following item caught my eye because the first half of a radio show where I was interviewed (podcast at, Oct. 9, 2010) had to do with The Villages, a senior community near Orlando with a Disney-theme-type layout. Former President GW Bush has also been quoted as saying that people didn’t believe he could read, much less write, a book (no doubt with a lot of help). You have to feel kind of sorry for an intellectually challenged guy like GWB, who was way out of his depth in the presidency. Maybe so many people voted for him because he was on their same level. Obama, in contrast, is much smarter than most Americans, which some of them may resent.

Bush on post-presidency: 'I miss being pampered'
AP, Sat Nov 13, 2010

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Former President George W. Bush says he doesn't miss much about the White House, just the pampering. Bush told more than 3,000 people at a sprawling central Florida retirement community on Saturday that he misses the convenience of Air Force One and never waiting in traffic jams. The 43rd president said, most of all, he misses being commander in chief of the U.S. military. In his 30-minute speech, he talked about what it was like to return the salute of men and women.
The Villages retirement community is heavily Republican. Many in the crowd waved American flags and wore hats noting their military service. Bush is on a national tour promoting his new memoir, "Decision Points."
In this posting, I’m straying far from Honduras and Peace Corps to recommend reading the following four items in full, shown in brief below. Following those are two recent articles on developments in Cuba.

Government breaks promise by keeping three "Black Spring" journalists in prisonInternational Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) - 8 November 2010, _exile/

Excerpt from NY Times, Editorial, November 12, 2010
Politics Over Peace

What Mr. Netanyahu does not seem to realize is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is not a favor to President Obama. It is vital to Israel’s long-term security. If he squanders this moment, the only ones who can celebrate are the extremists.

Joseph Wilson, in an item in the Huffington Post (Nov. 9, 2010) entitled “George Bush’s Deception Points,”, takes apart Bush’s rationales both for his mention of “yellow cake” in his State of the Union address as a reason for going to war against Iraq and his commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence.

The Economist
Reform in Cuba
Trying to make the sums add up

Raúl Castro unveils his plan for an economy of powerful, more efficient state companies and the legalisation of small businesses
Nov 11th 2010 | Havana

Here are the two full Cuba articles.

Castro Tells Cuban Labor Union to Accept Layoffs for Revolution's Survival

By Blake Schmidt - Nov 1, 2010,

Cuban President Raul Castro told unionists to accept layoffs and reforms that open the way for private enterprise as necessary for the survival of socialism.
“To defend and explain these measures, the working class must learn and be convinced of their importance for the survival of the revolution,” Castro said in an address to the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, the only union recognized by the Communist Party. “Otherwise we will fall off the cliff.”

Castro’s speech was published in the party newspaper Granma as Cuba prepares to dismiss 500,000 state workers by March, affecting 10 percent of the workforce. The dismissed workers are being encouraged to go into business for themselves, and Granma said the central bank may offer micro-credits to new entrepreneurs as the island faces its worst economic slump since the former Soviet Union ended support in the 1990s. Economy Minister Marino Murillo said workers aren’t productive enough to merit their salaries and Cubans are consuming faster than they produce, according to Granma. The average worker earns $20 a month in addition to free rationed food staples and health care, and nearly free housing and transportation.

Castro, 79, has initiated measures to open the economy, including loosening of property laws and controls prohibiting private enterprise such as taxi and mobile phone companies, since his brother Fidel began handing over power in 2006. The state still controls 90 percent of the economy. In August the government eased controls that prohibited Cubans from selling their own fruit and vegetables. It also extended lease periods to 99 years from 50 years for foreign investors in an effort to build up tourism infrastructure and draw more visitors to the Caribbean island of 11.4 million people.

Cuban authorities cracked down on a march Sunday to pray at the tomb of a dissident whose death became a rallying cry for human rights activists.BY JUAN O. TAMAYO, Nov. 2, 2010

Cuban security agents beat and detained about 40 dissidents after the mother of the late political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and her supporters prayed at his tomb, activists reported Monday. The mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, said she was repeatedly hit on the head, thrown to the ground and gagged with a smelly rag that left her breathless as she shouted anti-government slogans. Security officers also kicked several handcuffed young men during the incident Sunday, added Marlon Martorell, a dissident who took part in the protest.

Tamayo and most of the 40 others detained were released later Sunday or early Monday but some remained unaccounted for Monday afternoon, including one of Tamayo's sons, Martorell reported. The detentions appeared to be one of the harshest crackdowns yet on supporters of Tamayo, whose son's death in February after a lengthy hunger strike became a rallying cry for dissidents in Cuba and abroad.

Tamayo and Martorell said about 40 supporters joined the regular Sunday march from her home in the eastern town of Banes to Mass at a local Catholic church and to the cemetery where her son is buried. The mother said groups of government supporters harassed them on the way from church to the cemetery, and one man "authorized by the state security" threw rocks at the marchers, hitting at least three.

Martorell also reported that a "security agent in civilian clothes" shouted epithets and threw rocks at the marchers. Some of the marchers threw rocks back, he said by phone from Banes, but kept walking toward the cemetery.

Scores of police and state security officers ringed the cemetery by the time the marchers had finished praying at Zapata's tomb, Tamayo and Martorell said. "They attacked when I set foot outside the gates to the cemetery," Tamayo told the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate. "They threw me to the ground and dealt blows and kicks to all the brothers."

Martorell said agents carried out the crackdown "with a lot of violence, with beatings for all."

Tamayo, who is Afro-Cuban, said she was forced into a police vehicle and as she shouted "Down with Fidel!" one officer shouted at her, "Shut up, you lousy black." She was then gagged with a rag smelling of gasoline that nearly asphyxiated her, the mother added.

Police threw the protesters into two waiting buses, Martorell said, and he later heard Tamayo shouting "Down with Fidel" and "Zapata Lives!" while they were held in a Banes lockup.

"Once again, there's proof that they are a bunch of murderers," Tamayo added.

"Let them kill me, but I will die with honor, dignity and valor."

The Miami-based group Cuba Independent and Democratic reported Monday that one of its members in Banes, Daniel Mesa, suffered an injury to his hand during the detentions. The cell phones of Tamayo and those of several other supporters involved in the incident appeared to have been blocked Sunday afternoon and much of Monday.
State Security agents initially blocked Tamayo's marches to the church and cemetery, sometimes with mass detentions like Sunday's. But they had been allowing the protests since mid-August, when Catholic church officials intervened on her behalf. Church officials told Tamayo last month that she and her immediate family had government permission to leave for the United States, but she replied that she would not leave unless she was allowed to take her son's remains.

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