Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Greetings, PC Leaves Honduras!, NED Honors Laura Pollán, Dangerous Crossing, “American Muslim,” Interpretation Frustrations

Seasons’ greetings. Hope everyone is spending some down time with family and friends. My interpretation agencies no longer hold office parties, rather, they just send out an electronic greeting instead, which is what I am doing here. Happy New Year, Feliz Ano Nuevo.

Terrible news. Peace Corps is pulling out its volunteers out of Honduras , so I’ve been told by Luis Knight, my former colleague in the Esperanza regional office. I'm brokenhearted about Peace Corps leaving Honduras after almost 50years. Honduras was never a tranquil country, but US drug appetites have deformed it, as happened in Colombia, Mexico, and other parts of Central America and the Caribbean. Now Honduras is considered too insecure for volunteers, but I'm still planning to go back there in Feb. for medical brigades and my other projects there.

A former Honduras PC volunteer sent us this message, which expresses our grief so well: A silent tear shed out of the spot light for a tiny country out of the way of ‘important’ world issues. Shed by the more than 5,000 thousand who have left a piece of their heart in Honduras at some point in the last 50 years. For the school teacher who invited an unknown ‘gringo’ off the street to have a drink of water on a hot day; For the grounds keeper at the zoo who stood and watched the young foreigners try to make gas using an inner tube and animal waste; For the young mother who listened to broken Spanish from a blond health worker telling her how to keep her child from dying from diarrhea. Tears shed by engineers who designed water systems, by foresters who helped develop the national parks, by musicians who taught violin. Honduras has stumbled into an abyss of violence where gangs collect ‘war taxes’ and civil society is a distant dream; Where they have earned the unfortunate distinction of having the highest homicide rate per capita in the world; Where Peace Corps considers it unsafe for volunteers.

Honduras, a tropical paradise being plowed under by shortsighted self interest. The tears of thousands, who have been touched by the heart and soul of the Honduran people, are shed for those who have changed our lives. We are who we are, in part, for our experiences there. Honduras, mi pais adoptado, we shed a tear and say a prayer for you. We hope that Peace Corps will not be long absent from your shores.

NY Times,
December 21, 2011
Peace Corps to Scale Back in Central AmericaBy RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

MEXICO CITY — The increasing drug and organized-crime violence in Central America has led the Peace Corps to pull out of Honduras and stop sending new volunteers to Guatemala and El Salvador, the organization announced Wednesday.
Peace Corps officials said they had taken stock of the worsening conditions and decided to withdraw their 158 volunteers from Honduras in January and scuttle plans to send 29 recruits to complete their training.

“We are going to conduct a full review of the program,” Aaron S. Williams, the director of the Peace Corps, said in a statement.

In Guatemala and El Salvador, officials decided to keep the 335 volunteers already in those countries but not to send the 76 recruits who were to begin training there next month. The trainees will be sent to other countries, the corps said.

Kristina Edmunson, a Peace Corps spokeswoman in Washington, said the moves stemmed from “comprehensive safety and security concerns” rather than any specific threat or incident. However, Peace Corps Journals, an online portal for blogs by Peace Corps volunteers, has an entry referring to a volunteer’s being shot in an armed robbery.

There was no immediate reaction from the governments. All three countries have endured a rash of violence primarily related to drug traffickers using Central America as a staging point to ship cocaine to the United States from South America.

A wave of violence has struck particularly hard in Honduras, whose institutions are still recovering from a coup in 2009. It has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world — the highest by some measures — and this month, Alfredo Landaverde, the country’s former antidrug and security adviser who often denounced corruption, was shot to death.

Ms. Edmunson said that from time to time, the corps withdraws or restricts work in the 75 countries in which it has volunteers.

I never actually met Laura Pollán, leader of the Women in White, Damas de Blanco, as she was not active when I was visiting Cuba. But I feel as though I know her since she and I appeared in the same documentary and I've met other members now in exile. Not previously a leader, she proved to be a relentless and fearless spokesperson for political prisoners after her husband was arrested in 2003 in a Cuban government crackdown known as “Black Spring.” Pollán declared recently, “The government states that there's a lot of freedom in Cuba, that it's a paradise. I'd invite those people who believe that Cuba is free to come and live here; to come and live here like a regular citizen, without bringing dollars; to come to work, and make what a regular worker makes; to come and live in a humble house, buy their food with a ration book, and express themselves here as much as they do in their own countries against their governments and other individuals, so that they see what the outcome is in Cuba.”

Sadly, Pollán died of a reported heart attack on October 14, 2011 while hospitalized with hemorrhagic dengue, soon after her engineer husband's release after spending eight years in prison. Pollán herself had been severely beaten by government-assembled mobs on September 24. Understandably, after her death and another recent hospital death of a dissident beaten by security forces, Cuba opposition figures have vowed to avoid hospitals at all costs. Pollán’s close associates have questioned the official cause of her death because, although she was diabetic, she had it under control. Those in the opposition believe that her condition was either induced or aggravated by the authorities. Her body was reportedly cremated two hours after her death, making it impossible to re-examine the cause. Such immediate cremations have been common after questionable dissident hospital deaths. Friends believe that the Cuban government moved quickly to avoid an international outcry like that following the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata in 2010.

A recent Cuban exile, who once occupied an important position in the government hierarchy, has commented, “My gut feeling tells me it was murder because the Cuban totalitarian state did not know how to respond to her efforts to spread the women’s protests around the country. But if it was murder, it was very well planned and carried out meticulously, leaving no proof behind. Let's face it, the Cuban G2 is a very professional and unscrupulous organization, trained by the NKVD. The NKVD is reported to have developed chemical substances producing heart attacks that are rapidly eliminated from the body to avoid their discovery during autopsy. We will just have to wait until the secret files of the Cuban Interior Ministry or Party Politburo are opened to verify whether she was murdered. Whatever threat this movement held for the Cuban government, it was, in my opinion, successfully eliminated by the skillful assassination of Laura Pollán, which leaves the Damas de Blanco without a charismatic leader and terrified because they are now aware of the Interior Ministry’s utter lack of scruples and the length it is willing to go to suppress opposition activities.”

He continued, “This whole affair should make quite clear the risks that dissenters take in Cuba when they protest in public. That is why I favor anonymous methods to get the message out to the general Cuban population, rather than having these brave people go out and face repression that could even lead to death. It is not only a quantitative matter of a loss of lives. It is that those activists willing to sacrifice themselves are the qualitative acme of the Cuban people, the cream of our crop, so it is a very high a price for our nation to pay. Of course, liberty is priceless, but when these people are gone, who will be left to lead Cuba? Only the bottom of the barrel, the opportunists and yes-men who run no risks and arrive at the last minute to gather the fruit off low hanging branches.”

A dissident named José Angel Luque, hospitalized after being beaten for wearing a T-shirt bearing the word “change,” reportedly said when he was released on Oct. 20 that a state security officer warned him, “We killed Laura and can do the same to you—nothing happens” (Letter to the editor, Wall St. Journal, Oct. 31, 2011). Independent journalist Carlos Ríos Otero’s hint that Laura may have been murdered resulted in his arrest by Cuban authorities (Babalu Blog, October 17, 2011). Journalists and bloggers outside Cuba beIieve Laura was deliberately killed, perhaps by lethal injection, but, of course, in the absence of proof, that remains only speculation.

On December 13, 2011, a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members nominated the Ladies in White for the Nobel Peace prize. On December 13 and 14, I was invited to speak at a series of meetings on Cuban human rights and Laura Pollán’s legacy sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). At the December 14 ceremony, taking place in an overflowing House office building meeting room, speakers from both parties and both houses of Congress praised Pollán’s contributions while her image flashed on an overhead screen and a musical tribute was played. The Damas’ trademark gladioli were passed around amid a few tears. A man who had spent decades as a Cuban political prisoner commented on how Laura’s death had brought both American political parties together. NED then presented its Democracy Service Medal to Laura Pollán posthumously, accepted on her behalf by another Dama, Yolanda Huerga Cedeño (also appearing in the documentary) whose husband was one of the first Black Spring prisoners to be released. Quite obviously in death, Pollán has become a symbol and a martyr. If she was indeed murdered to quiet her message, that effort has backfired.

Remarkably, these proceedings were carried out with the real-time long-distance participation via webcam of a group gathered in Havana, thanks to a hookup provided by the U.S. Interests Section there. Sitting at a table inside the Interests Section with its chief were the new Damas leader, a young Afro-Cuban woman named Berta Soler; Laura’s widower and recently released Amnesty prisoner of conscience, Héctor Maseda; and her daughter, Laurita Labrada. That they all managed to be present was a feat in itself, since state security often intercepts known dissidents en route to the Interests Section.

An article in this week's El Tiempo Latino says that at least 19 people have been hit and 15 killed this year, many by hit-and-run drivers like the one who hit me, crossing Viers Mill Rd. in the suburb of Wheaton, near the area where I was struck. That is a very dangerous pedestrian area because of the 6 lanes of fast traffic. I’m fortunate to have almost completely recovered, but now I am super-cautious about crossing any street, especially a busy one like that.

After Lowe’s pulled its ads from the new “American Muslim” show, remind me never to shop at Lowe’s. Not that I am a TV watcher anyway, not owning a TV set. It’s certainly true that much, perhaps a disproportionate share, of random violence and terrorism can be attributed to those who identify themselves as Muslims, so it is not racial profiling to recognize this. However, I feel that sure way to radicalize American Muslims is to treat them as pariahs and potential terrorists and by boycotting a show about Muslims. The show seems to be trying to serve as an example to Muslims about how to lead a peaceful American life while also being an observant Muslim, an endeavor we should all support. (I’m reminded of how Bill Cosby created a show to serve as an example of family life for African Americans, encouraging them to identify with it.) I doubt that most apparently mainstream American Muslims are secret jihadists or members of sleeper cells, rather, I suspect, they bend over backwards to assert their patriotism. Perhaps when the “American Muslim” is better established, it could dare to air an episode about a couple fearing that their adolescent son is becoming radicalized. Meanwhile, let’s encourage loyalty, not reject a show outright just because the protagonists are Muslim.

Just sounding off here about a recent interpreting assignment. For the first time in 7 years, I got a bad evaluation for a school interpretation. Without advance warning, it turned out to be a simultaneous interpretation for a meeting that a large group of parents had called to air grievances with the principal, who failed to show up, so things quickly became rather contentious. An Amharic interpreter was also present, but his people were fewer and quieter than the Spanish speaking mothers. First off, I was not given a machine, then I was given one with no batteries, and when finally that was fixed, I wasn't quite sure how to use it. I put it on my head with a wand coming down in front of my mouth, but was told that made it too loud, so moved it over to the side. I rarely do simultaneous interpreting for such a large group outfitted with ear pieces and was not familiar with that equipment. Anyway, my agency later said not to worry, as I've always gotten excellent reviews otherwise. Needless-to-say, I don't plan to return to that school ever, though I finally figured out how to use the equipment. When I had been there before, it was for an annual review of a special ed student’s progress with the mother and school staff.

Monday, December 12, 2011

World AIDS Day, Human Rights Day, Sonia Pierre Dies in the DR, Murder in Honduras, Bob Edwards Show, Et. Al

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day, which we used to observe in Honduras with workshops by and for teenagers and a march around town with a big banner.

Human Rights Day was Dec. 10, but our Amnesty Group here in DC celebrated it on Fri. Dec. 9 at a Write-a-Thon held at the National Press Club, co-hosted with Reporters Without Borders. At a Write-a-Thon, participants sign letters and postcards already prepared for them about a number of Amnesty prisoners and actions, which we then mail out for them. One of our speakers was an Ethiopian former prisoner of conscience on whose behalf we had written at our 2009 Write-a-Thon, Birtukan Mideska, and there she was, in the flesh, actually speaking to us. Our letters had helped secure her release, for which she thanked us profoundly. That’s always a thrill. Another was Nada Alawadi, a Bahraini journalist who had been arrested, threatened, and silenced earlier this year and decided it was safest to leave the country while she still could. She said the reason we have not heard much any more about unrest in Bahrain is because of a news blackout, the arrest and torture of journalists (and local doctors treating wounded demonstrators), and the refusal of visa requests from foreign journalists. (See photo from that event.)

On the day before Human Rights Day, dozens of Cuban dissidents were preemptively arrested and members of the Damas de Blanco gathered outside the home of their recently deceased leader, Laura Pollan, were set upon by a government-organized mob calling them “mercenaries” and “ a nest of worms” (gusanera, a favorite insult), and shouting “¡Viva Fidel!” “¡Viva Raúl!”

On Human Rights Day itself, a boat from Florida approached Cuban waters and sent up fireworks into the air, causing the Cuban government to denounce violation of their air space. A number of opposition figures had been cleared out of the waterfront where the fireworks could be seen, reportedly including blogger Gorki Aguilar, author of the irreverent blog, Porno Para Ricardo. Foreign journalists trying to film the scene and unrest had their cameras knocked out of their hands.

Caricom and the Cuba leadership have both reinforced calls for the US to lift its longstanding trade embargo against Cuba. The calls came at the fourth Caricom-Cuba summit held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain where Cuban President Raul Castro was the guest of honor.

A staunch defender of the rights of people of Haitian ancestry living in the DR, Sonia Pierre, died in Santo Domingo of heart attack at age 45, a real loss. Meanwhile, her death has aroused Dominicans of Haitian ancestry to demonstrate for their rights to obtain a birth certificate needed to attend school or get a job.

My plane reservations for Honduras in February have already been made. And, thanks to Rev. Daniel’s help, I’ve been in e-mail communication with Jorge and Neris, my scholarship students. Daniel was back in Honduras from his new pastor’s position in his native Guatemala, picking up his kids to have them stay with him until school starts again in Feb. (His wife divorced him, as blog readers may remember, and she now wants him back after she broke up with her second husband, but Daniel is not buying it.) He said he had no gas to go looking for the kids for me, so I sent him $100 via Moneygram. I do rely on him and he will be back in early Feb. again to bring his kids back from Guatemala and may help me again then while I am in Honduras. Jorge, after I paid the first part his tuition at an IT school last year, told me now via e-mail that he had to drop out because of a serious stomach ailment so lost the whole year, ending up selling cookies and crackers out on the street. He claims to be better now and is wanting to start over. Jorge is the boy who lost two fingers to infection after surgery, as recounted in my book and on this blog. He also had an eye infection when I saw him last, for which I bought him medication. But he sounds now as though he wants persevere, despite health challenges. Neris has not had another baby, thank goodness, and she did finish high school and still wants to study nursing. Both kids are almost 18, if not 18 already.

Murder in Honduras. First an outspoken former anti-drug chief, Alfredo Landaverde, was murdered in the capital. The day before, female journalist, Luz Marina Paz Villalobos, was killed there, as per item below.

Journalist is shot and killed outside of her home in Honduras

Luz Marina Paz, a radio news host, was shot and killed outside of her home in Tegucigalpa, the AP reports. According to national police spokesman Luis Maradiaga, Paz and her driver were hit by dozens of bullets fired by men on two motorcycles.

Paz hosted a morning radio program called "Three in the News." The program addressed politics and narcotics trafficking; however, the article reports that she was not especially outspoken or well-known. Paz previously worked at Radio Globo, where she was critical of the coup that overthrew former President Manuel Zelaya in June of 2009.

Human rights advocates say that at least 23 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2007.

Bob Edwards Show, HD Radio, NPR, Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This year marks the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary and ever since President Kennedy issued the call to serve, young Americans have responded. But so have older Americans. Barbara Joe is 73-years-old and she was a health volunteer in Honduras from 1999 to 2003. Every February, she returns annually to Honduras to volunteer with a medical brigade, help kids with scholarships, check in with the community volunteers trained in Peace Corps, and assist a rehab center and a residential school for the blind.

Actually, I joined in 2000, not 1999, but stayed beyond the usual term to 3 1/2 years.

At a recent special education interpretation assignment, the mother expressed regret and upset that she had kept her son, now 19, in a private residential facility in the DR for 10 years, paying for his care from her modest income cleaning office buildings (she is a single parent and also has other kids). Supposedly, they were teaching him skills, but, instead, she found what skills he had possessed before had deteriorated and that he had also adopted institutionalized habits, such head banging from observing other residents. She finally managed to bring him here 18 months ago and was now lamenting that she had left him in that place so long. I was sitting next to her, of course, and said something like. "You did what you thought best and now he is here, better late than never.” I also translated what I had said for the school staff, but, strictly speaking, it was a remark that I had initiated, rather than something said by others at the meeting. I know interpreters are not supposed to become personally involved in the conversation and I will try to curb that in future, but it’s hard, as I’m a former social worker, after all.

It’s shocking that Virginia Tech, where my late father once headed up the architecture department, has again seen murder on campus.

Alabama has suffered economic setbacks because of its draconian anti-immigrant policies. Other towns around the country where immigrants have either been removed or have been frightened away, are facing similar problems. Such unintended consequences may come as a surprise to anti-immigrant lawmakers, but are totally predictable. These long-time residents, whether originally legal immigrants or not, have become integrated into the social-economic fabric. Not only are some types of jobs in Alabama going unfilled, especially in agriculture and construction, but businesses, apartments, and schools are being emptied out, and now legal foreign experts and students on temporary visas are avoiding that state. A Japanese Honda employee was arrested as a suspected illegal immigrant recently and Chinese entrepreneurs have felt unwelcome. The governor is now scrambling to reassure legal foreign residents, defending his support and approval of the anti-immigrant law.

Through the magic of Facebook, I have again found members of the Espaillat family living in Santo Domingo, and discovered that Ana, a psychiatric nurse who used to take me on her rounds is residing in an assisted living facility in suburban Maryland outside Washington, DC.

At Communitas, a small, progressive Catholic community, usually attracting about 30 worshippers on a given Sunday, we were surprised when two homeless men, very aromatic—evident smokers and drinkers—came in and sat down among us. We could not be so unchristian as to ask them to leave, but we felt a bit uncomfortable, especially those of us sitting nearest them. Then one, carrying a sack, while we were greeting each other midway through, slipped upstairs where we had laid out some potluck dishes for lunch afterward. Also, the building where we meet belongs to a gay Catholic group and we felt the need to protect their belongings. So, a couple of people went upstairs and gently persuaded him to come back down. We invited both men to join us at the luncheon afterwards, but they chose to leave. I wonder if they will be back and, if so, what should we do, if anything, if this becomes a habit? Maybe we should concern ourselves with their general wellbeing? How much can we undertake?

Cannot help commenting on Gingrich’s statement that there are no Palestinian people, an easy way to get rid of that problem. “No” turns out to be handy word, as two-year-olds and Tea Partiers have discovered. No evolution, no global warming, no new taxes, and now, no Palestinians. Of course, that’s an appeal not only to Jewish voters, of whom there are not so many, but to evangelicals, who also support the biblical Israel, and are much more numerous.

My ego got a little boost from a man from California who read my book who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile early on (Chile no longer has a Peace Corps program) and later was on staff on Colombia and Costa Rica. He also worked with USAID in Honduras for a number of years and is married to a Honduran. I won’t repeat his whole long message, just this excerpt:

While I have had many opportunities to interact with government officials at different levels during my work and years living in Honduras, I found your descriptions of the people with whom you lived ranging from the different landladies to young maids to health worker assistants to the Honduran men who were trying to capture your amorous attention to be incredibly vivid and accurate. Then there were your descriptions of the kids in rural Honduras with deformed and cleft lips and club feet who had been successfully operated on so that they could live better lives. Such descriptions of people’s suffering and opportunities to have their lives transformed are priceless and definitely speak to the greatness of Peace Corps and its dedicated volunteers like you!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving, Pinochet Fan, Honduras Drug As Conduit, Hugo Chavez, Burma, Oregon Death Penalty Moratorium, New Amnesty Director

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. My daughters Stephanie from Honolulu and Melanie from Virginia Beach joined me, along with Arianna, the 12-year-old sister of Mel’s husband, who lives with them. Later we had my 4-year-old great grandson, DeAndre, who stayed with us overnight while Natasha, my granddaughter and his mother, worked night shifts at her women’s clothing sales job, starting at 2 am on Black Friday morning. She said her feet hurt afterward, as there was quite a rush. Is this going to be the norm from now on, 24-hour retail? A few photos are posted, but it’s always a surprise seeing how they come out on the page.

Had a cardiac MRI patient from Chile as a Spanish interpretation subject this past week and, to my surprise, she was a fan of the late president General Augusto Pinochet. She told me that he had helped the poor. I don’t know about that, but the economy did not do too badly under him. However, as an election observer in the 1988 plebiscite, I can vouch that he did not have widespread support and that much of the population feared him and those he considered his enemies were often mistreated and disappeared. Our election observer team traveled around the country interviewing people confidentially and experienced being hit ourselves along with peaceful anti-Pinochet demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons. However, he did garner 40% of the plebiscite vote and, although he was brought to tears when he lost, he never really suffered any punishment for his misdeeds.

Stratfor, a geopolitical strategic forecasting organization, has issued a really scary, but not surprising, picture of how the drug trade destined for the US has mushroomed. According to a recent report, “Honduras, for example, reportedly has become a major destination for planes from Venezuela laden with cocaine. Once offloaded, the cocaine is moved across the loosely guarded Honduran-Guatemalan border and then moved through Guatemala to Mexico, often through the largely unpopulated Peten.”

Hugo Chavez, who claims to have vanquished cancer, now says he feel fit enough to rule his country until 2031, ten years beyond his previously announced retirement date. So much for term limits on Venezuelan presidential candidates, limiting them one consecutive term.

Myanmar or Burma is showing welcome signs of a human rights’ thaw which we can only hope and pray will continue. Sometimes such changes come from the top as in this case. Certainly the country’s military rulers want to improve their international reputation and their economic prospects.

Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon has announced that he won’t allow the execution of Gary Haugen, scheduled for Dec. 6 -- or that of any other death row inmate -- while he is in office. It would have been Oregon's first execution in 14 years. Twice before, in his first term as governor in the 1990s, he allowed executions to go forward, something he now regrets. We in Amnesty International oppose the death penalty in all cases and have applauded this decision.

Amnesty International-USA has a new Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel, who will begin her duties on January 2 in the New York office. She is a human rights lawyer who has worked the State Department and Human Rights Watch and also spent two years in South Africa working to implement that country's National Peace Accord.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

DC False Alarm Storm, Halloween, DR Connections, Honduras News, Cuban Dissident’s Death, Gross & Cuban 5, Regional Amnesty Meeting, Money & Happiness

While the east coast was buffeted by a pre-Halloween snow storm, here in DC we just had cold drizzle on Saturday, followed by a sunny day near 60 on Sunday and it has been pretty mild ever since. But I finally turned on our central heat, partly because I had visitor from California, Elsie, who had stayed with me while volunteering last year at the Amnesty International office. She has taught teachers in Afghanistan and is an Amnesty country specialist for that country, just as I am for the Caribbean.

Halloween night was uncharacteristically chilly, only in the 50s when the kids came around, so there were not as many as last year, but, as usual, no candy was left over.

Sunday, Nov. 6, was a pleasant afternoon, so I sat out at the Eastern Market talking Peace Corps with a few folks and selling only one book. However, I did chat with some folks who work for GOCorps, a fairly new Christian-oriented sort of Peace Corps for college grads that offers $5,000 of student loan forgiveness to selected participants. Service is for two years and includes practical content (i.e. business, engineering, sports, teaching), as well as religious proselytizing. Applicants must pay their own way and receive advice on fundraising. The group works in Muslim countries and the Far East, not in Latin America, though, I was told, it may eventually go there. It seems the emphasis is on converting non-Christians (which causes me some concern), though it’s combined with development work, which should be helpful, although maybe that is just a cover. Of course, many religious groups have projects in the developing world and most are welcomed. But this organization seems more overt about its religious conversion aims, which may get its volunteers in trouble.

Just got word that Marian, a “mature” woman whom I once met and who has read my book, just joined the Peace Corps and is now in training in Armenia. Of course, I cannot claim credit for her decision nor am I ultimately responsible for how well her service goes, but I’d like to think that my book gave her a little nudge.

Have happily reconnected via Facebook with the Espaillat family, possessing a famous name in the DR where they are back living now. I first met them in DC and visited them several times in Santo Domingo, usually going to and from Cuba in the 1990s. Amnesty International has just issued a report on the DR regarding police brutality and the wholesale deportation of Haitians and Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent. Another Amnesty initiative focuses on children’s rights.

In a local newspaper written and sold by homeless people, there appears a heartfelt poetic ode to recently executed Georgia death-row prisoner Troy Davis.

I’m planning to go again to Honduras in February for the International Health Service of Minnesota medical brigade taking place in villages near La Esperanza, Feb. 12-22. Unfortunately, Operation Smile is scheduled for January in Honduras, so will miss that this time. I also have other projects planned there, which I will mention closer to the dates.

In Honduras, according to the local Spanish-language press, the Supreme Court voted 12 to 3 to absolve the military men involved in spiriting President Zelaya out of the country in 2009. Zelaya has been back in Honduras for months now and has announced plans to run again for the presidency, but my contacts there believe his following has diminished.

The Honduran Embassy in the Washington, DC area, together with Honduran banks, is promoting purchase of property and dwellings in Honduras to help those in the diaspora house their families there and provide a place for them to visit. Meanwhile, on the north coast, authorities have confiscated 13 luxury haciendas and residences, two vehicles, and 17 boats believed used in drug smuggling.
Here is the beginning of an item in the Huffington Post (October 30, 2011)—read the rest there.

Honduras Becomes Main Transit Route For Cocaine Trafficking
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- On Honduras' swampy Mosquitia coast, entire villages have made a way of life off the country's massive cocaine transshipment trade. In broad daylight, men, women and children descend on passing go-fast boats to offload bales of cocaine destined for the United States. Along the Atlantic coast, the wealthy elite have accumulated dozens of ranches, yachts and mansions from the drug trade.
And in San Pedro Sula, local gangs moving drugs north have spawned armies of street-level dealers whose violence has given the rougher neighborhoods of the northern industrial city a homicide rate that is only comparable to Kabul, Afghanistan. Long an impoverished backwater in Central America, Honduras has become a main transit route for South American cocaine.

The article goes on to say that the cocaine is not processed in Honduras and presumably is not used by Hondurans. The country is just a transit point.

On another front, close associates of Laura Pollán, the member of the Women in White who died recently in a Havana hospital, have questioned the official cause of her death, since a week before she seemed in good health. She was diabetic, but that was under control. Those in the opposition believe that either her condition was deliberately induced or was aggravated by the authorities. Her body was cremated within two hours of her death, making it impossible to re-examine the cause. Such immediate cremations have been common after questionable dissident deaths. Her friends believe that Cuban authorities moved quickly to avoid an international outcry like that following the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata in 2010. A recent letter in the Wall St. Journal (Oct. 31, 2011) quotes a Cuban dissident, hospitalized after being beaten by government-sponsored mobs, alleging that a state security agent warned him, “We killed Laura and can do the same to you—nothing happens.”

A Cuban exile, who once occupied an important position in the government hierarchy, commented, “My gut feeling tells me it was murder because the Cuban totalitarian state did not know how to respond to her efforts to spread the women’s protests around the country, so murdering her would be par for the course. But if it was murder, it was very well planned and carried out meticulously, leaving no proof behind. Let's face it, the Cuban G2 is a very professional and unscrupulous organization, trained by the NKVD. The NKVD is reported to have developed chemical substances that produce heart attacks, but are rapidly eliminated from the body so that they will not be found during an autopsy. We will just have to wait until the secret files of the Cuban Ministry of Interior or the Party Politburo are opened to find out whether she was murdered or not.

“This whole affair should make quite clear the risks that dissenters take in Cuba when they protest in public. That is why I favor anonymous methods to get the message out to the general Cuban population, rather than having these people go out and face repression that could even lead to death. It is not only a quantitative matter of a loss of lives. It is that those activists willing to sacrifice themselves are the qualitative acme of the Cuban people, the cream of our crop, and so it is a very high a price for our nation to pay. Of course, liberty and progress are priceless, but when these people are gone, who will be left to lead Cuba? Only the bottom of the barrel, the opportunists and yes-men who run no risks and arrive at the last minute to gather the fruit off low hanging branches.”

Alan Gross, the USAID contractor now imprisoned for 2 years and given a 15-year sentence, now, according to a Cuban government website, has reportedly told a visiting rabbi, that if an Israeli Jew is worth 1,000 Palestinians, why isn’t an American Jew worth 5 Cubans, referring to the Cuban Five, Cubans and Cuban American convicted of espionage and of being involved in the shooting down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes. An exchange of Gross for the Five has been talked about ever since Gross was arrested in Cuba and it has been speculated that was the reason he was arrested and given such a harsh sentence in the first place. I’ve read the State Dept. report on the Cuban Five which goes into considerable detail about their activities, but is dated 2007, during the Bush administration. One of the Five completed his sentence recently and was released, but is on 3 years parole and may not leave the US until it is over. I believe he is staying with his children in the mid-west. Meanwhile, I have no doubt that Gross is anxious to be released and probably the other Cuban Five prisoners too. Amnesty International has questioned the fairness of their trial, based on the Miami venue.

Today, I attended a regional Amnesty Int’l meeting held at National Harbor, Md., a brand new hotel, restaurant, and convention complex built on empty Maryland space fronting on the Potomac River. The complex is very large, but didn’t seem to have a lot of business. I understand it was completed in mid-2008, when the recession was just starting. Eventually, there will be residences and probably more population will cluster there, but, right now, it looks something like a white elephant.

About 300 people attended the conference, which included a keynote by the FM radio host of “Democracy Now” Amy Goodman. She talked about her involvement in East Timor’s independence movement, actions against Shell in the Niger Delta, and holding vigil outside the prison when Troy Davis was executed. I participated in a workshop on torture, which, it was argued, is immoral, illegal under US and international law, and ineffective, often leading to false confessions, as DNA exonerations have shown. Evidence and confessions obtained under torture are not allowed in US courts, which may be the reason for military tribunals being held in Guantanamo. What is torture? Dick Cheney has said that waterboarding is not torture and, in any case, that torture is OK. In the afternoon, we were bused down to the White House, where we held a march and rally to free Filep Karma, imprisoned since 2004 in Indonesia for raising a flag in favor of Papuan independence. Other demonstrators were on hand in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, representing Iranian prisoners and anti-nuclear and anti-carbon emission positions.

Although companies and individuals naturally want to maximize their income and profits and reduce their taxes vis-à-vis the rest of society, they will reach a point of diminishing returns if most fellow citizens become too impoverished to buy their products and services or to keep up with their public subsidies, salaries, and pensions (I’m thinking here of publicly funded payments and benefits for wealthy farmers and those in the upper echelons of public service, including elected officials). Unless the lower 99% have sufficient income to be taxed on or to spend, eventually there will be no “trickle up” and the top 1% will suffer too. A modest millionaires’ tax increase, which would help to slightly reduce the deficit and spur the economy somewhat, is not something that Republicans should categorically oppose as it would eventually rebound to the benefit of rich folks (their constituents), who are ultimately supported by everyone else. Henry Ford recognized that he had to pay his workers enough so that they could afford to buy his cars. Evolutionary theory posits survival of the fittest, but also reveals the importance of altruism in species survival.

Nor is simply getting rid of regulations the best way to spur the economy. Lax financial regulations got us into this mess to begin with. Business surveys show that weak demand is a bigger factor retarding hiring and business expansion now than the existence of regulations. And businesses have plenty of spare cash, but have been reluctant to invest in new hires because they lack customers. Putting more money into the hands of average citizens would spur demand and get the business cycle moving upward again.

Both tea party folks and Occupy Wall Street protestors in cities around the nation are expressing frustration with the powers-that-be and with political gridlock. It’s astounding how fast both movements have spread and, though they show similarities, apparently there has been no merger of efforts. President Obama has not been able to do much to overcome the financial impasse and neither has anyone else. Job training funds for veterans, a social security payroll holiday, extension of unemployment benefits, foreclosure relief, or other stimulus measures aimed at lower and middle income people would probably increase buying power, but unfortunately would end up increasing the deficit short-term. Still, something is needed to jump-start the economy. None of the Republican candidates’ jobs plans are credible and the “no new taxes” pledge is throttling the economy and leading to political gridlock. The Bush tax cuts have done nothing to revive the economy.

Another point seems obvious: if human beings are living longer and are remaining healthier into older ages, then they need to be productive and working longer and retiring later (and unfortunately, not yielding their positions to younger workers). So that means the beginning age for social security and pensions needs to keep going up. I’m in favor of increasing the starting age for regular social security payments as average life expectancy rises, but for keeping Medicare at 65, because it’s the only universal health care program available in this country and, if anything, the age there needs to be lowered, or else “Obamacare” needs to become more fully implemented.

According to an item in TIME (Oct. 10, 2011, p.40), an annual income of $75,000 is where happiness derived from income peaks. After that, it levels off. I was curious whether that amount applies to one person or to a whole family, so I looked on-line for the original Princeton study. Apparently it applies to a person earning that amount, but how many others are being supported is not specified. Maybe just earning that amount (which I never have) makes individuals feel that they are doing well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Photos, MLKing Memorial, Gaddafi’s Demise, Honduras, Cuba, Peace Corps Response, Zimbabwe

Will try to post some photos pertaining to recent blogs, keeping my fingers crossed that they actually come out. (We will find out whether I am successful if and when we see them posted here.) If so, one shows me with Congressman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) at a luncheon for Peace Corps writers held at the Library of Congress during the corps’ recent 50th anniversary celebrations. The others were taken on the fourth birthday of my great-grandson, DeAndre, celebrated at Chucky Cheese’s, including one of him and me beforehand in my living room with 7-year-old twin step-grandchildren in town for his birthday. The woman shown sitting with me at Chucky Cheese’s was one of my late son Andrew’s first girl friends, Julie, now a divorced mother of three.

Last Sunday, October 16, ceremonies were held to dedicate the new MLKing Memorial, a celebration postponed in August because of a hurricane. Fortunately, last Sunday turned out to be a warm, dry fall day, with many dignitaries taking the podium, including one of King’s daughters. The original ceremony had been scheduled for the anniversary of King’s “I have a dream” speech on the mall, an event I actually witnessed with my then-husband as part of a huge crowd, unaware that it would be history-making event.

Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq before him, Libya’s Gaddafi was trapped in a hiding hole. Certainly his ignominious demise must strike fear into the hearts of dictators everywhere, among them, Cuba’s Castro brothers. Unfortunately, Amnesty International investigators, recently returned from Libya, have discovered that Gaddafi loyalists are not the only ones subject to accusations of human rights abuses. The victorious side has apparently gone after supposed Gaddafi supporters with a vengeance, including black African migrant workers targeted automatically as mercenaries for his side when, in fact, they only came to Libya as temporary workers and were not involved in the fighting. Such scapegoating is always a risk during and after armed conflicts (remember Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II).

In the local Spanish-language press, an item appears reporting that a half-submerged ship was found off the Caribbean coast containing 7.5 tons of cocaine worth $180 million. Central America, now in the rainy and hurricane season, has been buffeted by Hurricane Jova, which may have contributed to the sinking of the drug ship. Storms notwithstanding, 28 Cuban rafters arrived on Honduras’s north coast, the sort of happening that was common when I was in the Peace Corps. It’s not easy to get from Cuba to Honduras on a raft! But many Cubans have made the journey, probably knocked off course by winds and waves.

News of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s likely demise within two years comes from an indirect source, Pravda, which quotes his personal physician in that regard. However, Chavez himself has announced he is now cancer-free and invited supporters to celebrate his victory over the disease.

Sad news has come from Cuba regarding the death of an outspoken member of the Damas de Blanco (Women in White), Laura Pollan, who appeared in the Norwegian-made documentary of the same name. She was hospitalized with hemorrhagic dengue and suffered a fatal heart attack in the hospital. Her husband was released earlier this year, one of the last of the 2003 Black Spring prisoners to be freed because he refused exile. At least, they had a few months together before her death. Up to the end, she had been very active in continuing with the marches with other women, calling not only for the release of their loved ones, but for the freeing of all political prisoners and an end to repression. She suffered many indignities, blows, and short-term arrests, but did not stop her advocacy. Reports of her death in the official Cuban media did not mention dengue as a factor in her death. Cuba has a history of covering up dengue epidemics for fear of scaring away tourists. There is no vaccine or curative medicine for dengue, a mosquito-borne viral illness.

Alan Gross, the American former USAID contractor given 15 years by a Cuban court, appealed his sentence on humanitarian grounds, not only due to his ill-health, but to that of his mother and daughter, but the appeal was denied.

Peace Corps is now recruiting Peace Corps Response volunteers for work on maternal health in Africa. Response volunteers are those who have once served a full term, but now go back for shorter assignments, usually three to six months, never more than a year. Having worked in maternal health in Honduras as a volunteer and because maternal survival and health are also priorities for Amnesty International, where I am now volunteer Caribbean coordinator for AI-USA, I would very much like to work on PC maternal health projects in Africa. However, six months is too long for me to be away from my Spanish interpretation work. I’m lucky, at age 73, that I still have work assignments and that the two agencies I work for tolerate my yearly absence in Honduras during the whole month of February. But an absence of six months would be really too much. When I retire from interpreting at age 80, if I live that long, then I plan to join PC Response, primero Dios, God willing, as the Hondurans say.

I have mentioned before that I’ve known both deaf and blind Peace Corps volunteers, as well as of at least one in a wheelchair. Now, I see in the 50th anniversary celebrations at Gallaudet University (a local university for the deaf) that at least 59 deaf volunteers have served, many of them teaching American English sign language in English-speaking Peace Corps countries.

Zimbabwe is another country of interest to me because of Amnesty International and folks who have stayed at my house. Once I attended a talk by two leaders of WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise), Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, who were recently arrested in Zimbabwe, along with ten others. Now all have been released, thanks to an international outcry, including from us at Amnesty. I confess to being all over the map in my interests and concerns and thank my few faithful readers for indulging my far-flung ramblings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Grt-Grandson’s B'day, Herman Cain, Honduras News, Senior Life, Canada Border, Flip Side of “Secure Communities,” Ala. Law, Obama, Reggie Clemons

On Saturday, my daughter Melanie came from Virginia Beach to visit me with her twin step-children, a boy and girl age 7. That evening, we joined a party at Chuckee Cheese’s for my great-grandson DeAndre’s, 4th birthday. It seems to me that he was just born yesterday, but there he was at age 4, being the center of attention and the life of the party.

That former pizza mogul Herman Cain has now tied with Mitt Romney in Republican Party polls is pretty amazing. Who is he anyway? His rise just demonstrates the lackluster quality of the other candidates, who are many in number, but low in quality. (Of course, I’m a Democrat, so not exactly an objective observer.) Sarah Palin realized her star had waned and wisely stayed out of the race. She already got her 15 minutes of fame, and then some, and took maximum advantage financially while she was still on top.

Honduras has again been in the local Spanish-language press. Afro-Hondurans convened a conference in La Ceiba on the northern Caribbean coast for all Afro-descendents, over 800 delegates from 44 countries. Fighting against discrimination in the Americas and worldwide, they hope to align their movement with that of African Americans in the U.S.

Honduran soccer player Andy Najar from a town near Choluteca (in the area where I lived for more than two years), a member of the local DC United professional team, proved an outstanding player and scorer in a recent winning game against visiting Real Salt Lake. Najar, who is only 19, was named rookie of the year last year, when he first played for DC United. His father began teaching him to play soccer back in Honduras when he was only three years old.

Excerpt below from Op Ed by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo in the Wall St. Journal, Oct. 5, 2011, outlining where the country stands now, acknowledging the high crime rate especially as it relates to the drug traffic and a large seizure of cocaine just made recently. However, despite the world economic recession and Honduras’s recent political troubles, he paints an optimistic picture. Some might question whether Honduras has become “an anchor of freedom and human rights,” but I do think Lobo has acquitted himself admirably in a very thorny situation and I hear from Hondurans that matters do seem to be looking up.

“[O]ur-economy grew' 2.6% and exports grew by 17% in 2010. In the same year, Honduras saw an amazing 41%increase in foreign direct investment. We have also begun creating 'charter cities,' special areas organized for production and trade, similar to examples in Asia. We expect this to attract new investments and create thousands of new jobs. With the help of the U.S., our Central and/ South American allies and all of our friends abroad, plus our people's determination and strong democratictradition--I am positive that we will continue to thrive as an anchor of freedom and human rights in Latin America.”

Lobo also met with President Obama and asked for an extension of TPS (temporary protected status) for Hondurans, which began after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Once a country gets TPS and nationals start sending back remittances, it’s hard for a country and for the people involved to give it up. Thirteen years on, Hondurans with TPS have put down roots in this country with homes, jobs, and kids born here and also contribute a substantial amount to the Honduran economy. Lobo thanked Obama for US support of Honduras during its “reconciliation process.” He also acknowledged the problem of violence, much of it related to drug traffic, in his country. While in Washington, Lobo was well-received at the OAS, where he won high praise from someone who was once an outspoken critic of the Honduran government, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who heralded him for his democratic efforts.

For the fourth time in the last few months, I’ve visited yet another resident of a senior living complex. I’m getting to the age myself where friends are moving into such places, all of which demonstrate a certain sameness—carpeted hallways, hand railings along the walls, cheery nameplates on dwelling doors, sprays of artificial flowers in common areas. Staff are kind, meals are colorful and nourishing, and activities are provided. It is, no doubt, a humane way to care for older people whose cognitive and physical skills are waning. My friend, who is fully ambulatory, is definitely slipping mentally, but she did recognize me and the other friend who’d brought me and seemed glad to see us. It was hard to converse with her because her mind wandered and her speech was garbled. I gave her a copy of my book, which I endorsed to her, and told her something about my Peace Corps experience, but don’t know how much she retained. She said she is still able to read, but I wonder? I also wonder whether putting such people all in one place is best for promoting mental stimulation. For some reason, while there, I thought of the institutions for “irrecuperables” that I had visited in Romania decades ago and how the institutional atmosphere and presence of so many mentally and physically disabled children all there together seemed to drag down that few that I judged to be more normal. On the other hand, since people are now living into old age when their cognitive and other faculties are in decline, group care may be the only humane and practical way to care for them—for us. As for myself, I hope I never have to live in such a place and that I die at home in my own bed with my socks on.

The graying of the population is not unique to our country, but is occurring everywhere, even coming to developing countries. It is the result of lower birthrates and better health care and nutrition, allowing more people to survive into old age. The phenomenon of worldwide population aging has been prominent in the news lately, showing that lower birthrates coupled with longer life spans are a two-edged sword. While continuing exponential growth in national or world population is undesirable, neither is falling population, especially in a country where the average age keeps rising, such as in Japan and some European nations (and also Cuba). The U.S. has managed to keep at replacement levels or a just slightly above, the ideal situation, thanks only to Hispanic immigration, something that the anti-immigration hawks fail to appreciate.

Now there is talk of building a fence along the Canadian-US border. I think it's a ridiculous and futile idea--the US government can try other methods to beef up security on the northern border, perhaps through aerial surveillance, but hasn't done all that well on building a fence on the much shorter southern border yet. There's a point where the cost in money and for the nation's image are not worth it. We cannot eliminate all risks. Of course, if a terrorist attacks by coming across that border, the fence idea will be pursued 100%. There is always an overkill reaction to any terrorist act, zeroing in on the particular method used. Meanwhile, wily terrorists are always thinking up something new and totally different.

We in Amnesty got a call from a woman in upstate New York who referred me to her sister, the wife of a Cuban now in immigration detention in Batavia, NY, arrested on a 1983 burglary charge in California. Apparently, Homeland Security, now with the new emphasis on "secure communities" and going after criminal aliens rather than ordinary undocumented, is sweeping through old criminal records. The wife, with whom he has a 10-year-old daughter, says her husband, just 21 at the time of his arrest, was advised to plead guilty on the advice of counsel, although he was not guilty, she says (of course, that was before she knew him). After he served his sentence, he was held some years in immigration detention pending deportation and was actually in the La. prison when the Cubans rioted there. After Pres. Reagan signed an agreement with the Cuban prisoners that they would not be sent back immediately and that their cases would be reviewed, so he was freed. She said his cellmate right now is a Dominican man in his 60s who was actually a US citizen, but whose citizenship has been revoked under this new emphasis on criminal aliens, because of a DWI committed in the 1970s. The Dominican man and his wife are resigned to returning to the DR after 40 years, leaving behind their children and grandchildren living here. If all this is true, it does seem that the new emphasis on criminal aliens, while permitting some ordinary people to remain in the US, is zeroing in on others who were living peacefully and productively despite old criminal records. That way, Homeland Security can claim to have deported a record number of criminal aliens, what Janet Napolitano has called the “worst of the worst,” though the two cases cited here of the Cuban and Dominican hardly seem to fall into that category and, indeed, their departure will be a net loss for this country. The Cuban man has an attorney but the presumption is that he could be deported and that Raul Castro is accepting Cuban deportees, although the man's wife is not sure of that.

As I may have mentioned before, I am a 30-year member of Amnesty International and have been volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean for AIUSA for the last 7 years, after my return from Honduras. In that capacity, I am supposed to be monitoring human rights in 30+ small countries in the region, including the Guyanas and Suriname, as well as Canada. As you can imagine, I cannot be fully engaged with all of them—the priorities are Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. But last week, plaintive requests came in from prisoners in Trinidad and St. Vincent who believe their trials were unfair. Of course, we try to steer them to possible local resources, but our organization hardly has the resources to deal with every case where defendants feel they’ve had an unfair trial, something which probably would apply to more than half of all criminal cases around the world.

Meanwhile, Alabama with its new draconian immigrant targeting law, is seeing an exodus of skilled and farm laborers, an emptying out of schools, apartments, and businesses, threatening even greater economic hardship to the state, but the governor is holding fast, not admitting to a mistake or making any effort to soften the blow. That’s just a foretaste of what it would be like if all undocumented persons left this country. We would see population decline and economic consequences just as dire. Too many Americans give in to prejudices and a blame game without realizing that they will be harmed along with those whom they are attacking.

In an interview with Madrid’s El País (September 29, 2011), Barak Obama declared it was time for something to happen in Cuba. He said he was not yet ready to completely lift the embargo, but would respond to positive signs from the Cuba government demonstrating its willingness to liberate its people and move toward democracy. He cited measures already taken on the U.S. side in terms of liberalization of visits and remittances.

Now that we in Amnesty and other anti-death penalty advocates have lost the fight on Troy Davis, we are not giving up, but focusing on the case of Reggie Clemons in Missouri. The Davis case aroused many thousands of death-penalty opponents in the US and abroad, anxious to put their energies elsewhere now so go to the AIUSA website for details on Reggie Clemons. Apparently, just a few locales in the US are responsible for nearly all death penalty cases, thanks or no thanks to zealous sheriffs and prosecutors, such as Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I may have already mentioned that I once attended an Amnesty International annual conference where the brother of the Unabomber spoke, saying that he and his mother refused to turn in the Unabomber until they were given a guarantee that he would not be subjected to the death penalty. (He has refused to meet with family members since his incarceration, feeling he was betrayed.)

I admit to my readers that my blog, like my life, is multifaceted, so thanks for sticking with me through a variety of topics, not just one or two.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amnesty Int’l Weekend, Troy Davis, Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary, Cuban Independent Libraries

The entire weekend before the Peace Corps 50th anniversary week, I spent at the annual meeting of volunteer country and regional specialists of Amnesty International-USA. People came from all over the country to attend but I walked only a few blocks to the DC Amnesty office. The worldwide organization just held an International Council Meeting (ICM), whereby all member countries come together every two years, this time in the Netherlands. (I did attend an ICM meeting in Mexico in 2005—it’s like a mini-UN, with lots of political intrigue and simultaneous interpretation via earphones from and into major languages.) One of the new directions charted for Amnesty is decentralization, fanning out from the current London headquarters, with staff being situated closer to human rights events in countries such as Brazil and Mexico, as well as other cities in Africa and Asia.

We in Amnesty International worldwide fought hard with letters, petitions, demonstrations, and vigils to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, along with many others, but officials and the governor there were hell-bent on killing the guy, regardless of evidence against his guilt (perhaps because the victim was a police officer?). In almost all cases, unless an accused murderer confesses, doubts about guilt will always exist and many death-row inmates have been exonerated just in time, while others, like Davis, may end up being exonerated later, but too late. Meanwhile, the Unabomber, who killed several people, is serving life, because his family made that deal with prosecutors before they turned him in. (His brother told us this at a national Amnesty meeting a few years ago). As former President Jimmy Carter once said, “Life is unfair.” In Amnesty, we are against the death penalty in all cases. We feel that even when guilt is proven, the state should not take another life. This action on Davis cannot help America’s faltering reputation in the world.

The Peace Corps 50th anniversary week was a whirlwind of activities. I will not enumerate everything, just will say that I connected with friends old and new and became completely Peace-Corps-ed-out. A highlight was a luncheon for Peace Corps writers held at the Library of Congress, presided over by two former PC volunteers and current Congressmen, both Democrats from California, Sam Farr and John Garamendi. My sister Betty and her husband, early volunteers in Colombia, had planned to come, but entering the train station, Betty unaccountably fell backward, was taken to the emergency room, nothing was found wrong, but by then it was too late to arrive for the activities they had planned to attend and she really didn’t feel like it. I ended the week-long celebrations on Monday, September 26, with a talk called in suburban Virginia at an organization called Shepherd’s Center, dedicated to older adults, many of them still working. Maybe I planted a seed in a listener’s mind?

A new short documentary from In Altrum Productions is entitled "Cuba's Hope." I’m rather doubtful that just clicking below on "here" will bring it up, as that was underlined in the message I got on it, but underlning isn't possible on this blog. I've tried accessing it on the website, but doesn’t always work. Good luck. Repression against independent human rights groups and especially the Damas de Blanco has been especially harsh in Cuba this month. Meanwhile in Haiti, the other Caribbean hotspot under my jurisdiction as Amnesty's Caribbean coordinator, is experiencing the eviction of camps for people displaced by the earthquake and controversy over whether Baby Doc Duvalier, who recently returned to Haiti, should be tried for his human rights abuses.

Here's the introduction to the Cuba film:

In 2008, Fidel Castro handed over control of Cuba to his younger brother, Raul. Since then, experts have predicted significant changes in the lives of the Cuban people -- especially in the lives of young Cubans. While hope springs eternal, the Cuban government's continued use of laws that violate basic standards of international human rights makes it almost impossible for citizens to openly voice their desires for change. Despite the obstacles, many young people in Cuba risk their lives to work for a better, more just future. In the spring of 2011, Livio, an independent librarian and Cuban youth leader, visited five people: a blogger, a student, a professor, a journalist and a musician. Cuba's Hope tells their stories.

See it here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PC 50th, VOA News, 9/11, Youth Football, Alan Gross, Colleague Luis from Honduras, Medical Translation, Women in White, Cuban Seeking Asylum in UK

This will be my last blog entry until after the big Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebrations coming up in Washington next week. My sister and her husband from Philadelphia, early returned volunteers who served in Colombia, will be staying at my place for the festivities.

Well folks, I finally figured out how to access the short video and article where I appear in Voice of America (VOA) News—here’s the link to put into your browser:

I did not actually complete two separate Peace Corps terms, but extended the first one, ending up staying about 3 ½ years in two different towns, which, I guess, may have confused the producer of the short article and video. I gave her my book and explained the extension, but I don’t think the technical distinction between an extension from my original town into a different Honduras location and serving two separate terms is important to anyone except possibly other Peace Corps volunteers. The gist of the story is correct and I do go back every year (7 times so far), so my total service time in Honduras is more than equivalent to two Peace Corps terms.

I cannot ignore the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event I first witnessed on television screens in Honduras, where I was then serving in the Peace Corps. It was a shock that convulsed the world and revealed that the mighty USA was not so invulnerable after all.

I passed the 9/11 anniversary at my daughter Melanie’s home in Virginia Beach, where I had gone to be with her after she had surgery. She is recovering well and last Sat., we even attended an American football game in which her 10-year-old step-son was playing. We had to sit through the games of the 8 and 9 year-olds before our guy’s team was up. Those games were played on a regulation field with a time-clock, announcer, referees, padded and helmeted players, bleachers, and paid admission. Tackling and piling on was allowed, everything the same as in an adult match, except that the quarters were only 10 minutes long. I think football is too rough a game for this age group. My own boys played it at older ages and still got hurt. They also played soccer, as did daughter Melanie, a game I liked and understood much better. Nonetheless, the step-son loves being part of the team and they even travel to other states to play in what is known as the Youth League Football. Our guy’s team lost to visiting Lynchburg, Va., but everyone enjoyed being at the game. I was especially impressed that while her husband was away working that day, my daughter sat and laughed with the boy’s mother, her husband’s ex, with whom she has an easy and cooperative relationship regarding her step-children, whose care they share. I’ve always regretted not being able to get on speaking terms and on a similarly cooperative footing regarding my kids with my ex-husband, who died in 1999.

Former NM Governor Bill Richardson went to Cuba, with the acquiescence of that government, to try to obtain the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross. But when he got there, he was told he could not even see Gross. At this writing, I have not heard of any breakthrough. Tomorrow is the deadline for Obama to renew the Trading with the Enemy Act, which would keep the remaining vestiges of the embargo against Cuba. Amnesty International has urged the president not to renew the embargo. If Gross is not released, still, the embargo is likely to be renewed. There is some doubt that the Cuban leadership really wants the embargo to be completely gone, as it’s been a handy scapegoat for every malady affecting Cuba.

To my great surprise, Luis Knight, is now visiting a cousin in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. Luis was my Peace Corps colleague in the regional office in La Esperanza and, until last March, when the Peace Corps budget was slashed, he was an employee of the Peace Corps in Tegucigalpa, going home only on weekends. He has a 10-year multiple-entry visa as the result of his PC employment. I was thrilled to be able to see him last week, thanks to a friend who drove me out there during a terrible rainstorm (we’ve been having extreme weather, the hottest summer on record, then an earthquake, a hurricane, and flash floods). I invited Luis, his cousin, and my friend to lunch, braving a downpour just to get to the restaurant. Luis looks good, has lost weight, but is at loose ends now without a job. His wife, fortunately, is a nurse with a steady job. Luis has previously bought used cars in the US to resell in Honduras, but now he says there’s no market. So his current plan is to consider buying a used truck to transport goods from a port city to their destination. He told me the teenage maid, Mirtza from La Mosquitia, whom I saw at their house last Feb., had tried to steal money and was sent home.

Luis showed me a photo on his cell and told me about a boy one-year-old whose leg had been amputated because of a medical mistake, with the errant physician still practicing in Teguc, leaving the child’s untutored parents to deal with the problem. I contacted Sandy, a former PC volunteer I’d worked with in the past, who advised me about how to go about trying to get a prosthesis for the child. Of course, with a growing youngster, prostheses have to be changed frequently and learning to walk is not automatic. Another project for me to undertake on my next trip to Honduras!

I rarely do written translation any more, preferring live interpretation, something that’s over and done with as soon as the session finishes. I also like contact with real, live people. However, I will do translation if pressed to do so, as I was on Labor Day weekend, when one of my agencies asked me to please take on a series of medical reports from Chile regarding a patient with a brain tumor, who, I assume, is seeking treatment now in the US. Whew! There were words in those reports not found in any on-line Spanish or English medical dictionaries. Sometimes, I had to make an educated guess, based on my long experience working in hospitals and health. I knew that some medical terms that in Spanish begin with qu, in English often start with ch. Fortunately, I also knew about an injectable substance called Gadolinium in English and that OMS in Spanish stands for WHO (as in World Health Organization). Here are some English equivalents of words contained in those reports—see if you know what they mean: parenchymatous, pachymeningeal, chiasmatic, subararchnoid, petroclinoid, anatomopathogical, eosinophilic, meningothelial, and cephalocaudal, all adjectives, and here are a couple of nouns, mesencephalon and encephalomalcy.

In Cuba, the Women in White and their associates keep getting beaten up and arrested and there have also been restrictions on the reporting of such events by foreign news outlets, including the revocation of the credentials. Veteran El País (Spain) correspondent Mauricio Vincent, a 20-year resident of Cuba with a Cuban wife, had his accreditation cancelled and was ordered to stop publishing.

Every so often, a law office in London calls me to consult on cases of Cuban asylum claimants there, as they did last week, as we have more experience with such cases in this country. Since the UK does not have the U.S.’s unique Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants automatic asylum to almost any Cuban who can manage to set foot on American soil, it’s obviously harder for Cubans to get asylum there. A case last week involved a woman who met a British man vacationing in Cuba and was invited to visit him in the UK. Often Cuban women try to marry foreign men just to get out of the country, usually divorcing them once they are safely beyond Cuban shores. I can cite countless such cases. But apparently, there was some sort of genuine romantic attraction between these two, though they didn’t marry in Cuba. Instead, the woman was granted a student visa to the UK and went there to be with the man. However, her permission to leave Cuba was only good for one year. Meanwhile, she and her beau married, but he drank and became abusive, so she divorced him. By then, her travel permission from Cuba had expired and had not been renewed, but she had no permission after the end of her marriage to remain in the UK. If she had to return to Cuba, the only way she could go back apparently was as a tourist, not as resident, though she desperately wanted to avoid having to go back at all. So far, the UK has not granted her asylum (she has no claims of abuse in Cuba, only in the UK), so what is she to do? Well, we walked through various scenarios, but the bottom line is that if the woman went back to Cuba without having permanent legal status there, she would not be eligible for a place to live, a ration coupon book, a job, or a self-employment license. How and where would she live? I always ask how law firms where I’ve been involved in asylum cases to let me know how they come out, so on this one, we’ll wait and see.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Earthquake, Hurricane Irene, Honduras, Nicaragua, DSK, Immigration, Perry & Bachmann, Tax Cuts, Cuba, Amnesty Int'l

In my long life, I’ve come to expect the unexpected, so when an earthquake struck last Tuesday, of course, I was shaken and some artifacts fell off shelves and broke, but I knew right away what it was because such fairly moderate earthquakes were common in southern Honduras. I’ve never been in one where buildings actually collapsed in around me. I felt several small aftershocks that same evening and even the next day—indeed at least five aftershocks were reportedly registered. The top of the Washington Monument cracked, so it’s closed to the public until the Park Service figures out how to fix it, which won’t be easy. The [Episcopal] Gothic National Cathedral and Smithsonian Castle were also damaged.

Of course, after that, we had Hurricane Irene, which hit hard in Virginia Beach, where my older daughter lives, knocking down a tree in their back yard. So far, except for water leaking into the basement, my 100+-year-old house seems to have survived both earthquake and hurricane intact.

In Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo convened 50 sectors of civil society to formulate a plan to improve the education system, which has had dismal results and has been plagued by constant strikes throughout the years, including every single year I was in Peace Corps. Aldo in Honduras, a well-known peasant leader was killed, but it’s uncertain if the motive was political, as he was robbed of a large amount of cash he had taken out of the bank.

I was surprised to see that Arnoldo Aleman, a former Nicaraguan president once put under house arrest for corruption, is now challenging Daniel Ortega for the presidency. At one time (as mentioned in my book), they were allies. Now, the Nicaraguan people will be confronted with choosing the lesser of evils, a matter on which I am not about to make a judgment. However, I will acknowledge that Aleman is probably the only candidate who has chance of beating Ortega.

Also, I see that Spain, Brazil, and the U.S. have gotten together, first to provide food aid to Haiti, Honduras, and Cuba, then to Pakistan, and now will be bringing food aid to Somalia. Brazil provides most of the food, the U.S. pays for transport, and Spain takes care of logistics, a heartening example of international cooperation. I’m glad to see Cuba included as a recipient.

A comment about the DSK case: Its dismissal doesn’t mean that a sexual assault didn’t happen, just that the prosecutors didn’t believe they could prove their case to jurors “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Prosecutors need to protect their own reputations by winning, not losing, cases. The unsophisticated complaining witness (the apparent preferred term for her) seems to have tainted her credibility in the face of the strict rules of evidence needed in such a high-profile criminal trial where the defendant has such huge legal firepower. His lawyers did what they could to undermine her credibility and she herself did not help her case.

I feel a great relief, after the Obama administration had seemed to be deporting people willy nilly, perhaps trying to satisfy Republicans and convince them (unsuccessfully) to sign on to immigration reform, that Obama has now decided to go it alone in implementing a more nuanced, common-sense, and humanitarian approach. The policy of wholesale deportations was a blot on our national reputation. Republicans are never going to agree to any sort immigration reform (even those Republicans, like McCain, who once supported it), just like they are going to refuse to cooperate with Democrats on almost everything else. So, I applaud Obama for going ahead, to the limited extent he is able.

You have to wonder if Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are calculatingly coming across as characters and caricatures—almost stereotypes— in order to raise their personal profiles, or if they are being genuine and sincere. I don’t suppose it matters. Either way, whether their public images are contrived, exaggerated, or a reflection of the true person, neither is fit to lead this country and the world and I surely hope most voters will wake up to that reality. Meanwhile, maybe we can enjoy laughing at their excesses, which also are causing some amusement abroad—What will those wacky Americans do next? It’s kind of scary that Rick Perry is surging so in Republican Party polls. He’s certainly a folksy, larger-than-life personality, but really pretty wacky, in my opinion—more flamboyantly Texan than GW Bush.

It’s interesting that some Republicans, though steadfastly opposed to taxes on the wealthy, are now opposed to the payroll tax cut extension for working people. Sounds like protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, not others, is all that interests them.

The Cuban public has been largely passive in the face of material hardships and repression. But now, in late August 2011, there have been some small, hopeful signs of change. Four Cuban women chanting anti-government slogans on the steps of the capitol building in Havana drew surprise support from passers-by, who reportedly shouted “bully” and “scoundrel” at police.

According to an article in The Miami Herald (“Four Cuban dissident women detained after public protest,” Aug. 24, 2011) “A video of the incident Tuesday also showed two passers-by who appeared to join the protest, and recorded a man branding a woman who had apparently criticized the protesters as a ‘chivatona’— a government snitch. The video recorded an astonishing show of public and vocal support for the four women, in a country where passers-by normally remain impassive as feared State Security agents and pro-government mobs crack down on dissidents.”

Later, two members of the Women in White were arrested in Central Havana for banging on pots and pans and yelling, “there is hunger here," "food for the people," and "food for the children." Some of the hundreds of people at the market supported the women. Police seemed hesitant to arrest the women at first because so many were taking their side. When the women were finally arrested, people began shouting "murderers, let them go" (Una multitud apoya cacerolazo en mismo centro de La Habana

These developments have indicated that the message of the Women in White may be getting out to the general population. If that starts to happen, a groundswell of anti-government opposition may occur because, doubtless, the majority of Cubans are pretty fed up.

Amnesty International issued a press release below, to which I contributed information. Amnesty also issued an Urgent Action on behalf of the women. The Cuban government continues to try to stop the peaceful silent marches of the Women (or Ladies) in White and to prevent their spread beyond Havana.

Press Release, Amnesty International
Cuba’s ‘Ladies in White’ targeted with arbitrary arrest and intimidation22 August 2011

The Cuban authorities must end their intimidation of a group of women campaigning for the release of political prisoners, Amnesty International said after 19 of the group’s members were re-arrested yesterday.

The latest detentions took place yesterday in and near the south-eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where the women were due to march silently and pray for the end of political imprisonment.

Over the last month, the “Ladies in White” (Damas de Blanco) and their supporters have repeatedly faced arbitrary arrest and physical attacks as they staged protests in several towns in the region.

“The ongoing harassment of these courageous women has to stop. The Cuban authorities must allow them to march peacefully and to attend religious services as they wish,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

The latest arrests took place as “Ladies in White” gathered in several locations to make their way to a planned march at the Cathedral in Santiago de Cuba.

Eleven of the “Ladies in White” gathered yesterday morning at the home of a supporter in the town of Palma Soriano. A crowd of some 100 people, including police, officials and government supporters, surrounded the house for several hours.

When the women attempted to leave, police pushed them and pulled their hair before forcing them into buses. They were driven a few kilometres away where they were transferred to police cars and dropped near their hometowns in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguín.

Police also surrounded the house of Tania Montoya Vázquez, another “Lady in White” from Palma Soriano for several hours yesterday, preventing her and two fellow protesters from leaving.

Five other “Ladies in White” who live in the city of Santiago were arrested before they could reach the Cathedral and were held in police stations for several hours. It is believed that they have all been released.

Beginning on 17 July, groups of the “Ladies in White” have gathered on Sundays to stage silent protests and attend mass in Santiago de Cuba and several nearby towns.

The “Ladies in White” and the “Ladies in Support” (Damas de Apoyo) are a nationwide network of activists in Cuba that have recently escalated their peaceful protests in eastern provinces. In Havana and elsewhere, they have repeatedly suffered harassment from Cuban authorities for their peaceful protests.

In central Havana on 18 August 2011, 49 “Ladies in White” and their supporters were prevented from carrying out a protest in support of their members in Santiago de Cuba and other eastern provinces.

In 2003, Cuban authorities rounded up 75 of the group’s relatives for their involvement in peaceful criticism of the government.

The 75 dissidents were subjected to summary trials and sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years. Amnesty International considered them all to be prisoners of conscience, and the last of them were finally released in May 2011.

The “Ladies in White” and “Ladies in Support” continue to peacefully protest for the release of others who they believe have been imprisoned due to their dissident activities.

“It is unacceptable for the government under Raúl Castro’s leadership to perpetuate a climate of fear and repression to silence ordinary Cubans when they dare to speak out,” said Javier Zuñiga.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

VOA, Untimely Death, Iktar Dinner, Again at Eastern Market, Rick Perry, Errant Volunteer, Ortega, British Riots, Women in White, Buffet Manifesto

Last Monday, a reporter for Voice of America TV (short programs distributed in many languages through the internet) came to my house to film and interview me. She went through all my photos to select some to use in the piece, which will feature three former Peace Corps volunteers who have come home to do something different than they did before their service. Certainly that is the case for me, Spanish interpreting, annual visits back to Honduras, membership on the boards of three internationally oriented non-profits, and a book.

I was shocked to see this news notice: Saul Solorzano, who escaped the bloody tumult of civil war in his native El Salvador and became a seasoned leader of an advocacy organization for Central American refugees in Washington, died Aug. 17 at Washington Hospital Center. He was 49. The report went on to say he had died after falling down the stairs at his home. I knew the guy! He bought my book! He was only 49! You just never know when your time will be up.

On Tuesday, attended an overflow Ramandan Iktar dinner sponsored by Amnesty International where the fast is always broken with the consumption of date, though there weren’t enough dates to go around that evening. Our speaker was an Arabic-speaking American who had just returned from several months in Egypt, where he said that the military is cracking down more forcefully than before, a worrisome development. The main questions facing the new non-Mubarak Egypt are the relationship with the United States (and the future of US aid) and whether Islamic religious bodies will occupy a separate sphere, like in Turkey, or whether it will be religious state like Iran. At least 10% of Egyptians are Christians.
Probably at least 10% of Americans are non-Christians and American Muslim, especially, have felt alienated and discriminated against since 9/11. But Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann seem bent on declaring ours to be a Christian nation.

Now that my African visitors have departed and before my longstanding housemate returns on Labor Day, my house is very quiet. After many hot weekends when I stayed home, this past Saturday, went out to talk Peace Corps and try to sell my book, taking my table and displays over by myself to the Tortilla Café across from Eastern Market. Few people were out and most who passed by were not anyone who might be interested in the Peace Corps, either to join or even read about it. Many were listening to ipods or talking on cell phones. Others had small children or dogs—not folks exactly ripe for a Peace Corps career, because you wouldn’t take either to a foreign country. Some people my age were with their children and grandchildren—again, they wouldn’t leave their grandchildren. So, I don’t even try to talk Peace Corps with them. Others are not Peace Corps material because they are over or underdressed, i.e. women wearing high heels, low-cut blouses, and too-short shorts with beehive hairdos. Still others have too many tattoos and piercings or are just too overweight to be accepted. So there was only a narrow range of people whom I appealed to. Some turned out to be former volunteers, to whom I gave Peace Corps Response material, that is about 6-month assignments available to former volunteers. Others took my free information packets. Only one person, a French woman my age who had accompanied her American husband to Africa years ago bought my book. I suggested that she and her husband could go back now with Peace Corps, but she said his health is too frail, he has a pacemaker and other health problems, so she will content herself with joining vicariously through my book.

In Honduras, according to the local Hispanic press, 25 policemen were arrested for participating in criminal acts such kidnappings and joining criminal gangs.

Republicans have created a self-fulfilling prophesy, stalling on raising the debt ceiling, refusing the “grand bargain,” helping to send the stock market plunging, then blaming the Obama administration for not fixing the economy. And Michelle Bachmann, who has contributed considerably to the economic jitters, declares that she can fix it all quite easily. I do hope some voters are wising up about her. This whole stock market plunge and ups-and-downs are nothing more than worry writ large. Nothing objectively has really changed to cause such massive sell-offs. Investors concerned about a worldwide recession are making it actually happen! Maybe I’m Pollyanna, but I’m wondering what we ordinary folks can do to reduce the polarization in our country and daily lives. The least we can do is listen to one another. And that means that the other side should listen to us too!

From a recent AP report: “GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry told New Hampshire voters Wednesday that he does not believe in manmade global warming.” He’s even suggested it’s a hoax, invented by scientists to get money for research. I think Michelle Bachmann has said something similar. They both promise to create jobs and grow the economy, but are in favor of slashing government programs and services, which, at least in the short-term, will mean fewer jobs, not more. They are the real job-killers, not Obama. Just repeating something over and over doesn’t make it true, which I hope most voters will come to realize. If not and they vote for these charlatans, they will come to realize it too late for us all.

Distressing news in this Peace Corps 50th anniversary year is that a volunteer in South Africa has been arrested for having sexually molested at least five South African children under 6. Although recruits undergo an FBI check before being accepted, undiscovered or future behavior obviously doesn’t show up there. Another blot on the corps’ reputation.

Looks like Daniel Ortega, technically prevented from running for a second term in Nicaragua, is doing so anyway and is running without genuine opposition. And all he has to do is get more votes than any other candidate, not a majority, according to the constitution. Whatever happened to the spirit of UNO that propelled Violeta Chamorro into the Nicaraguan presidency in 1990 when I was an election observer there? Now, it’s all back to the usual fragmented, weak, and internecine opposition candidacies, which allowed Ortega to win his current term. I’ve spoken ad infinitum in the past with Nicaraguan anti-Ortega leaders, each one resisting giving up his fiefdom and long-shot chance at winning himself. So, Nicaragua will get Ortega once again and the opposition will deserve to lose. Sorry guys, you well know the winning formula from 1990, but refuse to try it again.

I understand that the British riots have been described in Libyan official media as a democratic “uprising” against an unjust system. Certainly, they got out-of-hand, going way beyond London where they first started, with opportunists and anarchists taking advantage and apparently some meddlesome types actually fomenting unrest on purpose, using social media to spread mayhem, an example of the reverse or perverse side of what social media can accomplish. At the same time, doubtless, a feeling of economic frustration and genuine grievance was being expressed by quite a few participants. The same feelings of deprivation and even anger are evident in this country and could lead to destructive copycat flash mobs and unrest here as well. Social media is certainly a two-edged sword.

Amnesty International is investigating the following report.

Santiago de Cuba / Palmarito de Cauto / August 7, 2011

Ladies in White (a peaceful group of Cuban women who are family members and supporters of Cuban political prisoners) and human rights activists holding meetings in their homes, suffered such violent attacks by the political police that many of them had to be hospitalized this Sunday, August 7, 2011, in the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Palmarito de Cauto, in the Eastern province of Cuba.

After attending Sunday mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba, government led mobs with blunt objects and members of the Ministry of the Interior were waiting outside for the twenty Ladies in White as they were on their way to march through the streets of Santiago de Cuba with their flowers to demand the release of all Cuban political prisoners. Access to the Cathedral was interrupted by police squads led by Lieutenant Colonel "Elliott" as loud music and governmental propaganda was heard through loudspeakers. The twenty women were followed by the mob, were insulted, threatened, and pushed into buses that took them to an unknown location.
The home of the ex-political prisoner, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, where activists were gathered as well as three minors, was also attacked by a government led mob that threw stones to the house. The home of activist, Maximiliano Sanchez was also attacked in the same manner.

As a result of the violent acts of repression carried out in the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Palmarito de Cauto by the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, six human rights activists were hospitalized with fractures, contusions, and wounds that had to be sutured. By orders of the political police, doctors refused to provide these wounded activists with a medical certificate which they need in order to accuse Cuban authorities of the violence perpetrated against them.

Among those critically hurt: Julio Cesar Salazar Salinas, Osmelis Cruz Dacal, Annis Sarrion Romero, Magalys Fernandez Eulices, Prudencio Villalon Rades, Jose Angel Garrido Morris, Osmelis Cruz Dacal, Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria, and a neighbor who tried to defend the activists: Rubilandys Torres Perez.

Also attacked and hurt in Palmarito de Cauto: Angel Verdecia Diaz, Andry Verdecia Osorio, Amado Verdecia Vive, Ramon Bolaños Martin, and the wife and daughter of activist Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Belkis Cantillo and Fatima Victoria (6 years of age ).

The Coalition of Cuban-American Women denounces and makes an urgent appeal before international public opinion concerning the escalation of brutal and aggressive acts by the Cuban government against a Cuban civil society that is peacefully demanding fundamental rights in the island. The lives of these Cubans are in danger and we hold Cuban authorities responsible for their physical and mental wellbeing. Coalition of Cuban-American Women- Translation to English/ / Tel: + 305-662-5947

Information provided by JOSE DANIEL FERRER GARCIA in Cuba – Telephones (Spanish): ( + 53 631267 ) or ( + 53 790867 )

August 14, 2011, New York Times
Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

By Warren E. Buffett

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.
But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.