Saturday, March 5, 2011

Back from Honduras, Amnesty’s 50th, Interpreting Again, Woman’s Day April 17 Article Update, Cuba, More on Gun Control/Rights, Haitians in the DR

Just back from Honduras, still in reverse culture shock mode. Will soon post my trip report and photos, though not immediately, as going to San Francisco for Amnesty International’s annual conference, this being the 50th anniversary of that organization, as well as of the Peace Corps. From there, will go on to briefly visit my kids Jonathan and Stephanie in Hawaii—it’s my birthday, Jonathan’s, and that of Steph’s husband Paul, all in the same week. Coming back, I plan to arrive the very same day as two visitors from Africa, a man from Kenya and a woman from Zimbabwe, both attending a four-month course in accounting and auditing offered annually by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). So, no rest for the weary. But this is an interim report. At least you know I am now back safely from a trip that, overall, was successful, though somewhat arduous, as usual.

While I was in Honduras, a government no-smoking policy for public places was announced. In the local Hispanic press here in DC, it says that people may not even smoke in their own homes, though I never heard that in Honduras.

On March 1, the official start of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary year, the Empire State Building in NYC was lit up in red, white, and blue lights.

My first post-trip interpretation assignment occurred at an ortho clinic. Sometimes unexpected events arise after the assignment is over. The 60+ patient had been driven there by a younger friend with a little daughter. But, after leaving the friend in the waiting room while the client was having x-rays and an exam, we emerged to find her gone. We looked for her in the parking lot in vain, then went back into the clinic to borrow a phone to call her. Reportedly, she said she had had to go to work and we were taking too long. My client claimed not to know how to get home, so we waited for the bus together and I waited with her again at the nearest metro station to catch the right bus to her home. Then I got on the metro to go home myself. Hope she made it. Not only did she have language and physical problems, but some cognitive challenges and appeared pretty helpless in deciding what to do after her friend had left. As she was waiting for her second bus, she told me, "Tomorrow, when that woman asks me to take care of her daughter before and after school, I will refuse--she left me stranded."

On the first anniversary of hunger striker Orlando Zapata’s death, government mobs interrupted a march of the Women in White shouting "¡Nada de zancadillas, le partimos la siquitrilla!", "¡pin pon fuera, abajo la gusanera!", [Never mind just tripping you up; we’ll split your backbone! Hey, ho, get out, down with the nest of worms!] Those who leave Cuba or who are considered disloyal are referred to as “worms,” reminding me of the Hutus branding the Tutsis as “cockroaches.” When I was last in Cuba in 1997, looking for my late foster son’s family to inform them of his death from AIDS, Cuban authorities refused to help me because he was a “gusano,” a worm. (I found the family anyway.)

German Catholic theologians recently called for an end to priestly celibacy and for allowing married and women priests. Bravo, I say.

Now, I’ve heard from Woman’s Day that the date of the article where I appear as a “late bloomer” has been bumped over to April 17 (not April 1). When the fact-checker called me beforehand, I learned that no mention of my book whatsoever appeared in my section, not even that I had ever written about my Peace Corps experience. Apparently that was because one of the other two “late bloomers” is an author and having two would be redundant! I’m very unhappy about that and protested about it, as you can imagine, though to no avail. We are not the masters of our fate! I was discovered through my book, they got a free copy of my book, but now the book cannot be mentioned because that’s the claim to fame of another subject? She apparently writes historical fiction set in Scotland, where she has never been, and she’ll get plenty of publicity for that. The magazine reportedly has two million readers. Not only did I frankly hope to sell more books via the article, why I participated and devoted so much time to begin with, but my book has several messages that I consider important and would like to put out to the reading public about grieving the loss of a child, being an older PC volunteer, and the little-known people of Honduras. I was lured into participating under false pretenses, bait and switch, as it was my book that first called me to their attention. I even gave up an interpretation assignment when their photographer was coming from NY to take my picture, since the ones I had submitted were unsuitable.

From the questions I was asked by the fact checker regarding the article, it sounded like too many editors had gone over it. I am reportedly identified in the article only as a “freelance interpreter.” Could they say “freelance interpreter and writer” or even just “freelance writer,” if they cannot afford another word—“writer” is actually a few letters shorter than interpreter? Then somebody might be moved to search for my book on Google or Amazon. The answer was “no.” And, as far as I can tell, there are no letters to the editor and they could scotch that also. But maybe there is an on-line feedback section that the public can see. If so, will mention my book there. Everything else in the article seemed to have gotten garbled, for example, that my son had died after surgery, not after an accident. That I slept in a hammock when my daughter visited, when it was she who did so. I was said to be very concerned about poverty in Latin America—well, yes, I am—but that is not the main lesson of my Peace Corps experience. It’s kind of cliché-ish to focus on poverty as a generalized, abstract concept (which I never do in my book or presentations) and on blowing out my birthday candles and making a wish to join the PC, which is apparently a big part of their story. That did happen, but, to me, is incidental, not key. And, if anything, the excesses of life in the USA impact me more than Honduran poverty and reverse culture shock, even now, on my annual trips, whenever I return is greater for me than the shock of going there. I cringe to think of what the eventual article will say and how far it may deviate from reality. They should have let me write my own damn story! As Jimmy Carter once said, “Life is unfair.” People now tell me you should sign an agreement before an interview. I was flattered at being asked and just assumed it would include my book. I thought this was finally my one lucky break, after confronting so many life challenges.

I do appreciate the New Yorker all the more now for the depth and, in most cases, accuracy and balance in its reporting. A Woman’s Day photographer can be flown from NY to DC to take my photo, but the same care was not taken with the text of the article. Isn’t the article supposed to be interesting and instructive for readers, as well as good for selling magazines? Of course, I find most articles in women’s magazines repetitious: dieting, cooking, child care, beauty, fashion, and pleasing your man, all of it tied in with advertising. At least in this article, an older demographic is targeted—a recognition of the aging population, something a little different and a reaching out to a new audience.

Of course, when I complained, the editors threatened to cut the article even more. They might even cut the whole damn thing! I realize editors are in full charge and they want to sell magazines and advertising most of all. I wrote for years for a small magazine, OT Week, at a professional association and even we were mindful of our advertisers and always tried to tie in with them, never to offend them, so I can only imagine what it’s like in a national women’s magazine with a two million circulation. Profitability is paramount and articles’ content incidental.

If misery loves company, another author commiserates: I'm so sorry about this. The one thing worse than not getting media attention is...getting media attention. What you are experiencing is TOTALLY TYPICAL and just goes with the territory. I had years with my first book of just this sort of thing. The only thing you can do to protect yourself is BEFORE the interview, get them to sign all sorts of agreements, which they will never do, but you can try.

I’ve been hearing and reading commentaries lately about the sudden drop in birth rates around the world, not everywhere, not yet in the Arab world, but even in developing countries, causing an overall aging of world population. European countries, Cuba, China, and Japan are examples, for better or worse, of birthrates well below replacement. Economics, education, urbanization are all cited as reasons, surely valid, but I haven’t heard any pundit mentioning the obvious, the increasing availability and acceptability of contraception. The pill, now 50 years old and used by an estimated 100 million women worldwide, surely is making a dent in the birthrate. UIDs, contraceptive injections, condoms, male and female voluntary sterilization, all have become more effective and accepted in my lifetime. Couples are opting to have only one or two children, or none, something rare among sexually active spouses in bygone eras. At the same time, more people are surviving and living to a ripe old age thanks to medical advances, so population aging has become a reality. Every medical advance, while welcome, comes with its own side effects. The only way that the US has kept replacement levels steady is through Hispanic births, something not appreciated by those wanting to rescind birthright citizenship and deport Latinos. Those Neanderthals should be glad young people are being born here who will support them as they age—not only financially, but by actually providing hands-on personal care in nursing homes and elsewhere.

WikiLeaks cables on Honduras reveal that Zelaya came into office being quite pro-US, just like his predecessors. But this changed when he decided that his alliance with ALBA (Hugo Chavez’s group) would help him extend his term in office. As a condition of accepting Venezuelan oil, he reportedly agreed to declare that the FARC guerrillas of Colombia were not terrorists. The cables paint him as an opportunist motivated not by principle, but by wanting to stay in power.

Some noteworthy developments regarding Cuba are that the government’s 10% tax on remittances has been lifted, leading to soaring remittances, which may help Cuba out of its economic doldrums. Another is the re-establishment of the cultural exchanges that took place during the Clinton years. Already, Cuba has more visitors from the US (Cuban-Americans) than from any other country except Canada. With exchanges once again permitted, the number of visiting Americans is likely to soar, since almost any endeavor can be considered a cultural exchange. My first visit to post-communist Cuba in 1993, totally on the up-an-up, was for a film festival, allowed then as a cultural exchange booked through a NYC travel agency, which, I suspect, is now back in the Cuba travel business. Most of Cuba’s POCs have now been released and have gone into exile in Spain, as per an agreement brokered by the Cuban Catholic church. And, at this writing, American Alan Gross, age 61, is on trial in Cuba, threatened with a 20-year sentence. AID contractor Gross, arrested in December 2009 for bringing electronic equipment into the country, has the same Cuban lawyer as the Cuban Five, five Cubans convicted of spying in the US in 1998. This hints that a prisoner swap may in the works.

Not only Cuba, but China, have been muting any reporting on the uprisings in the Middle East, not wanting to arouse memories of Tiananmen Square. And, internet reporting on what has been happened has been blocked. Can you imagine if hundreds of millions of Chinese rose up? That would be a far bigger challenge and harder to resolve than Egypt or Libya.

A blog reader had this to say about the last posting, on January 30: While retaining my basic “cold dead fingers” stance on gun control, I’ll have to say that the feds should firmly encourage municipalities, educational facilities, &c to promptly supply to gun dealers the names of people like Loughner who damn well shouldn’t be allowed near firearms. I believe, as well, there should be more information-filing requirements on gun shows.

I think you’re wrongly oversimplifying the Second Amendment business, though. We talked about its application to personal weapons stashes in my Con Law class in about 1960. There was no need to go beyond arming state militias at the Constitutional Convention because taking away people’s hunting and home protection equipment was unthinkable. It’s also true that in the days of black-powder-only firearms, the danger to public safety was way less. Unfortunately, from my POV, Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller was dangerously lame. It won’t take much to overturn it, especially if the forces of gun control choose their battle wisely. & then the pendulum will go in the other direction.

I think you spend too much emotional energy attacking the Republicans. Who bloody cares what Sarah Palin does or says or whines? Just ignore her. Also Boehner. You read the thing in the New Yorker – he’s a cutout; when it suits his masters to remove him from the scene, it’ll be done.

More on the gun issue from former Governor Howard Dean: We can both protect our second amendment rights and keep our communities safe from illegal gun sales.

I was given an "A rating" by the NRA eight times during my years as Lt. Governor and then Governor of Vermont. Guns and hunting are part of our way of life in Vermont. But I don't think any Vermonter or gun owners anywhere can argue against common sense changes to our background check system to make our communities safer and more secure.

And common sense changes are exactly what Mayors Against Illegal Guns is proposing that President Obama and Congress take action on right now. They have a two-part goal. First, we already have laws that make it illegal for guns to be sold to felons, drug abusers or the mentally ill. The problem is that states and federal agencies are not required to make sure these prohibited purchasers are included in the background check database. That must change.

Second, it's time to stop the sales of guns without a background check at all. Right now, anyone can go to a gun show and purchase as many guns as they want no questions asked, no background check, nothing.

It's common sense to fix these two loopholes and make America safer from illegal gun sales.

The article below came in just after the last posting, but is still relevant, though who is focused on the DR or Haiti these days?

Dominican crackdown on Haitian migrants sows fearBy JACOB KUSHNER and DANICA COTO, Associated Press Feb 1, 2011

JIMANI, Dominican Republic – The Dominican Republic has deported thousands of illegal immigrants in recent weeks, sowing fear among Haitians living in the country and prompting accusations its government is using a cholera outbreak as a pretext for a crackdown. In the largest campaign in years to target Haitians living illegally in the Dominican Republic, soldiers and immigration agents have been setting up checkpoints and conducting neighborhood sweeps, detaining anyone without papers and booting them from the country.

Erickner Auguesten, a 36-year-old father of three who has been in the Dominican Republic illegally since 1991, said agents stopped him as he exited a hospital where his pregnant wife was getting a checkup. "When we left to get some food, the police pulled up and told me to get into the truck," he told The Associated Press in the border town of Jimani. He said a friend who works for the border patrol helped him sneak back in.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live at least part-time in the Dominican Republic, enduring frequent discrimination and the constant fear of being deported. A cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed at least 4,000 people and sickened 200,000 has made matters worse.

Dominican officials eased border controls and halted deportations for humanitarian reasons after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake near Port-au-Prince that killed an estimated 316,000 people and devastated the already impoverished nation. But right at the one-year anniversary of the quake, the deportations resumed — with greater enforcement than has been seen since 2005. More than 3,000 people have been handcuffed and sent across the border in the past three weeks, including some legal residents who were simply caught without their documents, according to migrants and advocates.

"They grab them from the streets," said Gustavo Toribio of Border Solidarity, an organization that provides assistance to migrant workers. "They don't care if they have children, if they have property. They only ask them for their documents."
The government denies that any legal residents have been deported. Dominican immigration chief Sigfrido Pared defended the deportations, saying his country cannot be an escape valve for Haitians fleeing extreme poverty and political instability.

The United Nations estimated before the earthquake that some 600,000 Haitians were living illegally in the Dominican Republic, which has a total population of nearly 10 million. Dominican authorities say that number has since grown to 1 million, most of them there illegally. "It is very easy for some countries or some organizations to criticize the situation in the Dominican Republic," Pared said. "No (other) country in the world has a border with Haiti. No country in the world has a Haitian problem like the Dominican Republic has."

Dominican officials say the immigration crackdown is necessary to prevent the spread of cholera from Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. So far there have only been about 300 known cholera cases in the Dominican Republic — with one fatality, a Haitian migrant believed to have contracted the disease back home. Even in Haiti, the disease has slowed in recent weeks amid a nationwide treatment and education campaign. However infectious disease specialists warn that cholera could still rebound in Haiti, and the Dominican Health Ministry says it can't afford to take any chances. "The ministry is in charge of maintaining epidemiological vigilance and health control along the border, as in the whole country," spokesman Luis Garcia said.

Many Dominicans support the deportations, saying they are fearful of contracting the disease. "It's a threat to our country," said Secondino Matos, a 50-year-old truck driver. "They (Haitians) are our brothers — but not the illegal ones. This country is drowning in them already."

Spread by waterborne bacteria, cholera causes rapid dehydration but is treatable if caught soon enough. The key to controlling it is early treatment and making sure people have access to clean water and sanitation.

Dr. Robert Tauxe, a cholera expert with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, praised the Dominican Republic for reporting its first cases so quickly and launching strong public education efforts. He declined to comment specifically on the deportations, but said there's little evidence that border controls, in general, can effectively contain the spread. "It's a little hard to point to success in that," Tauxe said.

Some activists allege that cholera is just an excuse, and the mass deportations are actually driven by racism and xenophobia. Dominican-Haitian Women Movement director Sonia Pierre noted that many road checkpoints are in areas that see only domestic traffic, and thus are unlikely to catch immigrants bringing the disease in from Haiti.

Many of the deportees have lived for many years in the Dominican Republic, and sending them back to Haiti increases their risk of exposure to the disease, she added. And when they inevitably try to return to lives and jobs, migrants could bring cholera back with them. "If they want to confront cholera, this isn't the way to do it," Pierre said.

Pared, the immigration chief, denied that officials are repatriating migrants who have been in the country for a long time. The Foreign Ministry and Migration Office said the operation is focused on Haitians who are coming into the country illegally, but there are tens of thousands in the country with no papers so it's often not possible to know who is a recent arrival and who has been there for years.
On a recent day in Jimani, dozens of trucks and people on foot lined up at the border crossing along a hot, dusty stretch of dirt road. Immigration agents briefly detained two vegetable sellers until a man in a passing SUV persuaded them to let the women go.

In addition to the deportations, Haitians say the crackdown is making their lives difficult in other ways: Bus and taxi drivers are now reluctant to transport them because authorities have been impounding vehicles carrying illegal migrants and handing out $270 fines. The increased border security not only makes it harder to cross but also has driven up the price of bribing Dominican border guards and migrant smugglers' fees.

Many Dominicans view their chaotic and impoverished neighbor with suspicion, even hostility. The country marks its independence not from Spain's departure in 1863 but from the end of a Haitian occupation two decades earlier. Darker-skinned Haitians are frequently discriminated against, and the Dominican Republic denies citizenship to people of Haitian ancestry born in the country by claiming they are "in transit" —even when many have been there for generations. Some even say the deportations don't go far enough.

Angelita Villaman, the leader of a neighborhood association in the city of Santiago, said she and others want all Haitians in their community gone by Independence Day in late February. If not, she says, she'll turn them in. "We regret their situation tremendously, but we can't handle them," Villaman said. "The entire world should take on Haiti's problems, not the Dominican Republic."

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