Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barbara in Woman’s Day, International News, Honduras Visit Report, Amnesty’s 50th, Reunion in Hawaii

Faithful readers, if you are still out there, excuse my long absence from writing on this blog. I did post photos, so you got an idea of my Honduras trip and its aftermath. A thousand pardons. I have yet to file my tax returns.

As many already know, I’m featured in the current issue of Woman’s Day magazine, April 17, 2011,

As you will see there, my book is deliberately not mentioned to avoid stealing the glory of the first woman featured, a writer who struggled valiantly to find her literary voice.

Knowing my long-time interest and involvement in Cuba, including as volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty International-USA, people have been asking whether I think the Jasmine revolution will spread there. I doubt it (and would be happy to be wrong), but Cuba has an older population and virtually no access to the internet and cell phones for ordinary people. Cubans have probably been getting very little and very slated news about unrest elsewhere. Furthermore, state control is pervasive and, frankly, intimidating. Not every attempt at mass protest ends in a democratic opening, in fact, sometimes just the opposite—think China and Iran. It’s a risky business with an uncertain outcome—we still don’t know how Egypt and Libya will end up.

As most readers are aware, American USAID contractor Alan Gross, a resident of the DC area, was given a 15-year prison term (see article below) and former President Jimmy Carter was unable to free him on a recent trip to Cuba. Less well known is that all those arrested in a 2003 Cuban government crackdown on independent journalists, librarians, economists, physicians, and others have now been released, most of them exiled to Spain.

The earthquake and nuclear facility destruction in Japan has been personally devastating to me because of previous close ties with that country. I became interested in and involved with Japan thanks to a Japanese beau, who sadly later died. Thanks to my connection with him, in the 1980s I did part-time research for both Mainichi newspapers and NHK, the country’s major television network, where I also appeared on-screen examining archive files—after being filmed doing my tasks. Years later, I had a brief stopover in Japan on my way to meet my daughter Stephanie, who was then in Thailand. And I met and worked with Japanese overseas volunteers when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras. My contacts with Japanese people throughout my life have always been positive, so I’ve been horrified by the destruction wrought by the 2011 earthquake and resultant nuclear reactor damage, which must have reminded older people of the fallout from nuclear bombs dropped at the end of World War II. Some may have even thought it was divine retribution for supposed failings.

Am now seeing this from Muslims for Loyalty ( posted on metro trains, An undulating American flag with the message a “Love for all, hatred for none.”

This from a friend in Yemen:
What is happening in Yemen is a real misinterpretation of democracy. Both the opposition and the ruling party are having difficulty in exercising their duties and responsibilities as it should be. I hope it will be settled soon.

Another friend gave me a copy of When the World Calls by Stanley Meisler, a former Peace Corps staffer whose book commemorates the first fifty years of the agency. I was surprised and pleased to see that my own service and book are mentioned on pp. 165-168. Furthermore, mentioned accurately.

In Honduras news, as mentioned once before, President Porfirio Lobo wants legislative approval for his plan to establish “model cities” on empty land, where volunteer settlers and investors will start from scratch. Thousands of white-clad residents of San Pedro Sula held a silent Sunday march to protest the wave of murder and violence sweeping the country, especially in their own city. Honduran teachers are on strike yet again in some areas, something I witnessed every year when I was in Peace Corps. But President Lobo has declared that 80% of teachers are still on the job. Later, he announced, all the teachers had returned to work.

As for my Honduras trip, it was arduous as usual, partly because of transportation and communication difficulties. I did participate in the International Health Service of Minnesota medical brigade in the Esperanza area and also managed to get two girls shown in photos on my book, Arcenia and Sandra, together again. I had taken them together to have ortho surgery in 2005. Arcenia, now 20, has put on quite a bit of weight. She brought me some corn cakes she’d made herself in an adobe oven. Sandra’s mother, pregnant with her 7th child, brought some potatoes. I gave both their parents money for their schooling and extra for Sandra’s mother to get a tubal ligation at the Esperanza hospital after hits baby’s birth. “Don’t let me find you pregnant again next year when I come back,” I told her. She said in that case, she would send Sandra with her husband or older brother. She and Sandra had to come twice to meet with Arcenia and her dad (see photos) because of a communication mix-up, common where families, even with cell phones, don’t have reception towers near their homes. On Sandra’s first visit, her older brother came with them. He told me he wants to finish high school and study even further. I hope to be able to assist him in that goal. Arcenia’s dad told Sandra’s mom that his wife had 12 children before she finally had her “tubes tied.” Arcenia is in the middle of the bunch.

My other scholarship students, all age 17, proved to be a mixed lot. Jorge, the boy with missing fingers (as per my book), is taking a year of IT studies before going on, so I was able to help him with tuition for that, going with his step-mother to his Choluteca private school to pay the fees, just in time, as classes were almost ready to start. I said I would be willing to help him again next year with more advanced schooling, but he has to keep in touch about his plans and I gave him my e-mail address. Jorge also had a stubborn infection in his eyelid, for which I was able to obtain medication after consulting directly with the pharmacist, something, I imagine, that was common practice in this country in the 19th century. Neris, the girl shown with me on the lower front right of my book cover, had also written a farewell note when I left, reproduced at the end. I see her on every visit, including on my visit last year, when I did not know she was 4 months pregnant. Now she has a baby daughter and has married the father. I asked what this would do to her education plans, but she said she is still attending her last year of high school now in El Triunfo and wants to attend a 2-year nursing course in Choluteca, starting next Feb. I did give her something for her studies this year. She gave me an e-mail address, but my message to her after my return to DC bounced. So Jorge and Neris are probably scholarship students again next year, but I hope to hear from them about their education plans via e-mail before I arrive in the country next Feb..

Marciel, the girl with facial burn scars, whose mother makes tortillas in Guasaule at the Nicaraguan border, proved to be a different story. I found her mother with some of her kids making tortillas as usual, but, she reported that Marciel had just married a young man in the army and had decided not to pursue further studies. I gave the mother some special face cream for Marciel and a little cash for a wedding present, but crossed her off the list of future scholarship students. The mother told me that her son, burned by firecrackers last year when I visited, was doing pretty well, with no serious disabilities.

Bessy, the woman to whom Timoteo and I had given a wheelchair as mentioned in my book, still had not gotten it fixed since last year. Again, she asked for money to fix it and I gave it to her for the last time. If it’s not fixed by next year, no more.

Jose Luis, who last year vowed he would never marry again after his wife’s betrayal, was now planning to marry a young woman from his church, a divorcee with two kids, pregnant with twin girls by Jose Luis. The babies were due this month, but I haven’t heard.

I had many more encounters and adventures in Honduras, including at the school for the blind in Teguc, but I refer you to the photos for details. At the end of the visit, I stopped in Miami where I stayed with Armando, a kidney patient whom I had brought to the US from Cuba because he could not get his medications there. I will post a photo of me with him, his Nicaraguan wife, and her newly arrived daughters when I figure out how. I also saw Jorge Valls, a Cuban playwright and poet, who spent more than 20 years in Cuban prisons for testifying at the trial of a friend who was later executed.

Then, after a brief stop back home in DC, went to Amnesty International-USA’s 50th anniversary conference in San Francisco, where Joan Baez sang for us and Burmese laureate Aung San Suu Kyi spoke with us by speaker phone from Burma. She was recently released after many years of house arrest. Then, it was on to Honolulu, where my kids Stephanie and Jonathan live. There, Jonathan and I participated in a ceremony at the state capitol recognizing Peace Corps’ 50 years. We were allowed to enter the legislative chamber with no screening by metal detectors even though Jon was carrying my suitcase, as I was transferring from Steph’s place to his. Later, a legislator invited us to lunch in his office.

I returned to DC the same day that Charles, a visitor from Kenya arrived. Later, he was joined by Rheah from Zimbabwe. Both are taking a course here offered by GAO. Of course, I’m back at work again as a Spanish interpreter.

So that’s it for now. Please contact me if you like on this blog or via e-mail (address posted at the beginning of this blog). See articles below.
Arrest warrants dropped for Honduran ex-president
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A supreme court judge dismissed three arrest warrants for former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Friday, allowing him to return without detention to the country where he was deposed in a June 2009 coup.
For several weeks, university students around Venezuela have been carrying out hunger strikes calling for the release of political prisoners and other human rights reforms.


Cuba Gives 15-Year Prison Term to AmericanBy ELIZABETH A. HARRIS, NY Times, March 12, 2011

A Cuban court sentenced an American government contractor, Alan Gross, to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state, Cuban state television reported Saturday.
Mr. Gross, 61, was detained in December 2009 while on a U.S.A.I.D. mission in Cuba designed to weaken the government. Cuban authorities said that Mr. Gross was distributing satellite telephone equipment, which could be sued to access the Internet, to Jewish groups in Cuba. Those groups have denied having anything to do with him.

The prosecution was seeking a 20-year sentence. A panel of judges found that the evidence “demonstrated the participation of the North American contractor in a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities,” the Associated Press reported Saturday.

The United State National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, criticized the ruling and called again for Mr. Gross to be released. “Today’s sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross’s ordeal,” he said. “He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more.”

Mr. Gross’ detention has been a point of contention between the United States and the Cuban government, even as President Obama has loosened restrictions on travel for groups like scholars and artists and pledged renewed engagement with the Cuban people.

Most political observers have said they expect Mr. Gross to be released on humanitarian grounds. He has lost some 90 pounds while in detention, and his daughter had a double mastectomy after a cancer diagnosis last year.

March 5, 2011 (via Cubadebate, a regime website):

Trial of Accused American Alan Gross Concluded for Sentencing

During the trial the prosecutor supplied elements of proof on the direct participation of the accused in the introduction and development of a subversive project intended to tear down the Revolution, which had as its essential targets the youth sector, university centers, and cultural, religious, feminist and racial groups. In the materialization of his anti-Cuban goals he intended to use sophisticated technologies to create clandestine info-communicational networks outside the control of Cuban authorities to nourish counterrevolutionary provocations. Gross admitted that he was used and deceived by DAI (Development Alternatives Inc.), a contractor enterprise of the USAID North American agency, subordinate to the Dept. of State, in charge of political destabilization programs against governments in Latin America and many other parts of the world that are not to the liking of the White House.

He [Gross] accused DAI of having placed him in danger, leading to his current situation, and of ruining the life and economy of his family.... Also taken into account were the declarations of ten witnesses, nine investigators with 26 investigative reports, the report of the instructor [i.e., Gross's State Security interrogator], abundant material proofs and documents presented by the Prosecutor.

Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly wins Haiti electionBy TRENTON DANIEL, Associated Press, April 4, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly scored a come-from-behind victory Monday in Haiti's presidential runoff, according to preliminary results from last month's election in which he easily defeated a former first lady for the leadership of a country facing enormous challenges.

Martelly, who has never held political office, received nearly 68 percent of the vote in the two-way race with Mirlande Manigat, electoral council spokesman Pierre Thibault said in an announcement that was immediately followed by noisy celebration in the Haitian capital.

The popular musician, a star of the Haitian genre known as compas, had trailed Manigat in the crowded first-round election in November. But his campaign gained momentum in the second round and many voters seemed enchanted with his lack of political experience in a country where the government has failed to provide many basic services.

Martelly promised profound change for Haiti, vowing to provide free education in a country where more than half the children can't afford school and to create economic opportunity amid almost universal unemployment. "I'm going to celebrate with the people, then I'm going home to my kids," Wilson Goren, a 32-year-old street vendor, said as fireworks erupted around him after the results were announced.

Final results are due to be released April 16.

The candidates were vying to replace President Rene Preval, who was barred by the constitution from serving a third term.

The new president will face a challenging environment that includes a Senate and Chamber of Deputies controlled by Preval's party and widespread anger over the slow progress of reconstruction from the January 2010 earthquake. Haiti also is grappling with a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 4,000 people since October and is expected to worsen with the spring rainy season.

Much of Haiti was paralyzed by riots in December after the electoral council announced first-round results that initially excluded Martelly from the runoff. The Organization of American States later determined those results were incorrect and the musician had come in second, giving him a spot on the second ballot.

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