Thursday, July 21, 2011

Budget Battle, A Peace Corps Decision, Honduras Truth Commission Report, Cuban Hunger Striker’s Mother Addresses Congress

While I don’t pretend for a minute to be an economist, most congressmen and senators are not economists either. The whole “cut, cap, and balance” charade in relation to the raising the debt ceiling and reducing the deficit uses simplistic arguments that have no actual application in the modern economic world. And voting on that measure in the House has wasted precious time, probably further harmed the economy, and certainly failed to educate the public. Its partisans contend that the federal budget, like personal calculations that a family might make over the kitchen table, must be balanced, with outlays never exceeding income. Do they really believe that or are they only pandering to the misconceptions of Tea Party folks?

In fact, neither personal nor government budgets are routinely balanced, rather, they always mortgage the future, especially if there is to be continued economic growth. World and national economies are pyramid schemes of a sort, based on mutual trust and promises to pay eventually. We use electricity and pay later—it’s not like in pioneer days when settlers gathered firewood and made candles in advance of need. When the end of the world comes, someone will be left holding the bag. The main reason that Cubans are having a hard time right now converting from state jobs to home businesses, for example, is precisely lack of access to capital to invest to get it started. If it weren’t for the Cuban diaspora, they’d be in a real fix. And the same dearth of loans is thwarting new businesses that might get underway now in the US. Of course, borrowing can get out-of-hand, as so many individuals and governments have recently discovered, and, arguably, our country has exceeded a reasonable limit, but to support a constitutional amendment to limit spending to yearly revenues is unrealistic and wiser heads know that, although some ignorant balanced budget constitutional amendment signatories, such as Michelle Bachmann, may truly believe that such a system is feasible in the modern world. Unfortunately, they are not educating their constituents about reality, but confusing them and undermining international trust in the whole American economic system. If the “cut, cap, and balance” measure really became law, there would be economic chaos. But facts and expert opinion don’t seem to matter—the experts are dismissed as eggheads or captives of “big government.” Let’s hope that some cooler heads prevail in time to raise the debt ceiling and also to get a handle on the budget and the debt.

I can’t avoid commenting on the horrible, tragic death of a boy whose body was dismembered in NYC , captured when walking home from day camp. Something like that happening is certainly a parent’s worst nightmare. Though it’s a one-in-a-million occurrence, perhaps like other child murders and abductions by strangers, the mere fact that it occurred at all will lead most parents to redouble their efforts to protect their kids and perhaps to overprotect them by not allowing them appropriate chances for independence, maybe overlooking even more likely threats. I understand the protective impulse entirely after the loss of my (adult) son. As a parent, you want to head off any conceivable danger, though, of course, that’s impossible.

A woman about age 50 from Baltimore who had bought my book back in January just contacted me again to say that she is now fully immersed in the lengthy Peace Corps application process. At this point, she is starting to get a case of cold feet, wondering what she might be getting herself into. That’s fairly normal when making any big change, whether buying a house, changing jobs, moving to a new city, getting married, or having a child. There are pros and cons to everything, and certainly my book is frank about both in regard to the Peace Corps. Every change is a gamble and Peace Corps is no exception. But it’s a gamble where you can win big in terms of personal satisfaction, life enrichment, and making a contribution. I believe it’s gamble worth taking for most people, but, of course, they do face risks and must take precautions—more and different precautions than in the States—such as drinking only bottled water, keeping hydrated, avoiding fresh vegetables, not riding buses at night, and not living alone, among others.

The mechanical condition of buses in Honduras and El Salvador leaves much to be desired, as per the following. Riding buses, that’s certainly a risk abroad, though just a few days ago, a bus going from DC to Richmond overturned, killing four passengers after the apparently exhausted driver fell asleep at the wheel (he survived). And, more recently, a tour bus going from DC to Niagara Falls crashed, killing two. Of course, the US has a much bigger population and has more bus trips, so proportionately, developing countries, with buses and roads in poorer condition, will experience more crashes, one of the risks Peace Corps volunteers always face.

2 Americans among 10 dead in Honduran bus crash
July 11, 2011

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A bus crash in Honduras near an archaeological ruin popular with tourists has killed 10 people and injured 25.
Among the dead are two Americans, a Canadian, three Salvadorans and three Hondurans. Another victim has yet to be identified.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras says two other Americans are among the injured, but could not provide any further details on the victims.

Sgt. Wilmer Cruz of Honduras' national firefighters' force said Monday the bus was going down a hill when it apparently suffered a mechanical problem. It flipped on its side in the Sunday accident near Santa Rosa de Copan, a town near the famed Mayan ruins of Copan.

The bus set out from El Salvador and was carrying about 50 passengers.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Honduras? Here are two comments about its report.

HONDURAS: It was illegal, it was everyone’s fault, and everyone is to blame
In a nutshell, that was the conclusion of the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Comisión de Verdad y Reconciliación [CVR]), which on 7 July finally published its report into the 28 June 2009 overthrow of the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. The report vindicates Zelaya – saying that he was the victim of an illegal coup d’etat– but crucially it does not absolve him, suggesting that he pretty much brought it upon himself through his lengthy brinkmanship with the other institutions of state.

Honduras: HRF Finds Truth Commission Report Conclusive and Balanced; Criticizes Recommended Reform of the ConstitutionNEW YORK (July 13, 2011) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) congratulates the Honduras Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR-H) after unveiling its report, calling it conclusive and balanced. In particular, HRF appreciates that the CVR-H based many of its conclusions on the report published by HRF after the June 2009 coup in Honduras. However, HRF criticizes the CVR-H’s conclusions and recommendations regarding the alleged absence of a presidential trial in Honduras and the necessity of constitutional reform.

“We congratulate the CVR-H for successfully documenting one of the most serious democratic crises in Latin America in recent history,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “We are especially glad that our report served the CVR-H in this daunting and historical task,” added Halvorssen.

Last Thursday, the CVR-H presented its report, titled To Prevent these Events from Happening Again: Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examines in detail the events surrounding the coup of June 28, 2009. The 800-page report includes several references to HRF’s legal report, The Facts and the Law behind the Democratic Crisis of Honduras, 2009-2010, published in March 2010.

“The commissioners (…) agree with the analysis made by the Human Rights Foundation, in order to define what happened in Honduras as a coup d’état,” the CVR-H states on page 202 of its report. “[A] coup d’état would refer to a scenario with the following four concurring elements: ‘first, that the victim of the coup is the president or other civil authority with full control of executive power in that country; second, that the perpetrator of the coup has used violence or coercion to remove the victim from his post; third, that the action or actions that constitute the coup are abrupt or sudden and rapid; and fourth, that this action occurs in clear violation of the constitutional procedure to remove the president, or chief executive.’ In the case of Honduras, all of the four aforementioned elements were present,” the CVR-H concludes.

In March 2010, HRF sent a letter to Eduardo Stein, coordinator of the CVR-H, and made its 300-page legal report available to him. Over a year after this exchange, the CVR-H ratified many of HRF’s conclusions. In particular, the CVR-H concludes that the coup occurred in the context of democratic erosion precipitated by unconstitutional actions by the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. The report also concludes that the actions of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, prior to June 28, affected the credibility of the OAS.

“The OAS sent an accompaniment mission for the [national opinion] poll [mandated by Zelaya], even though relevant authorities of the Honduran State at all levels had issued resolutions stating that the poll was illegal and that it should not take place. This decision by the OAS undermined the confidence of several Honduran groups in the international organization,” the CVR-H determines on page 393 of its report.
However, HRF is careful to note its dissent from the conclusions and recommendations of the CVR-H regarding the purported absence of a presidential trial in Honduras and the necessity to reform the constitution to regulate this procedure (page 398ff.).
A special trial against high ranking state officials, including the president, is already regulated by the constitution (Art. 313(2)) and the code of criminal procedure of Honduras (Arts. 414-417), which grant the attorney general the power to prosecute the president before the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice.
“If they had simply followed this procedure, President Zelaya could have been removed constitutionally, with due process of law,” says Javier El-Hage, general counsel of HRF.

Since 1825, Honduras has enacted 14 different constitutions and modified the constitutional provisions regarding presidential trials at least 15 times.
“The Truth Commission’s assertion that the solution for Honduras is yet another reform, is just plain misguided. In order ‘to prevent these events from happening again,’ Honduran politicians across the spectrum must uphold their country’s constitution, instead of changing it every time it does not suit them,” concludes El-Hage.

Annex 3 of HRF’s legal report includes a detailed description of the constitutional provisions related to presidential trials, both in Honduras and in 17 other Latin American countries.

Posted on Tue, Jul. 12, 2011, Miami Herald

Mother of late Cuban dissident talks to lawmakersBy James Rosen
McClatchy Newspapers

The mother of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after an 85-day hunger strike, gave emotional accounts Tuesday of her son’s death in captivity to dismayed lawmakers.

A sober-faced Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, led Reina Luisa Tamayo to meetings with senators and House members who listened in rapt attention as she described Zapata’s ordeal at the notorious Kilo 7 prison in Camaguey province.

“I would go to every corner of the world to ask for justice for the cause of my son who was assassinated,” Tamayo told reporters in Rubio’s Capitol Hill office. “The Castro brothers (Fidel and Raul) are murderers and every door should be closed to them. We have to fight for liberty and justice for all Cubans. Our people are suffering.”

Her hands shaking, Tamayo held up a blood-stained white T-shirt she said her son gave her shortly before his death at age 42 in February 2010.
Tamayo, 62, said the blood came from vicious beatings Zapata endured while refusing to eat during his 15-month imprisonment. She said his captors denied him water for 18 days toward the end of his life.

“They murdered Orlando Zapata in premeditated fashion,” Tamayo said, her voice rising. “This mother would be incapable of making such a strong allegation against the government unless I held proof in my own hands.”
Tamayo read from writings her son had inscribed on the shirt.
“My blood is in service to liberty for all 11 million Cubans who don’t express themselves because they fear joining the many who are already in prison,” Tamayo read. “Long live the shirt of the prisoner of conscience!”

Rubio, elected to his first Senate term last November, held up what he said was incriminating evidence of a different sort. Displaying a recent newspaper article about increased U.S. tourism opportunities in Cuba, Rubio criticized President Barack Obama for loosening the decades-old travel ban.

The Obama administration earlier this year started allowing students and church groups to travel to Cuba, and it expanded the number of airports that can offer charter service there beyond those in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.
Rubio, a West Miami Republican, was joined at a news conference with Tamayo by Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Tallahassee and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Menendez’ parents also emigrated from Cuba.
“We’re honored to be in the presence of a hero who has witnessed firsthand the brutality of the Castro regime and the reality of Cuba today,” Rubio said. “It is the brutal reality of a brutal dictatorship that oppresses its people and violates human rights on a consistent basis.”

Nelson noted that he and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, sponsored a resolution honoring the life of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which the Senate passed unanimously in March 2010 shortly after his death. The measure called on the United States “to continue policies that focus on respect for the fundamental tenets of freedom, democracy and human rights in Cuba and encourage peaceful democratic change consistent with the aspirations of the people of Cuba.” Before meeting with senators, Tamayo appeared at a House briefing hosted by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican who was born in Havana.

“Cuba is a tropical gulag where the Castro brothers serve as prison wardens and executioners,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Anyone who has any doubt about that truth should listen to the sad story of Reina Luisa Tamayo.”
Tamayo gained political asylum in the United States and arrived in Miami last month carrying her son’s ashes in a shoe-size box. The remains were buried June 25 in a Bay of Pigs mausoleum at Dade South Memorial Park cemetery, marking the first time someone who wasn’t a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion was interred with participants in the 1961 failed military action against Fidel Castro.

Read more:

No comments: