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.

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