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 PaĆ­s (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.