Thursday, October 20, 2011

Photos, MLKing Memorial, Gaddafi’s Demise, Honduras, Cuba, Peace Corps Response, Zimbabwe

Will try to post some photos pertaining to recent blogs, keeping my fingers crossed that they actually come out. (We will find out whether I am successful if and when we see them posted here.) If so, one shows me with Congressman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) at a luncheon for Peace Corps writers held at the Library of Congress during the corps’ recent 50th anniversary celebrations. The others were taken on the fourth birthday of my great-grandson, DeAndre, celebrated at Chucky Cheese’s, including one of him and me beforehand in my living room with 7-year-old twin step-grandchildren in town for his birthday. The woman shown sitting with me at Chucky Cheese’s was one of my late son Andrew’s first girl friends, Julie, now a divorced mother of three.

Last Sunday, October 16, ceremonies were held to dedicate the new MLKing Memorial, a celebration postponed in August because of a hurricane. Fortunately, last Sunday turned out to be a warm, dry fall day, with many dignitaries taking the podium, including one of King’s daughters. The original ceremony had been scheduled for the anniversary of King’s “I have a dream” speech on the mall, an event I actually witnessed with my then-husband as part of a huge crowd, unaware that it would be history-making event.

Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq before him, Libya’s Gaddafi was trapped in a hiding hole. Certainly his ignominious demise must strike fear into the hearts of dictators everywhere, among them, Cuba’s Castro brothers. Unfortunately, Amnesty International investigators, recently returned from Libya, have discovered that Gaddafi loyalists are not the only ones subject to accusations of human rights abuses. The victorious side has apparently gone after supposed Gaddafi supporters with a vengeance, including black African migrant workers targeted automatically as mercenaries for his side when, in fact, they only came to Libya as temporary workers and were not involved in the fighting. Such scapegoating is always a risk during and after armed conflicts (remember Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II).

In the local Spanish-language press, an item appears reporting that a half-submerged ship was found off the Caribbean coast containing 7.5 tons of cocaine worth $180 million. Central America, now in the rainy and hurricane season, has been buffeted by Hurricane Jova, which may have contributed to the sinking of the drug ship. Storms notwithstanding, 28 Cuban rafters arrived on Honduras’s north coast, the sort of happening that was common when I was in the Peace Corps. It’s not easy to get from Cuba to Honduras on a raft! But many Cubans have made the journey, probably knocked off course by winds and waves.

News of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s likely demise within two years comes from an indirect source, Pravda, which quotes his personal physician in that regard. However, Chavez himself has announced he is now cancer-free and invited supporters to celebrate his victory over the disease.

Sad news has come from Cuba regarding the death of an outspoken member of the Damas de Blanco (Women in White), Laura Pollan, who appeared in the Norwegian-made documentary of the same name. She was hospitalized with hemorrhagic dengue and suffered a fatal heart attack in the hospital. Her husband was released earlier this year, one of the last of the 2003 Black Spring prisoners to be freed because he refused exile. At least, they had a few months together before her death. Up to the end, she had been very active in continuing with the marches with other women, calling not only for the release of their loved ones, but for the freeing of all political prisoners and an end to repression. She suffered many indignities, blows, and short-term arrests, but did not stop her advocacy. Reports of her death in the official Cuban media did not mention dengue as a factor in her death. Cuba has a history of covering up dengue epidemics for fear of scaring away tourists. There is no vaccine or curative medicine for dengue, a mosquito-borne viral illness.

Alan Gross, the American former USAID contractor given 15 years by a Cuban court, appealed his sentence on humanitarian grounds, not only due to his ill-health, but to that of his mother and daughter, but the appeal was denied.

Peace Corps is now recruiting Peace Corps Response volunteers for work on maternal health in Africa. Response volunteers are those who have once served a full term, but now go back for shorter assignments, usually three to six months, never more than a year. Having worked in maternal health in Honduras as a volunteer and because maternal survival and health are also priorities for Amnesty International, where I am now volunteer Caribbean coordinator for AI-USA, I would very much like to work on PC maternal health projects in Africa. However, six months is too long for me to be away from my Spanish interpretation work. I’m lucky, at age 73, that I still have work assignments and that the two agencies I work for tolerate my yearly absence in Honduras during the whole month of February. But an absence of six months would be really too much. When I retire from interpreting at age 80, if I live that long, then I plan to join PC Response, primero Dios, God willing, as the Hondurans say.

I have mentioned before that I’ve known both deaf and blind Peace Corps volunteers, as well as of at least one in a wheelchair. Now, I see in the 50th anniversary celebrations at Gallaudet University (a local university for the deaf) that at least 59 deaf volunteers have served, many of them teaching American English sign language in English-speaking Peace Corps countries.

Zimbabwe is another country of interest to me because of Amnesty International and folks who have stayed at my house. Once I attended a talk by two leaders of WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise), Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, who were recently arrested in Zimbabwe, along with ten others. Now all have been released, thanks to an international outcry, including from us at Amnesty. I confess to being all over the map in my interests and concerns and thank my few faithful readers for indulging my far-flung ramblings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Grt-Grandson’s B'day, Herman Cain, Honduras News, Senior Life, Canada Border, Flip Side of “Secure Communities,” Ala. Law, Obama, Reggie Clemons

On Saturday, my daughter Melanie came from Virginia Beach to visit me with her twin step-children, a boy and girl age 7. That evening, we joined a party at Chuckee Cheese’s for my great-grandson DeAndre’s, 4th birthday. It seems to me that he was just born yesterday, but there he was at age 4, being the center of attention and the life of the party.

That former pizza mogul Herman Cain has now tied with Mitt Romney in Republican Party polls is pretty amazing. Who is he anyway? His rise just demonstrates the lackluster quality of the other candidates, who are many in number, but low in quality. (Of course, I’m a Democrat, so not exactly an objective observer.) Sarah Palin realized her star had waned and wisely stayed out of the race. She already got her 15 minutes of fame, and then some, and took maximum advantage financially while she was still on top.

Honduras has again been in the local Spanish-language press. Afro-Hondurans convened a conference in La Ceiba on the northern Caribbean coast for all Afro-descendents, over 800 delegates from 44 countries. Fighting against discrimination in the Americas and worldwide, they hope to align their movement with that of African Americans in the U.S.

Honduran soccer player Andy Najar from a town near Choluteca (in the area where I lived for more than two years), a member of the local DC United professional team, proved an outstanding player and scorer in a recent winning game against visiting Real Salt Lake. Najar, who is only 19, was named rookie of the year last year, when he first played for DC United. His father began teaching him to play soccer back in Honduras when he was only three years old.

Excerpt below from Op Ed by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo in the Wall St. Journal, Oct. 5, 2011, outlining where the country stands now, acknowledging the high crime rate especially as it relates to the drug traffic and a large seizure of cocaine just made recently. However, despite the world economic recession and Honduras’s recent political troubles, he paints an optimistic picture. Some might question whether Honduras has become “an anchor of freedom and human rights,” but I do think Lobo has acquitted himself admirably in a very thorny situation and I hear from Hondurans that matters do seem to be looking up.

“[O]ur-economy grew' 2.6% and exports grew by 17% in 2010. In the same year, Honduras saw an amazing 41%increase in foreign direct investment. We have also begun creating 'charter cities,' special areas organized for production and trade, similar to examples in Asia. We expect this to attract new investments and create thousands of new jobs. With the help of the U.S., our Central and/ South American allies and all of our friends abroad, plus our people's determination and strong democratictradition--I am positive that we will continue to thrive as an anchor of freedom and human rights in Latin America.”

Lobo also met with President Obama and asked for an extension of TPS (temporary protected status) for Hondurans, which began after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Once a country gets TPS and nationals start sending back remittances, it’s hard for a country and for the people involved to give it up. Thirteen years on, Hondurans with TPS have put down roots in this country with homes, jobs, and kids born here and also contribute a substantial amount to the Honduran economy. Lobo thanked Obama for US support of Honduras during its “reconciliation process.” He also acknowledged the problem of violence, much of it related to drug traffic, in his country. While in Washington, Lobo was well-received at the OAS, where he won high praise from someone who was once an outspoken critic of the Honduran government, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who heralded him for his democratic efforts.

For the fourth time in the last few months, I’ve visited yet another resident of a senior living complex. I’m getting to the age myself where friends are moving into such places, all of which demonstrate a certain sameness—carpeted hallways, hand railings along the walls, cheery nameplates on dwelling doors, sprays of artificial flowers in common areas. Staff are kind, meals are colorful and nourishing, and activities are provided. It is, no doubt, a humane way to care for older people whose cognitive and physical skills are waning. My friend, who is fully ambulatory, is definitely slipping mentally, but she did recognize me and the other friend who’d brought me and seemed glad to see us. It was hard to converse with her because her mind wandered and her speech was garbled. I gave her a copy of my book, which I endorsed to her, and told her something about my Peace Corps experience, but don’t know how much she retained. She said she is still able to read, but I wonder? I also wonder whether putting such people all in one place is best for promoting mental stimulation. For some reason, while there, I thought of the institutions for “irrecuperables” that I had visited in Romania decades ago and how the institutional atmosphere and presence of so many mentally and physically disabled children all there together seemed to drag down that few that I judged to be more normal. On the other hand, since people are now living into old age when their cognitive and other faculties are in decline, group care may be the only humane and practical way to care for them—for us. As for myself, I hope I never have to live in such a place and that I die at home in my own bed with my socks on.

The graying of the population is not unique to our country, but is occurring everywhere, even coming to developing countries. It is the result of lower birthrates and better health care and nutrition, allowing more people to survive into old age. The phenomenon of worldwide population aging has been prominent in the news lately, showing that lower birthrates coupled with longer life spans are a two-edged sword. While continuing exponential growth in national or world population is undesirable, neither is falling population, especially in a country where the average age keeps rising, such as in Japan and some European nations (and also Cuba). The U.S. has managed to keep at replacement levels or a just slightly above, the ideal situation, thanks only to Hispanic immigration, something that the anti-immigration hawks fail to appreciate.

Now there is talk of building a fence along the Canadian-US border. I think it's a ridiculous and futile idea--the US government can try other methods to beef up security on the northern border, perhaps through aerial surveillance, but hasn't done all that well on building a fence on the much shorter southern border yet. There's a point where the cost in money and for the nation's image are not worth it. We cannot eliminate all risks. Of course, if a terrorist attacks by coming across that border, the fence idea will be pursued 100%. There is always an overkill reaction to any terrorist act, zeroing in on the particular method used. Meanwhile, wily terrorists are always thinking up something new and totally different.

We in Amnesty got a call from a woman in upstate New York who referred me to her sister, the wife of a Cuban now in immigration detention in Batavia, NY, arrested on a 1983 burglary charge in California. Apparently, Homeland Security, now with the new emphasis on "secure communities" and going after criminal aliens rather than ordinary undocumented, is sweeping through old criminal records. The wife, with whom he has a 10-year-old daughter, says her husband, just 21 at the time of his arrest, was advised to plead guilty on the advice of counsel, although he was not guilty, she says (of course, that was before she knew him). After he served his sentence, he was held some years in immigration detention pending deportation and was actually in the La. prison when the Cubans rioted there. After Pres. Reagan signed an agreement with the Cuban prisoners that they would not be sent back immediately and that their cases would be reviewed, so he was freed. She said his cellmate right now is a Dominican man in his 60s who was actually a US citizen, but whose citizenship has been revoked under this new emphasis on criminal aliens, because of a DWI committed in the 1970s. The Dominican man and his wife are resigned to returning to the DR after 40 years, leaving behind their children and grandchildren living here. If all this is true, it does seem that the new emphasis on criminal aliens, while permitting some ordinary people to remain in the US, is zeroing in on others who were living peacefully and productively despite old criminal records. That way, Homeland Security can claim to have deported a record number of criminal aliens, what Janet Napolitano has called the “worst of the worst,” though the two cases cited here of the Cuban and Dominican hardly seem to fall into that category and, indeed, their departure will be a net loss for this country. The Cuban man has an attorney but the presumption is that he could be deported and that Raul Castro is accepting Cuban deportees, although the man's wife is not sure of that.

As I may have mentioned before, I am a 30-year member of Amnesty International and have been volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean for AIUSA for the last 7 years, after my return from Honduras. In that capacity, I am supposed to be monitoring human rights in 30+ small countries in the region, including the Guyanas and Suriname, as well as Canada. As you can imagine, I cannot be fully engaged with all of them—the priorities are Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. But last week, plaintive requests came in from prisoners in Trinidad and St. Vincent who believe their trials were unfair. Of course, we try to steer them to possible local resources, but our organization hardly has the resources to deal with every case where defendants feel they’ve had an unfair trial, something which probably would apply to more than half of all criminal cases around the world.

Meanwhile, Alabama with its new draconian immigrant targeting law, is seeing an exodus of skilled and farm laborers, an emptying out of schools, apartments, and businesses, threatening even greater economic hardship to the state, but the governor is holding fast, not admitting to a mistake or making any effort to soften the blow. That’s just a foretaste of what it would be like if all undocumented persons left this country. We would see population decline and economic consequences just as dire. Too many Americans give in to prejudices and a blame game without realizing that they will be harmed along with those whom they are attacking.

In an interview with Madrid’s El PaĆ­s (September 29, 2011), Barak Obama declared it was time for something to happen in Cuba. He said he was not yet ready to completely lift the embargo, but would respond to positive signs from the Cuba government demonstrating its willingness to liberate its people and move toward democracy. He cited measures already taken on the U.S. side in terms of liberalization of visits and remittances.

Now that we in Amnesty and other anti-death penalty advocates have lost the fight on Troy Davis, we are not giving up, but focusing on the case of Reggie Clemons in Missouri. The Davis case aroused many thousands of death-penalty opponents in the US and abroad, anxious to put their energies elsewhere now so go to the AIUSA website for details on Reggie Clemons. Apparently, just a few locales in the US are responsible for nearly all death penalty cases, thanks or no thanks to zealous sheriffs and prosecutors, such as Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I may have already mentioned that I once attended an Amnesty International annual conference where the brother of the Unabomber spoke, saying that he and his mother refused to turn in the Unabomber until they were given a guarantee that he would not be subjected to the death penalty. (He has refused to meet with family members since his incarceration, feeling he was betrayed.)

I admit to my readers that my blog, like my life, is multifaceted, so thanks for sticking with me through a variety of topics, not just one or two.