Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving, Pinochet Fan, Honduras Drug As Conduit, Hugo Chavez, Burma, Oregon Death Penalty Moratorium, New Amnesty Director

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. My daughters Stephanie from Honolulu and Melanie from Virginia Beach joined me, along with Arianna, the 12-year-old sister of Mel’s husband, who lives with them. Later we had my 4-year-old great grandson, DeAndre, who stayed with us overnight while Natasha, my granddaughter and his mother, worked night shifts at her women’s clothing sales job, starting at 2 am on Black Friday morning. She said her feet hurt afterward, as there was quite a rush. Is this going to be the norm from now on, 24-hour retail? A few photos are posted, but it’s always a surprise seeing how they come out on the page.

Had a cardiac MRI patient from Chile as a Spanish interpretation subject this past week and, to my surprise, she was a fan of the late president General Augusto Pinochet. She told me that he had helped the poor. I don’t know about that, but the economy did not do too badly under him. However, as an election observer in the 1988 plebiscite, I can vouch that he did not have widespread support and that much of the population feared him and those he considered his enemies were often mistreated and disappeared. Our election observer team traveled around the country interviewing people confidentially and experienced being hit ourselves along with peaceful anti-Pinochet demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons. However, he did garner 40% of the plebiscite vote and, although he was brought to tears when he lost, he never really suffered any punishment for his misdeeds.

Stratfor, a geopolitical strategic forecasting organization, has issued a really scary, but not surprising, picture of how the drug trade destined for the US has mushroomed. According to a recent report, “Honduras, for example, reportedly has become a major destination for planes from Venezuela laden with cocaine. Once offloaded, the cocaine is moved across the loosely guarded Honduran-Guatemalan border and then moved through Guatemala to Mexico, often through the largely unpopulated Peten.”

Hugo Chavez, who claims to have vanquished cancer, now says he feel fit enough to rule his country until 2031, ten years beyond his previously announced retirement date. So much for term limits on Venezuelan presidential candidates, limiting them one consecutive term.

Myanmar or Burma is showing welcome signs of a human rights’ thaw which we can only hope and pray will continue. Sometimes such changes come from the top as in this case. Certainly the country’s military rulers want to improve their international reputation and their economic prospects.

Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon has announced that he won’t allow the execution of Gary Haugen, scheduled for Dec. 6 -- or that of any other death row inmate -- while he is in office. It would have been Oregon's first execution in 14 years. Twice before, in his first term as governor in the 1990s, he allowed executions to go forward, something he now regrets. We in Amnesty International oppose the death penalty in all cases and have applauded this decision.

Amnesty International-USA has a new Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel, who will begin her duties on January 2 in the New York office. She is a human rights lawyer who has worked the State Department and Human Rights Watch and also spent two years in South Africa working to implement that country's National Peace Accord.

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