Monday, December 12, 2011

World AIDS Day, Human Rights Day, Sonia Pierre Dies in the DR, Murder in Honduras, Bob Edwards Show, Et. Al

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day, which we used to observe in Honduras with workshops by and for teenagers and a march around town with a big banner.

Human Rights Day was Dec. 10, but our Amnesty Group here in DC celebrated it on Fri. Dec. 9 at a Write-a-Thon held at the National Press Club, co-hosted with Reporters Without Borders. At a Write-a-Thon, participants sign letters and postcards already prepared for them about a number of Amnesty prisoners and actions, which we then mail out for them. One of our speakers was an Ethiopian former prisoner of conscience on whose behalf we had written at our 2009 Write-a-Thon, Birtukan Mideska, and there she was, in the flesh, actually speaking to us. Our letters had helped secure her release, for which she thanked us profoundly. That’s always a thrill. Another was Nada Alawadi, a Bahraini journalist who had been arrested, threatened, and silenced earlier this year and decided it was safest to leave the country while she still could. She said the reason we have not heard much any more about unrest in Bahrain is because of a news blackout, the arrest and torture of journalists (and local doctors treating wounded demonstrators), and the refusal of visa requests from foreign journalists. (See photo from that event.)

On the day before Human Rights Day, dozens of Cuban dissidents were preemptively arrested and members of the Damas de Blanco gathered outside the home of their recently deceased leader, Laura Pollan, were set upon by a government-organized mob calling them “mercenaries” and “ a nest of worms” (gusanera, a favorite insult), and shouting “¡Viva Fidel!” “¡Viva Raúl!”

On Human Rights Day itself, a boat from Florida approached Cuban waters and sent up fireworks into the air, causing the Cuban government to denounce violation of their air space. A number of opposition figures had been cleared out of the waterfront where the fireworks could be seen, reportedly including blogger Gorki Aguilar, author of the irreverent blog, Porno Para Ricardo. Foreign journalists trying to film the scene and unrest had their cameras knocked out of their hands.

Caricom and the Cuba leadership have both reinforced calls for the US to lift its longstanding trade embargo against Cuba. The calls came at the fourth Caricom-Cuba summit held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain where Cuban President Raul Castro was the guest of honor.

A staunch defender of the rights of people of Haitian ancestry living in the DR, Sonia Pierre, died in Santo Domingo of heart attack at age 45, a real loss. Meanwhile, her death has aroused Dominicans of Haitian ancestry to demonstrate for their rights to obtain a birth certificate needed to attend school or get a job.

My plane reservations for Honduras in February have already been made. And, thanks to Rev. Daniel’s help, I’ve been in e-mail communication with Jorge and Neris, my scholarship students. Daniel was back in Honduras from his new pastor’s position in his native Guatemala, picking up his kids to have them stay with him until school starts again in Feb. (His wife divorced him, as blog readers may remember, and she now wants him back after she broke up with her second husband, but Daniel is not buying it.) He said he had no gas to go looking for the kids for me, so I sent him $100 via Moneygram. I do rely on him and he will be back in early Feb. again to bring his kids back from Guatemala and may help me again then while I am in Honduras. Jorge, after I paid the first part his tuition at an IT school last year, told me now via e-mail that he had to drop out because of a serious stomach ailment so lost the whole year, ending up selling cookies and crackers out on the street. He claims to be better now and is wanting to start over. Jorge is the boy who lost two fingers to infection after surgery, as recounted in my book and on this blog. He also had an eye infection when I saw him last, for which I bought him medication. But he sounds now as though he wants persevere, despite health challenges. Neris has not had another baby, thank goodness, and she did finish high school and still wants to study nursing. Both kids are almost 18, if not 18 already.

Murder in Honduras. First an outspoken former anti-drug chief, Alfredo Landaverde, was murdered in the capital. The day before, female journalist, Luz Marina Paz Villalobos, was killed there, as per item below.

Journalist is shot and killed outside of her home in Honduras

Luz Marina Paz, a radio news host, was shot and killed outside of her home in Tegucigalpa, the AP reports. According to national police spokesman Luis Maradiaga, Paz and her driver were hit by dozens of bullets fired by men on two motorcycles.

Paz hosted a morning radio program called "Three in the News." The program addressed politics and narcotics trafficking; however, the article reports that she was not especially outspoken or well-known. Paz previously worked at Radio Globo, where she was critical of the coup that overthrew former President Manuel Zelaya in June of 2009.

Human rights advocates say that at least 23 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2007.

Bob Edwards Show, HD Radio, NPR, Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This year marks the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary and ever since President Kennedy issued the call to serve, young Americans have responded. But so have older Americans. Barbara Joe is 73-years-old and she was a health volunteer in Honduras from 1999 to 2003. Every February, she returns annually to Honduras to volunteer with a medical brigade, help kids with scholarships, check in with the community volunteers trained in Peace Corps, and assist a rehab center and a residential school for the blind.

Actually, I joined in 2000, not 1999, but stayed beyond the usual term to 3 1/2 years.

At a recent special education interpretation assignment, the mother expressed regret and upset that she had kept her son, now 19, in a private residential facility in the DR for 10 years, paying for his care from her modest income cleaning office buildings (she is a single parent and also has other kids). Supposedly, they were teaching him skills, but, instead, she found what skills he had possessed before had deteriorated and that he had also adopted institutionalized habits, such head banging from observing other residents. She finally managed to bring him here 18 months ago and was now lamenting that she had left him in that place so long. I was sitting next to her, of course, and said something like. "You did what you thought best and now he is here, better late than never.” I also translated what I had said for the school staff, but, strictly speaking, it was a remark that I had initiated, rather than something said by others at the meeting. I know interpreters are not supposed to become personally involved in the conversation and I will try to curb that in future, but it’s hard, as I’m a former social worker, after all.

It’s shocking that Virginia Tech, where my late father once headed up the architecture department, has again seen murder on campus.

Alabama has suffered economic setbacks because of its draconian anti-immigrant policies. Other towns around the country where immigrants have either been removed or have been frightened away, are facing similar problems. Such unintended consequences may come as a surprise to anti-immigrant lawmakers, but are totally predictable. These long-time residents, whether originally legal immigrants or not, have become integrated into the social-economic fabric. Not only are some types of jobs in Alabama going unfilled, especially in agriculture and construction, but businesses, apartments, and schools are being emptied out, and now legal foreign experts and students on temporary visas are avoiding that state. A Japanese Honda employee was arrested as a suspected illegal immigrant recently and Chinese entrepreneurs have felt unwelcome. The governor is now scrambling to reassure legal foreign residents, defending his support and approval of the anti-immigrant law.

Through the magic of Facebook, I have again found members of the Espaillat family living in Santo Domingo, and discovered that Ana, a psychiatric nurse who used to take me on her rounds is residing in an assisted living facility in suburban Maryland outside Washington, DC.

At Communitas, a small, progressive Catholic community, usually attracting about 30 worshippers on a given Sunday, we were surprised when two homeless men, very aromatic—evident smokers and drinkers—came in and sat down among us. We could not be so unchristian as to ask them to leave, but we felt a bit uncomfortable, especially those of us sitting nearest them. Then one, carrying a sack, while we were greeting each other midway through, slipped upstairs where we had laid out some potluck dishes for lunch afterward. Also, the building where we meet belongs to a gay Catholic group and we felt the need to protect their belongings. So, a couple of people went upstairs and gently persuaded him to come back down. We invited both men to join us at the luncheon afterwards, but they chose to leave. I wonder if they will be back and, if so, what should we do, if anything, if this becomes a habit? Maybe we should concern ourselves with their general wellbeing? How much can we undertake?

Cannot help commenting on Gingrich’s statement that there are no Palestinian people, an easy way to get rid of that problem. “No” turns out to be handy word, as two-year-olds and Tea Partiers have discovered. No evolution, no global warming, no new taxes, and now, no Palestinians. Of course, that’s an appeal not only to Jewish voters, of whom there are not so many, but to evangelicals, who also support the biblical Israel, and are much more numerous.

My ego got a little boost from a man from California who read my book who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile early on (Chile no longer has a Peace Corps program) and later was on staff on Colombia and Costa Rica. He also worked with USAID in Honduras for a number of years and is married to a Honduran. I won’t repeat his whole long message, just this excerpt:

While I have had many opportunities to interact with government officials at different levels during my work and years living in Honduras, I found your descriptions of the people with whom you lived ranging from the different landladies to young maids to health worker assistants to the Honduran men who were trying to capture your amorous attention to be incredibly vivid and accurate. Then there were your descriptions of the kids in rural Honduras with deformed and cleft lips and club feet who had been successfully operated on so that they could live better lives. Such descriptions of people’s suffering and opportunities to have their lives transformed are priceless and definitely speak to the greatness of Peace Corps and its dedicated volunteers like you!

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