Saturday, July 21, 2012

More on Honduras, Ghana PC Volunteers Accused of Killing Robber, Origin of Peace Corps Name, Cuba’s Private Enterprises, Ladies in White Jailed in Cuba, Cuban Hip-Hop Prisoners, Latin America Divide, Stallone’s Son’s Death, Sheriff in the Docket, Toe-Nail Trimming & Other Medical Services, Still Another Mass Shooting


This time, a photo with older daughter Melanie, who was left out last time. She came again this weekend, but without the kids. Today is cool and rainy, not even 70 F, a great relief from recent 100-degree days!

A report from Tegucigalpa, extrapolated in the local Spanish-language press, is much more cavalier than most American and human rights sources about the killing of four suspected narco-traffickers in eastern Honduras, two apparently by US DEA agents. The headline is: “Guerra Contra Narcos” [War Against Narcos]. Perhaps because in Honduras, murder is so common, people are no longer shocked or overly preoccupied. It’s just become a fact of life—or death. Human life becomes cheap. And “narcos” are considered bad guys anyway, not deserving of protection. When the Honduran prison burned down last Feb., killing more than 300 people, relatives of those killed were naturally aggrieved, but many Hondurans I talked with simply said “Good riddance.”

This comment on his birth country came to me from a transplanted Honduran: I commend you and appreciate the work that you have been doing to help the people in Honduras. Too bad that such a beautiful country is controlled by gangs and corrupt politicians who cater to the drug cartels instead of focusing in building up the morale of the country, education, and health care. I’ve been living in the USA since 1980 and have no desired to go back to live in Honduras because of the unsafe atmosphere that prevails through most of the regions in the country. A lot of businesses have to pay for "protection" or what it's know as" impuesto de guerra " or war tax, imposed by thugs who will harm the small business owners if they don't pay what they ask for.

A long article in The Guardian about the historic roots of Honduran violence and the US role is at:

Honduras holds primary elections for party candidates one year before general elections. For primary elections coming up on November 18, four parties’ candidates will be vying for their party’s nomination, two leftist parties and two rightish parties. As per the flap that led to the ouster of Mel Zelaya, the current president Porfirio Lobo cannot run again, at least he is not permitted two consecutive terms. I understand that Zelaya’s wife is one of the primary candidates. Final elections will be held in November 2013, leaving the primary victors a whole year for campaigning.

From the Peace Corps Writers’ blog, July 16th 2012: The police in Ghana have arrested two Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana in connection with the killing of a local man who tried to rob them, police said on Monday. A police officer in the northern town of Wa said the incident happened at the weekend when they were attacked by two robbers. One Peace Corps volunteer fought back with a knife, fatally wounding one of the assailants, said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The U.S. embassy in the capital Accra confirmed that police were investigating an incident involving Peace Corps volunteers.“They were involved in a safety and security situation in the early hours of Saturday and the police are investigating,” embassy spokeswoman Sara Stryker said.

More on July 18, Ghana’s attorney general is examining whether to open a formal investigation after a PCV stabbed a robber who subsequently died. PCV Andrew Kistler used a knife in self-defense and stabbed the attacker in the chest late Friday in the northern town of Wa, regional police commander Kofi Adei-Akyeampong said.

During the attack, Kistler, who was accompanied by a second PCV, Rachel Ricciardi, was injured with a machete. The police found him with a bandaged hand and a bloody shirt at his house early Saturday. “One of the assailants tried to slash him with a machete,” said deputy regional commander Osei Ampofo-Duku.

One of the two attackers, identified by police as Eliasu Najat, 22, was found dead Saturday morning.

The case has been sent to the attorney general, who will decide whether it warrants prosecution. “It is possible they committed a crime … but everyone knows they were trying to defend themselves and this was the outcome of their self-defense. There is no cause for alarm,” Adei-Akyeampong told The Associated Press.

The Peace Corps said Monday that the two Volunteers involved reported the incident, but Ampofo-Duku said Tuesday “the police got to them first.” They said that officers traced drops of blood from the crime scene to a nearby house where they encountered Kistler.

The embassy spokeswoman Sara Stryker on Tuesday reiterated that “when the crime occurred, they reported the incident to the local authorities.” Stryker added that the embassy was “closely monitoring” the investigation and offering consular services to the Americans, who are still in Ghana but no longer at their posts. She insisted that it’s not the Volunteers but the crime that’s being investigated. “They were the crime victims,” she said.

How Peace Corps got its name: John Peter Grothe died on Saturday, June 16th in Los Altos, California from brain injury caused by a fall. He was 81. John was an early and important person in the Peace Corps world, most proud of a memo he wrote back in early 1960s that gave the Peace Corps its name.

For a close-up look at Cuba’s private enterprise push, officially referred to as “employment outside the state sector,” see “Cuba Hits Wall in 2-Year Push to Expand the Private Sector,” NY Times, July 16, 20012


As my blog readers know, one of the hats I wear is as volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty International USA. In that capacity, I would ask interested parties to write letters about the following case:

July 18, 2012, Amnesty International issues today the Urgent Action AMR 25.018.2012 on behalf of Niurka Luque Álvarez, Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González who have been detained without charges since last March. Amnesty International believes their arrest and detention may be linked to their activism and peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression. Niurka Luque Álvarez and Sonia Garro Alfonso are both members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White). Please take action on their behalf.

I am delighted to be in contact with a group in Chile making a film about the 1988 “No” vote there, the plebiscite that Pinochet lost and where I was an election observer. The group wants to include current human rights concerns in Latin America, a case in Colombia and one in Cuba. We at Amnesty offered them some options and they chose the Lima Cruz brothers, which cannot hurt and only help the brothers’ cause, especially when coming not from the “empire,” but from another Latin American country. The brothers, Antonio and Marcos Lima Cruz, were arrested in December 2010 during a Christmas party at their home where they played controversial hip-hop music critical of the government and danced in the street carrying the Cuban flag. Antonio and Marcos were sentenced to two and three years respectively for “insulting symbols of the homeland” and “public disorder.”


Dr. Carlos Sabino, a professor of sociology formerly at the Central University of Venezuela, now a visiting professor in Guatemala, has divided Latin America into two camps, the first is the Pacific Alliance: Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, along with those somewhat more loosely aligned with it: Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, and Uruguay, as well as the smaller Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. On the other side is the Chavez-led and oil-supported “Bolivarian Alliance” consisting of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. He says countries in the latter group, at best, have seen only 1% economic growth and, compared to the more mainstream market economies, are plagued by inflation, price controls, and social unrest and so do not offer a viable or particularly attractive alternative to the first block.

When I read about the sudden death of actor Sylvester Stallone’s son, my heart went out to him. Other famous people have lost their kids as well. When it happens, everything that they’ve achieved in life will shrink in importance, becoming like ashes in their mouth. I know; I’ve been there.

Now that Arizona’s notorious racist Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is under investigation, his office is fighting back, alleging once again that President Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery. No one raised a question about McCain’s birth certificate or birthplace, despite his Panama birth. What about Romney’s birth certificate? Maybe it’s a forgery? Really, this is getting tiresome. Already, this is Obama’s 4th year as president—it’s a fait accompli. Can’t they find something more substantive to discuss? Use a little more imagination, Obama opponents, instead of just trotting out all the same old tired stuff!

One of my readers commented on my previous observation that all kinds are services have been included under medical care, including toenail trimming. She pointed out that some arthritic and overweight elderly folks cannot trim their own toenails. Of course, there probably have been billions of older and infirm people over the course of history and around the world with that same problem, including in eras when toenail clippers had not yet been invented and when publicly funded health-care services did not exist. What did they do? Some probably suffered in silence with overlong toenails, while others called upon friends and relatives to do them the favor with the tools at hand. Where people mostly walk barefoot or with sandals, perhaps normal wear-and-tear wears down the toenails. Those same older and infirm people probably have needed help going to the latrine or using a chamber pot and when they’ve wandered off, they may have been tied to a chair rather than placed in a locked residential setting as they’d probably be today in this country. I saw an older woman tied to a chair once in rural Cuba in 1997. The point is that there are multiple ways to deal with similar problems, depending on the culture, resources, and era. Toenail trimming may indeed be defined by us now as a medical service, but it probably could be done more cheaply and just as well by pedicurist as by a podiatrist, although, in that case, it would not qualify for Medicare reimbursement. That’s just an example. What is medical and eligible for insurance coverage is a matter of definition and depends on public opinion and consensus, which is somewhat elastic. This is obvious in definitions of mental illnesses, whereby homosexuality was once a condition requiring treatment, but no more. Are Viagra, birth control, and abortion medical care and should they be covered by insurance that we all collectively finance? Obviously, purveyors of any service whether massage or chiropractic or aroma therapy will want it defined as medical in order to assure insurance coverage. The expansion of medical insurance coverage to include more services means higher payment to their practitioners and also that insurance costs will necessarily go up. If that’s what we want as a nation, as a society, then let’s put everything into the medical care basket.

Cannot fail to comment on the mass shooting in Colorado. How many of these tragedies—both large-scale shootings like this and everyday ones, such as recently the 3-year-old in our area who accidently killed his father with an unsecured handgun—have to occur before we try as a nation try to figure out how to prevent or reduce them? If every firearm owner was 100% careful, observed all the safeguards, never acted impulsively or with malice, it would be another story. But given human nature and variability, that’s pie-in-the sky. The proof is that gun massacres, murders, suicides, and accidental deaths continue to occur. I am grateful to fate or luck that when another boy accidently dropped a loaded handgun that discharged that my son Jonathan, then age 12, was only injured in his foot, not in a more vital spot. Unfortunately, after much anguish, shock, and hand ringing over the Colorado killings, with nothing whatsoever being done, the issue will be forgotten until the next episode—and we all know there will be another—then the whole process will be repeated once again. We’ve had Columbine, Virginia Tech, Arizona, and now back again to Colorado, with episodes in between with somewhat fewer casualties, and nothing is done.

Granted that there was a similar mass shooting, but with fewer casualties, in Canada recently and the horrendous mass murder in Norway, two nations where gun control is far more stringent than it is here. Nonetheless, the overall gun death rate in those countries is far lower than ours, even though such killings have not been eliminated altogether. In the U.S., gun manufacturers together with the NRA will keep any gun control debate from happening here in this election year, especially with the electorate already so polarized on other issues. I noted that President Obama steered clear of making any gun control references in the wake of the Colorado incident, only expressing condolences and prayers for the victims and their families, saying that he was “shocked and saddened.” Are such events just inevitable facts of life that we must accept, much as Hondurans have come almost fatalistically to accept that they or their associates might be killed at any moment? I know from feedback from my readers on my personal e-mail that not all favor more gun control, but I have not yet heard a convincing argument against it.

Instead, should we install metal detectors to enter malls, theaters, and subway stations? Have security guards everywhere? Passengers already complain about airline security. Or do we need to limit gun purchases, especially for assault rifles and other more lethal firearms; require training in gun use and storage; and mandate registration and background checks? And how did the Colorado shooter manage to acquire tear gas, not to mention so many weapons? It does seem that limits should be placed on the purchase of explosives, tear gas, and the sheer number of weapons and ammunition by any one person; that background checks and tracking of individuals should be required; and at least questions asked about the intended use of such purchases. The Colorado shooter, apparently with no previous record and a sterling academic background, would probably have passed any background check. But what about preventing the purchase of all assault rifles, such as one he had, which are not used in hunting and are more than what is needed for self-defense? We’re all sitting ducks unless there are some controls. We have controls for drivers and car owners, why not for guns and gun owners? According to polls, the American electorate is pretty evenly divided on “gun rights,” divided as it is on everything else and moving toward the right on that issue as on some others. Is it a reflection of the poor economy, of the usual swing of the political pendulum, or what?

In my opinion, it would be worth giving gun manufacturers freebees for not producing guns, much as we do for farmers not to grow crops, at least for a time, to help remedy this problem since apparently the gun lobby’s political clout is so great and feared and they want to maintain their profits. Bribe them to not make guns. It would cost less in the long run in pain and sorrow, not to mention burial and medical costs and those involved in supporting widows and orphans. The profit motive has now become sacrosanct, superseding any other motive, it seems. Romney is trying to make excessive money-making, even to the detriment of others, into a virtue, but don’t let me get off on that tangent right now.

Honduras is an example of a nation with a wide open gun culture, no registration, no rules—carry your weapon either concealed or in a holster, it doesn’t matter. Most guns used there are manufactured here, but some people also make their own crude firearms. All banks have metal detectors and armed guards; armed guards are also stationed in pharmacies, ice cream shops, cell-phone stores (as per photo in my book); and grocery stores (lots of jobs for security guards). In grocery stores and banks, all bags and purses must checked and not brought inside. What is the result? The highest murder rate in the world, most of it with guns.

A gun incident tipped Peace Corps over the edge and led to the departure from Honduras after 50 years. A volunteer was riding a bus when three armed men entered and robbed everyone of cash and cell phones. It might have ended there except that an armed passenger started shooting. He ended up being killed and the volunteer was shot in the leg in the crossfire. Was that effective self-defense? It was the last straw for the Peace Corps. A gun advocate might say that it could have ended differently—that the armed passenger might have dispatched the bad guys and become a hero. Well, that didn’t happen and I wonder how often it actually does happen? In Florida, neighborhood-watch volunteer Zimmerman is indicating that his killing of Martin was almost accidental. On the other hand, in the example above of Peace Corps volunteers in Ghana, their being armed with a knife meant that the pair were not robbed and ended up killing the would-be robber. Statistically, countries that enforce gun restrictions have lower murder rates, not to mention deaths from gun accidents, as so often happen here. Are people there just less prone to violence or is the easy availability of guns a factor in promoting a culture of violence? This is certainly a debate we should have as a nation after the election, NRA or no, although it is likely to be characterized by the fierce polarization shown on all other matters of national importance.

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