Sunday, July 15, 2012

South Sudan Anniversary, Family Visit, Heat Wave Breaks, Cholera in Cuba, Rangel's Final Win, Drug War Deaths in Honduras, Gang Truce in El Salvador Reduces Violence, More on Supremes’ Health Care Decision

It may not have been a noteworthy date for most Americans, but on Sunday, July 8, 2012, those of us who have worked in South Sudan observed the first anniversary of the birth of that country. It was not a happy occasion as Khartoum has been attacking and strafing civilians in the oil-rich disputed region of Blue Nile and Kordafan, some of the areas I visited in 2006. My time then was brief, the better part of a month, but it was a well-traveled month and any travel in South Sudan, with unpaved roads and landmines, was not easy then and still is not. (My article about that visit appeared in America, Oct. 1, 2007,

On July 8, together with members of the Sudanese diaspora, we in Amnesty International gathered in Lafayette Park in front of the White House (as shown). In addition to observing the first anniversary of the birth of the new nation, we were asking the White House to pressure Khartoum to stop its raids and to allow humanitarian aid to get in to civilians displaced and injured in the attacks. It was the last day of an almost 10-day heat wave, with daily temperatures around 102 F or higher, similar to temperatures in South Sudan where, however, the humidity is much lower. As we were meeting, the sky overhead began clouding up (see photos) and a few cooling raindrops fell. Evening saw a steady rainstorm, not quite as fierce as the recent one that downed trees and overhead wires, but welcome rain that lowered the nighttime temperature into the 70s. Later in the week, I heard that the leaders of North and South Sudan had met an African conference and had actually shaken hands, so perhaps they will come to an agreement. South Sudan is impoverished and undeveloped, but has oil, while Khartoum has charge of refineries, so perhaps they can work something out.

I‘d thought our local temperature had risen as high as it was going to go last time I wrote, but on Sat., July 7, it momentarily hit 106 F at Reagan National Airport, but didn’t stay the whole 3 minutes required to be an official record temperature, falling back to only 105 F. More and more, I’m remembering why I left El Triunfo, Honduras, for La Esperanza and why I stay in the south as briefly as possible on visits there. Now in Washington, DC, after a week of respite, as I write this on Sunday, July 15, the mercury is again rising, but “only” threatening to reach into the low 90s during the coming week.

Had welcome weekend with my daughter Melanie and her step-children from Virginia Beach and my granddaughter Natasha and her son from nearby Sterling, Va. That’s my granddaughter with her cell phone on the red couch and the kids on the blue couch with another electronic device. My daughter (not shown) was elsewhere talking on her cell. It’s sometimes hard to carry on a conversation when everyone is honing in on an electronic device. Maybe I need to call them or connect with them on Facebook to communicate with them, rather than face-to-face.

A cholera outbreak with several fatalities has occurred in eastern Cuba, with the government recommending extra hygiene precautions, although residents have been complaining about lack of soap for washing their hands. At least one case was reported in Havana. The word “cholera” has been avoided, the illness being referred to only as “diarrhea” or “respiratory insufficiency,” in the case of a death, shades of the dengue cover-up that I had witnessed in Cuba in 1997! Independent sources report that thousands have been affected and that perhaps 16 have died, although the government has acknowledged only three deaths, saying the epidemic is under control. Hospital employees have been forbidden to talk about it and families may not visit their hospitalized loved ones, probably increasing the public’s fear (“Cholera outbreak in Cuba sends hundreds to hospital, reportedly stirs panic,” The Miami Herald, July 7, 2012).

The vote count is over in Charlie Rangel’s NYC district and he appears to have won by 990 votes. My DR Espaillat friends’ cousin of the same last name has now conceded defeat, but Rangel had better watch out next time.

There have been disturbing reports in the last few weeks of deaths in the eastern Mosquitia region of Honduras from drug enforcement raids, joint operations conducted by Honduran forces and the US DEA. In at least one case, women bystanders were killed, allegedly by DEA operatives. Widespread condemnation of these killings and of US military involvement in Honduras have led to calls for the US military and DEA to leave Honduras. A Honduran who once advised the Peace Corps there sent the message below to former volunteers:

A recent human rights fact-finding mission also fell for the Resistencia's standard lie that when Mel Zelaya was President there was no violence, corruption, or drug trade. It is an irrefutable fact that these increased exponentially during his term. Most organizations from abroad inexplicably still insist that Mel was some sort of Thomas Jefferson overlooking the facts of his corrupt and erratic government. To call for the withdrawal of US military assistance based on this organization’s report constitutes a grave threat to our society. More than ever Honduras needs to overhaul our security system. I respectfully suggest that when groups come to do these human rights missions, they make it a point to interview a variety of informed citizens who do not just fill in the blanks in a draft of preconceived opinions. Too many NGO's are calling for the withdrawal of all international assistance in the name of human rights, not realizing that such a measure would violate even more human rights. Our leftist and right wing politicos are genetically corrupt and/or pathologically incompetent and our people should not pay for their sins.

In neighboring El Salvador, a gang truce mediated by religious and political figures has cut the murder rate—lessons there for Honduras?

Obviously, the Supreme Court decision on the Obama health reform act is not the end of the matter, since now oppositional governors are vowing what amounts to civil disobedience. Whether their actions will actually match their belligerent rhetoric or whether they are merely spewing out PR sound bites in a bid to get votes remains to be seen. But there is a risk that the result may be two-tiered system instead of a national one, with residents of some states enjoying better health care benefits than others.

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