Thursday, February 14, 2013

Report from a Reader, Ash Wed., Disabled Student, Grant to IHS, Honduras Bound, Homicide Rates, State-of-the-Union, Lady Bug, Lady Bug, Benedict’s Resignation, Drones, Violence Against Women Act Renewed, Amnesty Urgent Action for Honduran for LGBT Activist

First, one photo is of my daughter Melanie and great-grandson De’Andre, age 5, who visited me recently. The other two photos are of my biologist daughter Stephanie in Hawaii, one showing her with husband Paul sampling insects, the other of her teaching entomology to kids.

Heard from a reader inspired by my book, a 63-year-old woman now in the Peace Corps in Thailand and having a slew of adventures. She should write her own book!

On Ash Wednesday, Episcopal priests here in DC went to metro stations to place ashes on the foreheads of commuters. Go where people are rather than requiring them to come to church on a Wed. morning.

At an interpretation on Valentine’s Day, the lawyer-advocate accompanying the student’s mother had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras part of the time that I was there and she recognized me before I recognized her! She said, "Barbara Joe, you were with me in the Peace Corps in Honduras--you were a legend!" The latter is a slight exaggeration, but her face was familiar although I didn't recall her name. Then one of the school reps at the meeting said she had been a PC volunteer in neighboring El Salvador. Quite a coincidence that there were 3 former PC volunteers in one DC school meeting, as I had never run into any before. Of course, we had to get on with the meeting and so had to wait to compare notes until it was over. Small world.

Another recent interpretation assignment concerned the educational plan for a profoundly disabled girl of 19, whose mother is Panamanian, not a nationality that emigrates much, since the standard of living there is relatively high. The girl will be allowed to remain in DC public schools through the age of 21, after which she will have to go to a day program or sheltered workshop, though exactly what job she might do in a workshop is hard to imagine. She now attends a special school for disabled kids, all with evident physical and mental challenges. There are 7 students in her classroom attended by 4 adults. Smiling, well dressed, and nicely groomed, she uses a wheelchair, has only limited use of her hands, cannot talk but makes vocalizations, and is able to eat finger foods independently. The school put her academic development age at only one month! However, since she is able to feed herself to an extent, that’s certainly beyond what a one-month-old baby can do. The mother is single and works cleaning houses when she can, this being her only child. She says the girl keeps her awake most nights by calling out something that sounds like “Mama.” The court appointed an attorney to be co-guardian of the girl and that attorney, by happenstance, is also Panamanian, a lucky break for the mother, who needed a lucky break.

While returning from the metro station after this assignment, I encountered a street-corner vendor of a bimonthly newspaper published by homeless people called Street Sense. The paper’s suggested price was recently raised from $1 to $2, most of it going to the vendor. This vendor, wearing a red and white stovepipe hat like Dr. Seuss’s Cat-in-the-Hat, told me he recently obtained custody of his two teenage daughters and has found a place to live, though he’s still eligible to sell the paper. Indeed, in the issue he was selling featured an article and photos about him and his daughters in their new apartment. I gave him my hearty congratulations.

One of three small non-profits on whose boards I serve is folding up its tent. Called ACT, Action for Community Transformation, it started in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, but I didn’t join the board until after my return to DC from the Peace Corps in 2004. Later, we branched out to Kenya at the founder and director’s request. We did most of the work ourselves as volunteers with a little clerical assistance. Now the director, in her 80s, is ready to give it up. Most of our leftover funds are going to Kenya, where we have worked most recently, but I made a case for devoting something to Honduras, where we had started out. And so, $10,000 was given to International Health Services of Minnesota, which organizes the all-volunteer medical brigades in which I participate yearly near la Esperanza.

Countdown to my Honduras departure, my 9th return trip since leaving the Peace Corps. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle trying to map out my trajectory. I’m excited and also a little nervous, as logistics are always tricky and the chances of getting robbed or hit by a stray bullet are always present, as per item below.

OK, folks, I've had various discussions of comparative murder rates in Honduras, the US, Mexico, and Canada with some of you in the past or more recently, so here, below, is the scoop according to my most recent research (thanks to Google). So, stay out of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that's for sure and the whole Honduras north coast is very dangerous. About 2000, a young American man associated with the local organization here in DC on whose board I served until it shut down just now, as referred to above, had begun working with education and youth in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch, and was murdered in Tela on the north coast. When I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras from 2000-2003, we were forbidden to go to San Pedro Sula. Of course, the Peace Corps left Honduras after 50 years in January 2011 because of security incidents and concerns. I'm invited to a celebratory dinner in La Ceiba on the north coast on Feb 28, during my upcoming trip to Honduras. La Ceiba is not exactly a safe place and I’m debating how to get there and whether to attend.

So, its not exactly news, but an article in the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald (Jan. 27. 2013) reports that Honduras is the most violent country in Central America (and the world?), with 20,573 violent deaths in the capital Tegucigalpa in the last three years. In Honduras, the homicide rate is 85.5 per 100,000, with more than 7,000 murders per year in a country of 8 million. Neighboring Nicaragua, also a drug route, has a murder rate of “only” 12 per 100,000. New York City, with an equivalent or slightly larger population than Honduras, had 400 murders in 2012, or a rate of 3.8 per 100,000. DC, once known as “the murder capital” had 88 in 2012, for a population of about 630,000, or about 7 homicides per 100,000, admittedly the lowest rate in a while. The number of homicides in Washington peaked in 1991 at 479, when the population was a little smaller, about 607,000, and the racial composition was “blacker,” making DC the "murder capital" of the United States. In Miami, it’s slightly over 7 per 100,000, about the same as DC now, but twice the rate of New York. The new murder capital of the world is San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 1,143 homicides recorded in 2011, bringing their murder rate to 159 per 100,000. Juarez, Mexico, was not far behind, with a murder rate of 148 per 100,000. Acapulco and Durango are also very dangerous. In Mexico, the rate has risen under Calderon, but still is “only” 24 per 100,000 overall, less than one-third the rate of Honduras. Other very dangerous cities are Caracas, Venezuela, and several in Brazil. In Toronto, the rate is closer to 2 per 100,000, in St. John 2.7, and for all of Canada only 1.7 in 2011. In 2011, the overall US rate was 4.8 per 100,000. In Florida, it was a little over 5 in 2011. So Honduras at 85.5 per 100,000 is way over the top.

Recently, one hundred Cuban rafters arrived in Honduras, while in Ecuador, 25 Cubans were deported. Meanwhile, in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, touted to be the most violent city in earth (as Peace Corps volunteers in my time, we were forbidden to go there), a World Cup soccer qualifying game was held between the United States and Honduras which the home team on.

I’m glad to see that General Efrain Rios Montt is finally being tried for his human rights crimes perpetrated under his command in Guatemala in the early 1980s. Memories often fade with time and witnesses die, but it’s not yet too late to bring Rios Montt to justice. Better late than never.

What a difference an election makes. Now, every state and even Republicans are falling all over themselves to create college “dream acts” and become accommodating to undocumented immigrants. Not only has the message of Hispanic voting power sunk in, but businesses and the general population are realizing that we need immigrants to fill all sorts of jobs, something I’ve been saying all along. A few diehards may still resist the idea, but as the Tea Party fades, many are jumping off that bandwagon. Marco Rubio may be a tried and true conservative in many ways (certainly on Cuba), but he read this one right and tried in vain to get the Republican Party to yield on immigration. And I would hope that while immigration policy is being reformed that procedures will be simplified. One reason that it takes so many years for those “waiting their turn” to actually get here is the many complicated requirements they have t comply with. People have died waiting.

Immigration reform may be the only issue that Democrats and Republicans will be willing to work on together. The March 1 sequester seems a tug-of-war between the parties, especially where House Republicans are concerned. I am of the school that believes that drastic federal budget cuts will prove a further damper on the economy and that infusing money, even federal money, tends to lift all boats. The problem is that once the government funds something, a constituency is created and it’s very hard to get rid of it later on if that is desired. New programs, like Obama’s call for universal preschool in his state-of-the-union address, would be nice, but it’s hard to believe that particular initiative will fly in the current political and fiscal atmosphere. What Obama calls “investment,” the other side calls “government spending” and “deficit.” Maybe he just put that out there to give Republicans something to have the satisfaction of shooting down. In terms of budget cutting, I think the best we can hope for is freezing expenditures at current levels, not adding anything new. Raising the minimum wage while the nation is still in recession will also be controversial .

As per an item in the Wall St. Journal (“Brazil Nightclub Blaze Kills More Than 200,” Jan. 28, 2013) pyrotechnics or fireworks set off inside nightclubs have been the trigger for a series of fires around the world that have ended in mass casualties, as occurred recently in Brazil. Perhaps there are fairly numerous instances of such shows where fires do not happen, but there have been a sufficient number resulting in mass deaths to warrant prohibition of such displays.

Former Mayor Ed Koch, who just passed away at age 88, was in Nicaragua in 1990 as an election observer there, as was I. He was effusively friendly to me, hugged me, remembered my name after the first time we were introduced (a good skill for politician to have), and I even have a photo taken with him there, but it’s a slide and I’m not sure how to copy a slide and post it here. In any case, you will believe me, I’m sure. He was certainly a larger than life figure in person as well as by reputation.

A very odd recent experience: while clicking away on my computer, suddenly, a cute spotted Lady Bug started crawling on my finger. How had it gotten inside my third-floor office on a winter’s day? Where do Lady Bugs go in winter? I opened a window and let it fly out on a sunny morning with temps in the 40s, so it probably survived. Meanwhile states further north were digging out of the huge snowstorm that missed us entirely. In fact, so far, in Washington, DC, our cumulative snow total for the entire winter has been less than an inch from two dustings that melted immediately. However, a heavy snowfall could still materialize; if so, let’s hope after my departure for Honduras.

What a surprise that Pope Benedict, at age 85, is resigning! While he is certainly at an age when a person deserves to retire and when most people’s faculties are failing, I never knew a pope could resign. I thought he had to die with his boots on, or in Benedict’s case, with his red Prada slippers on. You have to wonder if he just discovered that he has a fatal illness. I once met Pope John Paul II, as my book readers know, but I was never moved to want to meet Benedict nor attend the outdoor Mass that he celebrated at the stadium in walking distance from my house. Yet, I think he has set a good precedent in resigning when he feels no longer capable, though I feel that he has stacked the College of Cardinals with likeminded conservatives. I was one of the fans of the short-lived Pope John XXIII. If the new pope is to selected from the “global south,” why not Honduras’s Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez?

Drones are a new type of warfare or an assassination tool to take a designated enemy out without trial, and also those unlucky enough to be near him at the time. It’s less damaging than a shooting or bombing war, which is also indiscriminate. However, it’s a technology that is a two-edged sword that could also be used against our country.

Glad that the Violence Against Women Act was renewed without major partisan controversy.

For readers who have stuck with me reading this and other postings all the way through, I admit to being all over the map, a reflection of my modus oprandi in real life. I rarely try to prioritize; I want to do it all. And I need to make more frequent and shorter postings, though you won’t asee anything again here at least until sometime in March.

Finally, below is an Amnesty International Urgent Action on behalf of an LGBT activist in Honduras.

UA: 30/13

Issue Date: 7 February 2013

Country: Honduras


On 22 January, Honduran lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activist Patricio Vindel, received a death threat. His life is at risk.

Patricio Vindel is the executive director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization OPROUCE – La Ceiba’s Pro-Union Organization (Organizacion Pro-Union Ceibena) – in northern Honduras. The group works on HIV prevention and raises awareness about human rights of the local LGBT community.

On 22 January, the staff of OPROUCE were away from the office for a workshop. While the office was empty, unknown individuals broke into the yard outside the office and spray painted a message on the wall saying "Patricio you’re going to die" ("Patricio vas a morir").

Patricio Vindel immediately reported the incident to the Human Rights Ombudsman (National Human Rights Commission, Comisionado Nacional de Derechos Humanos CONADEH) and the police. The police visited OPROUCE’s office during the afternoon of the same day and took evidence. On 21 January, a suspicious vehicle without a licence plate was seen passing by the office several times throughout the afternoon.

Prior to this incident, during August through to October 2012, Patricio Vindel received several threatening text messages. In these messages, the sender made reference to Patricio Vindel’s sexual orientation in a derogatory manner, and said that they knew where he lived and that someone would be sent to kill him.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

-Calling for an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the threat made against Patricio Vindel, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice;

-Urging the authorities to take immediate steps to fully provide appropriate protection to Patricio Vindel in accordance with his wishes;

-Reminding them that human rights defenders have a right to carry out their activities without any unfair restrictions or fear of reprisals, as set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.


Attorney General
Sr. Luis Alberto Rubi
Fiscal General de la Republica
Lomas del Guijarro, Avenida República Dominicana, Edificio Lomas Plaza II
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Fax: 011504 2221 5667

Salutation: Sr. Fiscal General/Dear Attorney General
Minister of Interior
Sr. Pompeyo Bonilla
Secretaría de Estado en el Despacho de Seguridad, Plantel Casamata, subida al Picacho,
Tegucigalpa, Honduras Fax: 011 504 2220 1756

Salutation: Dear Minister/Estimado Sr. Ministro

Copies to:

Organización Pro-Union Ceibena


Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro
Embassy of Honduras
3007 Tilden St. NW Suite 4M
Washington DC 20008

Tel: 1 202 966 7702; 1 202 966 2604
Fax: 1 202 966 9751


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