Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Greetings, Twitter Feed, Chavez Post Mortem, Amnesty Meeting & International Conference

Happy Easter everybody, a very early Easter this year. I don’t have my Honduras trip report and photos ready for posting yet—next time, for sure! I’m still getting caught up from my trip. I not only got physically fatigued, but also experienced compassion fatigue and have needed to get some distance. Also, my Kenyan GAO course visitors have arrived and require a little TLC and orientation. They are finding DC weather much too cold—it is cooler than usual for early spring.

Being illiterate about Twitter and barely internet savvy, I was surprised recently to get this welcome notice:

Hello Barbara,

we just promoted your book "Triumph & Hope: Golden Years With the Peace ..." to our ~12,200 followers on Twitter.

You can find the tweet here:

We promote this book on our site too. You can find it here:

Please re-tweet.

Ask David

Well, OK readers, please re-tweet, however you do that. Thanks.
In the Daily Beast, March 23, 2013, Bernard-Henri Lévy has written a scathing piece “On the Idiotic Posthumous Cult of Hugo Chávez.”

A speaker invited to our local Amnesty International group, Carlos Salinas, told us about his ongoing work with the Kofan people, an indigenous group living in the forests of the Putumayo region of southern Colombia. Over the years, he has gained their trust and has helped them resist incursions from oil interests and the Colombia army. Their efforts have only had partial success, with oil drilling suspended in light of a challenge in the Colombian Supreme Court. Carlos would also like to take the matter to the Inter-American Human Rights Court. He said Senator Leahy and Colombian Jesuits have been strong allied. Will keep you posted if I learn of any other developments.

At Amnesty International USA’s annual conference held the weekend of March 22-24 in suburban Virginia, a recurrent theme was that there will be greater reliance than ever on members and volunteers, such as myself (coordinator for the Caribbean). This is in keeping with the organization’s grassroots structure and also is a necessity because of the widening scope of work and the shrinking staff and financial resources. I have been an Amnesty member since 1981 and have seen many changes in the organization over the years.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Back from Honduras, Honduras News, Yoani Sanchez in Washington, Oswaldo Paya, Haiti, Pope Francis, Peace Corps Budget

Hello everybody, made it back from Honduras in one piece, but will take a little while to write up my report and post photos. The immediate priority is the upcoming annual conference of Amnesty International USA being held in the DC area March 22-24. Also visitors from Kenya, 2 GAO fellows, expected next week on my 75th birthday.

A not very flattering picture of Honduras, “Central America: Out of Control,” appears in the March 9-15, 2013 issue of The Economist.

Here is another recent long article, with photos:
Honduras police accused of death squad killings
Associated Press, March 17, 2013

On March 19, 2013, I was fortunate to be in the audience when Yoani Sanchez and another Cuban independent blogger spoke at the CATO Institute in Washington, DC. (See photo above.) Yoani’s interpreter, who has been traveling with her, is Dr. Ted Henken, a New York-area professor who has been declared persona non grata by the Cuban government. Yoani, a small slender woman with long dark hair, declared that a system based on conflict and war does not yield easily to the spoken word. But the strategies of repression used by the Cuban government are becoming less and less effective. Even though internet access is blocked, the more Cubans who follow tweets and blogs, albeit via flash-drives and CDs passed hand-to-hand, the greater the protective shield. She never expected to be famous, but it helps protect her and her message. But, she said, Cuba won’t become democratic just through technology. In Mexico and Brazil, Castro-assembled mobs, similar to the government mobs that have attacked her in Cuba, greeted Yoani, but none in the U.S. so far. She said she is somewhat fearful of returning to Cuba to her son and husband, but hopes the publicity generated by her trip will help. She opposes the U.S. embargo as an excuse for government repression. She hopes to start an on-line newspaper in Cuba that eventually will be able to be printed and distributed.

On March 12, Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of the late Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Paya, killed in a suspicious car crash last year, testified before the UN Human Rights Council. Her testimony was interrupted numerous times, first by the Cuban delegate calling her a “mercenary,” then, in lockstep, by the Chinese, Nicaraguan, Russian, Pakistani, and Belarusian delegates. She recounted how the Spanish driver of the car in which her father died said it was deliberately rammed from behind. The Cuba delegate’s rebuttal was boilerplate name-calling and politic-speak: “Both Rosa Maria Paya and Regis Iglesias — speaking on behalf of another phony NGO — are vulgar agents, paid, educated and trained by the US government in order to bring about a regime change in Cuba. They both work for those who are in favor of the blockade and aggression against their own people.”

On the same subject: Obama administration should urge a probe of Oswaldo Payá death, Washington Post, Editorial Board, Wednesday, March 13, 20013.

On March 14, the Los Angeles Times, recommended that Cuba be removed from the US terrorist list, arguing that violations of human rights do not make that nation a terrorist threat.

In Haiti, hearings are being held about human rights violations during the Duvalier dictatorship, but, once again, Duvalier is not attending the hearing. However, his victims continue their testimonies. If you are interested please follow @aicaribbean @haitiausa

I would recommend that readers see The Economist’s balanced comments on newly elected Pope Francis, “The First Southern Pope,” March 9-15, 2013. It’s certainly true that it was high time for a non-European pope and one from the “global south” where the majority of Catholics now live. Little is apparently known about the man, so the jury is still out about how he will act as leader of the world’s largest Christian church, but most signs are favorable so far.

Here’s an item from the Peace Corps Writers’ blog: The Peace Corps will need to reduce the total number of PCVs by approximately 300 Volunteers when the full force of the sequester takes hold. The Volunteers will go first, than the overseas staff, and, of course, no one in D.C. will be laid off. When the hammer of the sequester falls the total number of Peace Corps Volunteers will drop. We all know that regardless of who is in the White House or on the Hill, the Peace Corps is expendable. We are a token agency on the foreign aid front. The budget in 2012 was $375 million. The budget for the agency in 2013 is set at $377,295 million before the cuts begin.

At the moment, we have 8,073 PCVs overseas… We are currently in 76 countries, more or less. The high point for the agency in terms of PCVs overseas was in 1966 when there were 15,556 Volunteers serving… The low mark was 2,940 when the Peace Corps was one-year old. The next lowest was in 1987 when the total was 5,219. That is when Reagan was President.

The sequester and reduction in the Peace Corps budget probably means that the short-term Peace Corps Response program contemplated for Honduras will probably not be approved, unfortunately. However, rumor has it that there will be no cuts in staff and volunteers this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30.