Friday, July 26, 2013

Interpreters/Translators Fete, Goodbye Kenyans, Honduran Indigenous Leader Killed, Dengue in Honduras, Weiner Campaign, Stand Your Ground, Cuba-North Korea Nexus, More on Forgetting Baby in the Car

Some 50 interpreters and translators of every conceivable language (3 photos above), members of the National Capital Area Translators Association, held their annual gathering at my house. I was asked to host the event by a friend and neighbor with only a studio apartment. As part of the program, I gave a short reading from my Honduras book and made my pitch for Peace Corps service by older, experienced volunteers, especially those with language fluency corresponding to needs in the field. Then two association members, both writers, one a poet from Indonesia, the other a fiction author and poet from China, gave short readings. The woman from China actually spent some of her childhood years in a labor camp with her mother because both her parents were educators with some Western influences.

Alas, my Kenyan visitors have left all too soon it seems. Their four months went by quickly for me—not so fast for them, as toward the end, they were getting anxious to go home to their families. Now we are just myself and a young Mexican grad student in anthropology, Patricia, doing archival research here until the end of August.

The week before, the Kenyan visitors, taking an auditing and accounting course at GAO headquarters here in DC, graduated in a nice ceremony. I will miss them, as I always do. There were the usual 20 fellows in the program this year, all of whom I had a chance to meet, with the following countries being represented: Brazil, China, Hungary, India, Kenya (of course), Kuwait, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, UAE, Yemen, and Zambia.

Below is part of a recent Amnesty International Urgent Action on Honduras, taking place in the indigenous Lenca area near La Esperanza, my second Peace Corps site.

ARMY FIRES ON PROTESTERS IN HONDURAS On 15 July the army opened fire during a protest in Honduras, killing an Indigenous leader and seriously injuring his son. There are grave concerns for the safety of protesters, as the demonstrations are continuing.

Since April, the Lenca Indigenous communities of Rio Blanco, Santa Barbara, western Honduras, have been demonstrating against a hydro-electric power project on the land they have been living on for centuries, alleging lack of adequate and prior consultation. The communities belong to the Civic Council of the Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras – COPINH).

On 15 July, at approximately noon, a group of around 100 demonstrators started marching towards the gates of the hydro-electric project as they have been doing on a daily basis for the last three months. According to reports, demonstrators were peaceful and marched under the supervision of the police and the army. As they were approaching the site, the army opened fire against the demonstrators. Tomas Garcia, an Indigenous leader and deputy mayor in his local community, who had been active in the campaign against the project, received three shots to his arm, chest and head. He died immediately. Allan Garcia Dominguez, his 17-year-old son, was also shot. He received medical attention and his condition is stable. One soldier was arrested in connection with the killing of Tomas Garcia and the wounding of Allan Garcia Dominguez.

In Honduras, ten people have been reported to have died of dengue. This is the rainy season, when dengue mosquitoes are most prolific. Dengue, as I have said in my book, has neither vaccine nor very effective treatment and there are four varieties. A victim just has to suffer through it and hope to survive. Only after having endured all four varieties will a person be immune.

Regarding another mosquito-borne disease prevalent in Honduras and elsewhere, a malaria patch is now being tested in Uganda and, if it works, may supersede other efforts.

Anthony Weiner, trying to re-enter politics as a New York City mayoral candidate, seems to have dealt himself (and his long-suffering wife) a cataclysmic blow by having engaged in inappropriate sexual on-line activity once again, two years after discovery of his initial transgressions. So the guy, no matter what is a stake, seems unable to control his (self) harmful urges. I suppose that’s sort of an addiction—getting his kicks from sending his naked crotch photo to women. He says he’s not dropping out of the mayoral race, but this latest revelation of his continued bad behavior must be a big blow to his comeback efforts, not to mention to his wife. If I were a NYC voter, I would think twice about trusting his judgment.

Jury nullification was a phrase used to describe the O.J. Simpson trial and it’s also been applied more recently in the case of the Trayvon Martin killing—namely that the ethnicity and perhaps other personal aspects of jurors do matter when the defendant shares their ethnicity and other qualities and the victim does not. The two cases are not equivalent, because, in my opinion, Simpson’s guilt was much more blatant. Nonetheless, white observers of the Zimmerman trial may feel it was payback for Simpson’s acquittal. Certainly neither a judge nor a jury is necessarily fair, but it’s the system we’ve got. My assessment from afar is that Zimmerman was an overzealous, self-important busy-body type with an itchy trigger finger who was probably a pain-in-the-neck to the local police department, someone out looking for trouble who really should not have been (nor should he in the future ever be) entrusted with a gun and allowed to patrol a neighborhood. And Martin was not recognized by him and may have aroused suspicion by running or resisting Zimmerman’s orders. But to say without a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had an intent to commit murder would be a stretch.

It’s now reported that an African American woman in Florida, who invoked the stand-your-ground law when she fired a warning shot to scare her abusive husband (not hitting him or anyone else), is serving 20 years for firing that shot. If so, justice is being unevenly served, as is often the case.

In Milwaukee, apparently a 76-year-old man shot and killed a 13-year-old African American boy living next door because he thought he had stolen from him. Was the man senile or mentally compromised? Perhaps he got his firearms years ago when he was competent and still had them as he mentally declined. Maybe older gun owners should be required to be tested, just as older drivers are, though, of course, there is no universal testing or licensing of gun owners to begin with, not to mention requirements for periodic updating of their competency.

At the same time, I believe that neighborhood watch folks should report what they consider suspicious activities to the police but should not be armed themselves. It’s one thing to have a gun in your home for self-protection, though I do not favor that either because of the potential for accidents (as occurred to my youngest son at age 12, hit in the foot when visiting another boy playing with a gun found in the home) or for an impulsive murder or suicide. However, it’s another thing to be carrying a gun outside the home looking for trouble and a chance to use it. That’s a big expansion of the self-defense doctrine. Apparently, the number of American gun-owners has been shrinking even as the number of firearms owned by this smaller number has been growing, providing them with veritable arsenals.

One U.S. government action that many have argued is long overdue is taking Cuba off the list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” While in the past, that label may have been fully justified, Cuba has been thought to no longer have the wherewithal to mount a credible international terrorism threat, although it may still give small arms and strategic advice to would-be terrorists and offer them safe haven. However, any such policy reversal received a serious setback in July 2013 when a North Korean ship passing through the Panama Canal was found to have missile system components hidden within its sugar cargo, components thought to be left over from the Soviet Missile Crisis. So the U.S. embargo against Cuba (though now very porous) appears likely to be renewed again in September.

Last time, I mentioned that a local woman was charged after she let her baby die in a hot car, apparently forgotten, while she went into work. An even worse case was that of another local woman who left two of her small kids to die in a hot car. What was on the minds of these ladies that led them to such absent-mindedness and negligence? They remembered to feed and dress their kids and put them in their car seats in the back, but when they got to work, the existence of their kids somehow didn’t register. It’s hard to imagine that they would be so preoccupied with their work that couldn’t remember the elementary fact of their children’s presence.

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 4 Visitors, Stray Bullet & Baby Car Deaths, Goodbye Redbud Tree, Calgary Floods, Honduran Boy with Deformity, Cuba Comments

Above are photos of daughter Stephanie and high-school pals, including one in a wheelchair after an accident. Also, my daughters and great-grandson doing yardwork and two daughters together. A nephew is seen grilling while his wife and my older daughter Melanie chat. Photo of two gentlemen together is of Cuban democracy activisits Elizardo Sanchez and Guillermo Farinas. Cursor is not working on blog page, so cannot highlight or change fonts.

My younger daughter Stephanie, a biologist working in Hawaii, was here July 4 week to see the fireworks, visit her mom (yours truly), and get together with high school friends. I don’t get to see enough of her! Her husband is also a biologist, but did not come with her as both of them face the effects of future sequester budget cuts. Everyone likes lower taxes, but cutting taxes usually means cutting someone else’s benefits, salary, or grant. An educator friend, Andre Sledge, living in “the
other Washington” was also here for a conference and is pictured above, as well as a nephew Darrell from California seen at the grill.

On July 4, a 7-year-old boy in nearby Va. was killed by a stray bullet landing on his head, apparently shot up in the air in celebration. Such occurrences were common during festivals when I lived in Honduras. While a randomly falling bullet may not have the speed of one just shot from a gun, it may still kill a completely innocent unsuspecting person far away.

A local woman was also convicted in the death of her 8-month-old son, overlooked in a hot car while she went into work. There have been several such accidents in recent years. How can a parent strap a baby into a car seat and go to work forgetting about the child? We all have moments of absent-mindedness and every working parent is rushed, but something like that is hard to imagine, yet it happens not infrequently. I suppose the child is lulled to sleep with the car’s motion, making no sound when the car stops and the parent leaves, and perhaps that parent is not necessarily the one always responsible for transport and so forgets. It’s hard to fathom how it happens, but such parents not only have to live with the loss of their baby, but with legal consequences and life-long guilt. A local man who adopted a Russian orphan with his wife left him to die in a hot car, which had both legal and international adoption implications and forever prevented that couple from adopting another child. A local woman who accelerated her car in a driveway instead of backing up ended up killed her own daughter, leaving her with pain and guilt unlikely to ever leave her. For such people, dementia would be a blessing.

Alas, my beautiful Redbud tree that sprang up spontaneously in my front yard perhaps 20 years ago, is now dying. For all that time, its bright pinkish-lavender, perhaps more properly called magenta, blossoms heralded spring, and its abundant shade cooled our summers. Can you love a tree? This spring, it showed few blossoms and its leaves looked sickly. I tried to save it through regular watering, trimming away dead branches, and adding plant food, but it didn’t make it. I don’t know now whether it has simply completed its normal life cycle or whether it had a disease. In any case, it will be missed. If I can figure out how to get it cut down and its stump removed, I’d like to plant another redbud in its place, assuming that the soil is not contaminated. Anyone who knows about tree planting, especially of Redbuds, please get back to me via my e-mail address, above.

Although Americans have been buffeted recently by tornados, fires, and heat waves, we are not the only ones possibly affected by climate change. There has also been massive flooding in Calgary, Alberta, where I still have many relatives on my father’s side, though I’ve lost track of them by now. My Dad was born in Stavely, Alberta, near Calgary, and if our family had stayed there, we might now be sharing in oil sands’ riches

Here’s an item below about the forgotten minority in the Egypt clash, written by an old friend of mine, Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute,

July 10, 2013, Copts Stand to Lose in Egypt Again

No faction in Egypt had more to lose from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist rule than the 8 million or so Christian Coptic community, the Mideast’s largest non-Muslim minority. They would have no voice in that nation’s debate on the meaning of a new political order based on sharia rather than citizenship, which would determine their rights. Hoping for a secular government, the recently elected Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II stood with the coalition in support of the military’s removal of the Brotherhood-backed Morsi. But now, in the ensuing rioting and protests, Egypt’s various Christian communities are experiencing continuing attacks by jihadists, Salafis, (who joined them in the anti-Morsi coalition), and angry Morsi-supporters, alike. This week, Christianity Today reports the details of the mounting violence since July 3 against Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical churches, Christian clergy, and villages. Some Islamist websites are openly calling for uprisings against anyone who opposes the state’s forcible implementation of sharia, according to a July 5 Washington Post report.

From my friend Sandy Shulz regarding possible help for the child pictured above, assuming his condition is remediable and that he could obtain a humanitarian visa and free care in the U.S., is this list below of minimum expenses.

visa $200

passport $75

xrays to apply for help $100

transportation to Tegucigalpa at least 3 times ???

possible request for MRI $600

Those are just the major ones. If you think someone can cover that I can help you through the process of applying. There is at least a year waiting if I can even find help.

I attended a talk on Cuba by a frequent visitor to the island, Professor Richard Feinberg, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego (with my BA and MA degrees from UC, Berkeley, I’m on a mailing list for local UC activities). He said Havana is decaying as fast or faster than Detroit with abandoned and collapsing buildings. Education and health care are not what they were. He sees change most likely to come from within the Communist Party, not from dissidents. Since Cuban is no longer able to export revolution abroad, it should be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which seems to me like a logical step, something to offer in exchange for Alan Gross’s freedom? Of course, south Florida Congressional representatives would scream bloody murder at such a proposal.

June 26, 2013. On a personal note, I was delighted to reconnect with Elizardo, whom I had not seen since my last visit to Cuba in 1997. He recognized me right away, so guess I haven’t aged all that much in the last 17 years. Traveling with Guillermo was his mother, who lives with him in Havana, very proud to be on this epic journey with her son. They will be traveling back to Brussels together where he will receive his Sakharov Prize. He was in Tegucigalpa, my old stomping grounds, last month at a Latin American NGO gathering where reportedly everyone stood up in recognition and applause when Guillermo entered the room.

As for the DC meeting, some 25 people representing various organizations attended, including from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Brookings, WOLA, and Human Rights Watch (José Miguel Vivanco). From Amnesty International, there were Kathryn Striffolino and myself.

Fidel has delegated day-to-day operations to his brother, but is still consulted on all major policies. Elizardo contended that substantial changes are likely to come even before Fidel’s death—in fact, are already underway and the regime in its present form cannot last much longer. Only a small governmental elite supports it. Elizardo warned against a fake democratic transition that would betray the aspirations of the Cuban people, what he characterized as “Putinism,” which currently one faction of the military favors, those who fought in African wars, while another faction advocates the strict status quo because its members have been responsible for domestic repression with blood on their hands and want to avoid facing international tribunals. The latter’s tactics, favoring continued strong repression, are more likely to end in a social explosion. Both groups fought with Raúl and Fidel in the Sierra Maestra and both want to keep him in power. Authorities have shown some recent tolerance for gatherings that remain inside where other people cannot see them.

The opposition is following the blueprint of From Dictatorship to Democracy, published in 1993 by University of Massachusetts professor of political science Gene Sharp at the request of a Burmese exile, that includes 198 methods of non-violent action, many of which the Cuban opposition is reportedly now trying to put into practice, including protests, writings, songs, and graffiti. Fariñas also mentioned the importance of illegal independent home libraries. Opposition groups have been studying other communist party transitions as well.

The internal opposition, exiles, and the international community must not be co-opted by Putism, Elizardo warned. The internal opposition is not very media savvy and has not seen very much in the way of results from its many efforts and sacrifices, leading to a lack of motivation and a desire to emigrate abroad. Before Castro, Cubans, unlike other Latin Americans, were not eager to leave and people from abroad often came to settle on the island. Now millions of Cubans reportedly would leave if they could and many democracy advocates have done so, weakening the movement. “No one tries to escape happiness and freedom,” Elizardo remarked. At a very basic level, democracy activists need to feel confident that their families have enough to eat and are protected before they dare take risks. Lech Walesa, when they spoke with him recently, said that in Poland, an opposition figure whose family had enough to eat would become “a lion for democracy.”

Cuba is significant, not because it is the center of the world, but because of its long-running uni-personal dictatorship of 54 years with the worst political and human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. While other nations have evolved toward democracy, Cuba has not. “I’ve devoted 45 years of my life to the anti-totalitarian struggle,” Elizardo said, “but this regime will not last another 54 years, that’s certain. The Cuban people are fed up to the last hair on their head. It’s hard to explain to outsiders what it’s like to live under such a system. You have to experience it in daily life. When Fidel got sick, people felt relieved. ” Once the regime is gone, “Other repressive regimes around the world will lose their spokesman.” Cubans will then need experienced people, “human capital,” to help with everything when the regime crumbles: water, medical, schools, trash collection, and other basic services, all of which have been deteriorating.

When the USSR folded, everyone thought that the Cuban regime would be next, but even before Hugo Chávez won the Venezuelan presidency, Fidel was courting, supporting, and advising him, a very wise investment. Without Venezuelan financial support, the Cuban regime would collapse tomorrow.

Still Cuban civil society is emerging and growing every month and spreading all over the island, but is not well prepared for a transition and needs a lot of advice, moral support, and material assistance from governments and organizations in all areas: economic, legal, political, diplomatic, social, and cultural. It does not have its own resources, but can only get assistance from U.S. sources indirectly. Civil society groups must learn how to show numbers and measurable results to donors and supporters. Bringing different groups together is difficult because of government manipulation and infiltration.

About 40 people, including Elizardo and Guillermo, have been allowed now to leave and to travel now, but that is mostly window dressing for the international community. Many others considered suspect by the regime are not allowed to leave and still others who have left are not allowed to return.

As for the Catholic church, Guillermo characterized its stance as opportunistic and a betrayal. Clergy favoring change are subject to the authority of the cardinal. The Cuban opposition has asked the new pope to retire him, as he is now 77, 2 years past the usual retirement age. Still Catholic ranks are growing, as are Protestant and evangelical, though these latter are divided into two camps, some in league with the official council of churches, others more independent, such as “Pastors for Change.”