Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sebastian Can Walk, Honduras Happenings, Cuban AIDS Activist, Iktar Dinner, Pope Francis, PC Response, March-on-Washington Anniversary

Making another attempt with one of the photos I kept trying to unsuccessfully to post last time from the party for translators and interpreters. If it doesn’t post again this time, I give up.

Another photo is of a Honduran child, Sebastian, for whom I had been trying unsuccessfully to get a leg prosthesis. He finally got one and is walking, as shown here above. Born with no birth defects, his leg was amputated after a Honduran doctor had made a mistake, which he never acknowledged and for which he suffered no consequences and never even tried to help the child or make amends in any fashion.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo declared a state of emergency after a dengue outbreak which affected 12,000, with 16 deaths. The rainy season—May-November—is when dengue and malaria mosquitoes are most prolific.

Xiomara Castro, Honduran presidential candidate and deposed President Manuel Zelaya’s wife, has reportedly adopted many of his mannerisms and his speaking style and even wears his signature broad-brimmed rancher’s hat.

On July 31, 2013, Amnesty International’s Washington office hosted a Cuban visitor, LGBT and AIDS rights activist Ignacio Estrada. Estrada was accompanied by Sandy Acosta Cox, representing a Miami-based organization, International Relief & Development. Estrada revealed that both he and his transgender wife, Wendy Iriepa, are HIV-positive and taking free anti-retrovirals produced in Cuba. (Wendy was ill and unable to attend the meeting.) Gay marriage is not permitted in Cuba but, Ignacio said, the two were allowed to marry after Wendy became one of 20 individuals allowed sex change surgery promoted by Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela, after which no more surgeries took place. Wendy, who once worked for Mariela, was denied female hormones after becoming an independent LGBT and AIDS advocate, but still receives anti-retrovirals. However, only 5,000 of 19,000 known AIDS patients actually receive anti-retrovirals, Ignacio said, since the illness has to be fairly advanced before medications are authorized. This policy, he alleged, has led to increased spread of infection and more premature deaths. Ignacio has documented over 400 deaths of AIDS patients, most of them attributable to the disease. At least 16 children have tested positive, presumably born to infected mothers. About 7% of infections, according to his data, occur among those engaged in prostitution, a practice whose existence the government denies, instead calling it “transactional sex.” One person reportedly being denied meds is Afro-Cuban AIDS activist Madelayne Lázaro Carballo.

Mariela Castro, Ignacio contended, has deliberately divided the gay community into loyalist and disloyalist camps. She has created a clinic for foreigners paying for AIDS treatment in hard currency and has created a publicity platform for herself allowing her to travel and speak abroad. Nonetheless, I argued, Cuba’s AIDS rate is extremely low compared to other Latin American countries or even the U.S. Cuba’s total is not much more than that for Washington, DC. Of course, one reason DC has such a high rate is that many of those with AIDS are being medicated and have survived as a consequence, hence increase the statistics. Ignacio insisted that the true rate is higher than the Cuban government acknowledges and that the number of known cases is growing yearly, which is cause for concern.

Ignacio shared his personal story, that in 1986, at age 15, he was arrested and spent three years in prison with adult inmates. His offense was possession of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, leading to his case being highlighted by Amnesty International. Later, he became infected with AIDS and was obligated to live in one of Cuba's 14 AIDS sanitariums. He corroborated what I had heard before, that many AIDS patients had deliberately infected themselves to live better inside the sanitariums than outside. Now, because the Cuban government no longer has the resources to support the sanitariums, all but three showcase facilities have closed. One of the latter was shown to former President Jimmy Carter when he visited recently. Instead, Ignacio reported, there are six prisons where people with AIDS typically are sent. Since HIV-positive people are considered dangerous and “dangerousness” is grounds for arrest, this is the basis for many such arrests, he alleged. Above is my photo of Ignacio. I told him maybe someday we'll have Peace Corps in Cuba, though I don't believe he’d ever heard of it--in fact, China, although a communist country, does allow PC volunteers there. HIV-AIDS education was big part of my duties as a health volunteer in Honduras (2000-2003).

Does the Egyptian constitution have any provision for a recall referendum? It seems like that would have been the proper way to remove Morsi from office rather than having the army step in.

Patricia, my only current visitor (the house seems empty!), a graduate student in anthropology from Mexico who is leaving already at the end of August, and I attended an Iktar (Ramadan) dinner at the Amnesty International Washington, DC, office near my home. The featured speaker was Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of an organization called SAALT, Strengthening South Asian Communities in America, based in a Washington suburb. She is a Muslim born in India who came to the US as a child. SAALT has only 6 fulltime staff and has been increasingly busy since 9/11, fielding such crises as the flap over the “twin Towers” mosque, the attack on a Sikh congregation in Wisconsin by someone mistaking them for Muslims (not that shooting Muslim worshippers would have been justified anyway), and the Boston bombings. Muslims not only need to organize politically, but need outside allies, she said. Her organization is also trying to educate American Muslims regarding women’s rights and domestic violence, as well as LGBT rights. She pointed out something I have long observed and lamented, that the Obama Administration has deported fare more people than any previous administrations.

A Muslim Amnesty member at the Iktar dinner, reading a passage aloud from the Koran (in Arabic) from her cell phone, was interrupted when a male voice in Arabic came from her phone, calling out a chant to inform us that the sun had set and it was time to eat, a meal that started with the traditional fast-breaking date. As I have mentioned before, I once got through 2 days of Ramadan fasting (not even water allowed), but can’t imagine lasting 40. A friend who was in the Peace Corps in Morocco recalled that many people pretty much reversed day and night during Ramadan, staying up all night and eating, then sleeping during the day.

Pope Francis, in his remarks about gay priests, seemed to be saying that a priest’s sexual orientation, whether gay or straight, really doesn’t matter, since all are expected to be celibate. He failed to address the question of gay non-priests. Must they remain celibate while straight people are allowed to marry?

Finally, I was recently tempted to apply for a Peace Corps Response (short-term) position in Guatemala involving nutrition and health, scheduled to last for 9 months and start September 1. I’ve thought of joining PC Response when I turn 80 after possibly retiring from interpreting, assuming I still have life and strength by then, but would need someone reliable to manage my house and pay the bills in my absence and would require more lead time to prepare to leave than Peace Corps typically offers. It’s a dream, like my original dream of joining the Peace Corps to begin with, so, like that, I have to make happen somehow if I am serious.

Now, at the approach of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, I’m remembering being present at the speech with my late former husband among a crowd of thousands, not realizing at the time that it would come to be considered such a historic event.

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