Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween, DR Ct. Decree, Amnesty Int’l Regional Conf., Death Penalty Abolition, Adoption vs. Assisted Reproduction, Spanish Boy

Halloween, DR Ct. Decree, Amnesty Int’l Regional Conf., Death Penalty Abolition, Adoption vs. Assisted Reproduction, Spanish Boy

Quite obviously, the photos shown were taken on Halloween at or around my house. It was a balmy evening, but a light rain began falling later on. It’s one of my favorite holidays, seeing all the kids in their various costumes. My Nigerian artist visitor was surprised and curious.  The other 2 photos are of my granddaughter Natasha, her mother, my daughter Melanie, and my great-grandson De’Andre, now age 6.

As Amnesty Int’l USA’s volunteer Caribbean coordinator, I met with a group of other NGO reps at the DR Embassy to discuss the recent high court decree that all descendants of people who arrived in that country after 1929 are non-citizens, a provision applying mostly to Haitian descendants. This basically leaves them stateless, since if they were born in the DR, they are not necessarily Haitian citizens either, especially if their ancestry goes back more than one generation. I do feel for the DR, a relatively poor country, feeling invaded by even poorer folks from across the border. At the embassy, there was much polite resistance to trying to change the court decree legislatively or through executive action and, I suspect, it has considerable support within the DR itself among ordinary (non-Haitian descendant) people. However, Dominican authorities seem to be trying to blunt the avalanche of criticism that has started bombarding them from around the world. Fortunately, Dominican Americans appear to be rallying against the measure.
On the first weekend in November, members of Amnesty Int’l (AI) USA held a regional meeting in Washington, DC, where the DR situation, among others was one of many issues. Amnesty has always relied on volunteers, now more than ever for financial reasons. But it’s always been an organization dedicated to member participation in the fullest sense of individual volunteer practical action, not just by asking members to donate money to support paid staff. Worldwide, some 4 million people consider themselves members. The AI organizing model has been called a snowflake, based on one-on-one relationships building upon each other, creating branches that connect at the center. 

One of the workshops I attended was on death penalty abolition. As I’ve mentioned before, AI opposes the death penalty in all cases.  In our region, DC and Maryland have abolished the death penalty, but NC, Pa., Del., W. Va., and Va.  still have it, though it’s use has been much diminished.  Worldwide, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty , but a lesser number have retained it. Besides the US, other DP countries include China, Cuba, Egypt, Japan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe. Others have had a de facto moratorium, which is how some US states got started on the road to abolition. American public opinion is shifting against the DP, in part because of the 143 death row inmates exonerated by the Innocence Project, either through DNA evidence or a confession by someone else. Faith-based groups and victims’ advocates for abolition have been powerful voices. It‘s up to the prosecutor’s  discretion whether to seek the DP and only a few states and a few jurisdictions within those states account for the bulk of executions, with Texas having the most and with certain jurisdictions within the state being responsible for all. In Arizona, it’s no surprise that Maricopa County has had the only recent executions.  Amnesty is currently working to stop the execution of Reggie Clemons, whose 2009 execution date was stayed by the Missouri Supreme Ct. because of evidence suppression by the prosecution.

As for getting public attention for an issue, we are now in an era of do-it-yourself media, with multiple avenues competing for attention in a 24/7 news cycle providing a continuous avalanche of information. People have short attention spans, may get compassion fatigue, and are bombarded with much contradictory information, often with a marketing angle. Visual images help get a message across. Twitter and Instagram are increasingly popular avenues for providing brief messages, in line with short attention spans. I have not mastered those avenues, which, apparently, are most effective if one uses them on a continuous basis, thereby acquiring a following. With my lengthy, rambling blog postings, obviously, I’m out-of-the-loop.

On another matter, as mentioned here previously, I’m a board member of a local adoption agency that assists with both domestic and inter-country adoptions. However, both forms of adoption have become increasingly more expensive, difficult, and rare, in part, because birth mothers, especially in the US, are not relinquishing their babies and are having fewer of them, in part, because of well-meaning safeguards that make international adoptions more difficult. Also, many other countries have made requirements for infant adoptions more stringent, such as that parents must be under age 40, married a certain number of years (heterosexual only), and have no other children. Often, they also must remain in the birth country for an extended period and pay high fees there. The other reason for reduced adoption demand is the growth and availability of assisted reproduction, going far beyond in vitro which uses eggs and sperm from the biological parents for their own offspring, instead, relying on sperm and egg donation, including for singles and gay couples, and even the use of gestational mothers carrying babies not related to them for a price. The head of our adoption agency has told me that in Maryland, one of the jurisdictions where our agency works, she has been asked to interview gestational mothers to make sure they are entering these arrangements voluntarily, as is usually the case, because they are being paid to do so and are also required to sign agreements (whose enforceability is uncertain) not to drink alcohol or use drugs, to participate in prenatal care, and not to claim the baby after the birth. Most of these gestational women, she says, are poor and black, unlike the contracting parents, whose own genetic material may be used, or who may be producing a baby with donated eggs and sperm. Most often, if the contracting father is fertile, his sperm is used along with a donor egg if his wife cannot produce viable eggs. Assisted reproduction has become big business, but is mainly available to high-income people, as, increasingly, is also the case with adoption. While perhaps most people try to reduce their fertility, there is a small subset of people willing and able to spend any amount of money to become parents. But, of course, the recession and continuing economic downturn have put a crimp in both adoptions and assisted reproduction.

Last time, I got a message on my blog from someone identifying himself as a Spanish boy who posts images of stamped envelopes of letters received from all over the world on his own blog. He has asked me to send him a stamped letter from Honduras, which I will try to remember to do when I go there next February. Emilio, if you are reading this, please be patient. Also, if anyone else wants to send him a stamped letter, below is his address, though he has received mail already from the US. I note that senders wisely do not put their name and return address on the front of the envelope, probably not at all, for privacy concerns, and he could scarcely reply to all anyway (access his blog via my own--see bottom of my post for Oct. 14). Any readers from other countries, please take note and, perhaps, he would appreciate more letters from the US as well, especially if they have interesting stamps—perhaps an ingenious combination of stamps to make up what’s required for an airmail letter to Spain. Also, he apparently knows English, so you may write to him in English. He must enjoy opening his mailbox every day.

Emilio Fernandez Esteban
Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
28902 Getafe (Madrid)

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