Monday, January 27, 2014

Mini-Honduras Peace Corps Reunion, Artic Vortex Returns, My Niece at Site of Md. Mall Shooting, Honduras News, Bloodbath in North Korea





A surprise visit from California from Perth, one of my former Honduras Peace Corps colleagues, was the occasion for a reunion with still another Honduras volunteer, Lourdes, who came with her young son to meet us at the neighborhood Eastern Market, where the above photo was taken inside. Perth was not well-clothed for the weather, but put on as many layers as she could.

 
Still another artic vortex is now threatening to assault us. I don’t remember ever experiencing such repeatedly cold temperatures in DC since moving here in 1969. This time, walking gingerly on an icy sidewalk, my foot slid right out from under me and I fell down hard, experiencing some strains and bruises, but nothing drastic. Makes me seriously consider moving to Hawaii near my kids living there! At least in Honduras, where I will be going soon, even in the colder parts, it’s never nearly as cold as here in DC. Of course, they don’t have indoor heat, so even 40 F can feel fairly frigid inside. Last year, at night it went down to the 30s F in La Esperanza and I had trouble sleeping even wearing all my clothes and with blankets on top. Just now, I looked at the Esperanza weather report showing a high temp in the low 70s, very nice, and in Choluteca, it was predicted to reach 98 F.

 
Three dead on Saturday in a shooting in Maryland’s Columbia Mall, in a quiet planned suburban community outside Washington, DC. Surely the second amendment doesn’t prevent background checks and other commonsense measures that would protect us all when we go out in public places, though that’s considered a slippery slope by gun-rights’ advocates. I can only hope that the slope does get a lot slipperier. My great-niece Morgan, a college student with a part-time job at the mall, was there when the shooting started and was locked down, but not injured. That’s a little too close for comfort.

 The United States has seen a recent rash of shootings and gun killings at schools and colleges, as well as in homes and workplaces. The Navy Yard, thought to be a secure military campus located in walking distance from my house, was the scene of a mass shooting just a few months ago. Of course, part of our increased sensitivity to these events is due to instant communication and the 24-hour new cycle. Many seem to be vendettas for perceived slights. Others may be perpetrated by individuals with mental aberrations. Whatever the circumstances, it is high time for greater control of access to firearms, including registration and background checks for buyers, something that apparently a majority of Americans support. The right to bear arms shouldn’t trump every other right, including the right to life. A fanatical minority of gun-rights advocates is holding the rest of us hostage and threatening our very lives by fighting to prevent any curbs on gun ownership and use. Responsible gun owners don’t object to some curbs—in fact, apparently even a majority of NRA members don’t object to registration and background checks. The actions of a few are giving most gun owners a bad name.

 
A Spanish-speaking nun at a local hospital has asked me to lead a support group for Spanish-speaking bereaved mothers. Despite being way overcommitted, I couldn't say "no."

 I'm very glad for a ceasefire in South Sudan, though I don't think the rift that led to fighting has been solved.

 
I’m getting excited and also a bit nervous about my upcoming trip to Honduras, about which you will read on this blog on my return. My schedule there is very tight and transportation is difficult and somewhat risky. However, I am scheduled to participate in two medical brigades, IHS (ihsmn.org) and Operation Smile, along with a number of other commitments.

 
One reader has commented regarding the Honduras presidential inauguration announcement below:

“...wish we'd boycott this on the basis of their nonfunctional government, nonexistent civil society.”

 
President Barack Obama announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Honduras to attend the inauguration of His Excellency, Juan Orlando Hern├índez Alvarado, President-elect of the Republic of Honduras. 

 The Honorable Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor, will lead the delegation.

The Honorable Lisa Kubiske, United States Ambassador to the Republic of Honduras

The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

The Honorable Ricardo Zuniga, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, NSC staff

 
According to our local Spanish-language press, Honduran president-elect Hernández is going to take a page from the neighboring president of Guatemala to launch a program to reduce malnutrition, especially among children.

 An article about the challenges and failures of the drug war in the eastern Mosquitia region of Honduras appears in the January 6 issue of the New Yorker, “A Mission Gone Wrong.” The region is a wild jungle area with few roads, making surveillance difficult. The article’s author mentions young men paralyzed from deep-water diving without gear. I’ve met some of them, young lobster and pearl divers who surfaced too fast being fitted for donated wheelchairs. I’ve also heard them speak the Miskito language, which I can’t understand.
 
It’s mind-boggling to consider that North Korea’s current young leader, Kim Yong-Un, is even more blood-thirsty than his father and grandfather before him, reportedly not only having executed his uncle, once his key advisor, but the man’s entire extended family, including children. One of those eliminated was North Korea’s ambassador to Cuba, who had been ordered to return home for consultations. It’s even speculated that the young leader killed his father’s sister, his own “blood” relative married to the executed uncle.

 








Thursday, January 16, 2014

Name Correction, Old Man Winter, Pending Honduras Trip, Another Honduras HR Issue, South Sudan, DR Citizenship, Uighurs at G’mo, Hague Adoption Treaty, “Big Data” & Human Rights, Snowden Deal? Gates et al., Google Creates Problems Accessing this Account!




Correction: it was not General Mills’ Marjorie Merriweather Post herself who was found stabbed to death in her luxury Honduras spa, it was her heiress and descendant, Nedenia Post Dye. Sorry about that. An alert reader corrected me. Thanks very much.

 Snow at last in downtown DC (seen above through a screen door). Also, we experienced the “polar or artic vortex” with record low temperatures, 7 F one night. If it’s gotten that low in my more than 40 years in DC, I don’t remember it. Old Man Winter has suddenly arrived with a vengeance. Where is global warming when we need it? But even at those bone-chilling temperatures, sunlight coming through window glass still warms. Fortunately, it only lasted a couple of days.

 It’s official, I will be participating in Feb. in Operation Smile and International Health Service (IHS) (ihsmn.org) medical brigades in Honduras, as well as other Honduras projects. My plane tickets are ordered and I am working out the itinerary.  The murder of a General Mills heiress in Roatan, one of the northern tourist islands last month did give me cause to pause, but I was already pretty committed.  I just play it year to year.  Much of what appears in this blog posting is derived from other sources, all of which have resonance and connections with me. Above are 2 photos from another recent IHS medical brigade, but in a tropical part of Honduras, not in the misty mountains where I'll be serving. The interior shot of an IHS pharmacy and a clinic area beyond, in a temporarily evacuated school buildings, is pretty typical of where we work.  

 This below from the Center for Economic Policy and Research. Jan. 3, 2014:

Colonel German Alfaro, the commander of Operation Xatruch III in Honduras’ Aguan Valley, personally denounced Annie Bird, co-director of the U.S. and Canada-based human rights NGO Rights Action, on TV and radio, alleging among other things that she is engaging in “destabilization work” in the Aguan. The accusations, which were also covered in La Tribuna and Tiempo newspapers, came just after Bird accompanied campesinos in the Aguan to the Attorney General’s office to file human rights complaints, including some against Honduran soldiers. Alfaro also said he was opening an investigation into Bird’s activities.

 In response, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement condemning Alfaro's accusations. This was followed by a statement today signed by representatives of 33 human rights, labor, faith-based and other organizations.

 
I'm heartsick personally right now about the continuing conflict and power struggle in South Sudan, where I was in 2006 on behalf of a US charity. That very impoverished and war-torn country finally achieved independence from the north in 2011 and already there is infighting, apparently based on tribal loyalties, and neither side wants to yield anything. It's a country without roads, infrastructure, and sufficient water--also with destruction from wars with the north and landmines all over and lots of AK-47s everywhere. Guys who are armed and used to fighting don't seem ready to convert to a more peaceful existence.  And tribal loyalties and rivalries trump those to the new nation. I hope there won’t be the type of to-the-death ethnic conflict we saw in the Rwandan genocide.

 
Here’s an e-mail I just got from Phanuel, a young Kenyan man with whom I worked in South Sudan       in 2006, before it became a country. Until very recently, he has been on the front lines there:

Hi Barbara 

I am out of South Sudan due to the situation there and currently job searching as things there are not stable and not sure if we may go back soon.

It’s sad as conflict between presidential guards led to all the chaos currently being witnessed now. The situation is bleak as the US embassy is evacuating all consulate staff and that doesn't sound promising at all.

We are currently trying to monitor events with hope that all improves.
Best wishes for the new year.
Kisses

More below on DR citizenship problem:

Last week, we had another conference call with our headquarters in London and Amnesty Int'l members around the world on what to do about a recent DR high court decree that essentially revokes the citizenship of all arrivals since 1929 and their descendants, leaving them stateless—I’ve mentioned this before, but the problem continues and has become more serious, causing panic among Haitian descendants born in the DR. Of course, defenders of the decree would say their citizenship was not revoked--rather, they never had it to begin with. Certainly, there is considerable and long-running animosity against people of Haitian descent in the DR and, with all the calamities in Haiti, they continuing coming across the border. Although the DR is much better off than Haiti, it's hardly equipped to handle the influx, although Haitians do take on the most onerous jobs in construction and agriculture. Obviously, the DR president and/or parliament could soften the impact of the court ruling or even overrule it, but with so much public support in favor of it, would they do so? This has been a long-simmering problem in the DR, sort of like many Americans' negative attitudes toward Hispanic "illegals." We in Amnesty will try to add our efforts to the chorus of opposition outside the DR. At least, Dominicans in this country have united in solidarity with the Haitian diaspora against the decree and the Catholic church hierarchy has spoken out against it.

Boston, Mass., Jan 3, 2014 / 01:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston is lamenting a court ruling in the Dominican Republic that retroactively strips away citizenship from any person born after 1929 to parents without Dominican ancestry.

“It is the destiny of the Dominican and Haitian peoples to share an island,” Cardinal O’Malley said in a letter last month to the Dominican ambassador to the United States, Anibal de Castro. “Events of history have left their scars, but I believe that Dominicans and Haitians of goodwill long for a future of greater solidarity and friendship.”

“Please communicate to your government the concerns and disappointment of a priest who considers himself a friend to the people of the Dominican Republic,” the cardinal said.

His letter came in response to the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruling that the children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the country beginning in 1929 and who are registered as Dominican citizens will lose their status because their parents were “in transit” in the country.  The court’s decision could affect some 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, including many who have had no ties with Haiti for generations.

The last three Uighurs have been released from Guantanamo to Slovakia after a decade. Those guys should never have been there in the first place as, although they opposed the ethnic targeting and eradication policies of the Chinese government, they never posed any remote threat to the US as far as I know. Slovakia may not have been their preferred destination, but it’s better than being in prison and from there, maybe they can move elsewhere. They were among 22 Uighurs originally sent to G’tmo for reasons unknown, except for perhaps being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Efforts to resettle them in the US were met with resistance from some Republicans in Congress and some uninformed members of the public, who lumped them in with “terrorists.” They may be Muslim, but they have not been terrorists, even though in 2013, while they were locked away, some other Uighurs apparently perpetrated a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. A number of Uighurs already live in the US, among them Uighur leader and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Rebiya Kadeer, a small woman in her 60s with a thick gray braid, whom I once met a regional conference.

 Below is part of an article about problems with the Hague treaty on inter-country adoptions whose development I’ve followed as an inter-country adoptive parent, also a board member of Holy Cross, an international adoption agency. Our agency opted out of the Hague treaty because it was just much too complicated, the costs were exorbitant, and we didn’t see how it was helping kids. A Hague rep had to come and spend several days annually with all expenses paid at a costly hotel plus a hefty per diem to review the files of our small agency. It was too much work and too much money, for what? To give that person a self-important and cushy job? The result, while it might have provided some additional safeguards for adopted children, has ended up stymying adoptions, which was not its original intent. I’m not prone to blame “big government” bureaucracies, but this is one that hurts more than it helps.  So, I would support Senator Landrieu’s efforts, as long as they don’t make the bureaucracy worse. She seems to be trying to get international adoptions to become the focus of a special department within the State Dept.

 
Landrieu backs bill to boost foreign adoptions

Legislation draws bipartisan support, AP, Dec. 27, 2013

  |  
Much of the impetus for Landrieu's bill stems from shifting views about the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption. That treaty establishes ethical standards for international adoptions, which it says are an acceptable option after efforts have been made to have a child adopted in his or her home country. The U.S. entered into the agreement in 2008 with strong support from Landrieu and other adoption advocates who hoped it would curtail fraud and corruption, and then lead to a boom in legitimate adoptions.

 Instead, the decrease in foreign adoption by Americans — which started in 2005 — has continued. There were 8,668 such adoptions in 2012, down from 22,991 in 2004.

"When I helped to pass this treaty, it was everyone's hope that the number would go up — doubled, tripled, quadrupled," Landrieu said. "Instead it's down by 60 percent. That's the best evidence I have that what State Department has in place isn't working."

 In a recent article appearing in the SF Chronicle (Jan. 5, 2014) entitled “How big data can help secure human rights,” Amnesty Int’l USA’s Samir Goswami, managing director of the program for individuals and communities at risk, argues that:  big data can draw from information about human sentiments and actions to predict potential atrocities, reveal patterns of destructive human activities such as trafficking and help weigh prescriptive policies.

“Recently, Amnesty International USA participated in a New York City event called a ‘DataDive,’ where volunteer data scientists got together to apply their knowledge and skills to human rights data.”

The article, written with a co-author, concludes: “The ability to generate human rights information from various sources from all corners of the globe allows for an incredible technological tool that can be built with major long-term impacts. With the proper investments, understanding how data science helps human rights work can greatly add to our ability to monitor and act upon human rights risks as they emerge, and contribute to societies truly governed by the rule of law. Technology can help get us there.”

 Have heard rumors of Edward Snowden hinting at making a sort of plea bargain offer to the US government, promising not reveal any more information if he gets leniency when returning to the US. I have no idea if that’s true, but would imagine that the government would want to make a deal.

 I wonder if former Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote his tell-all book critical of the Obama administration not only to make money and get certain gripes off his chest, but, perhaps, also, to make himself a Republican presidential or VP contender—or otherwise a high official in a future Republican administration?

 
Republican noises now in support of some sort of immigration reform and for tackling growing income inequality seem to derive in part from business pressure, also from an attempt to demonstrate the bipartisanship that voters now seem to favor. Likewise, any concessions by Democrats are designed to show that they too have a bipartisan spirit.

 
One reason for such a long time between postings is that Amnesty International, where I have been a volunteer since 1981, decided to save money by closing an Earthlink account where I’d been doing Amnesty business for years. I had some files there transferred to gmail, part of the Google system, as is this blog. Somehow, without my advice or consent, or even knowledge, Google linked that account to the new gmail address and I could no longer post there. It took some time to straighten all that out, as, of course, there is no one you can communicate with directly at Google about such matters.