Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easter Friends, Getting Older, Adios García Márquez, Sonia Garro, Two Sainted Popes, Swazi King

During Easter week, a young visitor on spring break from college, Estefani, is shown here working on her laptop in my living room in a position impossible for me to achieve any more. The other photos are of my daughter Melanie on Easter Sunday with our former next-door neighbors, now living in a retirement community. Melanie grew up with them always living next door. But, finally, they found that fixing up their house, over a century old, and going up and down stairs became too much. So now they live comfortably on the ground floor of a retirement community with all services, such as meals, provided and with access to planned trips. In the case of a medical or other emergency, prompt help is available. What’s not to like? I’m trying to pinpoint why I would resist living in such a place. Perhaps it’s the planning, first, that the planning is largely done for the residents, not by them—sure they have choices, such as which entrée to choose—but they don’t set the agenda, and, second, because there are few if any surprises. Too bland, too comfortable, I would say. But I may eat my words and be eating in communal dining room myself in the future if disabilities catch up with me, compelling me to live in a similar place.

 Now, at age 76, I’m finding out what getting older is really all about, something hard to imagine when you’re young.  People are living longer and becoming more physically and mentally disabled in the process. They used to succumb to a heart attack or stroke or even cancer and that was fate or the will of God. Now, medical interventions allow them to survive, though in a somewhat debilitated state—even cancer can become a chronic illness. Half of those over 85 are said to have a degree of dementia and there are more people in that age bracket than ever before. They require regular medical care and often care for daily living. So, retirement communities serve a purpose. Few of us will live to a ripe old age with no health problems or mental and physical disabilities and then suddenly drop dead without any warning—of what, pray tell?


With the death of Gabriel García Márquez, I’ve heard many mispronunciations of his name. First of all, though he is usually referred to by his double last name, García Márquez  (father’s first, then mother’s), when only one is used, it should be García, not Márquez which many commentators have used alone, including the NY Times. And on the radio, this error is compounded by pronouncing it as MarQUEZ, when the emphasis on his mother’s surname is on the first syllable (which carries an accent mark), Márquez (MARquez).  His mother was Luisa Márquez, his father Gabriel García, so he used García Márquez to distinguish himself from his father.  As mentioned in my new book, García—or García Márquez, if you prefer—wrote a book about his friend Fidel Castro over 30 years ago, but declined to publish it because he felt it would tarnish Fidel’s reputation. If that manuscript still exists, it should be resurrected now.

 A friend of this blog had the following (below) to say about the third Easter spent in prison, so far, of afro-Cuban Sonia Garro, a member of the Damas de Blanco. Amnesty International has not designated her as a prisoner of conscience (POC) because when she and her husband were up on a rooftop, surrounded by soldiers, he threw down a roof tile that hit one of the soldiers below, injuring him slightly. Amnesty requires POCs to have neither advocated nor engaged in violence. Both Garro and her husband were charged with “attempted murder,” though as far as I know, have not gone to trial.

 Well obviously the regime has said that if the husband is violent and the wife is a Dama, she's twice guilty. But it's clear that they were targeting Garro. Otherwise, why not arrest the husband only? It sounds like there are credible witnesses who finger him, and that no one has come forward to say that she was participating in the self-defense (aka violence). I can see why this would be a delicate matter for Amnesty, though. Since the law is whatever the Castros tell the courts to say it is, they can devise a charge that will stick -- in Cuba. In the real world, prosecutors would have to prove both intent and conspiracy, since Garro's pacifism, in her participation in Damas marches, is beyond question. An equitable court would inquire why it was thought necessary to hurl a dangerous projectile at the cops, and the answer to this question would go far toward vindicating the defendant. But this won't be an equitable court. Looks like Garro will be counting three, four, many Easters. (My friend should have her own blog).

 By canonizing two popes at once, John XXIII and John Paul II, Pope Francis is appealing both to more liberal and more conservative Catholics.  Many of us in the first camp were inspired by the short-lived papacy of John XXIII. Others felt more closely affiliated with John Paul II, whom I met at the Carter White House in 1979.

 A friend is married to a woman from Swaziland, whom he met while working as a nurse in that country. Now, I would recommend reading an article about Swaziland’s little known but medieval-type despotic king, Mswati III, appearing in The Atlantic under the title “Africa’s Real-Life Game of Thrones.” Another overlooked African despot is septuagenarian Teodoro Obiang, in power for more than 30 years in tiny oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, whose horrendous human rights record I only discovered when translating some documents for Amnesty International.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Miami Herald Re My New Book, Ted Cruz, Yoani Sanchez, Alan Gross, Homicide in Honduras, Miss Bessy—RIP, Strife in South Sudan, Pope Francis, DHS, Bereaved Parents en Español, TV, Sunday Mass, Artist GWBush, Ghostwriting, Archbishop Welby, Health System, Second Amendment

Commentary here on little bit of everything this time, because that’s life—at least, my life, which is going in multiple directions all at once

Am re-posting the photo above, which aptly expresses my own absent-mindedness, and is something I got from a Facebook friend.

 With my new book about my Cuba and other Latin America experiences, I'm trying to reach readers beyond the Cuban diaspora, but it's hard. Someone just told me she was reading my book on the NYC subway and got in a conversation with a fellow passenger who was surprised to learn that maybe Fidel was not Mr. Nice Guy after all and that Cubans on the island weren't all doing just fine. Fidel has definitely come out ahead in the PR game.
 A short item appears below in Spanish and English about my new book presentation in Coral Gables during my March on a stopover there after Honduras.

Photo is not coming out, sorry.

Barbara Joe en la presentación de ‘Confessions of a Secret Latina’ en Books & Books, Coral Gables. Foto Héctor Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

Publicado el miércoles 02 de abril del 2014

Barbara E. Joe es la “latina secreta” que trajo su nuevo libro. Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro and in Love with the Cuban People, a Books & Books. Me invitó Silvia Sarasúa, relacionada con la causa de los derechos humanos. Barbara Joe es una activista también de más de 30 años con Amnesty International USA, que ha trabajado con los Cuerpos de Paz en Honduras, sobre lo que publicó otro libro, Triumph and Hope.
Al llegar a la librería me sorprendió ver allí a Jorge Valls y a Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, poetas que estuvieron años en prisiones políticas cubanas. Ellos son parte del libro de Joe, que surgió al tener una airada confrontación con un antiguo amigo sobre su participación en un filme documental sobre las “damas de blanco” en La Habana. Como se sabe, ellas marchan frente a una iglesia después de la misa dominical con gladiolos en las manos, en protesta y apoyo de esposos e hijos, presos de conciencia en la isla. El documental fue filmado discretamente por la directora noruega Gry Winther, pero fue criticado por el embajador de Cuba en Noruega, donde le respondieron que era un filme privado y no gubernamental. Fue mostrado después en un festival fílmico en Amsterdam y luego por gestión de Joe en la Universidad George Washington, de Washington, D.C.
Ella justificó en su comparecencia su admiración anterior a Fidel Castro y la de la mayoría de los cubanos que lo apoyaron, como lo hizo ella, por su carismática personalidad y sus promesas de justicia social. Pero al ver lo que ha sucedido en Cuba, se sintió obligada a dar su testimonio personal, que contiene las muchas relaciones y entrevistas con disidentes cubanos incluyendo la de Oswaldo Payá. • 

Barbara E. Joe is the “secret Latina” who brought her new book “Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro and in Love with the Cuban People” to Books & Books. I was invited there by Silvia Sarasúa because of her involvement in human rights causes. Barbara Joe is also an activist of more than 30 years with Amnesty International USA, who has worked with the Peace Corps in Honduras, about which she has published another book, “Triumph & Hope.”

 When I arrived at the bookstore, I was surprised to see there Jorge Valls and Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, poets who spent years in Cuban political prisons. They appear in Joe’s book, which came about when she had an angry confrontation with an old friend over her participation in a documentary film about the “Ladies in White” in Havana.  As is well known, they march in front of a church after Sunday Mass carrying gladioli to protest and support their husbands and sons, prisoners of conscience on the island.  The documentary had been filmed secretly by the Norwegian director Gry Winther, who had been criticized by Cuba’s ambassador to Norway, where he was told that it was a private, not a governmental, production. It was shown at an Amsterdam film festival and later, through Joe’s efforts, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

In her exposition, she attributes her previous admiration for Fidel Castro, and that of the majority of Cubans who supported him as she did, to his personal charisma and his promises of social justice. But after seeing what has happened in Cuba, she felt obligated to give her personal testimony regarding her many relationships and interviews with Cuban dissidents, including Oswaldo Payá.

[Translated from the Spanish]

So there, Senator Ted Cruz, eat your heart out, see how my new book has gotten publicity! Cruz really doesn’t need any more publicity, as he’s already received a $1.5 million advance on his new book before it’s even been written.

Cuban independent blogger Yoani Sanchez has been invited to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum taking place May 12-14.

 Alan Gross, former USAID contractor imprisoned in Cuba for the last 4 1/2 years for bringing communications equipment into that country, was on a hunger strike, but stopped at his family’s request. His situation has probably been aggravated by the revelations of USAID’s attempt to introduce a Twitter-type program into Cuba, allowing quick communication among people on the island with cell phones. Cubans certainly hunger for communication, but since the program was secret—understandably because the Cuban government uses draconian methods to thwart, monitor, and punish communication—it would seem to fall more properly within the purview of the CIA. USAID tarnishes its reputation with such secret programs. I’ve heard that President Correa of Ecuador has asked both USAID and the Peace Corps to leave.

 According to a UN survey, Honduras' homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 is the highest in the world ... by far. The country's gang violence and penetration by drug cartels puts its murder rate at almost double the next most dangerous country in the world. (Next highest is Venezuela, at 54 per 100,000.)

Dra. Jeanette, who heads up the Triunfo public health center in Honduras where I once worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, told me on Facebook that Bessy, my wheelchair-using woman (she appears in my Honduras book), had died of sepsis, blood poisoning or an infection. A woman little known, at least she lives on in my book. Miss Bessy, rest in peace.

 It’s very distressing that the world’s newest nation, South Sudan--of special interest to me because of my visit there in 2006 before independence--is now facing famine. That’s completely a manmade problem deriving from the strife between the country’s two main leaders, not due to weather or outside attack.

Rumor has it that Pope Francis is considering allowing married men to become Catholic priests. While I would also like to see married or single women priests, married men would be a step in the right direction. Of course, some married men already serve as Catholic priests under some circumstances.

I had sent a letter to the Miami Airport and Dept. of Homeland Security, protesting that when I landed in Miami from Honduras, there was a wait of several hours just to get out of the airport because of DHS processing. During that time, people missed connecting flights, children were crying, people felt faint. A month later, I got a letter back from DHS, saying that all travelers coming from other countries must be examined when entering the country—but examined twice? And how about anticipating crushes and having enough staff on hand to process them? The letter said that approximately 6,591 passengers had arrived about the same time at Concourse D. That’s no excuse. Certainly those flights were expected.

 This past Sunday, I started leading a group of Spanish-speaking parents who have lost children meeting at Providence Hospital, where their children have died, either because of medical problems or at birth. Most of them have been babies, such as your colleague's, so that's a different experience from mine, but we shall see how well I do. My regular Compassionate Friends group referred me to a nun who works as a chaplain at the hospital, which is how I became involved, though I really don't need any more responsibilities. The nun is Colombian, having fled and sought asylum here years ago because of danger from both rebels and paramilitaries because of her work--she was caught between. Colombia now is much more peaceful and the Peace Corps is back.

My African ladies taking a course here in DC have left their children behind. The children of the one from Tanzania are 8 and 12, so are more self-sufficient. But the woman from Zambia has left behind 3 little girls under age 5 and naturally is missing them. Of course, she couldn't afford to pass up this opportunity, but it's proven to be a hard adjustment--cold, gloomy weather; no servants; no car; no TV. Someone found and brought over a discarded huge old-style TV set, but it needed a converter box to function, which they got and are able to access a few free stations. Although I’ve lived in my house more than 40 years and have never double-locked the front door at night, considering a single lock sufficient and also to allow ease of exit, especially in an emergency, but they don’t feel secure without a bolt lock, so OK, let them put it on. However, I discovered that one had gone out in the backyard to shake out a mop, I guess, and left the back door completely unlocked overnight. I didn’t tell them.

 One Sunday, we looked all over the neighborhood for long-distance calling cards to Zambia, her home country, with no luck. She and the other woman, who is from Tanzania, went to Mass down on 8th St. with me and that seemed to perk them both up a little. They asked about the meeting place where it was held and I chickened-out, not saying it was a center for gay Catholics, because that would have freaked them out. I just said it was a sort of club that allowed us to use their facility. I supposed I missed an opportunity to educate them on gay issues, but my experience with Africans has been that they are even more homophobic than Latinos. The Tanzania woman's children are 8 and 12, so she is a little more relaxed than the one from Zambia. I know from my own experience as a mother that it's very difficult to be separated for any length of time from a pre-school child and hard for the child too, a mutual dependency that may have hormonal aspects for the mother.

I was startled when my visitor from Tanzania asked me when the gas for the stove would run out. I realized that she must get gas from a portable tank, as people also do in Honduras. I told her that gas for the stove and the furnace come through a pipe and we pay for usage. In this country, we take amenities like these for granted, including hot and cold running water, drinkable water from the sink, and heat and air conditioning for our houses. The vast majority of the world’s population does not enjoy these conveniences. 

 An art critic has charitably described GW Bush’s paintings as possessing “an endearing amateurism.” Although he has claimed to have a secret Rembrandt inside him, certainly the interest in his artistry derives exclusively from his previous claim to fame as a world leader, where he also displayed, in my mind, an “amateurism” that was scarcely endearing. Apparently, many voters identified with him, being amateurs themselves. With his paintings and his (ghost written) memoir, his life saga shows further proof that if you are already famous, you can become even more so with whatever little ordinary thing you do, as celebrities and entertainers are well aware.  

 A professional ghostwriter I heard being interviewed on public radio claimed that at least 70% of all non-fiction books are ghostwritten. Some are memoirs of famous people, in which the ghostwriter tries to capture the subject’s voice; others may be works by doctors or scientists who know their subject but not always how to explain it to ordinary readers.  While GW Bush and Sarah Palin’s best sellers were ghostwritten, Obama is said to have written his own memoirs--best sellers that are still selling (though probably written with editorial assistance).

The opinions expressed by Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, commenting on the legalization of gay marriage in the UK, have been denounced as bigoted.  He has said that the Anglican church should not bless such unions, as that would present a danger to Christians in Africa. While I personally have no objection to allowing gay people to marry—let them take their chances committing to a legal relationship, just like the rest of us—I don’t think that the archbishop’s fears are totally unjustified. Having lived and traveled extensively in developing countries, where homophobia can have  deadly consequences, and in Africa and the Muslim world, where there is already much anti-Christian sentiment, I do believe it would be a lot to ask of Anglicans and other Christians living there to be associated with gay marriage. Opinions on such matters have been evolving rapidly in North America and Western Europe, but are hardly accepted universally. Africa and the Muslim World have a long way to go on the issue of acceptance of gays, much less on the religious endorsement of gay marriage. It may come in time, but it will be a long time. We are talking about people living in societies that don’t allow women to drive or to leave their homes unescorted or uncovered, who practice female genital mutilation, and where Christians already may be killed with impunity because of their faith.  Why add gasoline to the fire?

 The health insurance system—never mind Obamacare--here is annoyingly difficult to navigate and more so for people who don’t speak English. Recently, I had an interpretation patient at a rehab center seeking treatment after suffering an accident in her home. But, even though he was on her plan, the rehab doctor wouldn't see her without a referral from her primary care physician. I called her primary care doctor's office, asking them to FAX over a referral. But that doctor wouldn't send the referral unless he saw her first. She told me that her primary care doctor's office involved stairs and she was using crutches now from the accident and couldn't manage stairs. In any case, the rehab center refused to examine her without the referral. A big waste of time for all involved, especially infuriating to her husband who had left work early to bring her to her appointment.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in a new book, uses arguments derived from judicial precedent and common sense to recommend a tweaking—an amendment, if you will—of the second amendment of the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”  He believes that might help reduce the numbers, now at 30,000 annually, killed in the US by firearms, mostly handguns. Handguns, of course, are not the weapons of choice for militias nor is the NRA likely to allow such a change over the dead bodies of gun victims, but Stevens has at least revived the gun-rights debate.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Final Honduras trip photos, 2014

OK, this will be last part, which will include my arrival to a snowy Washington, DC. I went from southern Honduras, where the temperature was 102 F to below freezing in DC, with a welcome stopover in southern Florida. Well, here goes the last of the trip photos, and since I cannot visually preview them as has happened the last two times, then make your own interpretation. And I apologize in advance for additional distortions, but now I seem to have lost control, thanks to some mischievous blog genies. Careful readers will note the time lapse between when I started this process and now am finishing, for better or for worse. But the times shown are California time--locally here in DC, it's past 2 am.


Honduras blog continued once again

Sorry about those photos last time. No captions because I couldn't see them. Now, am trying for El Triunfo, but, again they are not showing up on my screen as with the first batch, so not sure here and cannot caption them. Let's see what happens here. When I got a preview, some looked distorted.. I don't know why this is happening after the first posting went so well. Will try again with this posting. Just previous to this is the longest and most successful posting. After that, things went haywire.

Honduras Trip Report 2014, continued

Well, quite a bit got posted already, but prematurely, before I had finished. Then I tried to continue, but all the photos came out gigantic and only partially, so I figured out how to delete the whole darn thing--now I'm trying again to continue and finish up, but readers should start with the previous before going on to this posting. Actually, this is the 3rd attempt to continue. I'm going to leave out one photo that seems to be problematic and will just tell you about it--of a Lenca woman 9 months pregnant with her 8th child, having walked 2 hours with a preschooler to get to our clinic. We laid her down and let her hear her baby's heartbeat--the first time she had ever heard that. It seemed like she was ready to deliver, so hope she made it home. Sorry, you won't get to see her as her photo seems to be jinx this whole thing and may be why the previous posted prematurely. These things seems to have a mind of their own, beyond our control. So now will try posting the rest of the photos, minus the one that I described above.  But the photos are no longer showing up on my screen. They are of Choluteca, including of kids playing outside in the street at night and holding up some of the "magic towels I brought." I'd better see how this looks posted before I continue.

Well, I looked and some of the photos came out large again and distorted. I tried to change them. Maybe BlogSpot is getting tired of my posting some many photos. Maybe I should stop, but I'd like to finish. For the main part of this report, keep going back to "Older post" until you get to a posting titled "Where Is Spring?" Up to that point, things were going well--then they all went haywire.