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.

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