Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Green Growth, Africans’ Departure, An 85th Birthday, Book Sold in £s, Cuba Book Review, Border Kids, Peace Corps Application Streamlined, Chinese Death Sentence Averted, Equatorial Guinea




As per photos, heavy rain and just heavy growth led to the collapse of vines that had been growing on a back wall of my yard (actually, the side wall of another house) ever since we moved here in 1969. The house’s owner proposed that we split the considerable cost of cutting it down, which we did. I never knew ivy could fall like that, but, I suppose, like any living thing, its lifespan is limited. Only the naked wall is left. Meanwhile, an avocado plant I grew from a seed has taken over my back porch, so had to be trimmed.  I hope it won’t be harmed in the process.

 My visitors from Tanzania and Zambia have left, leaving a huge absence. The Tanzanian, a devout Catholic
(’m Catholic, but less devout), gave me a Bible Diary for 2014 with Pope Francis’s picture on the front cover
and daily readings inside. In turn, I gave her a copy of my Cuba book.

A friend and neighbor who, like me, joined the Peace Corps later in life and also once worked in Romania, as I did,
recently celebrated her 85th birthday. Our lives have had other parallels. Her former husband, who, like mine, divorced
her after a long marriage and remarried, also, like my late husband, served in the Carter administration. However,
similarities stop there, as her ex is still with the living and attended her birthday celebration, a fact which very much impressed me, as my ex-husband never set foot in our house again after he left and I cannot imagine him attending any event in my honor. After all that my friend has achieved since her divorce, I wonder if her former husband ever feels any regret for leaving her? Perhaps she, like me, found herself able to do much more as an independent person. [Sorry for spacing here, cannot correct it.]

Very interesting, first 2 copies of my Cuba book sold in euros—now one has been sold in pounds! How is this happening? It’s a real mystery. Maybe it will do better in Europe than here in the US?

Sunday Book review, Roanoke Times, posted July 9, 2014

By Humberto Rodríguez-Camilloni, PhD, Professor of Architecture, Virginia Tech

[cover image went here but is not reproducing]

This compelling autobiographical narrative brings into focus the reality of Cuba and the struggle of its people to survive in a world deprived of basic civil liberties, adequate food supplies, medical services, or education. The author — now in her mid-70s — has spent most of her adult life championing the cause of human rights around the world, but especially in Latin America, particularly in Cuba, a culture with which she has come to identify herself in a meaningful way with deep understanding and love. Once an admirer of Fidel Castro as a revolutionary hero, she has witnessed first hand his betrayal of the Cubans, who have not lived to see the realization of the promised democracy with freedom, social health care, economic prosperity and equal opportunity for all.NRVbookreview 071314

A description of the book is as follows: “Whatever your ethnic background or personal opinion of Fidel Castro, you will find something new and revealing in this book. It offers a frank, firsthand account of one woman’s journey, not only through Cuba, but through a life filled with unique challenges and tragedies, including the deaths of her older son and a Cuban foster son. When Castro rose to power, the author, like so many Americans, was entranced by the romantic vision of a scrubby revolutionary defeating the hated dictator Fulgencio Batista. But her years of direct experience with Cubans and within Cuba itself gradually eroded that vision. Then, unexpectedly, she found herself being attacked by a once close friend of Latino heritage. He not only vehemently disagreed with her negative evaluation of Castro’s reign, but harshly questioned her right as a non-Latina to even comment on it. He dubbed her ‘lazy’ and a ‘nunny-bunny,’ namely a phony gringa do-gooder, displaying what he called lamentable ‘Republican-style self-exculpation,’ thereby summarily dismissing her decades of involvement in Cuban human rights as an Amnesty International volunteer. These very personal attacks triggered her own self-doubts, launching her onto a meticulous look back over the 75-year trajectory of her entire life, especially her involvement with Latin America and Cuba.”

Joe writes with passion and great sensitivity, taking her readers on a lifetime journey full of adversities but also triumphs gained through persistent devotion and unconditional commitment to help others in need. As a self-proclaimed “humanitarian,” Joe’s life experiences provide timeless lessons for all. Like her previous award-winning memoir, “Triumph and Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras” (2008), which should be read as a companion work, this book reasserts universal human values and the celebration of the human spirit that have guided the author throughout her entire life.

Putin’s courting anew of Cuba, forgiving its debt, offering to help with oil exploration, and renewing the spying post on the US, are very worrisome. If Russia returns to support Cuba, not only does that pose a risk to the United States, but means the prolonging of the Cuban dictatorship. 

 Folks calling for stronger barriers at the US-Mexico border don’t understand that the children and youths now congregating at the border are not actually crossing over. Rather, many are arriving at a fence, gate, or checkpoint and asking for asylum. According to a measure signed by GW Bush, those under age 18 coming from non-contiguous countries have a right in such cases to a hearing before an immigration judge. I’ve been an interpreter at many such hearings, though more recently, have preferred to work only in schools and hospitals. At “credible fear” hearings at the border where I’ve participated telephonically in the past, neither I nor the respondent (as they are called) knows the final decision at that moment, so I have no idea of which cases were sent along to an immigration judge and were actually allowed to stay and how many had to go. But, as I have said, I’ve often seen deportees arriving in immigration transport planes at the Tegucigalpa airport, like those shown above. I also have assisted young men whose legs were severed by trains in Mexico to obtain prostheses. Now, Mexico has apparently announced measures to prevent people from riding on top of freight trains, which should reduce both arrivals at the border and injuries and deaths from falling off. And maybe ads to stay home are working, as apparently the border arrivals are diminishing.

A friend and fellow Spanish interpreter has proposed having immigration hearings in the countries of origin, though I'm not sure those countries would allow it. It would save on migrants making a risky journey, then having to be sent back still owing the coyote. But citizens of other countries might demand the same, such as Syria, Iraq, and Gaza, where people certainly have a “credible fear.” As I may have said before, a teacher in a public kindergarten, with 40 students (!) told me that 5 had been born in the US, indicating their parents had been deported. Just on Sunday, a woman from Guatemala at our Spanish-speaking parental bereavement group, which I am now leading, told us that her 27-year-old son had been killed outside his auto body shop because he couldn't pay extortionists. He had called her the night before, saying. “They are trying to kill me.”

Now some folks from @amnesty are protesting the decision to deport kids from Central and South America @CNNpic.twitter.com/adakgQ59dX.


Of course, the influx of kids—and mothers—from Central America is big news in the local Spanish-language press in free papers that come out weekly. One headline said, “No, no manden a sus hijos” [No, don’t send for your kids] quoting from a Guatemalan mother shown embracing her 14-year-old son who had just made the perilous journey—certainly a mixed message there. But at least 2 planeloads of Hondurans have been sent back already (as per photo), so that may make an impression. We have to hope they got due process, but if it’s very swift, who knows? On the other hand, if they are allowed to stay, that only encourages more. Some folks are saying that we should try to improve life at home for these people, but we’ve already been trying to do that for years with various programs, public and private, with only limited success. There will always be an income gap. Europe and Australia face similar refugee pressures. Canada has a big buffer in between.

Bolivia, apparently by presidential decree, has lowered the legal working age to 10 from the UN- mandated age of 14. Ten does seem awfully young, but recognizes de facto what actually occurs. Certainly in Honduras, where 14 is the legal age, it was recognized in the breach.

A member of our Caribbean staff at Amnesty International headquarters in London has published an article below in the Huffington Post, July 16, 2014, about the convoluted and ineffective way that the Dominican Republic is responding to its Haitian-descended citizen crisis engendered by a recent and internationally widely condemned high court decree.

 Bravo, regarding simplification and shortening of Peace Corps’ application process, as per article partially copied below. I remember waiting over a year for my assignment and many others have been discouraged by this prospect. Another change would be to encourage more older, experienced people to join, which is what receiving countries prefer. The agency has done that to an extent by opening up Peace Corps Response, usually 6-month tours, to experienced people who may already know the language and country involved but who have not served in the Peace Corps before. Allowing candidates to choose the country where they want to serve would have encouraged a number of people I’ve spoken with to join. Previously, such requests were met by PC recruiters with the pat answer, “We are not a travel agency” and expressing a country preference was often considered a sign of rigidity on the applicant’s part.

 Peace Corps announces major changes to application process

By T. Rees Shapiro Wash. Post, July 14, 2014  

The Peace Corps, formed more than 50 years ago to send Americans abroad to perform good works, is in the midst of its most serious challenge, with the number of applicants falling rapidly, leaving the volunteer force at its lowest level in more than a decade.

Recognizing that the organization envisioned by President John F. Kennedy could be endangered, its leaders are scheduled to announce Tuesday a series of steps to make it more attractive, including allowing candidates to choose the country where they want to serve, shortening the year-long application period, and recruiting more minorities and young people…In the past nine months, more than 30,000 potential candidates did not complete their applications, according to the Peace Corps. The number of candidates who have finished them has dropped from a peak of 15,384 in fiscal 2009 to 10,118 in fiscal 2013, a decline of 34 percent…The agency’s recruiting suffered setbacks after several volunteers came forward with harrowing accounts of sexual assaults in their host countries.

Hessler-Radelet said she hopes the improvements will encourage more people to apply and boost the agency’s number of volunteers, especially among minorities. Of the 7,200 volunteers currently deployed, whites make up 76 percent; blacks, 6 percent; Hispanics, 9 percent; and Asians, 5 percent.

“We want to make it simpler, faster and more personal than ever before,” she said. “We don’t want to make our application a barrier to entry.”


Good news! Remember Li Yan, a Chinese woman who was sentenced to death for the murder of her violent husband, who'd put her through months of domestic abuse?
Following intense international pressure, the Chinese authorities have overturned her death sentence - a very rare decision. Find out more:

 Small, oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is not a high profile country for Americans. As the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, I only learned of its horrendous human rights record when translating some documents for Amnesty International. See letter below.


President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Hayes on Africa
The Corporate Council on Africa
1100 17th Street, N.W., Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20036

Tel: (202) 835-1115 Fax: (202) 835-1117

Dear Chief Executive Officer Stephen Hayes,

 A supporter of Amnesty International, I’m writing about a deeply concerning situation of horrific treatment of prisoners in Equatorial Guinea. As I understand you will be honoring the country’s president in August, I appeal to you to confront him on these conditions.
Roberto Berardi was detained in February 2013, after making inquiries about revenues from a company he jointly owned with Second Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (“Teodorin”), President Obiang’s eldest son. The company had been identified in US Department of Justice filings targeting properties held by Teodorin in California. Despite reported promises made by President Obiang to the EU Commission Vice President Antonio Tejani that Berardi would be released imminently, he remains in solitary confinement and very ill, according to his family. Photos show red lashing scars on Mr. Berardi’s back and an extreme loss of weight.

In July 2014, Mr. Berardi’s situation indicates that President Obiang has not improved conditions from when UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak visited the country in November 2008 and reported that torture within the prisons was “rife” and that he feared prisoners would suffer reprisals for even talking to his team.

 Cruel and inhumane treatment in prisons should never be tolerated. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture as well as the US Torture Victims Protection Act and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights state that all people have the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The government of Equatorial Guinea cannot exempt itself from this prohibition.

 Moreover, Roberto Berardi’s detention was unlawful as it did not result from a fair trial or arrest in accordance with international standards. Though allegedly convicted of misappropriation of corporate assets and fraud, Berardi was presented with no evidence against him. Rather, it appears Berardi is being silenced and punished for inquiring into Obiang’s alleged misconduct uncovered by US authorities.

 As his time in prison progresses, Berardi has contracted a number of illnesses. He has been denied proper medical treatment and despite promises of his release from prison, he remains there, growing weaker and more ill.

 I urge you to prioritize human rights in your discussions with the President and all other involved groups about future cooperation and an end to the unjust treatment of Roberto Berardi and all other prisoners in Equatorial Guinea.  The poor human rights record of Equatorial Guinea over the years of Obiang’s government must be highlighted, stressing the need to end impunity for abuses. I ask you to express fears that the Equatorial Guinea government is encouraging abuses in prisons and unfair trials.  I further urge you to emphasize to the government the need to comply with international human rights law in handling issues that may put the Equatorial Guinea government under scrutiny. 

 This August President Obama will host President Obiang along with other heads of state from Africa in an effort to promote investment, trade and good governance in Africa. The Corporate Council on Africa will be holding a dinner in honor of President Obiang and will provide an opportunity to promote transparency, good governance and the rule of law and respect for human rights, all of which are essential to promoting investment and trade. Such conversations are null and void if investors in the country are detained and tortured at will.

 Thank you for your time and consideration of this important matter.

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