Friday, October 31, 2014

Bigger Font, Halloween Greetings, Confession, DC Library Book Fest, Little League Football, Teatro de La Luna, New York Times’ Cuba Push, More on the Cuba Embargo

Hope that readers complaining about a small font in recent postings, will be satisfied now with this font, which should be big enough even for readers my own age. If not, put on your reading glasses!

 Happy Halloween! Above are some neighborhood decorations, including the guy with the scythe who actually moves!

 Confession: sorry to have fooled some of you, but Pope Francis really wasn’t here in DC, only his image, alas! I once met Pope John Paul II and would also like to have a chance to meet Francis, as he seems like a pragmatic and likeable guy. He comes to the church’s leadership at a time when the church desperately needs a fresh outlook.

We were 80 DC authors, all competing with and supporting each other, at a book fest and the main public library, Martin Luther King, on Saturday, Oct. 18.  It was fun, but most of us had only modest sales. Library patrons arrived expecting to borrow, not buy, books. A number of folks looked like homeless people attracted by the free candy and snacks some book vendors offered in addition to selling their books.

 A neighbor has written a book about Diogenes, named for her "philosopher dog," a book featuring many dog photos juxtaposed with sayings from Diogenes. She actually brought the dog to her display table at MLKing Library where he sat obediently, going out for periodic walks with her husband, who accompanied her. The couple was also wearing Diogenes t-shirts, which were being sold as well. Dogs and cats are always popular book topics.

On Saturday morning, I attended great-grandson De'Andre's  football game, as per above photo. He made a touchdown and his team won. I'm not crazy about allowing kids his age to play football, but it's tag, not tackle, and they don't wear helmets, rather pulling off a red waist tag instead. Two girls are on his team. We were not the only ones there to cheer on De'Andre; also present besides me, daughter Melanie, and granddaughter Natasha, were Natasha's dad and the mother of De'Andre's dad.

Folks stripping off the paint of the adjacent house undergoing renovation (rebuilding really) for the last 6 months began spraying water on the outside to remove old paint. In doing so, they sprayed paint debris all over my side windows, including between storm and interior windows, causing a huge mess, very challenging to clean off both outside and between the 2 panes. If they had put plastic over our windows, as they did on the house they were spraying, that problem could have been avoided.

In the company of two women friends, saw a hilariously funny, clever one-woman play at a local Spanish-language theater, Teatro de La Luna. By an Ecuadoran playwright and titled “Loca la Juana” (That Crazy Joan), it depicted various historical Joans, including Joan of Arc, Joanna of Castile, and Pope Joan. All the parts in this one-woman show were played by a marvelous and versatile Ecuadoran actress also named Juana, or Joan, herself. For us, the event was also a reunion of sorts. One of my fellow theater-goers, also Ecuadoran, was the International Rescue Committee staffer who first placed unaccompanied Cuban minor Alex in my home, as per my Cuba book. The other friend also has a connection with that book, having been a fellow member of our Amnesty Group 211 who later married Basilio, one of the 26 long-term Cuban prisoners freed by Jesse Jackson in 1984 at our request.
At a baby shower and potluck for a Nigerian couple belonging to our Communitas Catholic community, a child, also from Nigeria, began feeling ill and vomited, sparking concern about Ebola, even though I doubt he and his family had traveled there recently, nor is Nigeria an Ebola hotbed. Yet, even though I know better, I, like some others, indulged in these paranoid thoughts, an even worse tendency among much of the public whose fears sometimes approach panic. Tourism to Africa is down sharply, even to South Africa and other countries located far from the outbreak. 

The link below refers to an article in the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald, noteworthy because Cuban independent blogger Yoani Sanchez, speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, has identified the flash drive as the secret weapon of the new Cuban revolution (see also a section on Yoani in my Cuba book). Although Cuba has less internet penetration (thanks to regime strictures) even than Haiti, Twitter feeds sent into the diaspora have often been multiplied by being sent back into Cuba, informing citizens of such hidden events as the collapse of a crumbling Havana building or police abuse captured on one of few existing Smartphones.

 The Washington Post seems to be bucking a trend to get on the anti-embargo bandwagon. From The Washington Post's Editorial Board, Oct. 20, 2014:

Cuba should not be rewarded for denying freedom to its people

The other day, Fidel Castro wrote an opinion column for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, as he has done periodically from retirement. He lavished praise on an editorial in the New York Times that called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. But Mr.
Castro had one complaint: The Times mentioned the harassment of dissidents and the still-unexplained death of a leading exponent of democracy, Oswaldo Payá, and a younger activist, Harold Cepero, in a car wreck two years ago.

The assertion that Cuba’s authoritarian government had yet to explain the deaths was “slanderous and [a] cheap accusation,” Mr. Castro sputtered. [Editorial continues.]

Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly has again condemned to US embargo on Cuba, a position also taken in a recent NY Times’ editorial. The NY Times editorial staff seems to be making a concerted effort to enhance Cuba’s image, also lauding its sending of doctors to West Africa to fight Ebola, saying that Cuba is putting American efforts to shame. Previously on this blog, I too praised Cuban doctors both for their expertise and for putting themselves at risk to fight this illness. And it’s great that Cuba and the US are cooperating in the effort to contain Ebola. While mentioning that WHO is directing the Cuban team, the editorial fails to tell the whole story, that WHO is also probably fully financing that team’s participation, making it sound instead as though Cuba is operating completely on its own steam. And are these brave Cuban doctors being adequately paid for their sacrifice, or does the money go, as it usually does, directly to the Cuban government which then gives them a small living allowance while confiscating their passports? Cuba deliberately trains an excessive number of health workers—and trains them well--to dispatch all around the world to earn money for the regime or to be deploying in medical tourism on the island, paid for in dollars to the government. (Read about neurosurgeon Dr. Hilda Molina in my Cuba book.)

“Cuba is an impoverished island that remains largely cut off from the world,” says the most recent Times editorial on Cuba. Yes, it is impoverished, but not exactly cut off from the world because people from every country travel there regularly, including thousands of visitors from the United States. These visitors and investments from many countries have failed to soften the regime’s political and economic strictures on the Cuban people, as anti-embargo advocates argue will happen when the US engages more fully with Cuba. I thought of leaving a comment after reading the Times editorial, but saw a huge number of comments already posted there, running the gamut of extremes in either direction. One woman alleged that Cuban children get better health care than American children, something widely believed, but still a myth largely perpetuated by the Cuban government. All children in the US can get free medical care if their families are unable to pay. Meanwhile, health care for ordinary Cubans over the last few decades has been markedly deficient, not only because of the embargo. Epidemics are covered up, as happened with dengue, as recounted in my Cuba book, and, more recently, with cholera.

During an embargo discussion on Oct. 15 on NPR’s On Point, a Canadian caller pointed out that many of his fellow countrymen have gone to Cuba for surgery. The program’s moderator reiterated the truism that Cuba has excellent medical care. What neither acknowledged is that Canadian medical tourists pay in hard currency for care unavailable to ordinary Cubans. From what recent Cuban exiles, including doctors, have told me, care for Cubans outside elite political circles has deteriorated considerably. That deterioration was apparently already starting more than 25 years ago, even before the Soviet exodus from Cuba. Yet, the reputation remains. Certainly Cuba trains its medical personnel well and they have performed well abroad, including in Haiti, Brazil, Venezuela, and now, Liberia. The US State Department has said the contribution of Cuban doctors is welcome in the fight against Ebola. They were also well respected when I worked with them in Honduras. While UN agencies have donated medications to Cuba, practitioners providing care to ordinary citizens are financed by the Cuban government itself, with most medications and equipment in short supply and doctors earning only about $20 per month from their cash-strapped government.

The embargo should not be removed entirely unless US investors and travelers are allowed more freedom to engage with Cuban citizens by being able to hire and pay them directly. Most Americans would not consider that an outrageous requirement, since it’s taken for granted in most other places, including China, Viet Nam, and Cuba’s “socialist” allies in the Americas. It’s a restriction on the rights of purchasers of, or investors in, goods and services to have the Cuban government intervene to make those decisions for them. Freer commerce might finally allow Cuba to start emerging from the economic and political doldrums of strict state control.

The US embargo should not be ended unilaterally without any conditions whatsoever required of Cuba, in my opinion, speaking now as a private citizen, not in my role with Amnesty International. That’s why I’ve put forward the modest proposal of allowing more choice for visitors and investors. However, the political momentum seems to be moving in the direction of a unilateral lifting by the US with nothing required of the Cuban government in return. So, I would not be surprised if the Obama administration does as much as possible administratively, at the same time eliminating "wet-foot/dry-foot." There would be some upsides, namely, that the embargo’s elimination would lift that cloud from the American image. It might also engender a more cooperative attitude toward the US among the Cuban governing elite and certainly takes away the main excuse for cracking down on ordinary citizens and for the existence of domestic scarcities, but how that would translate on the ground remains to be seen. The main objective of the Cuban elite is to remain in power, so they will do whatever they deem necessary to achieve that.

Politics—or economics—makes strange bedfellows. Now even the Fanjul south Florida sugar baron family, whose members were once staunch supporters of the Cuba embargo, has shifted its stance, seeing the prospect of investing in and reviving the sugar industry on the island.

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