Friday, December 4, 2015

Cuba Issues, Venezuela, Refugees, Other Items, Gun Violence, Life Span

Cuba Issues, Venezuela, Refugees, Other Items, Gun Violence, Life Span
Good news, una buena noticia. Amnesty International's Cuban prisoner of conscience, Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, whose US visa was initially denied by the US Embassy in Havana, is now in the US. El Sexto, as you will recall, was imprisoned for 10 months without charge and on hunger strike after being arrested last December for performance art inspired by Animal Farm (a banned book in Cuba); he had painted the names “Raul” and “Fidel” on two piglets. After his release, his request for a visa was denied by the US Embassy in Havana, a decision he posted on Facebook. Due to many efforts, that decision was declared a mistake and was reversed, so now he is in Miami. He had originally been invited to Art Basel, an international art show in Miami starting on Thurs., but his name was not on the program because of the visa delay, though someone paid his way to Miami and he apparently showed up the show. He is scheduled to join us in Washington, DC, at the Amnesty International office on Human Rights Day, December 10, for a group lettering writing event.

Posted: 01 Dec 2015 06:30 AM PST
There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression. The wave of Cuban migration you're seeing in the crisis in Central America right now is the strongest indication of that.
-- Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto"), young Cuban artist and Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience," who recently spent 10 months in prison for a critical performance, WLRN, 11/30/15
Article about El Sexto’s receipt of Vaclav Havel Award in Miami and participation in Art Basel

GENEVA (November 24, 2015) — Yesterday, Human Rights Foundation (HRF) submitted a petition and legal report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (U.N. Special Rapporteur), requesting that he send an allegation letter to the government of Cuba regarding the inconsistencies of the government’s official investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá in 2012. HRF documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system.

My readers probably know about the Cubans, now some 4,000, who have gathered at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, which recently decided not to permit passage, although it has been going on all year. Now that Ecuador has stopped automatically allowing Cubans to travel there without a visa, that outflow will end. The latest idea is to airlift the Cubans over Nicaragua. Who will organize and pay for that? The US has stayed out of public comment on the situation, seeming to prefer having Central Americans find their own solution.

The question that needs to be asked is: If [Cuban migrants] can obtain $15,000, why do they prefer to invest it in a dangerous escape, rather than in creating a business or prospering in their own country? The answer is painful and overwhelming: because here there are no guarantees, nor hope and because their lifespan is not long enough to wait for the fulfillment of promises of a better tomorrow, which are like the horizon: moving farther away every time we are near touching them.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio, 11/21/15 .

Highlights from the Atlantic Council's Heartland poll include:
·         Republicans' View: Despite a negative view of Cuba, the majority of Republicans favor the restoration of diplomatic relations and lifting the travel ban. 
·         Trade Embargo: 58 percent of Heartland voters support ending the trade embargo -- Ohio was the largest majority with 70 percent. 60 percent of voters believe that ending the embargo would benefit US agriculture.
·         Travel Restrictions: Nearly seven in ten Heartland voters (67 percent) want all travel restrictions to be lifted, including 66 percent of Independents and a majority of Republicans. 
·         Engagement -- the Best Option: Over six in ten voters in each state -- and 68 percent of overall Heartland poll respondents -- agree that the United States did the right thing in reestablishing relations in July.
Follow along on Twitter: #ACOpenCuba

However, critics of that poll say it was a very select and tiny sample of mid-west agricultural producers wanting to increase exports to Cuba, chosen to obtain the desired outcome. The poll only surveyed 150 people in each state. Any poll with such a small sample size is universally considered unreliable. 
I did not see Alan Gross on “60 Minutes” because I don’t have TV. His release was the only tangible benefit to the US from the Obama/Raul Castro accords so far.;_ylt=AwrC1CrzclhWOB8AczXQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--------------------------------------------
I volunteered to translate some documents for a Venezuelan woman applying for asylum here after she was fired, repeatedly threatened, and physically attacked more than once after joining Partido Popular, the political of imprisoned Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez five years before. Legislative elections in Venezuela are scheduled for Sunday.
Commentators not enamored of the leadership of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Brazil think Macri’s victory in Argentina may signal a trend in the other direction, while those sympathetic to those regimes take pains to characterize Macri as “rightwing” and his victory as just a fluke. Of course, there is just so much he can do to reverse the previous course.

Pope Francis visited Kenya, where a national holiday was declared.

At a recent parent-teacher meeting at a local school, where I was an interpreter, a son’s academic performance had reportedly fallen precipitously after his father was deported, a sad, but not surprising, result of an abrupt family separation.

A very skilled carpenter from Honduras working for me brought along as helpers his teenage son and step-son, both from the Yoro province of Honduras. The boys are now together in the same 11th-grade class. The son came first, presenting himself at the border, saying he was looking for his father. He was held in detention in Texas for a month, then the father went to pick him up. Next, the step-son followed--my carpenter's wife is his mother--but he was detained 7 months before his release. The carpenter and his wife also have a younger American-born daughter, a not atypical Hispanic family configuration. The boys had not seen their parents for more than 10 years.  

According to my friend at the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute, Syrian and Iraqi Christians are not even in the refugee resettlement stream because they don’t stay in refugee camps, being subject to persecution and isolation by majority Muslim refugees there.  Instead, they may be assisted by local churches or local humanitarian organizations, or simply create their own informal settlements. So, the idea of accepting only Christian refugees, put forward by some countries and US states, would be hard to implement. But, she told me, a group of Christians is on its way to Slovakia, which has expressed a willingness to accept only Christians.

While we feel immense sympathy for Syrian children being rescued (or for those drowning) in turbulent seas, those same youngsters ten years hence could become objects of suspicion and subjects of radicalization efforts. Will some of today’s appealing young refugee kids become tomorrow’s alienated teens and young adults, vulnerable perhaps to jihadist appeals? Or, at least, feared to have possibly become vulnerable? It’s a vicious circle—because they are suspect, they feel stigmatized and may then actually become dangerously alienated. It has happened, including to Somali kids growing up in Minneapolis. Few Muslims are terrorists, but a disproportionate share of terrorists turn out to be Muslims all around the world. There is a whole ideology and network supporting them and they are willing to die for their beliefs. The Hungarian prime minister has pointed out that 2 of the Paris attackers came to Europe just in October’s Syrian refugee stream. Of course, they needed to have support from jihadist sympathizers already in Paris to carry out their attacks. And it’s also true that while 99% of Syrian refugees are not jihadists nor likely to become radicalized, it takes only a handful to wreak havoc and death.

To a much lesser degree and extent, a similar to vicious circle is happening in low-income majority black and Latino communities here in the US—people living there are suspect, so they have fewer opportunities, then they commit more crimes, making them more suspect as a group.

South Korea’s per capita economic output is reportedly 20 times that of North Korea. North Koreans are, on average shorter than their southern compatriots and their average life expectancy is several years shorter.

Perhaps now, the Russians will become the West’s allies in the Middle East, as happened against the Nazis in World War II?

The American woman killed in the terrorist attack on a Mali hotel, Anita Data, was a former Peace Corps volunteer. Another American was killed in the Paris attack. There have also been attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon. It seems jihadists are going all-out now to hurt and scare people all over the world. Of course, Washington, DC, is on the target list.

Here at home, gun violence continues with the shooting near a Planned Parenthood clinic, obviously by someone who should not have had firearms. If, indeed, his rampage was motivated by anti-abortion sentiments, killing people hardly makes sense. Now, his deed has been eclipsed by the San Bernardino killings. There is a reason that the rate of gun deaths in the US is many times greater than in any other developed nation—we must be doing something wrong. Having a lot of people armed is not preventing gun deaths. In Georgia, a 6-year-old girl finds a gun hidden under a couch cushion and kills herself. Enough said. Guns, improperly handled and stored, obviously are lethal. A man in South Carolina possesses over 12,000 guns, many stolen. What is to be done? Hand-wringing and prayers are insufficient. I am just grateful that the handgun that went off when preteen boys were playing with it (after finding it at a father’s bedside) only injured my then-11-year-old son Jonathan in the foot, a painful injury, but one from which he thankfully recovered.

If humankind keeps extending the average lifespan (despite gun violence, wars, and terrorism), using more medical and other resources to do it, then world population will keep growing older and using up more resources. Does each of us have an obligation to live a limited lifespan, to limit our time occupying this earth? Population is growing now not only because of infant births and child survival, but because of elder survival (myself included), often thanks to expensive medical interventions, not only lifetime drugs, but joint replacements, pacemakers, stents, dental implants, hearing aids, and cataract removal. What about putting a consensus cap on a normal lifespan, say 100 years, after which extraordinary measures will not be taken to prolong a life—no more surgery or heroic measures, just palliative care, with pain and infection relief—could that be supported? Of course, I can afford to contemplate a 100-year life span now, being far from that age, but as each of us approaches it, we might change our mind.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Urgent New Posting on Cuban graffiti artist El Sexto’s US visa denial, Honduras appeal, Skype conversation

I would not usually post two days in a row, but it's important to urgently raise a ruckus with Congress, Kerry, and Obama administration about his visa denial, as El Sexto is due in Miami in early December. We were trying to coordinate with a gallerist, Stephen, but there is very little time left now. 
Stephen a London gallerist wants El Sexto at their Art Basel show in Miami in Dec. We were worried about him getting an exit visa, but now he cannot even get a US visa. He needs to summit another application immediately with outside intervention to expedite it. 
Welcome to the favorite winter meeting place for the international artworld. At the nexus of North America and Latin America, this Art Basel show presents artwork from across the globe. Over 250 of the world's leading galleries participate, drawing over 70,000 visitors each year. December 03, 2015 - December 06, 2015

Below 11-16-2015 from Diario de Cuba:

U.S. Embassy in Havana Denies Visa to El Sexto

The United States Embassy in Cuba has denied a non-immigrant visa to the graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), according to information on Friday from the artist himself, via his Facebook account.
The graffiti artist displayed a document where the embassy said that the decision cannot be appealed, but that it is not permanent. In any event, it recommended that Maldonado wait for one year before submitting a new visa application.
The artist was recently released after spending 10 months in prison without trial for trying to stage a controversial performance in December of 2014. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Honduras appeal: Hello, my name is Richard Guidry and I am a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and a member of Enactus. Enactus is a student organization that strives to use ENtrepreneurial ACTion to create a better world for US all. Through a partnership with the World Resources Group we are looking to bring an aquaponic/hydroponic farm to the small village of Linaca, Honduras. This farm will be utilized to help combat the hunger and malnutrition in this area as well as developing a potential business in the community. You obviously care about those in Honduras and the problems the country faces, as do all of us here at Enactus.

Would you please help us spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign to support the hydroponics/aquaponics project we are doing in the Linaca Valley of the El Paraiso Department near Danli, Honduras?  Through your blog, we can reach people who truly care about Honduras and its people . We currently only have a few days left in our campaign and have already raised nearly $1,700 towards our $10,000 goal. All donations that go towards this campaign will be used to help the community in Linaca and are 100% tax deductible as  they go to World Resources Group, a registered non-profit.  The link to our campaign is as follows:
If you would like more information about our project to help us spread awareness for the campaign please contact me at Any awareness you can help us raise will help to change the lives and the destiny of an entire community.
Thank you, Richard Guidry

Amnesty International Caribbean coordinators from around the world came together for a 2 ½ hour Skype meeting. It was the first time I had tried Skype, made available to me at the DC Amnesty office. It’s certainly cheaper than traveling, not as satisfactory as a face-to-face meeting, but better than e-mail. The internet really has provided a communications revolution. I am glad to have lived long enough to see it. 

Below, El Sexto's photo:


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Family, Paris, South Sudan, Haiti, Cuba

My daughter Stephanie had her 43rd birthday (yikes!) this month and posted a photo of herself at age one with her late brother Andrew, out at a rural property we owned and where I used to take the children on weekends. In December, we will be 21 years since we lost Andrew. And here is my youngest grandchild, Kingston, with father Jonathan and aunt Stephanie in Honolulu.

Surely, there will be repercussions from the Paris attacks on the willingness of European nations, as well as the US and Canada, to take in Syrian migrants and asylum seekers.  

Only two people survived a crash in South Sudan of an old Soviet cargo plane, a man and a stranger’s baby whom he held in his arms. [photo of similar plane] Such planes are a common form of transportation in South Sudan, which has few roads and other means of transport. I flew in them myself when I was in Sudan in 2006, sitting either on actual cargo or on benches along the sides of the aircraft. In hindsight, such a plane was not the most airworthy—likewise with the old Soviet transports being used by Cubana Airlines when I was traveling to Cuba in the 1990s. The one that took me from Santiago to Santo Domingo, on my last flight out in 1997, was certainly lacking in interior amenities, like air conditioning and intact seats.

Correction: the Peace Corps has not left Ecuador, as I had thought before. I don’t know if I had mentioned that here. It did pull out of Bolivia at the request of the president. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have given lip-service for some years now to the idea of having 10,000 Peace Corps volunteers, but never put the necessary money behind it. As a result, the numbers have hovered around 7,000 and countries asking for volunteers are not being accommodated and qualified applicants are being turned away.

Writing in the Washington Post, 11-8-2015, a deputy editorial page editor, argues that President Obama’s gentle and generous overtures to Burma, Iran, and Cuba have only allowed the dictatorial leadership of those nations to reap advantages that will actually help them consolidate their rule and maintain their positions. That’s a position that many in Congress and in the voting public also endorse.

In Haiti, international observers, led by the Organization of American States, which monitors elections across Latin America, acknowledged some voting irregularities, but has largely sanctioned the first round of voting.
But eight presidential candidates have called for an investigation into the voting that put Jovenel Moise, who is backed by President Martelly, in the lead with 32 percent of the vote. Initially, 54 candidates were vying for the presidency.  
A runoff election is scheduled for Dec. 27 between Moise and Jude Celestin, which is expected to be the final round of voting that will determine the next president of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Fidel Castro’s youngest son, Antonio, is quite the jet-setter, being photographed (with some difficulty) at various watering holes with his entourage and security apparatus.  His exploits are detailed in “The travels of Gulliver, Jr.” and published in the Tribuna de la Havana (Havana Tribune) weekly. Read more here:

The Double Life of Fidel Castro
 by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, in his security service for 26 years and his personal body guard for 17, I found quite credible in its wealth of detail. Sanchez must have an excellent memory or else kept good notes, since he long had the idea of possibly writing a book about his extraordinary experiences. His co-writer was a French journalist. As a fellow writer and nitpicky former editor, I found a few glitches, a mis-translation of either Spanish or English and a French word thrown in, perhaps because the book was written originally in French or Spanish—not sure which—with the English version only published later, coming out this year just when the author suddenly died. But, at least, he got it all down on paper and managed to see his book in print. He escaped Cuba by a raft to Mexico in 2008 after he had been imprisoned for asking to retire—though probably the real reason he was jailed was that his brother and daughter were living in Miami. The book only confirms what an egomaniac Fidel was (and still is?), insisting on the most extravagant secret luxuries, including trips to a private resort island, inviting special guests, like Garcia Marquez, while keeping his subjects in degradation. We all knew the execution of General Ochoa was carried out for fake reasons, but Sanchez confirms it. Fidel even had their executions filmed, a film that Sanchez saw. It’s also not surprising to learn that Fidel intervened aggressively in Chile.

I’d heard before that Fidel had counseled Daniel Ortega not to run for election in 1990, where I was an election observer and witnessed his ignominious defeat. But the UNO parties that united then around Violeta forgot that lesson and let Ortega win more recently with only a one-third majority. Once he got his foot back in the door, he rigged things so he could continue, even though the Nicaraguan constitution presumably forbade consecutive terms, and the presidents of Ecuador and Bolivia have followed his example

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Friends, readers, faithful blog followers, mea culpa for having gone so long without a posting. Life is just too complicated! I thought of breaking this up into several separate postings, but that would take even more time, so here goes, all at once, though divided into topics.  

First, my good friend Jorge Valls, Cuban philosophy professor, poet, playwright, and speaker of three languages, has died. In my capacity with Amnesty International and as a friend of his associates, I worked along with others for his release in 1984 after he had spent more than 20 years in prison. I've translated much of his poetry and at least one play, The Wild Dogs. In 1988, I invited him and former Cuban POC Andres Solares to speak at Amnesty USA's AGM in Atlanta. I last saw him in Feb. and spoke with him by phone about a month ago, when he was in rehab in NJ recovering from a broken hip. Although he has been frail for some time, for me his loss was devastating and unexpected.
Jorge,left, at bookstore reading with me and two cellmates who shared his 2 decades of imprisonment. 

Here is an excerpt about Jorge from my book Confessions: The case that landed Jorge in prison is detailed in a book by Spanish author Miguel Barroso, Un asunto sensible [A sensitive matter] (Mondadori, Barcelona, 2009). The book unravels a convoluted tangle of intrigue involving CIA defector Philip Agee, interviewed in Cuba by the author before his death, and the murder of four student revolutionaries by Batista forces in 1957, two years before the revolution. Seven years later, in 1964, Jorge’s close friend, Marcos Rodríguez, a Communist Party member in good standing since 1954, was accused of having betrayed the murdered students to Batista operatives and was arrested in Prague, where Castro had sent him on a special mission. Jorge, who had been with Marcos at the time of the murders, was convinced of his friend’s innocence and so testified at his trial, appearing as the only defense witness. Marcos was summarily executed and Jorge was sentenced to 20 years, entering prison at age 31 and leaving at 51, several months after completing his full sentence.
Valls now muses that at least ''free thinking dwelt behind prison walls; it was truly the free territory of Cuba.” As for freedom of expression at the time of the revolution, he says: ''None of that in 1959! Just extraordinary exaltation, the fanatical idolatry of the victorious warrior, and rampant folly that made everything acceptable.''

Here I am again on the same topic in the Huffington Post:

Some estimate nearly 100,000 have died crossing the Fla. Straits.

According to The Washington Post, in 2013 alone American travelers took assets worth 3.5 billion dollars to the island, while Cuban-Americans sent 3.1 billion dollars to the country in money wires. And this is in spite of the embargo, which already allows Havana to buy food and medicines directly from American companies
(though the Cuban government has drastically reduced US imports lately to put pressure on Congress to completely lift the embargo).

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are trying to block the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson as ambassador to Mexico because of her role in negotiating with the Cubans. I believe she did the best she could under difficult circumstances. I still am not sure what Obama’s gambit is or whether it will work. He was trying to shatter the Cold War us-versus-them and David versus Goliath narratives. Time will tell if he made the right gamble or gambit. Certainly Putin is on the other side, trying to get back into Cuba. The Latin American Left was left stunned and somewhat in disarray by the US move.   

Associated Press October 7
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Wednesday called on the Cuban government to let private enterprise thrive on the communist-ruled island and to grant its citizens greater access to the Internet.
Pritzker was visiting Cuba for two days, leading a delegation of officials from the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments for meetings with officials from Cuban government ministries and businesses.
She started her visit Tuesday with a stop at the Mariel free trade zone outside the capital of Havana.
The commerce secretary is the most senior U.S. official to travel to Cuba since Secretary of State John Kerry visited on Aug. 14 for a flag-raising ceremony outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, which is now upgraded to a full embassy following restoration of relations in July.
“We urge President Castro and his government to make it easier for Cuban citizens to trade and travel more freely, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to access the Internet and to (be) hired directly by foreign companies,” she said Wednesday at the start of meetings between officials from both countries.

See below from Diario de CubaNet, quoting Kerry saying that the US can reestablish relations with Cuba before it becomes a "complete democracy," as was done before with Viet Nam and China, which is not very reassuring, since those countries have never become "complete" democracies after decades. And to refer to Venezuela as an "imperfect democracy" is an understatement.
Democracy Digest, October 6, 2015
Engagement helps Cuban democracy – or kleptocracy?
The United States could end its embargo on Cuba “before full democracy exists” on the island, says US Secretary of State John Kerry.He told Chilean TV that a “full democracy requires time, but there is progress.”
“For instance, we don’t have full democracy in Vietnam, but we eliminated the embargo because we saw progress (…) There was no democracy in China when we normalized our relations and began to make progress,” said Kerry. “Personally, I believe the embargo should be lifted, because it would help the people of Cuba,” he concluded.
He also described Venezuela as a “democracy in trouble,” adding that the upcoming parliamentary elections (Dec. 6) would offer a “measure of what sort of democracy it is.”
But Cuban opposition activists fear that the US rapprochement will legitimize the Communist authorities rather than facilitate democratic change.
I’m also venting about a discussion I heard on BBC early one recent morning, British commentators on the pope's visit to Cuba, praising his role in facilitating US-Cuba relations and helping the US to jettison it's "rigid ideology and the spectacle of a big, powerful country picking on a small one." That, I fear, is a common perception of our previous Cuba policy (also held by many in Amnesty circles) and why the change has been haled around the world. Rightly or wrongly, the US embargo and democracy efforts in Cuba were not designed not to punish Cuba for having a different and more generous "socialist" government ideology, but because its own rigid ideology A) was leading to economic disaster, benefiting only a few at the top, B) did not reflect the collective will of the Cuban people, C) was resulting in beatings, arrests, unfair trials, and incarceration of peaceful protestors, and D) was causing much distress to Cubans, especially young people, propelling them to try to escape and also leading to one of the highest suicide and lowest birth rates in the world and certainly in Latin America. The US was "picking" on Cuba because its government was hurting its own people, not because of some abstract ideological principle or a desire to demonstrate power. Is that so? Or am I missing something? How do you counteract a view that has become accepted and acceptable as something that "everyone" knows?
A U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units are on the ground in Syria, citing evidence from intelligence reports. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cuban troops may have been training in Russia and may have arrived in Syria on Russian planes. General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, Head of the Cuban Armed Forces, reportedly had visited Syria recently.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez points out that unlike many other countries, Cuba has really no immigrants and the only strangers are short-term visitors. She also is skeptical that there will be much progress on civil rights in Cuba as the results of the accords.
Posted: 20 Oct 2015
Excerpt from author and journalist Andres Oppenheimer's review of Obama's foreign policy in his most recent The Miami Herald column, "Will Next U.S. President be a Hawk?":

 Cuba has not made any major economic or political changes since the Dec. 17 start of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, despite the reestablishment of diplomatic ties and Obama’s recent announcement of measures that significantly weaken the U.S. trade embargo on the island. An Oct. 8 Washington Post headline read, “U.S. officials are frustrated by lack of progress in trade with Cuba.”
For quite a while, the U.S. was Cuba's top supplier of food and medical goods, even with the trade embargo. But in the past 10 months, trade has dropped sharply, and Castro seems to be buying goods elsewhere. McClatchy News reports that August export trade with Cuba was $2.2 billion, down from $14.3 billion in August 2014, a very significant drop. According to experts McClatchy cited, the Castro regime is cutting down on trade as a means of making U.S. agricultural exporters complain to Congress about the embargo

A bit of good Cuba news, namely that the Buena Vista Social Club, that group of elderly musicians promoted by Ry Cooder, has been invited to play at the White House. Music, art, dance, sports—when not politicized—are bridges between nations.

In another good news item, the Cuban artist Danilo Medina “El Sexto,” who spent 10 months without trial and recently in solitary confinement, was released finally after two hunger strikes and a promised release that didn’t come. Last December, he had painted two piglets with the names “Raul” and “Fidel.” He had been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.


Presidential elections were held in Haiti on Oct. 25, but with scores of candidates, a run-off is virtually certain. Meanwhile, departing cabinet ministers are due to receive golden parachutes.
[Venezuela] is a bankrupt country, where Cubans mostly govern in Caracas.-- Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel laureate, BBC Mundo, 10/20/15  (I met President Arias in Costa Rica and there is a photo of him exiting a swimming pool in my Confessions book.]
I try to avoid news from Venezuela, because I already have my hands full and that's not one of my Amnesty countries as a volunteer coordinator. But I was asked by Catholic Charities in DC to do basically a pro bono interpretation for them. So, I agreed, expecting it to be a social work or mental health type case, and that I wouldn't be there very long. Well, I was there for 6 hours with a Venezuelan asylum seeker belonging to the same party as Leopoldo Lopez. Essentially her session at Cath. Ch. was a rehearsal for her asylum interview, as well as for nailing down specifics on her application. The poor woman was almost in tears, but I am sure the actual asylum interview is going to be at least as rough as the rehearsal. She gave some really terrible specifics, including losing her job a few years back (when Chavez was still president) and being unable to get another, being pressed to contribute a specified amount to Chavez's party, being threatened with rape and death when she did not cooperate, being beaten more than once along with her Chilean husband and her son, her husband having had a gun put to his head, etc. so they left their home vacant and came to her sister's house in suburban Md. I don't know what AI USA or the US government can do in Venezuela or for the people there, but both the political and economic situation sounds dire, at least based on this woman's very detailed narrative. It was an eye-opener for me and kind of a surprise really. I've lived in Colombia and have been to most Latin American countries, but Venezuela is not among them. 

The Obama administration has crafted a $1 billion aid package for Central America that is being held up by Republican legislators, who are the ones creaming most loudly about illegal immigration. Aid would be more effective than an expensive wall in keeping undocumented people out. An NPR interview featured LA Times reporter Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey, about a Honduran boy’s harrowing solo journey through Mexico. She recently visited Mexico’s southern border, where Mexican authorities are being paid by the US government to turn migrants back from there, often brutally, according Nazario, who says that at least 90 people sent back in recent months have been killed after their return.
While I have no doubt that the Mexico border situation is often as desperate as Nazario depicts it, I take issue with a statement she repeated, which I consider unnecessary sensationalism. She said migrants were being killed to harvest their organs. Organ harvesting is a common accusation all around the world, but I doubt its actual prevalence, if it happens at all. I’ve been an interpreter for several organ transplant patients. Believe me, you cannot just kill someone, take out their organs, and transplant them into someone else. It’s a very painstaking difficult medical procedure where exact testing of compatibility between donor and recipient is crucial and speed of transplant is essential. With partial liver and kidney transplants from living donors (some even being paid, say, in India), both parties are carefully prepared beforehand and hospitalized side-by-side. Hearts must come from deceased persons, but there must be minimal delay between death and transplant and all systems must match. I’ve been a phone interpreter in cases where someone has been killed in an accident and a hospital immediately phones the next-of-kin to take tissues and organs. If the relative says no, that’s it, nothing is taken. Sometimes organs are removed from a person declared brain dead while some other systems are still functioning. I believe few if any Central American migrants are being killed for their organs—robbery is a more likely motive. When someone like author Nazario, rightfully praised for highlighting the plight of child migrants, repeats the wildly circulating stories about organ robbing, she loses credibility. 
On the same program, taking a somewhat less sensational approach than author Nazario (who has adapted her book in several versions for different audiences), was Bill Clinton’s former Immigration Commissioner Doris Meissner. She pointed out that while many migrants are bona fide refugees, others are economic migrants and many simply want to join family members already living in the US.

An old Soviet cargo plane, like the ones I flew in around in 2006 has crashed near South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Indeed, those planes have seen better days, but are commonly used in that part of the world. The tragic civil, with a few pauses, seems to be continuing. Rivalry for absolute leadership seems to trump the wellbeing or even survival of this new nation.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has crushed political opponents in his country, overseeing the beating, intimidation and deaths of democratic challengers and their supporters. He has presided over economic policies that have resulted in rampant inflation and poverty. Widely condemned by Western governments, he is considered one of the most uncompromising dictators in Africa. Now he can claim the honor of being awarded a Confucius Peace Prize, the Chinese answer to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Unfortunately in Zimbabwe, a German hunter has now killed a magnificent iconic elephant with enormous tusks. These hunters pay big bucks to shoot these beautiful remarkable animals just to have bragging rights (when they should be condemned), providing an income to a few people in that impoverished and badly governed country.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) deplores yesterday’s U.N. General Assembly vote electing the authoritarian regimes of Burundi, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela as members of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for a three-year term. The UNHRC is the highest U.N. body charged with protecting and promoting human rights on a global scale.

DEMO DEBATESWhile I don’t have TV, I did listen on the radio to the Democratic presidential candidates’ first debate (though skipping the Republicans’). They all did OK, in my opinion, though none blew me away. Sanders and Clinton are the only real possibilities. Joe Biden waited too long to decide and certainly his son’s death figured in his delay—we need to remember that this was not the first sudden death of a loved one that Biden has endured. The son he just lost was the same son that barely pulled through an auto accident many years ago where Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed. The son’s death now must have made those memories more acute.
Ed Walker, a blind radio personality who was at the helm of NPR’s Sunday evening “Big Broadcast” died on Oct. 25, only hours after his last show ran. In his early 80s and suffering from cancer, he had already announced that he would retire on that day and had pre-recorded the show and his remarks. It was reported that he and his family had listened to that last program together in his hospital room, a fitting finale to his long and productive life. Apart from listening nostalgically to radio programs from my youth, I was especially interested in Walker because of being married to a blind person myself for 24 years and because I have worked and still do with blind people in Honduras.

Again, besides school and college shootings that have become almost routine, there was another senseless child casualty, an 11-year-old killed an 8-year-old because she said he couldn’t see her puppy. In another family posing for a photo with their guns, one child accidentally shoots another in the face. Every day, there are gun killings. In Colorado, a shooter kills three strangers. Are Americans so enslaved to the gun lobby that we must keep tolerating such preventable disasters? Yes, Jeb Bush is right, “Stuff happens,” but not all of it has to happen—much can be prevented. Progress has been made in child survival and longevity. Vehicle accidents are less frequent. (That’s partly why we have overpopulation right now. Of course, the world is responding to that problem with birth control. At least, all these gun deaths are reducing the population somewhat—a small silver lining perhaps? One could say the same of wars, but what a terrible way to go!). On the pro-gun side, in Chicago, a gun owner kills a would-be mugger. Such instances, especially where the attacker is not actually killed, are hard to document, but do not outweigh the number of people injured or killed by careless or illegal gun use.

While Donald Trump raises false expectations among his base, bloviating about a wall across the southern border that Mexico will pay for, it’s good to hear now, after President Obama was labeled “Deporter-in-Chief” due to the record number of deportations taking place on his watch, that the pace of deportations has finally slowed. However, as an Amnesty activist, I’ve had a number of requests from pro bono lawyers for help with staying the deportations of people who have paid their price in jail or otherwise long-ago and now, after years of upright living, with families, jobs, homes, they are being detained for deportation after a review of old records. This is all part of the new deportation thrust against “criminal aliens.”

At a school interpretation with a group of first-grade parents one evening, the teacher was giving them reading and math exercises to do with their kids along with groups of colored plastic letters and numbers. One man (more Hispanic fathers are now getting involved in school affairs) from Mexico said he had never gone to school and didn’t know anything about either reading or math. I asked about his wife—she was equally unschooled. I asked the other parents around my table about how far they had gone in school and 8th grade was the highest. It’s certainly a handicap for children if parents are illiterate, especially regarding homework. Since the teacher had given each parent a score for where their child stood in terms of being able to read words or do addition problems, I was able to see that the child of the man who had never gone to school had the lowest scores and the child of the 8th grade woman had the highest. Of course, there may be other factors, but that was very telling.

If prostitution is considered desirable, or at least not undesirable, behavior, then full decriminalization should be supported, as is being advocated now in some quarters, even within Amnesty International . But there’s certainly a downside. Rightly or wrongly, when alcohol and marijuana use are decriminalized, their use goes up, as do motor vehicle accidents attributable to them. Likewise, if prostitution is fully decriminalized, it will increase, as in countries where that has happened. Then it’s hard to turn back.
And most prostitutes—or sex workers, as advocates like to call them--begin as minors, are from disadvantaged groups, are coerced, and desperately want to get out.

Folks, you never know where cyber-hackers will be hiding. I was having a terrible time getting into my main Yahoo account—the system kept freezing up, Yahoo kept going off line. Finally, I looked on the Yahoo help line to find tech support. That guy went through my whole system, then asked for $249 to fix it! That was when I hung up, only to see porn filling up my screen as payback for refusing that offer. Thanks to a knowledgeable friend, all eventually got fixed. He also switched me from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome which, so far, is working much better.

for the first time, I participated in a Skype meeting, in this case with Amnesty International activists for the Caribbean from around the world. I don’t have Skype myself, so used the system at the DC Amnesty office. It’s certainly cheaper than actually traveling and, while not as satisfactory as face-to-face, it’s certainly better than e-mail.