Sunday, January 11, 2015

Arctic Vortex Returns, Child Labor, Radio Show, Cuba & More Cuba, POCs Released, Venezuela, US News, Remembering the Beatles

Brrr, we’ve had another “arctic vortex,” this one was really cold, below 20 F. And when I have to leave for work in the dark at 5:30 am, believe me, it’s frigid. At that early hour, in the dark with little traffic, I often walk in the street to the metro station to avoid ice, as last January, I slipped on the ice and hurt my shoulder, still not 100% OK. Most darn hospitals like to start early and, of course, I’m always traveling by public transportation and walking outside for a few blocks on either end.

        At Safeway, I was put in mind again that we all have a role to play in society. My bagger was a young man with Down Syndrome who efficiently and cheerfully put my purchases in my recyclable bags—a small role, but one he performed with evident satisfaction.

        It’s not a big surprise that child labor is still common in Honduras:

        My last Wed. interview about Cuba and my Cuba book has been posted on the Donna Seebo Show, She also interviewed me for my Honduras book. The live program was 196-2, which aired on January 7. After that, it is supposed to be available in the archives. Google ‘Donna Seebo’ and the ‘Donna Seebo Show,’ page link will pop up, tap on that and you’ll be taken directly to the show page itself. The yellow band on the right is for archived programs. My book is a small slice of recent history, of my own history with Cuba, which predicted change, but not such an abrupt and sweeping change as has just occurred.

        The NYTimes seems pleased with the US-Cuba accords and its role in promoting them, generally avoiding any editorial comment that might appear critical of the Castro government, making at best only oblique references. But the Washington Post has had no such editorial hesitation, going back to July 2012, when democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá’s car was run off the road and he and a Cuban passenger subsequently died (though apparently later at a hospital, not immediately, making it more suspect), while two foreign visitors survived, though one was imprisoned for a time. At that time and since, the Post has called for an independent investigation into his death, as has his daughter. Now the Post has been pointing out the delay and secrecy surrounding the promised prisoner releases.

        Whenever I hear about something on the news about Cuba, I wonder whether Cubans on the island are even aware of it, given their news blackout? Have they heard that Alan Gross was released? Some did know about his capture as an evil agent of “the empire.” Do they know now about the attack on the satirical magazine in France, if so, what’s the spin there? The pending release of some 53 political prisoners is probably not public information, because that would raise questions about whether Cuba has political prisoners, even though everyone knows they exist as a warning to the rest of the populace.

        In light of recent developments and the Obama/Raul accords, I don’t anticipate any reckoning for the Castro brothers during their lifetime. However, that’s pretty much par for the course for dictators—it’s rare that anything happens to them and their reputation while they are still alive. Saddam Hussein was an exception, so was Gaddafi in Libya, but they were defeated in war. Hitler was defeated in war and committed suicide. But absent a war defeat and capture, they are rarely sanctioned for their misdeeds—look at Stalin, Mao, Pinochet, Duvalier— they all died first, then has come the reevaluation of their legacy. The same is likely to happen with the Castro brothers—or maybe not even then, as the mystique of Fidel Castro has been so powerful. Look at how so many people still revere Che Guevara, who could be considered a mass murderer, either that or a very efficient and hands-on executioner.  

        The following is an article about Cuba today, mirroring my own journey across the island in 1997 and which has a ring authenticity—I’m glad if Cuba is changing, because it can only change for the better—I don’t see it getting worse.

On the Open Road, Signs of a Changing Cuba, By WILLIAM NEUMAN, NY Times, JAN. 6, 2015

        Certainly, the accords between President Obama and Raul Castro have shaken things up, for better or worse, probably some of both. But critics are now saying “I told you so” after peaceful demonstrators were arrested just days after the historic joint announcement. While not totally unexpected—the event was a test of the new atmosphere--that put a damper on the euphoria about the whole enterprise, at least outside Cuba, as inside, probably few even heard about the planned event or the arrests. What had been planned was an “open mike” in Revolution Square, where people could give their reactions to the accords. Of course, the regime prevents unauthorized peaceful demonstrations for fear they may spread and so as not to give the broader Cuban population any ideas, but, those arrests, coming so soon after the agreement was reached, were a big blow to its supporters in the US and around the world. Just inviting Cubans to publicly express their opinions on the accords with the US would not be a threat to the one-party communist system that Raul has vowed to protect, except to the extent that any free speech is a threat.

        Raul and his entourage now seem to have shifted to blaming nefarious “Miami Cubans” for trying to overthrow “the Revolution” in order to recover their confiscated property, rather than the US government (aka “the empire”), since diplomatic relations are set to resume. In the meantime, President Obama was out playing golf in Hawaii while vacationing there with his family and Pope Francis was saying Mass and meeting visitors at the Vatican. Some observers are proposing that the embargo not be further relaxed until human rights improve in Cuba, which seems like a good idea. OK, Senator Leahy, time to use your cozy ties with the Castros to advise them that it’s very bad PR to arrest dissidents and they should stop!

        Raul Castro’s decision a few years ago to allow individuals to sell homemade items has been a definite step forward, but is not an efficient production system, especially since each home business is under constant surveillance to make sure it’s not making too much money or failing report it, using nonproductive manpower to do the intensive monitoring. Home businesses were meant to offer laid-off public sector workers a means of survival but were no actual substitute for larger, more organized industries and enterprises. However, as long as the Communist Party, the Cuban military, and the Castro regime control hiring and firing and payments to workers, outside investors will remain wary. Imprisoning Canadian businessmen and trying to take over their businesses do not provide promising precedents for US-based entrepreneurs, though perhaps some Cuban exiles think they are wily and savvy enough to pull it off.

        While I have been advocating that American investors in Cuba be able to hire and pay their workers directly, a Cuban American friend has pointed out that while that may provide workers with a job and a bit more income, it could also lead to exploitation by investors. She argues, with some merit, that factory workers in China and Vietnam are exploited, paid miserable wages, made to work long hours, and live in tiny warrens within factories, hardly an example to be imitated.

        I can readily understand why many dissidents feel suddenly abandoned, when they had thought that the US had their back against their powerful enemy, namely, the Cuban government that has been systematically hurting, harassing, and punishing them, and stopping them from gathering or speaking for so many years. Now their apparent supporter has joined hands with their enemy with promises to enrich and strengthen that enemy through trade and increased tourism, while the dissidents are left out in the cold, naked and afraid without support.

              I was misinformed about Twitter—now, I’m told, the actual limit is 140 characters, including spaces. I think I may have said 144 characters before. In any case, the Obama/ Castro accords have now resulted in the release of 5 Amnesty Int’l POCs (prisoners of conscience, only POCs in the Americas): brothers Bianco, Django and Alexeis Vargas Martín, conditionally released, and Iván Fernández Depestre and Emilio Planas, arrested for “dangerousness.” Lady in White Sonia Garro, husband Ramón A. Muñoz & neighbor Eugenio Hernández were released after reportedly suffering beatings from prison officials, now under house arrest awaiting trial.

        There was reportedly a rumor going around Havana that Fidel had died, but then the rumor was discredited. Such rumors have circulated before so when he actually does die, no one may believe it. A Cuban friend says, “This rumor of Fidel’s death seems to have originated with an unknown person in the Palacio de Convenciones. That poor guy must have been picked up afterwards by Seguridad del Estado and now be purging his "counterrevolutionary sins" in Villa Marista! One of the blessings of the US is that if anyone begins a nasty rumor about Obama, for example, the rumor that he hadn't been born in the US, nothing happens to him! Obama was just simply was forced to produce his birth certificate! If such a rumor about Fidel had originated in Cuba, would he have produced his birth certificate or ordered the rumor monger's death certificate to be made out?”

Meanwhile, another rumor is that wet-foot/dry-foot which allows most Cubans who touch US soil to stay will be eliminated, so Cubans are taking to the seas in droves in flimsy boats, most being intercepted and returned to Cuba by the US Coast Guard.               

Someone has sent me a report on the recent visit to Havana by Senator Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico, who spent several days with Castro government officials, but scrupulously avoided democracy activists. After he returned, he reportedly issued a press release saying "New Mexicans are anxious to meet and work with Cubans, and the time is right to rebuild business and cultural ties between the United States and Cuba." His reported voting record on Latin American trade is as follows:                          

NO on trade with Peru.
NO on trade with Central America.
NO on trade with the Dominican Republic.
NO on trade with Chile.
NO on trade with Colombia.
NO on trade with Panama.
But: YES on trade with Cuba.

                Some of these guys are trying to turn me into a Republican!

        The following article describes the US Interests Section in Havana, a building I know well, and what changes are in store (provided a Republican Congress allows an embassy to be established):

          Here below is a cloak-and-dagger story about the supposed US spy swapped for the Cuban Three. Alan Gross, the US insisted, was never a spy, so he couldn’t be swapped for the Cuban spies. Instead, they were supposedly swapped for another man, a former Cuban Interior Ministry operative who may or may not have been a double agent, Lt. Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years. His current whereabouts are unknown, but his relatives in Cuba say he is no longer in the prison where he was being held. Meanwhile the Cubans freed Gross as a “humanitarian gesture;” such are the intricacies of statecraft.


Has Raul Castro’s agreement with President Obama perhaps inspired North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to reach out to South Korea for “high-level” talks?

        And apparently there was a cordial encounter between President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and US VP Joe Biden at the swearing in of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

          Now Venezuela's Maduro, taking a cue from the Castro playbook, has announced that he would release opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, imprisoned since February 2014 -- but only in a prisoner swap with the United States. In return, Maduro wants the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist convicted and sentenced in 1981 to 55-years in federal prison for seditious conspiracy.
"The only way I would use (presidential) powers would be to put (Leopoldo Lopez) on a plane, so he can go to the United States and stay there, and they would give me Oscar Lopez Rivera - man for man," Maduro reportedly said during a televised broadcast.

        Meanwhile, a Washington Post editorial warns that in its focus on Cuba, the Obama administration is failing to grasp a desperate situation in Venezuela, a nation with 3 times Cuba’s population and a major oil supplier to the US, as well as to Cuba. Washington Post, January 4, 2015, Jackson Diehl: Obama is overlooking deep trouble in Venezuela.

          Oh fickle electorate, Obama is again rising in popularity as he threatens to use his veto pen while facing 2 contentious years with a Republican Congress.

        What can I say about the terrorist attack in Paris that hasn’t already been said?

        As for the report that General David Petraeus, once an illustrious and trusted military commander, may face criminal charges for sharing classified material with his then-mistress, how could he be so careless? I guess “being in love” is a form of temporary insanity whereby hormones and endorphins override reason. No wonder the spy game so often engages in sexual provocation!

        George Zimmerman has again been arrested for assault, one of several such incidents involving a guy who obviously has a short fuse and is impulsive in the extreme, certainly not someone who should be armed and entrusted with neighborhood-watch duties.

        New possibilities for streamlining and reducing the cost of medical care exist with the cellphone, whereby an image of a worrisome skin lesion or a child’s sore inner ear can be e-mailed to a physician for a diagnosis, also allowing a natural experiment in data collection. I joined the Kaiser health plan because, already, it allows e-mail between practitioners and patients, with the ability to attach photos or other documents. That removes the incentive for a physician to schedule an office visit just for the reimbursement and saves time and money for the patient. The downside is that patients get less “hands-on” and “face-time” with physicians and also sometimes have to wait for procedures or prescriptions. Also, we are usually limited by the practitioners actually working at Kaiser.

        The item below came from AFP after a 2-year-old killed his mother with a gun she carried in her purse.


Around 30,000 deaths a year in the United States involve firearms. The majority are suicides; many others are murders. But some involve children laying their hands on loaded weapons. In 2011 alone, 140 children and teenagers died as a result of an unintentional shooting, more often than not inside a home, according to a study from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Several thousand more sustained non-fatal injuries.

        What a burden for a child to carry for life, that he killed his own mother! He apparently had seen enough guns being used on TV and elsewhere to know about pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger. No doubt, some deaths and injuries are prevented by gun possession or at least by the fear that someone else may be carrying a gun. However, human beings are so prone to accidents and impulses, it does seem that there should be more mandatory safety features built into firearms, as well as mandatory training, along with registration measures to help keep guns out of the hands of known criminals and people with mental illness. That won’t prevent all accidental or impulsive gun deaths, but would reduce them. Never allow guns near kids under 18, would be my motto. If fewer guns were in circulation and reducing a widespread “gun culture” would help too, but isn’t a likely American scenario in the foreseeable future.

        Finally, as a citizen of the disenfranchised District of Columbia, though I’m not a pot smoker myself, I must protest the attempt by a Republican Congressman from elsewhere (don’t even remember who) in trying to override the voters’ decision to allow possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. It’s bad enough that we are prevented (by the recalcitrant Republican Congress) from having our own congress people and senators—even worse that outside representatives can overrule us as residents and voters.

        On a completely non-newsworthy topic, I happened to tune in to a 2-hour public radio Beatles’ retrospective, reminding us all of what rare popular musical geniuses they actually were in creating such fanciful lyrics and inspiring tunes. Think of such timeless gems as Yellow Submarine, In an Octopus’s Garden, and Let It Be, among many others. Their combined talents created a unique synergy sadly lost when the band broke up and its members went solo. Today’s noisy, fleeting pop hits don’t compare.



No comments: