Sunday, February 8, 2015

Pope Francis, Garifunas, Congressional Hearing on Cuba Accords, Honduras Concerns, Corrections, More Cuba, Bedbugs, Kids Left in Cold Car

Didn’t plan on making another posting before I left, but here I am again. A reader points out that maybe I try to put too much in each posting, including too many photos. Certainly that has happened after previous trips to Honduras when some photos became distorted or the narrative just posted before I had finished. In any case, I agree that there has been excess, maybe of interest to me but less so to others, so I will endeavor to be more selective in both narrative and photos after this next trip.

Advance notice: Pope Francis is scheduled to address Congress on Sept. 24, 2015.

Garifunas in NYC, Honduran decendants of black slaves, have a very high HIV rate, also in Honduras.

Roberta Jacobson at hearing spoke at a Congressional hearing on the US-Cuba accords.  She stressed that Alan Gross was not exchanged for the Cuban Three but for unnamed agent, whose name she did not give nor does anyone know his whereabouts. I guess that’s because the US did not want to equate Alan Gross with convicted Cuban spies. The man she was referring to is reportedly 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.

Although Jacobson was diplomatic in her remarks, it would seem that Cuba is stalling on any furtherance of the agreement before the Americas Summit in April, one of the motives behind the US push to sign the accords before that gathering. Antuñez and Berta Soler of the Damas de Blanco also testified at the hearing, though I only caught part of their live testimony via on-line screening. As I would have anticipated, they are unhappy and pessimistic about the accords.  See report below.

·         (EFE) 2-5-2015

A portion of the Cuban dissident movement, speaking before Congress on Thursday, rejected the agreement between Washington and Havana to resume bilateral relations and said that as they as they were not included in the dialogue to reestablish diplomatic ties they would not endorse the talks. 

Appearing before the House Subcommittee on Human Rights were Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as "Antunez," Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White, and another member of that group, Sara Fonseca.

"We're not going to accept the Cuban opposition being ignored," said Antunez.

The three dissidents are representatives of a sector of the Cuban opposition that does not view favorably the political about-face toward Cuba by the Barack Obama administration, although within the dissident movement as a whole there is a group that has come out in favor of the reestablishment of ties.

Antunez told lawmakers that Washington cannot unilaterally decide or interfere in the conditions for achieving freedom for the Cuban people and he reiterated that they are "only" asking that they be acknowledged and not ignored.

"These agreements are considered by a vital segment of the Cuban resistance to be a betrayal of the aspiration for the freedom of the Cuban people. They are unacceptable for us. A country's principles and right to freedom are not the property of any government, no matter how powerful and influential," the activist said.

"This is the time to ask for real changes" from Havana, he said.

"This means the legalization of independent political parties and unions, free elections under international supervision, and for the Castro brothers to give up political power, since they've spent decades suffocating the Cuban people. Only this can lead to the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba," he said.

When it was her turn to speak, Soler demanded the priority of the right of citizens to economic opening, and she claimed that the government of Raúl Castro intends to emulate only the Chinese system.

The Cuban government "seeks the same model as China, seeks oxygen. What he wants is a capitalist economic system and a communist political system. We've been going on like this for more than 50 years and we can't tolerate it. First, human rights. And later, economics," she said.

Fonseca, too, said that ending the U.S. embargo on the communist island "will (only) benefit the Castro regime."

Including the one on Thursday, Congress now has held three hearings since the announcement of the reestablishment of bilateral diplomatic relations was made on Dec. 17, and it is that body that has the ultimate responsibility regarding lifting the embargo, as Obama has requested. 


WASHINGTON (AP) — A series of trips to Cuba by U.S. lawmakers is in doubt amid questions over the communist government's eagerness or ability to accommodate a surge of new interest and possible investment from the United States. American officials said the Cuban government has pushed off all congressional visits, including one by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, until at least mid-April. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington said some will go forward in the coming days, but others are postponed.

Several members of Congress had planned to go to the island country this month. They included Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, who has proposed ending the U.S. travel embargo of Cuba.

President Raul Castro's government has been scrambling to adjust to the possibility of new U.S. travel and investment in Cuba since he and President Barack Obama announced in December that the two countries would repair ties after a half-century of enmity. And in a surprise development, Obama administration officials said they were informed by their Cuban counterparts earlier this week that no congressional visits would be allowed to travel to Cuba until April 15. They spoke on condition anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

A correction: Vermont’s senators are Democrat Patrick Leahy and Independent Bernie Sanders.  I had their party affiliations reversed. In any case, Sanders usually votes with the Democrats. I had Leahy identified as a Democrat in my book, but got mixed up later, obviously. Thanks to an alert reader for pointing that out.

 She also pointed out that in the recent Annapolis fire, the four dead grandchildren were first cousins from two families, not one, as I had assumed—in photos, they were all blonds and looked like siblings—two sets of parents were thus devastated. If misery loves company, the two couples now have each other. That’s the same premise behind the Spanish-speaking parental bereavement group that I’ve been leading, as it helps to know you are not alone in experiencing a particularly devastating loss, though I will miss being with my group in February. Also, I did not quite remember the location of the woman who had lost her parents and three children in a previous devastating fire, something the Annapolis fire had reminded me of; it was in Connecticut, not Pa., and, I’m told, she has now remarried (not to her date on that fateful night, who had moved the coals that caused that devastating fire), so she is perhaps on the road to partial recovery. Still, no one could ever be quite the same after such a terrible loss.

At least 2 people have dibs on a wheelchair I’m taking to Honduras—how to decide between them? Now, suddenly, I find the footrests are missing—I never noticed before. In Honduras, they will have to invent a replacement. I’m also taking an almost brand-new walker.

Here’s another problem: I had an urgent request from Honduras for a medication not available there for a skin condition in a young woman whom I know-- Methoxsalen 10 mg tablets. I Googled the requested medication, which came up with this warning: Do not give this medication to anyone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you do. It can be harmful for people to take this medication if their doctor has not prescribed it. So, I gave up the quest. Hondurans often call me Dra. Bárbara and expect me to get them not only rare medications, but find remedies for Down Syndrome, paralysis, and congenital blindness, which I cannot.  

 I did once have a physician contact at PAHO who would write me Rxs for Cubans for meds not available there, but that was in the 1990s and he's no longer at PAHO. It should properly be difficult to get a prescription medication for a patient never examined by a physician in this country. That PAHO doctor (a Latin American, but with privileges here) did it for me on faith, but really it was illegal. One of my Cuban patients at that time, Armando, had a hereditary kidney disease, cystinuria, for whom his medications were a life or death proposition. I finally had to bring him to this country via Mexico in 1998 (as per my Cuba book) because it was just too hard and too expensive for me to keep on getting his meds and trying to find someone reliable to take them to him, as he lived in a community way outside Havana. I got lost trying to find him the first time. Also, it was not affordable for me as a single parent of modest means to keep on doing that. It was better to invest, once and for all, in a Mexican visa and a roundtrip plane ticket (because, ostensibly, he was just going there for a visit), and pay his Cuban exit fees than to keep on sending his meds indefinitely. He's now a US citizen, married, and living in Miami and a pharmaceutical company is giving him his medications for free.

Our household’s bedbug crisis started with a single bedbug still wiggling on sticky paper days after getting stuck—a total of $1,000 for fumigation and special mattress covers, an expense I was ill-prepared to confront so close to my departure for Honduras. However, the young woman on whose bed the creature was found had prior experience and urged me to act immediately, which I did. DDT would have wiped them out better, but is no longer permitted in this country.

The following is from the end of a column by independent blogger [find and read the whole thing] Yoani Sanchez (Feb. 3): All these hopes, born on St. Lazarus Day and fed with the visits to Cuba of members of Congress and American negotiators, are now a double-edged sword for the Island's government. On the one hand, the existence of so many illusions buys time and sets the horizon at the end of a long process of conversations between both administrations, which could go on for years. But, also, the disappointment derived from not meeting or from postponing such dreams will be focused directly on the Plaza of the Revolution.

The anger towards failure will not fall on Obama, but on Raul Castro. He knows this and in recent weeks his spokespeople have emphasized cutting back on the perspectives filling the streets of the entire country. They are trying to anticipate that everything will be more or less the same and that too many expectations can't be met. But there is nothing harder than countering dreams. The symbolic weight of the beginning of the "thaw" between David and Goliath cannot be alleviated with calls for calm, nor energetic speeches that point toward a halt in the negotiations.

When the months pass and the "bullet train" doesn't arrive, the Internet continues to be impossible, the store freezers are as empty as they are today, the customs rules continue to block commercial imports to private hands, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) maintains its monopoly on film production, and being a member of an opposition party still results in official repression and ideological stigmatization... when the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive expectations bring collective frustration, what will happen? Maybe from there the energy necessary to push for change will be born.

 This is from a recent Yahoo News item: "The way those (U.S.) diplomats act should change in terms of stimulating, organizing, training, supplying and financing elements within our country that act against the interests of ... the government of the Cuban people," Josefina Vidal said. "The total freedom of movement, which the U.S. side is posing, is tied to a change in the behavior of its diplomatic mission and its officials," said Vidal, Cuba's top official for U.S. affairs. Washington has long criticized the communist government for repressing opponents of the one-party system. While public support for dissidents is limited, they receive plenty of attention from U.S. and Western diplomats. The United States says it supports Cuban activists who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

 Also below from Yahoo News [We’ve all heard about kids being left in hot cars, now here in DC, close to home, was an incident in a cold car—in this case, the name of the kids’ father is unsettlingly the same as that of a fellow Peace Corps in Honduras who had moved to DC—hope it wasn’t him]:

A couple has been charged with cruelty for allegedly leaving their toddlers in a car in the cold this past weekend while wine tasting at an upscale restaurant in Washington, D.C., authorities said. Christopher Lucas, 41, and Jennie Chang, 46, were arrested on Saturday after police responded to a concerned caller who said that two children were unattended in a car at about 3:44 p.m., D.C. police officer Araz Alali told ABC News today. The car was locked, and the engine wasn't running, according to Alali. The temperature at the time was around 33 degrees, though an hour before it was below freezing. "The children were left unattended for about an hour when the parents came out of Ris restaurant, where they were attending a wine tasting," Alali said. "The children were taken care of by the cops and taken to Family and Child Services." Lucas and Chang were arrested on the scene on charges of second-degree cruelty to children, Alali said.


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