Monday, February 2, 2015

Snowmaggedon, Fandango, Equatorial Guinea hosts Soccer Cup, Alberto Misman’s Death, DR Statelessness, Cuba & More Cuba, Gun Deaths, Fickle Fate

Photo above was taken during the “snowmaggedon” that hit New England, but fortunately fizzled for us in DC. While winter has its drawbacks, it can also lead to warm get-togethers, like a Mexican fandango music and dance party in the neighborhood last Sunday (as per photos).
[Sorry for font changes throughout, but when I've tried to make it uniformly bigger, the whole thing crashes, so best not to tamper.]
Equatorial Guinea, one of the most repressive regimes in Africa (which is saying a lot) and the only one that’s Spanish-speaking, has been hosting soccer’s African Cup of Nations. I do highlight in my Cuba book that country’s abysmal human rights record, which I became aware of only after translating some documents for Amnesty International (see p.16 of my book).

Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor for the 1994 terrorist attack on the Jewish headquarters in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his home; apparently murdered just before he was to testify. I remember being in BA in 1995 and going to the neighborhood where that attack had occurred, seeing the still destroyed buildings there. When I tried to take a photo, a policewoman on guard stopped me. Very strange doings now and stranger still are the comments of President Cristina, who, thank goodness, is on her way out, as she seems to have become increasingly erratic. I’ve asked Argentine friends for clarification, but none has been able to provide it.


The statelessness issue of Haitian descended people in the DR continues:

 I had a piece in the Huffington Post, a little pie-in-the-sky, but not inconceivable; I wanted to plant the seed. Read all about it.

They chose to identify me as a “Spanish hospital interpreter,” only one of many hats I wear. Inexplicably, I’m shown in the photo at a reading at an independent bookstore for my new book, Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People, along with 3 long-term (20 years+) Cuban political prisoners featured in the book. If anyone wants to forward my blog to their own contacts, that would help promote the Peace Corps idea. It would also help if mention is made (as it was not by Huffington Post) of my recent book—or books, including Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras, which help support my Honduras and perhaps future Cuba projects. 

An actual Amnesty International researcher and staff member, very involved against the US embargo and in favor of the Cuban Five, had his own post:


While we are opening websites, here’s another item to be read and forwarded:

Castro told Ted Kennedy 40 years ago that Cuba was ready for change
Mark Schneider, Robert Hunter, The Boston Globe, 22 Jan 2015

Perhaps if the US had reached out to Cuba earlier and if Fidel had accepted (a big “if” when the Soviets were still supporting Cuba), then possibly hostilities would have calmed much sooner. The 1990s’  “special period” 20-25 years ago seems a more likely time when a deal might have been made.

Human rights in Cuba have not been advanced in the short term by the US/Cuba accords—in fact dissidents report that repression is worse, perhaps because they are trying to test the limits now to see if anything has changed, which apparently it has not, and the Cuban government wants to make sure that they understand that. If the most basic human rights are peaceful free expression and assembly, then such rights do not exist in Cuba. If these rights were actually allowed and most Cubans still favored the Communist Party, especially as expressed through a fair and competitive electoral system, most Americans, as well as others from around the world, would gracefully accept that outcome. However, a free election scenario is not going to play out any time soon and would not have played out even if relations between Washington and Havana had remained at status quo ante.

Unfortunately, Cuban authorities have been digging in their heels about allowing their own citizens more freedom. “Even a relatively simple measure such as granting U.S. diplomats freedom of movement around Cuba, she [Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal] said, is tied to reduced U.S. support of dissidents, whom Cuba says are breaking the law by acting to undermine the government on behalf of U.S. interests.” Since when is supporting free speech a matter of advocating US interests? Aren’t we trying to advocate for ordinary Cuban citsens’ interests? Besides, aren’t our two nations friends now, so that our interests and Cuba’s are not necessarily in opposition?  Vidal seems to be caught up in the old mindset of the US as the enemy. See the full article on

According to a Cuban American observer: Although Cuba is going to play the victim, as before, in advocating the lifting of the rest of the embargo, the best policy is one of a gradual conditional lifting of the embargo where every restriction to be lifted requires a previously specified economic or political reform from the Cuban government. However, I sincerely think Obama has gone too far in the opposite direction! The Cuban maxim that comes to mind is: "¡No tan calvo que se le vean los sesos!" (Not so bald that brains are showing!) Cuba watcher comments: Raul is torn. He wants to keep hostility toward the US as the foundation stone of his temple, as seen by the less-than-subtle Havana docking of Putin’s spy ship (at the very visible cruise ship dock!) while negotiations were getting underway. At the same time, the regime has run out of sugar daddies, as Maduro sinks beneath the waves. The US is the most suitable candidate for this role. Raul is confident that the Cuban people’s quasi-medieval mindset will keep them helplessly mired in their customary inmovilismo. The people are unhappy and will grumble in their private conversation but take no public action. Also pathetic is news that Detroit sees little Cuba as the savior of the auto industry, as if 11 million hungry Cubans, after spending their meager $20 monthly income on food, will have any residual income left to save Detroit’s bacon by purchasing shiploads of SUVs!

Still another commentator observes: The Cuban government could afford to keep the US at bay and use them as a big bad wolf while it still had sugar daddies who supplied the minimum amount of basic necessities to keep the Cuban population above starvation levels. But absent Russia or Venezuela, who are having problems of their own with low oil prices, and no other prospective sugar daddy in sight, Raul can't continue to play hard to get with the US now. He has got to make a deal.

 A bipartisan group of senators is pushing to end the travel ban to Cuba, something I would not object to, provided that the Cuban regime yields something in return in terms of rights and benefits for its own citizens:

 Ending the US travel ban to Cuba is something I would not oppose, provided that the Cuban regime yields something in return in terms of rights and benefits for its own citizens, such as freedom of expression, assembly, and movement around Cuba, internet access, and employees' ability to be paid directly by American investors and visitors, maybe only one or two of those things at first, but, step-by-step in tough negotiations. With Venezuela on the ropes, Cuba needs the US more than the US needs it, so let's use our leverage to help the long-suffering Cuban people. Now that the accords are signed and the Cuban spies have been returned, Raul Castro is moving to protect the sovereign "socialist" Cuban system (i.e. his regime and position) and to rally support from around the world, especially among Latin American allies, saying, for example, that future US embassy staff cannot travel outside Havana where they might encourage enemies of Cuba who are in league with them. Aren't our countries friends now? Obviously, there’s a long way to go.

Cuba is important only to a small slice of the American constituency; most would be happy enough to add Cuba to the list of tropical isles they might want to visit--and it's a large, very beautiful island with lots of beaches. But the US is now very important to Cuba and Raul is making lots of bold demands: return G'tmo, get totally rid of the embargo and travel ban, pay reparations for the embargo, have an embassy but with personnel restricted to Havana and keeping their distance from democracy activists, require American investors and travelers to do business only with the Cuban government and military, and Cuba's not returning any criminal fugitives, and don't meddle in its internal affairs. I guess that's his opening salvo, perhaps more to alert the folks back home and his allies around the world, including a few in the US, who have been pretty loyal even though Cuba gives them nothing in return but progressive bragging rights.

A friend agrees with my statement just above: I would assume that Raul's many demands are just opening gambits in the negotiations, stated for domestic consumption and for international supporter, who, he hopes will back up Cuba, since Cuba all by itself is pretty weak at this point, both economically and politically, resting only on the laurels of Fidel's outsized reputation.

A Cuban dissident, who actually prefers to consider himself an opponent, is Jorge Luis García Pérez, nicknamed Antúnez, someone who appears in my book Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People. He provided part of the impetus for me to write the book when my former Latino friend challenged me to substantiate a previous remark about Afro-Cubans being disadvantaged, a statement that had particularly galled him. I cited the case of Antúnez, a human rights and democracy activist imprisoned from 1990 to 2007, referred to by other dissidents as Cuba's Nelson Mandela. His wife founded the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. Why had Antúnez spent 17 years behind bars? In 1990, State Security agents overheard him saying that communism was an error, words considered treasonous. I said that Antúnez, his wife, and several other Afro-Cubans were then on a hunger strike, something my former friend dismissed by saying “The case of one man who happens to be Afro-Cuban and was imprisoned …doesn't prove a thing.”

Antúnez and his wife Yris were allowed by the Cuban government to travel together recently and met at the Washington office with Amnesty International staff and me in my role as volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean. (See photos above taken of the couple at dinner the night before and at the Amnesty office.) Then, I received the following message:This week, U.S. civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), met with Cuban civil rights icons, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and Yris Perez Aguilera. Antunez is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who served 17-years in Castro's gulag, while Perez Aguilera heads Cuba's Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights.

Previously, I had urged them both, traveling here separately after not being allowed to travel together, to reach out to African Americans. However, they seemed uncertain about how to do that, partly because of languagebarriers, also because of understandable confusion about American politics. Yris, the wife, had then issued a statement castigating the Congressional Black Caucus for snubbing their request for a meeting on a visit to Cuba, not quite what I had in mind. So the meeting with John Lewis is a real victory. (See photo above.)

Antúnez, as might be expected, is not happy now with the US/Cuba accords, which he says have increased repression on the island. He and his wife met with us at the Amnesty International Washington office, where he gave us information about a prisoner named Ciro Alexis Casanova Pérez whose case he hoped we would take up. The prisoner, a known dissident, was given 4 years for causing a public disturbance during which he shouted anti-Castro slogans and unfurled homemade banners.
When first meeting Yris last August, I’d given her a copy of my Cuba book, asking whether she thought she could get into the country. She assured me that she had ways, but on this last visit, she said it had been confiscated by state security, so next time, I will try via the diplomatic pouch, if possible. Not that Cuban authorities were necessarily unaware of my book before that, but now they certainly do know about it, not that I was planning a trip there any time soon.

Talk about possibly unintended consequences, releasing the remaining Cuban Three may have now given them a leg-up in the Cuban political system, especially Gerardo Hernández, the ostensible ringleader and convicted spy most closely associated with the deaths of four Brothers-to-the-Rescue, whose plane was shot down by the Cuban military. He and the others have already been touring and speaking all over Cuba and Hernández recently became a father, thanks to artificial insemination facilitated by Vermont independent Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy, who was instrumental inobtaining the release of the Cuban spies as well as in relentlessly denigrating USAID’s Cuban democracy efforts, maybe the man to thank or blame if Hernández becomes Cuba’s future leader. See following article: Heroic homecoming for Cuban agents brings speculation about future in politics By Nick Miroff, Washington Post, 1/18/2015,

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio invited Rosa Payá, daughter of the late Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, as his State of the Union Guest. (I have met both father and daughter, as mentioned in my Cuba book.)

Antúnez and Yris were invited by Speaker Boehner.
Changing focus now, another fatal shooting by a child who found a gun: “Missouri 9-month-old fatally shot in his crib by 5-year-old brother, police say.”  Don’t people know by now to lock up their guns if they feel they must keep them in their homes? More recently, 3-year-old in New Mexico shot his father and pregnant mother with a gun he found in her purse, but didn’t kill them.
In a national survey, Hawaii earns top honors as the state with the lowest gun death rate, while Alaska has the highest. Hawaii also has the lowest rate of gun ownership, while Alaska has the highest. Unfortunately, my attempt to post a dramatic chart showing the 5 states with the highest rate of gun ownership with their corresponding highest rates of gun deaths versus the 5 states with the lowest rate of ownership with their lowest rates of gun deaths would not copy onto the blog, so Google such studies yourself and see the differences, indicating that the risk of a gun death in the high ownership states is often more than 4 times as great as in the low-ownership states. Does high gun ownership reflect a more aggressive culture of gun violence, where everyone feels the need of gun protection because other citizens around them are all armed, or does just the sheer rate of gun ownership promote a culture of violence and gun deaths?  Perhaps, gun ownership both reflects a culture of violence and reinforces it, the usual vicious circle. In Alaska and other high gun-owning states, probably animal hunting is also popular, while not so much in the low gun-owning states.
The nationwide gun death rate, by the way, is 10.64 per 100,000, and the total number of Americans killed by gunfire rose to 33,636 in 2013 from 33,563 in 2012. Of note: The top five states with the lowest gun death rates are “blue” or Democrat-voting states, while the top five states at the other end of the spectrum are “red” or Republican-voting states.

Finally, we all are familiar with the capriciousness of luck or fate, which guides our entire life despite our most meticulous efforts to plan ahead. It begins, very basically, with our own conception, a unique roll of the dice, resulting in the fusion of gametes, the intermingling of genes, to produce each of us. So, none of us is a stranger to the role of luck in our lives in giving us our parents, connecting us with a spouse or lover, and guiding our career path, also in providing us children and sometimes taking them away, as in my experience. And so did fickle fate wipe out a family on the outskirts of neighboring Annapolis, the quaint, historic city that serves as Maryland’s capital. Just days ago—actually a few nights ago—a luxurious seaside mansion went up in flames, shown by video in real time on the internet as it lit up the winter darkness while firefighters struggled for 10 hours to contain it. Later, in the charred remains, investigators found the incinerated bodies of the owners and their four grandchildren, visiting on a sleepover. Apparently a dry Christmas tree, still up and decorated, perhaps with lights turned on for the kids, was the source of the conflgration.  How it happened is less important than that it did happen to a family who had enjoyed amazing material success, but then was virtually wiped out in minutes. I feel terribly for the parents of those kids, one of whom also lost his or her parents, never mind the great material loss. I’m sure the parents now agonize about how their children might have suffered as flames consumed them. All their good fortune, wealth, and privileges went up in smoke. Can anyone ever recover from something like that? Would they even care to recover and go on living? I remember a similar incident not so long ago, when a woman who had achieved great professional success against the odds and had bought and refurbished an historic mansion, located in Pa., as I recall, then, while she was out in the evening, the house burned down with her parents and three children all inside. I’ve heard nothing about her since, but I’m sure she’s still in pain, assuming she is still alive, exactly what the parents of the four children killed in Maryland will be feeling for the rest of their lives, unless they are fortunate enough to experience amnesia or dementia before their own deaths. Twenty years on, how hard has it been for me to lose my son and foster son in deaths not nearly so painful?
Yet, while some folks are in the wrong place at the wrong time, others are in the right place at the right time—just enormously lucky, as we see constantly on internet news—got a surprise $1,000 tip or found a diamond ring in a wax candle. As former President Jimmy Carter once observed, life is unfair.   
Talk with you again after my return from Honduras.

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