Friday, March 13, 2015

Reporting Strategy on 11th Return Trip to Honduras, Newly Publicized Ancient Honduran City, Honduras, Cuba, Venezuela, First Honduras trip Report

Reporting Strategy on 11th Return Trip to Honduras, Newly Publicized Ancient Honduran City, Honduras, Cuba, Venezuela, First Honduras trip Report

Have now returned from my 11th post-Peace Corps trip to Honduras to an empty house with no sign of bedbugs, thank goodness! I now face the dilemma of how to report on my trip, given that blog postings appear not in chronological order as when someone reads (or writes) a book or article, but with the last posting appearing first, thus reversing the usual reading and writing chronology. However, as per blog etiquette, I will observe that order and anyone wanting the whole picture will just have to move back instead of forward. Since the blog system has been overwhelmed previously, this time, I plan to divide the postings, beginning with this one. So, after a few other preliminaries, I will show photos of Tegucigalpa and vicinity, with a minimum of written explanation. (A picture is worth a thousand words.) Then will follow a posting on La Esperanza, after that, one on Operation Smile, and finally, the 4th one on the end of the journey in Miami and what I found upon arriving in DC. I will try to intersperse photos with narrative—we’ll see how that works out. To go back, click on "Older posts" at the bottom right of the narrative. Thanks to my readers for accompanying me on this experiment. But, first, a few other comments.

 Below is a link to new ancient discoveries in the Honduran jungle:

There has been some controversy over whether this is really a new find or whether the “lost city” aspect has been over-hyped. Rumors were swirling even when I was in the Peace Corps 2000-2003. This ancient city and others near it were reportedly built and populated by members of the Pech civilization, and were not Mayan, though most former civilizations in Central America are Mayan, such as Copan in western Honduras, and Mayan descendants still live all over the area. The current Pech tribe of Honduras, with its own separate language, religion, and culture, is reportedly shrinking fast.

Chikungunya has caused at least 4 deaths in Honduras, a new mosquito-borne illness added to Malaria and dengue.

According to a DC Spanish-language paper, Washington Hispanic (March 13, 2015), children in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras with parents living in the US under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or TPS (Temporary Protective Status) may be eligible for legal entry into the US. This measure is meant to stave off minor children’s attempts to cross the border alone, as many did last year. Fathers may have to prove paternity through DNA testing. Despite the efforts of many Congressional Republicans to block such moves, the Obama Administration is apparently going forward with this program.

The Peace Corps has temporarily (?) suspended its program in Jordan because insecurity in the region.

I was intrigued by the following article—see in my Cuba book a vignette about a rooftop pigeon racer.

A few days after American negotiators met with Cuban officials to continue talks to reestablish formal diplomatic relations, a Chinese ship bound for Cuba was intercepted near Colombia’s Port of Cartagena carrying 100 tons of gunpowder, almost 3 million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells to Cuba. On Monday, a Colombian judge ordered that the Chinese captain of the Hong Kong-registered Da Dan Xia be placed under house arrest. This after Cuba’s attempt in 2013 to smuggle two warplanes, missile parts and 240 metric tons of war materiél from Cuba into North Korea through the Panama canal.  The Obama administration has been virtually silent regarding these events and it remains to be seen if Cuba will be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Finnish and Swedish journalists filming dissidents out on the streets of Havana were briefly arrested themselves last February :

A recent poll by Beyond the Beltway shows 64% of Americans supporting the end of the Cuba embargo, including 51% of Republicans.

I am praying that there is more than meets the eye behind the recent US-Cuba accords and that the Obama administration, mainly Kerry and Roberta Jacobson, have a strategic and realistic vision and plan that they are not necessarily revealing publicly, a plan that is coordinated with actions toward Venezuela, Russia, and Iran, all of them Cuba’s allies and supporters. Cuban strategists have been extremely wily throughout the decades—seizing Alan Gross turned out to be a masterstroke. For the Cuban leadership, the US is very important, though for the US, Cuba is not that crucial—except for its connections with other unfriendly nations.  Certainly the US-Cuba accords caught hostile nations, especially in Latin America, off guard, including Cuba’s big benefactor, Venezuela. While many Americans have heralded the accords as a friendly outreach to a non-threatening Cuba, the US needs to be wary, at least as long as the Castros are in charge, although mutual trust should grow if each side actually finds the other living up to its commitments. But to imagine that Cuban “democracy” is on the horizon or that it will automatically flow from diplomatic relations or increased trade and tourism is naïve at best. As I have said before, Cubans will be lucky (and most will be satisfied) if they can achieve the degree of economic freedom enjoyed in China and Vietnam , something which has occurred gradually over decades.  But those nations still remain one-party states with no free elections or freedom of expression and assembly, and with an overbearing military, the death penalty and frequent executions (even for property crimes in China), and political prisoners serving long sentences  after unfair trials. That’s the unfortunate reality that Cubans will be lucky to achieve.  Could it have been otherwise if the US and Cuba had not agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations? After 55 years, there has been virtually no movement toward democracy in Cuba, so what would have triggered such a change? Such speculation is useless at this point anyway, as the accords are a done deal and now we need to seize on whatever opportunities they may offer and try to mitigate their ill effects. And while Cuba is complaining about US sanctions against Venezuela, how loudly can the Cuban leadership complain without jeopardizing their own relations with the US?  Is there a clever Obama administration strategy here?  I certainly hope so.

Here’s a statement by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) on Venezuela, the actions of whose president and government are becoming increasing worrisome—it’s one thing to be elected (barely and possibly fraudulently), but being elected carries the responsibility to govern fairly after an election: “HRF welcomes the executive order issued yesterday by President Obama that imposes targeted sanctions against Venezuelan citizens involved in recent human rights abuses in the country. The order, which also expresses concern about the Venezuelan government’s treatment of its political opponents, names seven individuals sanctioned under the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. HRF applauds this action as a crucial step in exposing human rights abuses committed by the government of Nicolas Maduro.”

Osvaldo Hurtado, a former president of Ecuador, faults other Latin American presidents for not calling out Maduro, who has become increasingly dictatorial.

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Honduras Trip Narrative One and Photos: The family I stayed with in Honduras had just adopted a 5-year-old girl, shown here with the family and struggling nightly with her homework in an English-language 1st grade. I recommended she be put into kindergarten in that same English-language school, but I don’t know that my nosy advice was appreciated, much less heeded. Adoption is very difficult and legally complicated in Honduras.

The round tank is an outdoor oven. Al fresco restaurant has a homemade swing and seesaw. Lovely old churches grace traditional towns. Church interiors on Ash Wed. and first Sunday of lent. Windmills are beginning to provide power. Conference speaker, a female economist from Chile, originally from France, said that while overtly leftist governments prevail now in Latin America, more central or right-leaning forces have power and influence through non-governmental organizations.

If you read this section first, reverse course in your reading and move forward to trip posting #2.

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