Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Baby, Visitors Go Home, Nephew & Family, New Citizen, Harper Lee, Jorge Valls, Obama’s Press Conference, Netanyahu, Donald Trump, No. Korea, DR, Haiti, Cuba, Building Museum Exhibit, Gun Control

Son Jonathan, his wife Kit, and their family welcomed my new grandson Kingston, born in Honolulu, 7 lbs. 13 oz. (See photos.)

After the graduation ceremony for GAO fellows from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, food was served but since it was still Ramadan, observant Muslims took some in plastic containers to eat after sundown.  A fellow from the UAE had brought his wife and toddler daughter to accompany him during the entire course, as someone from that country could afford to do. When other male fellows tried to shake the wife’s hand after the ceremony, she smiled and shrank back, as apparently a Muslim woman should not touch a man other than her husband. I remember in Thailand traveling with my daughter Stephanie that Buddhist monks also went to great lengths to avoid physical contact with women, not only not shaking hands with us, but writing their names down on a piece of paper not handed to us directly, but set down for us to pick up. These practices may seem puzzling or amusing to us but are dead serious for their practitioners.
My African visitors have now departed, with the man from Kenya anxious to get back before President Obama’s arrival there, expecting to see him as their families hail from the same ancestral village.  (In photos,

they’re sitting down below my 3rd-floor home office on the front porch with a friend on the evening before their departure.)  

Nephew Bryan, actually my nephew via my late former husband, was visiting DC from Oregon with his family, as per photo. I remember first seeing him when he came home from the hospital after being born.

Priscila Rodriguez, a friend from Mexico who once stayed at my house and met her husband through me, recently became a US citizen. Some 110 new citizens swearing in with her were from 49 countries, with Ethiopia having the largest representation. Her father came from Mexico for the ceremony.

I remembered my son Colombian-born Jon's citizenship ceremony when he was 4 years old.

Harper Lee, almost 90 and in assisted living, may have dementia, which would explain why she did not appear in person to sign copies of her newly published book, sold by a bookstore in her very own home town. Does she even know about the publication, something that has happened after the recent death of her older sister who acted as her guardian and protector? From reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, the consensus seems to be, despite the hype, that the book is a real mish-mash, a sort of first draft of what became the best-selling To Kill A Mockingbird. The original Mockingbird may have benefited from the editorial assistance often rendered by publishing houses in a bygone era. There have been no reported sightings of the reclusive, elderly Ms. Lee, nor any live interviews to ask her what she thinks about the publication or if she even knows about it. But seeing dollar signs and after crafting a worldwide publicity campaign, the publisher pushed full speed ahead, promoting at least a temporary selling frenzy, though risking tarnishing Lee’s literary reputation in the process. Hope Lee gets something out of it herself, reflected glory or money, though my experience as I get older is that money and glory are not as important to an older individual as they once were.

Obviously, all those who live long enough begin to grow older and, with age, come inevitable debilities and health problems, no matter how good our heredity, diet, exercise habits, health care, and environment, with death coming at the end. If that sounds fatalistic, it is. Even if we continue to prolong the average lifespan, something is going to end each and every life. That’s the only thing that is 100% certain. Even a future individual living, say, to age 150, is going to experience systems failures or an unfortunate accident.

Even now, accidents combine with frailties to hasten death. But one man who has beaten the odds several times over is my good friend Jorge Valls, profiled in my Cuba book. Jorge, now age 81, survived more than 20 years as a Cuban political prisoner under dreadful and punishing conditions and with a grossly inadequate diet. Since his release from prison in 1984, after a campaign in which I participated, he has had no visible means of support, but has always found people eager to take him in. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which is usually fatal in short order, but he survived it. When I last saw him in Miami in March, on my annual return from Honduras, he was rail-thin and recovering from an elbow fracture sustained in a fall. A friend confided that although Jorge was getting Meals-on-Wheels, he was touching hardly anything on his plate. Recently, Jorge went up to NJ, where he sometimes teaches a philosophy course as an adjunct in a local college (he is fluent in English, also French).  While there, he fell and broke a hip, requiring surgery. I spoke with him recently in the hospital, where he was doing well, in good spirits, with discomfort but no pain, and taking a few steps from bed to bathroom (very carefully, I trust). He was planning to go to a rehab facility. He has taken this newest calamity in stride, like everything else in his life, and, so far, has come out the other side. My thoughts and prayers are with him.

Hearing Pres. Obama fielding questions at his most recent press conference, I was struck by the fact, whatever one’s opinion of the decisions made by his administration, that he is certainly an intelligent and thoughtful guy who can think on his feet. His performance makes an especially stark contrast with that of his predecessor, George W., whose tongue and mind usually became garbled and confused at press conferences—though Bush continues to make big bucks on the Republican talk circuit.

It’s an obvious truism that no decision about foreign or domestic affairs is perfect and problem-free—every decision is a gamble involving risks as well as benefits. A president and most of the rest of us endeavor to choose the best course of action available at the least cost, weighing pros and cons, and making an effort to reduce unnecessary bloodshed and conflict.  Of course, a minority of individuals, including some national leaders, deliberately create mischief and mayhem, but Obama does not appear to be among them. Saying that does not mean that I agree with every decision he has made nor how he has gone about it. But I also know that any course of action, political or otherwise, does not have a 100% certain outcome. As mentioned, the death of each and every one of us is about the only absolute certainty that we confront.

Netanyahu is right—the guarantee against Iran getting a nuclear weapon is not ironclad and never could be, but Obama believes we got the best deal available. Hypothetically, what if Iran actually did get a nuclear weapon? Does that mean an automatic attack on Israel? Obama is trying to de-escalate Middle East tensions and may or may not be successful, but perhaps a less belligerent and defensive Israel might actually be safer? And there are other nuclear powers who may have gotten leverage from their weapons, but who have not actually used them lately, including North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel itself, as well as the US, UK, France, Russia, and China. South Africa dismantled its arsenal. Of course, adding more members to the nuclear club is not desirable, but if Iran actually acquired a nuclear weapon in the future, would that necessarily imply a mortal threat to Israel? Maybe Netanyahu truly believes it would or is he only trying to gain political capital by crying “wolf” and playing on his citizens’ fears, allying with US Republican lawmakers?

If Donald Trump has been trying to get attention, he’s certainly gotten it and has appealed to a core Republican constituency with his inflammatory and insulting remarks about Mexicans, war hero John McCain, and others. Whether he says such things just to get publicity or whether he actually believes them is an irrelevant question. He’s having fun thumbing his nose at the political establishment and many people gleefully identify with his daring. It’s scary to think that his “frank” talk, expressing the opinions of some disgruntled voters, might actually propel him into office. He has a blustery, outsized personality—in some ways like that of Fidel Castro, who through sheer force of will, outrageous demands, and ruthlessness managed to stay in power over a lifetime. Apparently Trump’s financial success is also due to his blustery personality and extreme risk-taking, with most risks turning out in his favor. Gambling on a course of action is a precursor to luck, which can go either way—a lot of luck has gone Trump’s way, but let’s hope his luck has turned. Donald Trump, vowing after the Mexican drug Kingpin’s prison escape to “kick El Chapo’s Ass,” called the FBI to report receiving a threatening message apparently from El Chapo on Twitter—not so lucky there. What if Trump actually wins the Republican nomination and wins the presidency?

How do they do it? What a unified nation! North Korea has reported 99.97% participation in elections, with the same percentage voting “yes” for uncontested party candidates. There apparently weren’t any “no” votes—was that even an option? Only very ill people or those out of the country apparently failed to vote, accounting for the .03% gap. Cuba, with more than 90% voting participation, comes close, but lately, more blank ballots have been turned in there.

There have been anti-corruption protests in Honduras:


The citizenship question for Haitian-descended Dominicans is continuing:

·         Haiti fires ambassador to D.R. amid immigration crisis

The Haitian government fired its ambassador to Santo Domingo, Daniel Supplice, for not "appropriately" defending the country amid the current crisis (Fox News)
Taking a page from the DR Haitian-descendants’ citizenship crisis, Texas denies birth certificates to at least 4 Texas-born children of undocumented mothers.

Cuba still on my mind and in the news

 Google offered Cubans free internet, but the government nixed the idea:

From Newsweek, July 17, 2015--A top Cuban Communist Party official says he is skeptical about any low-cost or free offers to increase Internet access for the island nation, despite the country's notoriously low Internet penetration rate. Only 5 percent of Cubans have regular access to the Internet, one of the lowest rates in the world, according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization. About 25 percent of the population has access to the country's intranet, which hosts mostly pro-government websites. José Ramón Machado Ventura, the second-highest ranking member of the Communist Party of Cuba, behind President Raúl Castro, said in an interview with the daily newspaper Juventud Rebelde that "the whole world knows that there is no Internet in Cuba because it has a high cost.... There are some people who want to give it to us for free, but not for Cuban people to communicate but to penetrate us and do ideological work for a new conquest."
The message that the Cuban government turned down free internet for the island should be disseminated throughout Cuba, though that's hard to do without internet and with strict censorship.

During recent revolutionary commemorations, Cuba has reportedly toned the anti-Yankee rhetoric. Indeed, that was already happening even before the accords and. In recent years, Marx and Lenin’s images have faded and are no longer displayed in military parades. Is that a sign of progress? Cubans tell me that the day the US Embassy is due to formally open, Aug. 14, is Fidel Castro’s birthday.

Half of the Cuban men's field hockey team defected to the United States. It’s unlikely that they are seeking lucrative field hockey contracts. A total of 28 Cuban athletes deserted during the Pan American Games held in Canada. The number of Cuban rafters caught by the US Coast Guard and returned to Cuba keeps rising. In 2010, it was only 210. So far this year, it’s about 2,500. Many more Cubans, thanks to help from US-based relatives, are flying to Ecuador, which does not require them to have visas. Some stay there and many others make the arduous and dangerous overland trek north—thousands are passing through Honduras. These Cubans know that the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy may soon end, as lawmakers from both parties are arguing for its demise.

Legislative staffers say Cuban officials have made it clear that if Congress members or other US government representatives meet with dissidents, they will not get access to high-ranking Cuban officials such as First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the man expected to be the next president of Cuba who has met with U.S. politicians like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. (AP)

Mariela Castro, Raúl’s daughter, has called opposition figures “A little group of ignoramuses.” Of course, they are small in numbers because of severe repression. If they could get their message out there, there might be a groundswell of support among the population, especially for a change in leadership.

The Cuba accords, like those with Iran, are trying to establish mutual trust, but in that effort, are human rights being ignored? So far, in Cuba, that appears to be the case. Is Washington just waiting for the right time to start gradually pressing this topic or will we go the way in Cuba that we have with other regimes, where little or no progress has been made? Maybe the US has given up on that fight?

See http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/us-diplomats-in-cuba-would-do-well-to-focus-on-human-rights/2015/07/20/ad4c0f3e-aba4-455d-883d-74fc96b4c1fb_story.html?hpid=z7

From the article: “The United States has diplomatic relations with many authoritarian governments that flout human rights, including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.” Yes, and little HR progress has been made in those countries. On Russia, you might even say that there has been regression.

Though it's not likely to happen, it would be great if Leahy or even Kerry, when he opens the embassy, invites or meets with dissidents. What would the Cuban regime do then? Cancel the deal? State Dept. negotiator Roberta Jacobson talked with them, but now she’s off to become ambassador to Mexico. Maybe she can do more for Cuba from that vantage point.

A CBS News poll just this week showed that 81% of the American people support ending the Cuba travel ban, including 71% of Republicans.

NEW YORK (July 22, 2015) – To mark the third anniversary of the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) published a legal report today highlighting the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the official government investigation following Payá’s death in 2012.
Police were reportedly called by the new Cuban Embassy when Payá’s daughter arrived there to deliver a letter.

The NYTimes, which has aggressively editorialized to support the US-Cuba accords and praised Cuba at every turn, now seems to have backtrack after the Cuban flag was actually raised over the embassy in Washington (July 21, 2015): "It would be naïve to expect that the Cuban government, a dynastic police state, will take big steps in the near future to liberalize its centrally planned economy, encourage private enterprise or embrace pluralistic political reforms. In fact, in the face of potentially destabilizing change and high expectations at home, Cuban officials may be tempted to tighten state controls in the short term."

Reportedly, in a conversation in Havana, Che asked Fidel Castro, “Do you think we’ll ever re-establish diplomatic relations with the Yankees?” Fidel is said to have replied, “That will be the day when the president of the United States is black and the pope is an Argentinian like you.”

The Cuban Five, the men convicted as spies in a US court, with the three who remained being exchanged for Alan Gross (though that was officially denied), were invited to tour El Salvador. At the same time, prominent Cuban dissidents who arrived in that country were detained without explanation.

Pres. Obama agreed to reestablish relations with Cuba to free Alan Gross and to obtain better relations with Latin America and the world by getting rid of a policy that was universally condemned and had cast the US in the posture of an international bully and also to aid the Cuban people economically and, presumably, to start off a process of internal change that could lead to a gradual peaceful non-violent democratic transition. Unfortunately, Cuban repression has increased since the accords, both because dissidents are more active, testing the waters, and because the regime wants to tamp down their efforts forcefully and definitively. Maybe the Pope's visit will afford some temporary relief?
I had hoped that quiet diplomacy through the Cuban and US embassies might help, but the record of China and Vietnam is not promising in that regard. While the US routinely submits its human rights concerns and the names of political prisoners to those governments, little or nothing happens. And while there is some internet access, it's controlled and blocked. Even Hong Kong, despite China's promises when the territory was returned, has been thwarted in its democracy efforts.

The Cuban embargo is not likely to be relaxed further in the near term, but that hasn't prevented a record number of Americans from traveling to Cuba already this year (including a group of former Peace Corps volunteers). Most of them are unaware of or uninterested in the human rights abuses committed there; most Americans and certainly citizens of other countries have approved the accords and buy into the narrative that the US was bullying a benevolent and progressive Cuban government on ideological grounds, due to the excessive influence of the Cuban American lobby.

However, both Chinese and Vietnamese citizens have enjoyed more economic freedom and prosperity in the last decades and that may be all that's obtainable now for Cuba--and for most Cubans, that will be enough. Would it have been otherwise without the agreement? We will never know. This is the path that was taken. We live in an imperfect world. Of course, we shouldn't be resigned to the status quo in Cuba or any other nation, including the USA, but it's a continuing struggle, just like anything else in life. Perhaps, over generations, more freedoms will evolve in Cuba and those Asian countries, but none of us is likely to live to see the day.

After the embassies are in place, we can only hope that that discreet negotiations will tackle Cuban human rights abuses, which seem to have become more numerous and harsher since the accords. Certainly private negotiations on human rights are the approach being taken with Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam, though with little visible effect. The new State Dept. report on human rights in Cuba frankly admits the many violations by the government taking place there.
A Cuban former economist, who never has come out publicly against the Cuban government and still has friends within the official bureaucracy, warns that any further unconditional lifting of the embargo could well turn out to be counterproductive. He claims, "It will strengthen the Castro dictatorship, making it possible for the small group that runs the country to enrich itself, buy more property, and fatten its bank accounts abroad and pass on its command over the island's government and economy to a new generation of offspring after both brothers pass on."
As a lifelong Democrat and two-time Obama voter, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt on Cuba, but really have no idea what the Administration's game plan might be on Cuban human rights or whether there is no particular plan, just a focus on economic engagement, which is what most interests the Cuban government. Likewise, I'm not sure about our stance now as human rights’ activists --just to keep trying to use moral suasion on human rights?

If Obama gives any more away, lifting restrictions on the embargo without getting adequate reforms in return, then what he will achieve will turn out to be counterproductive. As the Cuban former economist mentioned above puts it, He will strengthen the Castro dictatorship, make it possible for the small group that runs the country to enrich itself, buy more property, and fatten its bank accounts abroad and pass on its command over the island's government and economy to a new generation of offspring after both brothers pass on. I favor negotiation as an instrument that will help to further democratic change and the development of a private sector within the island. But the Castro regime must not be allowed to use its control over the island to enrich the descendants of its ruling circle making them, not only, the permanent rulers of the island but its neobourgeoisie as well. The problem that the Obama administration faces is how to accomplish what it seeks instead of reinforcing the parasitic control that the mayimbocracia now wields over the island and its people.
Changing subjects: while passing through the air conditioned National Building Museum from the Judiciary Square metro station to GAO, where my visitors were graduating from their government auditing program, I heard a great commotion behind high walls and saw crowds with small children waiting in line. At the suggestion of a museum guard, I went up to the 2nd floor and looked down on the huge central hall exhibit of “The Beach,” indeed looking very much like a beach where parents sat under umbrellas and children frolicked in “water” made of tiny transparent balls. They really looked like they were swimming. A hefty entrance fee was being required and I was told there was no limit on time spent. I guess if you cannot go to a real beach, this is the next best thing, certainly a novelty and apparently very popular. Who would have had such an unlikely idea and the means to carry it out? I was told the exhibit will remain all summer.

It’s become increasingly apparent that a new system is needed to reduce the access of dangerous and disgruntled people to guns. Sorry NRA, the current system is not working.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

NYC Book Reading, Chagas, DR, Cuba, Honduras, Sudan, Gun Rights, and other subjects

Lorraine and Bill D'Antonio on the occasion of their 65th wedding anniversary!
Hine Jr. High being demolished in our neighborhood to make way for commercial/residential development.

The 2 photos above were taken at an outdoor Mexican music/dance party on Capitol Hill; the young man singing in the shot below is one of 8 Hondurans at the party, all of whom have lost arms and legs after falling off Mexican trains on their way to the US. They vowed to remain in Washington until President Obama agreed to meet with them and offer job and other assistance to Honduras (Honduras is included in Obama's Central America aid package). During Peace Corps, I assisted several young men with similar injuries obtain a prosthesis after falling from Mexican trains when police approached. This group of 8 did not have US asylum, but a humanitarian status that protects them from deportation temporarily.

Here at GAO's Cultural Day, we have myself above with my visitor and GAO fellow Meshack from Kenya, another fellow and friend from Nigeria, and, below, my visitor from Zambia, Bornwell, who, like Meshack, will be soon going home.

After a neighbor submitted an anonymous complaint to the city about excessive growth in my front and back yards, I received a citation and fine threat and commandeered the help of my granddaughter (standing on the steps) and a former Peace Corps volunteer to clean things up. We have had too much rain!

Too much time has gone by since the last posting! The longer I wait, the more that accumulates, so best to just plunge in, not spend time trying to organize things, and hope that photos tell some of the story. I am trying to post comments where needed with the photos.
My talk about my Cuba book at the NYC library went well, though marred every few minutes by an overhead train speeding by next to the window. I did speak some in Spanish, as it was billed as a bilingual talk, but in 1½ hours, there is just so much time for either language. Also, I had only a few sales, as the library had laid out copies it had ordered beforehand, which several patrons borrowed for free, so that was good; readership is more important than sales.
I interpreted for another relatively young heart patient with Chagas, who like the previous one several weeks ago, was from El Salvador, having grown up living under a straw roof and not discovering she had the disease until years later (see my Honduras book, p. 159, for photo and text on Chagas).
We had another scare about a shooting at the nearby Navy Yard, but this time, thankfully, it was a false alarm.
Incredibly, Bolivian President Evo Morales gave Pope Francis a crucifix on a hammer and cycle. Is that crude symbolism or what?
News articles on the DR citizenship crisis blur the lines between recent “illegal” migrants from Haiti and Haitian-descendants born in the DR, even with families living there since 1929.

This statement by journalist Mark Phillips sums up the DR Haitian-descendant crisis, which is still ongoing: Trouble for Dominicans of Haitian descent began last year, when DR courts retroactively reversed the rule that anyone born on DR soil is entitled to citizenship. Haitians living in the DR without legal status are now considered simply in transit, meaning that any children of their children born in the DR no longer have DR citizenship. Because the rule is retroactive to 1929, it can strip Dominican citizenship from multiple generations.
Amnesty International published in the International Business Time the Op-Ed Dominican Republic’s PR spin is no balm for the suffering of the stateless https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/07/dominican-republic-s-pr-spin-is-no-balm-for-the-suffering-of-the-stateless/

Jeb Bush claims to be an honorary Latino, a designation he might have stolen from me! His wife is Mexican, he speaks fairly good Spanish (though accented, his Spanish is much better than George W’s), and he has reportedly chosen “Hispanic” as his ethnic designation on census questionnaires. He’s trying to be more Hispanic than Marco Rubio and certainly than Hillary Clinton. Now with the flap over a white woman pretending to be black, I’m hoping my latest book title, where I come out as a “secret Latina,” doesn’t give offense. In the book, I frankly admit to being of northern European heritage, with nary a drop of Latino “blood,” but also that I sometimes “pass” and even feel like an insider, especially in Latin America. When I was living in Honduras for 3½ years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I regarded other Americans almost as aliens. Call it Stockholm Syndrome or whatever, but social surroundings and expectations do influence self-identification. So I would not necessarily characterize Jeb Bush as an imposter, as I’ve had those same feelings myself.  And while I wouldn’t vote for him, he seems a cut above his brother.
President Obama is feeling pretty good after recent Supreme Ct. rulings. He also seems to be more relaxed and loosened up and looking forward to leaving the White House. Michelle has been wanting to check out for some time now. I know they will be relieved to be gone, with their new endeavors not as difficult and thankless as this one.

In a recent on-line posting (how she actually does it is pretty complicated), independent blogger Yoani Sanchez reports that now, not only are young Cubans eager to get out, but many of their retired parents are eager to join them in the US or elsewhere, tired of being left alone in their old age and just tired of waiting in lines and trying to scrape by on their miserable pensions. These older folks once supported “the revolution,” but no more.
Cholera again in Cuba, this time in Cienfuegos.

Here’s an appeal I recently received and do you imagine that I actually contributed? Contribute $10 or more to Senator Leahy's re-election campaign today, before our big June 30 end-of-quarter deadline. Help send this progressive champion back to the U.S. Senate! A lot has changed since 2003. But one thing that hasn't is Senator Leahy's commitment to tirelessly championing progressive causes. We can't afford to lose his powerful voice in the U.S. Senate. Thank you for showing your support today.

 Two South Sudanese Pastors Risk Death Penalty
On 1 March, Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Yen, who had previously been held incommunicado by the Sudanese National Intelligence Service (NISS), have been charged with eight offences under the 1991 Penal Code. Two of these offences carry the death penalty. It is believed that the two pastors were arrested and charged due to their religious convictions. The warring sides in South Sudan—each fighting for complete political control-- have also been accused of child abuse and child murder.

Our thrill over that new nation’s emergence has been obliterated by the results of their warring leaders’ inhumanity and insistence on having absolute power.

Big demonstrations have occurred against the government in Honduras:
http://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/americas/2015/06/hondurans-politics-usual-150627063425430.html  President Hernandez wants to get rid of term limits, the controversy that led to the ousting of Zelaya, and many Honduras prefer the current system of one consecutive term.


Vice President Biden met recently with Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez at the White House. Included in their discussion were the Obama Administration’s plans to promote clean energy use in Honduras and ask for development funds for the entire Central American region. The Vice President and President Hernandez reviewed joint efforts to tackle corruption, target transnational criminal networks, and promote economic prosperity and opportunity in Honduras. Specifically on energy, the Vice President emphasized the urgency of continuing implementation on Honduran energy reform and of addressing obstacles to the development of a regional energy market that would provide lower energy prices for the citizens of Central America. The Vice President also reportedly discussed the Administration’s $1 billion Fiscal Year 2016 request to Congress for Central America.
The National Peace Corps Association, to which I belong, has announced its newest destination: Cuba!  October 17-24, 2015. I suggested the visitors ask their hosts about the prospects for Peace Corps in Cuba, as per my Huffington Post article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-e-joe/peace-corps-in-cuba-you-h_b_6581182.html

The spokesman for Cuba's state communications company told the newspaper Juventud Rebelde that 35 government computer centers around the country would have Wi-Fi starting next month, and the price of one hour online would drop to $2 from $4.50 now. That price remains unaffordable for most Cubans but the change would still represent a significant improvement. Home Internet remains illegal for most of the Cuban population and online access at offices with Internet is highly limited and controlled. Until now, the only Wi-Fi network has been at tourist hotels at prices that represent nearly a quarter of the average monthly salary for Cubans.

The Cuban government is asking for an end to the journalism classes being given at the US Interests Section in Cuba and authorities continue to beat up Cubans filming “actos de repudio.”  Some actos de repudio that have gotten seriously out of hand. including a woman who had her hand completely severed and a man who had his nose broken and face smashed and bloodied. Now their images appear around the world. Don’t peaceful Cuban citizens have a right to be protected by their government? Afro-Cuban activist Antunez was beaten up and arrested when arriving at the Havana airport, but not held for very long, because of international pressure.  
A retired State Dept. employee who recently visited Cuba contends that 40% of Cuba’s GDP comes from remittances. I know remittances make up a considerable amount, but didn’t know it was that much and even that hardly makes Cubans prosperous, and even then, creates an economic divide between folks with and without relatives abroad. Likewise, tourism is a big part of GNP, as are payments for Cuban medical workers sent abroad, as well as oil subsidies, but does all that together create a sustainable economy? What happens as the Cuban-born diaspora gets older and their US-born children no longer feel the obligation to send remittances? And what about reviving Cuban agriculture, as I advocated as a Peace Corps project in Cuba in my Huffington Post article?
The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2015
Cuba After the Castros: The Likely Scenario

 The armed forces control 70% of the economy now. It’s not likely they’ll give that up for a free market.

By José Azel

The 2008 succession from Fidel to Raúl Castro was efficient and effective. But the popular hallucination outside the island—in which Gen. Castro intervenes forcefully to end the communist era and inaugurates a democratic, market-oriented Cuba—is not going to be how the story ends. Given Raúl’s age—84—there will be another succession in the near future. The critical question is not what economic reforms Raúl may introduce, but what follows him. José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party, is also 84 years old and Cuba watchers do not see him as the next leader. If Miguel Díaz-Canel, 55, the first vice president of Cuba, ascends to the presidency, he will most likely be a “civilian” figurehead for the generals to present to the international community.
Raúl was head of the armed forces for nearly 50 years and now, as head of the country, he has appointed his military officers and military family members to positions in government and industry. One possible scenario after he is gone would be a reversion to a military dictatorship such as Cuba under Batista, Brazil from 1964-85, or Egypt today. Yet another outcome, equally disquieting, is possible.
By some estimates, including the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces controls over 70% of the economy. Enterprise Management Group (GAESA), the commercial holding company for the Cuban Defense Ministry, is involved in all key sectors of the economy. Through government-owned subsidies, the company is heavily involved in tourism, retail sales, mining, farming and energy, and joint ventures with foreign investors. Raúl, as a matter of survival not ideology, has introduced some tentative economic reforms, while continuing to expand the metamorphosis of his officers into businessmen. Some might present this as a positive development, where warriors exchange their weapons for calculators. But what does it mean for the future of Cuba when the Raúl era comes to an end and military officers are in political and economic control?

In a system where enterprises are state-owned and managed, the military officers-turned-business executives will enjoy the privileges of an elite ruling class. Yet it will not take long for the military elite to realize that managing government-owned enterprises offers only limited benefits—owning the enterprises is a far more lucrative option. Once the Castro brothers are no longer in the picture, the military oligarchy might decide to champion a far-reaching but phony reform—that is, a manipulated privatization of the industries under their managerial control. Not unlike the rigged privatizations in Russia in the 1990s, an illegitimate and corrupt privatization process would give birth to a new class of government-created oligarchs—instant capitalist millionaires, the new Cuban “captains of industry.”
The Cuban population might not view these ownership changes as particularly undesirable or nefarious, mistakenly viewing them as a positive transition toward free markets and prosperity. The international community would likely also acclaim the mutated generals as agents of change bringing market reforms to Cuba. In the United States, of course, the change in U.S.-Cuba policy introduced by President Obama would be declared a success. Cuban Communism, to be sure, would come to an end, leaving in its wake generals, new captains of industry and assorted other nouveau riche in charge of country devoid of democratic culture. And like Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s economy would be riddled with monopolies and oligopolies whose owners would have the power to stifle any pro-competitive policies or international investors that might threaten their position.

HAVANA, June 17 (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro's son has emerged as one of his father's closest aides, taking on an increasingly important role reminiscent of the one Raul used to play for his older brother Fidel Castro. Alejandro Castro Espin, 49, is a colonel in Cuba's interior ministry and was until recently a little-seen figure. As his father has moved to improve relations with the United States after decades of hostility, however, his son has been right by his side.

When Raul Castro, 84, met with U.S. President Barack Obama in a historic encounter at a regional summit in Panama in April, Alejandro Castro Espin was part of the small group in the room. It was unknown what role the son may have played in the 18 months of secret negotiations leading up to the announcement of detente by both presidents last December.

"Clearly Raul is grooming him for more responsibilities, probably higher office and/or rank," said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst who has closely followed the Castros for decades.

Does the internet offer self-radicalization opportunities without leadership in Cuba—like with ISIS? Maybe that's one reason internet access is so limited in Cuba.
I should have known that Cuban exchange rates—local currency per dollar—were not reflective of any market forces, as Cuba doesn’t have a market economy. Rather, as a Cuban economist explained it to me, that it takes a lot of Cuban pesos to get a dollar and prices in government dollar stores are two or three times what they would be elsewhere anyway. Increasingly, less and less is covered by the ration book, so Cubans must get necessities in dollar stores with their elevated prices. The only way for them to survive is through remittances, which then go into government coffers, where the Castro family lives very well and the military don’t do too badly (to assure their loyalty), but the population is impoverished and money is sucked out of the diaspora to support the lavish lifestyle of the Castro family.
Antonio Castro, Fidel's youngest son, while on vacation, arrived in Turkey from Greece aboard a 150-ft. yacht. To house his entourage, he reportedly booked five suites at a $1,000 per night hotel. When Turkish reporters filmed him eating at a fancy restaurant, he sent out his security squad to rough up the reporters and try to seize their cameras.

Obviously, many diaspora Cubans believe both Obama and the pope (and cardinal) are giving too much legitimacy to the Cuban regime. I am not sure that the more conciliatory policy will bear fruit in terms of civil and political rights for Cubans--it's been discouraging that China and Vietnam still have executions, censorship, political prisoners, suppression of minorities, and a one-party system, lo, these decades after moving toward capitalist economics. Obama just welcomed a high-profile visitor from Vietnam, Communist party secretary general Nguyen Phu Trong. Maybe we simply have to accept that and be glad their citizens at least have more economic rights and opportunities than before and that we are not at war. Maybe things would have been worse for their people if we had maintained hostilities--and the same with Cuba?
There has been criticism of South Africa’s government for allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), to leave the country in defiance of a court order. It is very hard to get a sitting head-of-state or even a living former one to face justice for his crimes. Only in death, does world opinion judge them harshly.
I’ve tried to see the position of gun-rights’ advocates. I know they enjoy killing wild animals, not something I would necessarily endorse, but could tolerate—I do eat meat on occasion, though minimally, and would like that meat to be humanely raised and killed, something that may not actually be happening. But I am definitely against people killing or injuring other innocent people with guns, though, again, guns-rights advocates would say guns are protective and prevent such killings. Given the excessive proliferation of guns in our country, there may be certain times when having a personal firearm has proved protective, but those relatively few occasions are outweighed by the harm that firearms allow otherwise. All of us are in danger from acts of random or calculated shooters with a grudge or grievance or just being careless. If we could vastly reduce the number of guns, such dangers would be reduced and personal gun protection would become less necessary. Unfortunately, now, with the proliferation of guns in this country, odds are that they will kill or injure more people than they protect. Studies have shown that where more people have guns, gun deaths rise, but most of those deaths are apparently either do to suicides or deaths in a family or among people who know each other. Having a gun apparently doesn’t affect the chances of being killed by a stranger one way or the other.
Human beings, especially young men fueled by testosterone and prone to impulsive or angry behavior, or with a grudge or terrorist motives, are likely to keep using guns to kill innocent people. After-the-fact, we call them mentally ill, but mental illness is not a concrete category always identifiable beforehand and it also can apply to millions at some point in their lives. In addition, there are so-called “crimes of passion,” as well as gun suicides (which actually outnumber gun homicides) and frequent gun accidents involving both children and adults. Nor is registration the answer, as we cannot necessarily predict who will misuse a gun before it happens and it’s fairly easy for those supposedly denied gun permits to get firearms (the South Carolina shooter bought a gun despite his criminal record). With fewer guns in circulation, there would be dramatically fewer gun deaths, as has been shown in other advanced countries. We need to try to counter the American “gun culture” that has led to so many unnecessary deaths and injuries. The Second Amendment needs to return to its original meaning by applying the “right to bear arms” only to their use in a “well-regulated militia.” The Supreme Court needs to “evolve” on this issue, as it often has on others, and not let this carnage continue. Perhaps a majority of citizens would back more gun control, but they are stymied, like voters here in the District of Columbia, where we have overwhelmingly approved tougher gun control laws, which have been halted by the current Supreme Court’s short-sighted interpretation of the Second Amendment. Of course, President Obama’s recent remarks on doing something about gun deaths have only prompted the gun loving minority to amass even bigger arsenals. http://news.yahoo.com/guns-dont-deter-crime-study-finds-180710261.html#
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/california-woman-hunger-app-feeds-575k-people-article-1.2267888 A California woman’s hunger app feeds more than 575K people. When companies or event planners have leftover food, this organization passes the food along instead of throwing it away with a Feeding Forward mobile app.

Have the Greeks ever considered adopting the American dollar? At this juncture, that might be difficult, but other countries have done it—El Salvador, Ecuador, Panama, Zimbabwe. Of course, they have no say on US monetary policy affecting the rise and fall of the dollar.

Obama had some recent victories with the Supreme Court on Obamacare and gay marriage, decisions I would support, though my 2 African visitors are arguing that the Bible prohibits homosexuality.  Mores do change—single motherhood and casual sex are more accepted now—look at Bristol Palin with her 2nd out-of-wedlock child.
My visitor from Kenya is from the same ancestral village as Obama’s father.
Donald Trump has provided some comic relief in the Republican presidential race. He is not likely to get the Hispanic vote, though he does seem popular among a fairly substantial segment of Republican voters.
Saw an intriguing bilingual production at the Gala Hispanic Theater of Las Polacas, The Jewish Girls of Buenos Aires.