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

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:  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

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. 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.


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