Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late Son’s Birthday, Papal Visit, Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, DR, El Chapo, Baby Mittens, Planned Parenthood Again, Squirrel

At my last posting, made on Sept. 4, the birthday of my late son Andrew who died in 1994, I decided to make no mention of him on that date, because some people—even myself sometimes--think I should be “over” his death. It’s been almost 21 years, but seems like only yesterday. He would have been 48 on his birthday— impossible, as for me, he will always be only 27. Well, I tried forgetting and simply cannot, so I’ll mention him now after all. Andrew, we still miss you!

Here, 2 days after Andrew's birthday, with that anniversary past, I'm having lunch with friends at a local Cuban restaurant.
For almost three days, Washington was besieged by Pope-mania. Of course, the Pope visiting DC is always a huge event, but Francis is a rock star, so the frenzy was bigger than ever. I avoided the crowds, though his parade passed close by. A young Hungarian woman staying with me, though she is Protestant, made the effort and actually saw him. The closest I ever got was to the papal cut-out where you saw me before.
Benedict was here not so long ago and during the Carter White House, with my late then-husband I met John Paul II in 1979 at an outdoor reception on White House grounds. When I say “met,” it was only to kiss his ring and say “hello” because I was tongue-tied. What do you say to a pope? “Pleased to meet you”?  I will focus more the pope’s Cuba trip, as already I’m straining the eyes of my readers as usual with my wordiness.
Now, instead of blaming the US government (“the Empire”) for supporting dissidents financially and morally, the Cuban regime is blaming rightwing Cubans and other anticommunists in the US, so dissidents are still considered disloyal enemy agents. By opposing the “Revolution,” they are, by definition, enemies of the established order. Cuban officials point out that the US also seeks out and punishes those who would seek to overthrow the government and do harm. The difference is that American efforts are focused on those who seek to do physical harm, to use force to destroy, kill, or maim. Cuban dissidents are peaceful. Furthermore, our government, for all its faults and dysfunctions, is elected by the people—not so, the Cuban leadership. Also, our leadership changes at set intervals. None has lasted more than half a century.
Felipe Kast, a Chilean legislative member visiting Cuba with a trade talk delegation, joining a Sunday march of the Women in White, was arrested and briefly detained before being taken to the airport and put on a plane back to Chile.
A number of news and information outlets, including the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, and the Foreign Policy Initiative, have criticized Pope Francis for not having more forcefully and directly reached out to dissidents or mentioned the lack of freedoms and political prisoners in Cuba during his visit. He was following the pattern of Cardinal Jaime Ortega who has made slow progress by being non-confrontational. Should the Pope and the Cardinal be pushing harder or is the progress the church has made due to their less threatening approach to the regime? When I was in Cuba, the Cardinal (then Archbishop) and his associates felt the gradual approach was their only option. But some of the cardinal’s recent statements, such as that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, seem to go beyond the requirements of cooperation. For Francis’s visit, the streets were cleared of dissidents and beggars and, unlike when he was in the US, the pope apparently did not ask to visit any prisoners.
From Time:

"Pope Francis also denied knowledge of dissidents who were arrested trying to meet him. Asked if he had wanted to meet dissidents in Cuba, and what he would have wanted to say to them, the Pope demurred, declining to answer hypothetical questions. Reports have indicated that some 50 dissidents were arrested outside the Holy See’s embassy where Pope Francis stayed in Havana. Pope Francis added that he declined numerous requests for private audiences, including those from heads of state."
 Pope John Paul II was certainly more forthright when he visited Cuba.
The relationship between the Castro regime and religion has evolved, just as has the Cuba/US relationship:
From Reuters: Sept, 14, 2015

Cuba detains dissidents ahead of Pope Francis visit

Cuban police detained about 50 people when a predominantly Roman Catholic dissident group led a march in Havana on Sunday, less than a week before Pope Francis visits the communist-ruled country.

Such detentions have become common following regular Sunday marches by the Ladies in White, a group that has criticized the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega for failing to advocate on its behalf with the Cuban government.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler told Reuters the women planned to attend masses that Pope Francis will lead in Havana and Holguin while in Cuba from Sept. 19-22. The pope will also visit Santiago de Cuba.

"I would discuss with the pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public," Soler said.

Cuba's government considers the dissidents to be provocateurs who are financed by anti-communist groups in the United States as part of an effort to destabilize the government in Havana.

In their weekly rally following mass at Havana's Santa Rita Catholic Church, about 40 of the women, accompanied by about a dozen male supporters, marched outside their authorized route and down a side street where they were set upon by some 200 government supporters and police. Female police pushed, pulled and carried the women onto buses as some sat down in an attempt to resist. The men were handcuffed and shoved into police cars and vans.

Similar incidents have occurred over the last few months, with those detained soon released. Dissidents have said about 100 people are typically detained each Sunday across Cuba.

In August, Cuban police detained 768 dissidents of all stripes for political activity, the highest monthly total so far this year, according to the dissident Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Among those detained on Sunday was Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident organization. He was released about an hour later.

"The Church should be concerned about this or any time human rights are involved," Ferrer said after police handcuffed him, took him to a station and later dropped him off at a bus terminal. "It is their duty."

The Church says it advocates for human rights with the government, but cannot take up partisan political causes. Women marching peacefully and silently carrying gladioli are partisan? I suppose, just by doing that, they are defined as partisan by the Cuban government, but should the Church agree?
 Over 140 dissidents, including Women in White, were arrested in Cuba during a celebration of a feast of Cuba’s patroness, the Copper Virgin. 
Meanwhile, 64 Cuban boat people were returned to Cuba by the US Coast Guard.

APNewsBreak: US weighs abstention on Cuba embargo vote at UN [That would be in line with Obama’s expressed desire to loosen or eliminate the embargo.]
Cuban university students are now studying English. Not so many years ago, it was Russian.
The US State Department offered to provide a fiber-optic cable from Miami to Havana to boost internet service on the island, but the Cuban government turned down the offer. Cuba has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates in the world.
According to a recent NY Times article, Pope Francis Faces a Challenge in Opening Cuba to the Church (NY Times, Sept. 18, 2015) Pope Francis, who will arrive in Havana on Saturday, knows the complexities of coexisting with repressive authorities from his own experiences in the 1970s, when Argentina was ruled by the military.
However, in my opinion, as oppressive and murderous as the Argentine military was in the 1970s, it was nothing compared to the Cuban military back in the 1970s or even now. While the Times may not be exactly comparing apples and oranges, it’s comparing an elephant with a mouse. Certainly, the Argentine military “disappeared” people who challenged its rule and despicably placed their surviving children in the families of their supporters. However, the everyday surveillance of all citizens, 20-30-year prison terms meted out after kangaroo trials, and wholesale executions were not part of the life of most ordinary Argentine citizens. If Pope Francis uses the experience of life under the Argentine military as his guide to understanding Cuba, he will get a glimmer, but not the whole picture.
I was expecting Cuba to release prisoners before the papal visit, as that has happened before. However, those considered to have violated "state security," that is, political prisoners, were not released, for example, irreverent performance artists Gorki Aguila and El Sexto. In the past, older and ailing prisoners have been released apparently to avoid having to care for them. In any case, more than 3,500 were reportedly released.
The new rules will allow American companies to open locations in Cuba and will clarify how they can conduct transactions and finance operations there.
If, as the article states, US companies would be able to hire and pay Cuban workers directly (as happens in China and Viet Nam), that would be an enormous change. It would mean that workers would no longer be vetted through the Communist Party and would be able to keep more of their earnings. The system now, with exchange rates between dollars and local currency set by the Cuban leadership to benefit themselves and basically impoverish workers and with all outside investment, including the choice of workers (no dissidents need apply) funneled through the Cuban political elite and military, there is little benefit to Cuban workers, the majority of whose earnings they never see. The Cuban government calls this socialism; other commentators call it slave labor. I'm not sure what our stance as Amnesty would be.   
Must comment on a discussion I heard on BBC early on one recent morning. British commentators on the pope's visit to Cuba praised his role in facilitating US-Cuba relations and helping the US to jettison its "rigid ideology and the spectacle of a big, powerful country picking on a small one." That, I fear, is a common misperception of our previous Cuba policy (also held by many in Amnesty circles) and why the change has been haled around the world. Rightly or wrongly, the US embargo and democracy efforts in Cuba were designed not to punish Cuba for having a different and more generous "socialist" government ideology, but because its own rigid ideology A) was leading to economic disaster, benefiting only a few at the top, B) did not reflect the collective will of the Cuban people, C) was resulting in beatings, arrests, unfair trials, and incarceration of peaceful protestors, and D) was causing much distress to Cubans, especially to young people, propelling them to try to escape and also leading to one of the highest suicide and lowest birth rates in the world and certainly in Latin America. The US was "picking" on Cuba because its government was hurting its own people, not because of some abstract principle or a desire to exercise power. Is that so? Or am I missing something? How do you counteract a view that has become accepted and acceptable as something that "everyone" knows?
As a fellow Amnesty International member has commented: And for years the vast numbers of people escaping the island -- whether to the USA, Haiti, Bahamas or death as the Gulf Stream carried them out to sea -- has made no impression on the pro-Castro crowd.  As if all of this voting by homemade floatcraft in response to a "rigid ideology" as actually endured by human beings up to and beyond the limits of desperation has no meaning and makes no difference whatsoever. 
Cuba’s VII Communist Party Congress has been announced for April 2016. Certainly there will be a lot of current and potential changes to discuss. If Raul Castro actually throws the discussion open instead of dictating policy as he has previously, it should be interesting to see the emergence of political rifts that supposed insiders tell me do exist within the party leadership (not surprisingly).
Just copying the headline below. We already know the problem, but not how to tackle it. It doesn't help that Donald Trump, on the presidential stump here, talks about a border wall, wholesale deportations, and ending birthright citizenship. None of that is going to happen, but some Americans may feel sympathy for those officials deporting people from the DR to Haiti.
FEATURE-Haiti border crisis grows as Dominican Republic expels 'migrants'-Reuters - Sat. 19 Sep 2015
The 8 Hondurans I met after they lost arms and legs falling off a Mexican train headed north are still in DC. According to the Spanish-language Washington Hispanic, in an article headlined Mutilated by the Beast (Mutilados por la Bestia) referring to that train, they are all on a hunger strike in front of the White House, asking for more job-creation aid to Honduras. Honduras has been included in a Central America aid package, but not in the amount this group considers sufficient or necessarily destined for job-creation.
I showed this photo before of a young man who lost both his right arm and right leg, singing lustily. He is still in DC, now on a White House hunger strike.
Chikungunya, a friend in Honduras tells me his whole family came down with it and are still feeling joint pain, especially in fingers and toes. It’s a mosquito-borne virus with no vaccine or medication available. How did this disease suddenly spread all over the developing world and even the southern US?
I received photos of Santa Lucia by my friend Irma, director of the adult blind training center there, sparking nostalgic memories of its quaint cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings. Yes, Honduras has much poverty, crime, and corruption, but it also has peaceful oases like Santa Lucia.
Might the surprise resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina trigger a Latin American spring? Many area leaders, left, right, and center, have waning popular support and must be shoring up their defenses to stay in power. Only the Cuban leadership seems unworried, as it doesn’t hold competitive elections, has no free press or internet, and now feels the US is in its corner. Indeed, the US seems to be coming down harder on Maduro in Venezuela than on Cuba, whose objective record on human rights over the last half century is much worse, maybe trying to drive a wedge between them?
Now Europe is experiencing a migrant crisis similar to ours last year when Central American kids amassed at our southern border. Human compassion requires giving them shelter but also means more will undertake the dangerous journey. That many of the migrants/refugees to Europe are Muslim complicates matters further, though many of the Syrians, at least, seem fairly well educated and many speak English. Those qualities are pluses. The new arrivals may help balance Europe’s aging demographics, just as immigrants from Latin America have helped the US, Donald Trump notwithstanding. But, at the same time, the receiving nation has a limit on how many it can absorb in a short time.
For a high-security inmate like “El Chapo” Guzman in Mexico or even the 2 guys who escaped a NY State prison, my though is that each could be fitted with an ankle bracelet in addition to being locked up. That way, even when not immediately visible by the guards, their whereabouts could be tracked and any tampering with the bracelet also registered. I mention that only because as an interpreter, I’ve had clients wearing such bracelets.
I suspect that VP Joe Biden’s decision on whether to make a presidential bid depends not so much on his emotional recovery from his son’s death, as on whether the money and political support he needs is really out there. If Biden were the Democratic presidential candidate, I would not hesitate to vote for him, but, based on his past performance in presidential contests, even with the sympathy vote, I don’t see him making the cut. Of course, I’d vote for any Democrat for president except for Patrick Leahy. If Leahy ran--rather unlikely--I’d have to sit on my hands. There is no Democrat, including Hillary and Bernie Sanders, about whom I am wildly enthusiastic, but I would vote for either as none of the Republican field is appealing.  Bernie is Jewish, so that would be a first. Hillary, obviously, would the first woman president. If any Republican gets elected, let’s hope the realities of the office will moderate their actions.

In Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia except for Japan and South Korea, tap water is not fit to drink. That’s most of the world, so, no wonder my overseas visitors always buy and drink only bottled water. I assure them the water is OK, but they are hesitant. Even my son’s wife from Micronesia insists on bottle water, though the water where they live in Hawaii is fine.
While on the subject of my son, Jon, shown again above with his baby, as well as the baby alone and with Aunt Stephanie, I’ll now get on my blog soapbox again. I was horrified to see the baby wearing mittens. I fought against that as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras—it was something practiced mostly by middle-class mothers who wanted to keep their babies from sucking thumbs and fingers. Sucking, I assured them, is a normal infant instinct and survival mechanism that should not be thwarted. Most children give it up between ages 2 and 4 and unless the sucking continues constantly and vigorously at those ages, teeth are not affected. Babies need to develop eye-hand coordination and the use of their hands (as I learned after 14 years working the occupational therapists’ association), so hands must not be restricted. My son said they had been afraid their baby would scratch himself, as it was hard to cut his nails, but, he soon assured me, they had cut them and taken the gloves off.
The restrictive quality of gloves is even more pronounced for blind people, who navigate so much with their hands and use them to read braille. I still remember a totally blind girl at the residential school in Tegucigalpa who begged me for gloves, which I duly brought her and which she eagerly put on, for what purpose, I don’t know, as they blunted the feeling in her hands and certainly were not needed in the city’s balmy weather.
I actually dreamed about Donald Trump, showing how much he has entered into our collective consciousness. He is still going great guns, saying things aloud, even sometimes shouting them, expressing opinions that some Americans wished they dared to say themselves. A sort of fortress America policy vision is emerging, something that Trump himself may be making up as he goes along, as he hasn’t apparently given it much forethought. But his surge in opinion polls may force him to better define his positions. Not only does he want closed borders, but also to avoid trade, keeping production and commerce all in-house. Apparently, our military would guard our borders from attack but not venture abroad. It seems like a vision circa 1900, which is where many of his followers would like to see our nation return. He also appeals to the infant in us all, free to express whatever emotions arise without restraint or forethought. But, at last, his star may be starting to fade.
I think of another blustery media star who made it in politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected as the unlikely governor of California. He actually didn’t do too badly by having good advisers and steering a moderate course. He was not quite so flamboyant and undisciplined as Trump, but similarly inexperienced in governance, though he did have a politically connected wife and managed to learn on the job. Trump is older and, as president, would be operating in a much vaster realm, so that even the thought is scary. He seems like a bull in a china shop, so we would just be lucky if he spared some things from destruction. On the other hand, by being unpredictable, by having frequent temper tantrums and other outbursts, he would really puzzle and frighten our foes—and our friends as well—sort of like Kim Jong Un. We are all waiting for this absurdity to stop, for Trump to crash, but what if he doesn’t?
Regarding my previous comments on abortion, especially late-term abortions, fetal development experts have found that learning begins in the womb, especially during the last trimester through hearing, taste, and smell. Surely a fetus at that stage has sensation and perhaps some budding awareness and is deserving of full protection. However, a woman writing recently in the Washington Post about her abortion at 21 weeks, in opposition to a 20-week ban, reported that her unborn child had a condition incompatible with life, so she chose to have an abortion at that stage rather than wait for full term if the baby would die anyway. I suspect that post-20-week abortions are never done lightly. Of course, there could always be arguments about what constitutes a sufficiently serious situation for going ahead at that stage. I’d still like to see the national consensus on first trimester abortions put that issue beyond political dispute, but to see more restrictions thereafter where consensus goes in the other direction; then maybe we can stop arguing about abortion and Planned Parenthood? Because another government shutdown on the issue now looms. And no federal money goes to that organization for abortions anyway, to my knowledge.
Finally, and maybe this looks a little gross, but I saw something blocking a roof drainage canal outside my 3rd-floor office window. Reaching out with my hand encased in a plastic bag, I found a desiccated squirrel, one of those annoying creatures running around on my roof, chewing up pieces of wood and roof shingles—or so it appears from the debris. My workman friend tried to shut them out of one space, but they knocked down his barrier. They are determined critters, but this one had gone to squirrel heaven.

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