Friday, December 4, 2015

Cuba Issues, Venezuela, Refugees, Other Items, Gun Violence, Life Span

Cuba Issues, Venezuela, Refugees, Other Items, Gun Violence, Life Span
Good news, una buena noticia. Amnesty International's Cuban prisoner of conscience, Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, whose US visa was initially denied by the US Embassy in Havana, is now in the US. El Sexto, as you will recall, was imprisoned for 10 months without charge and on hunger strike after being arrested last December for performance art inspired by Animal Farm (a banned book in Cuba); he had painted the names “Raul” and “Fidel” on two piglets. After his release, his request for a visa was denied by the US Embassy in Havana, a decision he posted on Facebook. Due to many efforts, that decision was declared a mistake and was reversed, so now he is in Miami. He had originally been invited to Art Basel, an international art show in Miami starting on Thurs., but his name was not on the program because of the visa delay, though someone paid his way to Miami and he apparently showed up the show. He is scheduled to join us in Washington, DC, at the Amnesty International office on Human Rights Day, December 10, for a group lettering writing event.

Posted: 01 Dec 2015 06:30 AM PST
There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression. The wave of Cuban migration you're seeing in the crisis in Central America right now is the strongest indication of that.
-- Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto"), young Cuban artist and Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience," who recently spent 10 months in prison for a critical performance, WLRN, 11/30/15
Article about El Sexto’s receipt of Vaclav Havel Award in Miami and participation in Art Basel

GENEVA (November 24, 2015) — Yesterday, Human Rights Foundation (HRF) submitted a petition and legal report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (U.N. Special Rapporteur), requesting that he send an allegation letter to the government of Cuba regarding the inconsistencies of the government’s official investigation into the death of Oswaldo PayĆ” in 2012. HRF documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system.

My readers probably know about the Cubans, now some 4,000, who have gathered at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, which recently decided not to permit passage, although it has been going on all year. Now that Ecuador has stopped automatically allowing Cubans to travel there without a visa, that outflow will end. The latest idea is to airlift the Cubans over Nicaragua. Who will organize and pay for that? The US has stayed out of public comment on the situation, seeming to prefer having Central Americans find their own solution.

The question that needs to be asked is: If [Cuban migrants] can obtain $15,000, why do they prefer to invest it in a dangerous escape, rather than in creating a business or prospering in their own country? The answer is painful and overwhelming: because here there are no guarantees, nor hope and because their lifespan is not long enough to wait for the fulfillment of promises of a better tomorrow, which are like the horizon: moving farther away every time we are near touching them.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio, 11/21/15 .

Highlights from the Atlantic Council's Heartland poll include:
·         Republicans' View: Despite a negative view of Cuba, the majority of Republicans favor the restoration of diplomatic relations and lifting the travel ban. 
·         Trade Embargo: 58 percent of Heartland voters support ending the trade embargo -- Ohio was the largest majority with 70 percent. 60 percent of voters believe that ending the embargo would benefit US agriculture.
·         Travel Restrictions: Nearly seven in ten Heartland voters (67 percent) want all travel restrictions to be lifted, including 66 percent of Independents and a majority of Republicans. 
·         Engagement -- the Best Option: Over six in ten voters in each state -- and 68 percent of overall Heartland poll respondents -- agree that the United States did the right thing in reestablishing relations in July.
Follow along on Twitter: #ACOpenCuba

However, critics of that poll say it was a very select and tiny sample of mid-west agricultural producers wanting to increase exports to Cuba, chosen to obtain the desired outcome. The poll only surveyed 150 people in each state. Any poll with such a small sample size is universally considered unreliable. 
I did not see Alan Gross on “60 Minutes” because I don’t have TV. His release was the only tangible benefit to the US from the Obama/Raul Castro accords so far.;_ylt=AwrC1CrzclhWOB8AczXQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--------------------------------------------
I volunteered to translate some documents for a Venezuelan woman applying for asylum here after she was fired, repeatedly threatened, and physically attacked more than once after joining Partido Popular, the political of imprisoned Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez five years before. Legislative elections in Venezuela are scheduled for Sunday.
Commentators not enamored of the leadership of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Brazil think Macri’s victory in Argentina may signal a trend in the other direction, while those sympathetic to those regimes take pains to characterize Macri as “rightwing” and his victory as just a fluke. Of course, there is just so much he can do to reverse the previous course.

Pope Francis visited Kenya, where a national holiday was declared.

At a recent parent-teacher meeting at a local school, where I was an interpreter, a son’s academic performance had reportedly fallen precipitously after his father was deported, a sad, but not surprising, result of an abrupt family separation.

A very skilled carpenter from Honduras working for me brought along as helpers his teenage son and step-son, both from the Yoro province of Honduras. The boys are now together in the same 11th-grade class. The son came first, presenting himself at the border, saying he was looking for his father. He was held in detention in Texas for a month, then the father went to pick him up. Next, the step-son followed--my carpenter's wife is his mother--but he was detained 7 months before his release. The carpenter and his wife also have a younger American-born daughter, a not atypical Hispanic family configuration. The boys had not seen their parents for more than 10 years.  

According to my friend at the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute, Syrian and Iraqi Christians are not even in the refugee resettlement stream because they don’t stay in refugee camps, being subject to persecution and isolation by majority Muslim refugees there.  Instead, they may be assisted by local churches or local humanitarian organizations, or simply create their own informal settlements. So, the idea of accepting only Christian refugees, put forward by some countries and US states, would be hard to implement. But, she told me, a group of Christians is on its way to Slovakia, which has expressed a willingness to accept only Christians.

While we feel immense sympathy for Syrian children being rescued (or for those drowning) in turbulent seas, those same youngsters ten years hence could become objects of suspicion and subjects of radicalization efforts. Will some of today’s appealing young refugee kids become tomorrow’s alienated teens and young adults, vulnerable perhaps to jihadist appeals? Or, at least, feared to have possibly become vulnerable? It’s a vicious circle—because they are suspect, they feel stigmatized and may then actually become dangerously alienated. It has happened, including to Somali kids growing up in Minneapolis. Few Muslims are terrorists, but a disproportionate share of terrorists turn out to be Muslims all around the world. There is a whole ideology and network supporting them and they are willing to die for their beliefs. The Hungarian prime minister has pointed out that 2 of the Paris attackers came to Europe just in October’s Syrian refugee stream. Of course, they needed to have support from jihadist sympathizers already in Paris to carry out their attacks. And it’s also true that while 99% of Syrian refugees are not jihadists nor likely to become radicalized, it takes only a handful to wreak havoc and death.

To a much lesser degree and extent, a similar to vicious circle is happening in low-income majority black and Latino communities here in the US—people living there are suspect, so they have fewer opportunities, then they commit more crimes, making them more suspect as a group.

South Korea’s per capita economic output is reportedly 20 times that of North Korea. North Koreans are, on average shorter than their southern compatriots and their average life expectancy is several years shorter.

Perhaps now, the Russians will become the West’s allies in the Middle East, as happened against the Nazis in World War II?

The American woman killed in the terrorist attack on a Mali hotel, Anita Data, was a former Peace Corps volunteer. Another American was killed in the Paris attack. There have also been attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon. It seems jihadists are going all-out now to hurt and scare people all over the world. Of course, Washington, DC, is on the target list.

Here at home, gun violence continues with the shooting near a Planned Parenthood clinic, obviously by someone who should not have had firearms. If, indeed, his rampage was motivated by anti-abortion sentiments, killing people hardly makes sense. Now, his deed has been eclipsed by the San Bernardino killings. There is a reason that the rate of gun deaths in the US is many times greater than in any other developed nation—we must be doing something wrong. Having a lot of people armed is not preventing gun deaths. In Georgia, a 6-year-old girl finds a gun hidden under a couch cushion and kills herself. Enough said. Guns, improperly handled and stored, obviously are lethal. A man in South Carolina possesses over 12,000 guns, many stolen. What is to be done? Hand-wringing and prayers are insufficient. I am just grateful that the handgun that went off when preteen boys were playing with it (after finding it at a father’s bedside) only injured my then-11-year-old son Jonathan in the foot, a painful injury, but one from which he thankfully recovered.

If humankind keeps extending the average lifespan (despite gun violence, wars, and terrorism), using more medical and other resources to do it, then world population will keep growing older and using up more resources. Does each of us have an obligation to live a limited lifespan, to limit our time occupying this earth? Population is growing now not only because of infant births and child survival, but because of elder survival (myself included), often thanks to expensive medical interventions, not only lifetime drugs, but joint replacements, pacemakers, stents, dental implants, hearing aids, and cataract removal. What about putting a consensus cap on a normal lifespan, say 100 years, after which extraordinary measures will not be taken to prolong a life—no more surgery or heroic measures, just palliative care, with pain and infection relief—could that be supported? Of course, I can afford to contemplate a 100-year life span now, being far from that age, but as each of us approaches it, we might change our mind.