Monday, February 1, 2016

Winter with a Vengeance, Jimmy Carter, Trump, Honduras-bound Again, Peace Corps Exits El Salvador, Sandinista Textbooks, Cuba, MLKing Day, Interpretation Challenges

Daughter Stephanie on recent India trip

Scenes from Snowzilla

Recent visiting Zambian graphic artist Milumbe giving talk at Smithsonian Museum of African Art 

A few years ago, I missed Snowmaggedon in DC because I was in Honduras, but when I came back last time on March 5, 2015, there was a lot of snow and my daughter was unable to pick me up at the airport, though fortunately, metro was still operating. This past weekend, the snowstorm was called Snowzilla and even metro was shut down. We in DC were snowbound, big time. Still, out the window, I saw a man riding a bike out on a plowed street. Some good Samaritan shoveled my front steps. Everything was closed, school stores, banks, and the federal government, though a few buses were running.

As I had expected and predicted, former President Carter’s virulent cancer has not been eradicated completely and his treatment may need to be ongoing.

Donald Trump is certainly a showman and an entertainer, improvisational, fun, funny, and ridiculous. His demeanor is the opposite of what we would expect from a statesman. If by some fluke he were actually elected president, unless he sobered up, public life would be unpredictable and chaotic and the public would soon tire of his antics. Other political leaders here and abroad would be flummoxed about how to deal with him. I thought GW Bush was pretty clueless, but he at least made an effort to appear presidential. Trump is off the charts. It’s hard to imagine him getting elected—“When I’m elected, everything’s going to be great again.” But if ever that happened, both Trump and the electorate would sober up pretty quickly.  Trump himself never smiles for the camera—usually, he’s squinting and scowling, maybe trying to look serious? Even if he’s not elected, he seems to have enjoyed his notoriety and it probably can help his business. He has a big project underway in downtown DC, converting a lovely historic postal building into a hotel. A huge sign erected outside the renovations just says TRUMP!

I foresee a highly plausible political compromise on immigration reform after the presidential election, whoever wins (even Trump), namely that most undocumented people established here will not be deported, but also will not have a path to citizenship (where they might become Democratic voters). For most, that will be sufficient, as actually becoming a citizen is a fairly arduous and expensive proposition that most would not undertake anyway. It might be better if they did, as they would become more invested in this country, but that’s not likely to occur politically. Their children will have to fulfill citizenship duties.

Meanwhile, undocumented people continue arriving, including unaccompanied minors.

People have asked me whom I plan to vote for. Well, that depends on who the Democratic candidate is. None of the likely Republicans attracts me in the least. Maybe a minor one like Gov. Kasich is less objectionable, but I cannot get behind any of them. I’m not wildly enthused about the Democratic choices either. Senator Sanders appears to be a very honest, straightforward, likeable kind of guy with whom I would agree in theory about the desirability of universal health care, free college tuition, and other issues, but I also must agree with Hillary Clinton (and, apparently, the NYTimes)that many such measures are unrealistic given the range of opinion represented by the actual electorate and its political representatives. Of course, saying they are unrealistic makes that a self-fulfilling prophesy. At the same time, the weight of current public opinion is not on Sanders’ side, alas. Unless we had massive revolution in public opinion, a President Sanders would face even more gridlock than Obama has. But if he should win the presidential nomination, I’d certainly vote for him. Or how about a Clinton-Sanders ticket? Is that even a possibility? That would be a winner.

Back to Honduras again in Feb., my 12th return trip since leaving Peace Corps there 12 years ago. I won’t be posting on this blog again until March 2016 at the earliest. If you check the weather for Choluteca and El Triunfo on line, you will see that I do not exaggerate about temperatures there at this time of year--every day, a high around 100F, even as high as 102. It's hard to even think straight at those temperatures, but I will do my best, because I need to go south to see if we can revive the library project I started there in Peace Corps. That's really debilitating heat--no wonder folks in southern Honduras don't seem very energetic. Honduras cannot tolerate additional global warming, except maybe in La Esperanza and other high elevations. Yikes, not only is there a new mosquito-borne plague, Zika, actually apparently a new form of dengue, in addition to Chikingula, so those are new risks. Also, people have been telling me about 3 Americans students participating in medical brigade not so different from mine being killed in a bus crash. Well, yes, I already know about it.

Honduran authorities recently rescued 27 Cuban rafters off the north coast. When I was in the Peace Corps, occasional Cuban rafters would wash up on Honduran shores. Some would stay in Honduras, while others headed north.

Speaking of Honduras, I just got a surprise call from a Honduran father of 9, nicknamed Betio, a threatened environmental activist, whom I helped obtain political asylum 11 years ago. He moved from the DC area to the outskirts of Houston, where the cost of living is cheaper, and still has 5 kids living at home. He and two sons work in construction. He is 55 years old, so I don’t know how long he can keep it up. In Honduras, he mostly farmed and planted trees.

Not surprisingly, the Peace Corps has now suspended its program in El Salvador because of security concerns. Probably that’s the first step in pulling out entirely, as happened in Honduras. As in Honduras, the pressure to do so is probably a combination of increased actual danger and pressure from parents of young volunteers. If the history of such pullouts is any guide, most volunteers will resist leaving their local communities and will argue that they know how to protect themselves in that environment. In Honduras and elsewhere, some volunteers have actually stayed on stubbornly on their own.

Someone gave me 3 Sandinista-era school textbooks, circa 1979, with exhortations to support the revolution, “long live the FSLN” (Sandinista Party), and praise for a revolutionary hero fighting against the imperialists, Carlos Fonseca. Photos are shown of militant children marching in school uniforms with neck scarves, looking much like uniforms still worn by Cuban schoolkids. Seeing those books fills me with a certain nostalgia for a more innocent time. I remember how Nicaraguans felt soon after Somoza’s overthrow—wildly hopeful and excited, only to fall into despair when reality and promises did not match expectations and when the Sandinistas began cracking down on every aspect of life, failing especially in the economic realm. Although I wasn’t in Cuba right after the revolution, I suspect something similar went on there, except that the aftermath and its dire consequences have lasted so much longer, generations really. Is it any wonder that most ordinary Cubans see no future in their country and would leave if they could? The whole revolutionary process seems akin to “falling in love,” whereby emotion overcomes common sense and reason, after which the parties end up either splitting up in disillusion or making peace with a less exalted version of reality.

A pilot internet project through a Chinese company will allow Cuba to avoid using a US-based company. This is a big breakthrough.

Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company, ETECSA, reportedly announced late Sunday a pilot project to bring broadband internet into homes in Havana. According to the announcement, cafes, bars and restaurants would also be allowed to have broadband connections, which would be offered through fiber optic cables. Odalys Rodríguez del Toro, director for Havana at ETECSA, made the announcement, adding that three parks would also receive wireless internet services, according to a report in the Cuba Journal. The new broadband services would be made available through fiber optic connections which are operated by Chinese telecom operator Huawei, Cuba Journal reported. Del Toro did not provide a timeline.

The Cuban government has approved the publication of 1984 in Cuba, a book that has been banned—this is a definite sign of progress, though the book will not be readily available.

(January 25, 2016) National security and police have arrested more than 150 activists from various Cuban pro-democracy opposition groups on Sunday, the International Society for Human Rights reports (ISHR).  Among those arrested was a German journalist [Dr. Benedict Vallendar] who observed the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters, the ‘Ladies in White’, in Havana. 

Fight brewing on latest Obama Cuba proposals:

A Canadian woman died recently after becoming ill during a holiday trip to Cuba. It’s not surprising that the Cuban hospital is described as being dirty, lacking in supplies, and using outdated equipment and treatment. (In his film “Sicko,” Michael Moore was given access only to a showplace hospital.) The Canadian patient was apparently staying in an outlying location, not near a facility for foreigners paying in hard currency, where she might have gotten better care. What she experienced is what ordinary Cubans go through in seeking health services, despite Cuba’s reputation for providing top-notch health care. and

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” the Cuban “piglet” artist recently released from prison, says that ever since the accords, "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." His statement is no surprise--he said as much here in DC and he has vowed to try his pig caper again next Christmas. If the Cuban leadership were smart, they would just ignore it next time. When he recently won a $25,000 prize for his art, he publicly donated it to help Cuban migrants stuck in Central America as they attempt to reach the U.S. But he also used the occasion to call on his fellow Cubans not to leave the island, but to work instead towards solutions to the problems they face at home.
His commitment has fueled El Sexto’s desire to try again to stage his performance piece with the two painted pigs for Christmas 2016, when he is back in Cuba. The public announcement is likely to get him arrested again if he tries a repeat performance. But this is a man who spent almost a year in prison for his art, without facing formal charges and without seeing a judge. If Cuban authorities were smart next time, they would ignore him. Their response last time in arresting him went viral.

Here’s a blog posting whose title is self-explanatory:

Here’s a contrary view reminding me of the position of my “nunny bunny” accuser, as recounted in my Cuba book:                       
(Counterpunch is a monthly journal described as “left-wing” in Wikipedia)                      
When he stated that the White House and the administration “positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people,” what did he mean? An important objective of the policies designed to improve the “lives of the people” is geared toward the 500,000 people in the expanding self-employed sector of the Cuban economy. The immediate tactical goal of the administration is to strengthen this sector. In developing this policy, administration officials barely hide the policy’s long-term objective. The goal is to develop this sector as a potential breach in Cuban society. This sector, according to the US game plan, would become at the very least indifferent and apolitical, if not hostile, to the Cuban government and the Cuban political system. This tendency would go hand in hand with these 500,000 self-employed people, as the US would like, looking to the US and its “values” (capitalism) as the savior. Such a scenario, with its made-in-the-US branding, would be a cancer eating away at the Cuban socialist project and even its sovereignty.
 The Cuban government is very aware that the US has only changed its tactics while maintaining its long-term strategic goal to subvert the Cuban Revolution. In this context, the Cubans are valiantly opposing US interference in Cuban affairs. President Raúl Castro and the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs have publicly warned the US. 
World domination has not ceased to be the objective of US imperialism. World supremacy is its very nature. Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba, is one of its targets in achieving world domination.
 Arnold August, a Canadian journalist and lecturer, is the author of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997–98 Elections and, more recently, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion. Cuba’s neighbours under consideration are the U.S., Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador
One of my commentators observes about Arnold August's views:
If we isolate and boycott Cuba, it's because we are trying to dominate them?
And if we open a policy to engage with Cuba, it's because we are trying to dominate them? As for Cuba's future, it may well be that the military steps out from behind the curtain and openly assumes power, even as state socialism is scrapped in the post-Castro era. So maybe the future regime will be right-wing, as has happened in Russia after its brand of communism went onto the scrap heap.
I would further ask if self-employment and self-direction are necessarily expressions of evil "capitalism" or just expressions of normal human preferences? What, in practical, everyday terms for ordinary people, is the "Cuban socialist project"? A dictatorship that enriches the few over the many is what the Cuban "project" is in practice. The self-employment sector is reportedly shrinking in Cuba as the military sector grows, so hurrah for "socialism." I know some people believe the US is bent on world domination. The US is already pretty dominant, so why does it need to dominate little Cuba? At any given point in time, some country is likely to be dominant—now it is the US, ipso facto—other nations have had their place in the sun. Maybe US domination is waning, as it inevitably must, but, so far, no other country is vying to take its place—maybe China?

A problem with the internet and the proliferation of on-line sources is that anyone can find kindred souls, whether for extreme political positions or for other rare proclivities, whether love of the Cuban dictatorship, tattoos, guns, or odd sexual practices. And those kindred souls reinforce each other. With my Cuba book, I had hoped to break stereotypes, but because my book doesn't fit any recognized literary genre (sterotype), it doesn't appeal to an identifiable interest group. As I’ve said before, my Peace Corps book, even years later, is still selling a bit better--and is being read by more people.  

Excerpt from Cuba visit article by Barbara Demick in The New Yorker(Jan. 10, 2016, on-line):
[T]he economic fundamentals in these last bastions of Communism are much the same. Like North Korea, Cuba maintains a distribution system in which citizens pay a low cost for inadequate rations of staple foods. (At one state shop, the provisions, listed on the blackboard, were grains, washing soap, bathing soap, toothpaste, sugar, salt, coffee, evaporated milk, eggs, and oil.) As in North Korea, archaic laws prevent the private sale of commodities that have been deemed strategic to the nation. Fishing is limited in both countries on the grounds that the bounty of the seas is the exclusive property of the state.
Posted: 08 Jan 2016 06:46 PM PST
Rubio Demands Answers From Administration on U.S. Missile in Cuba's Possession [apparently, the Cubans have had this missile since before the accords—why wasn’t its return part of the deal?]

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, today demanded answers from the Obama Administration regarding reports of a U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba’s possession. In a
 letter to the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson, Rubio asks the State Department about its prior knowledge of the missile, and he warns of its significant implications on U.S. national security.  Apparently, the missile went astray before the Obama/Raul Castro accords.

Dr. Martin Luther King said “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I spoke briefly (in Spanish) on MLKIng Day, as I was there in 1963 with my late ex-husband when King gave his “I Have  Dream” speech and, again, 50 years later at Obama’s commemoration of the same. Berta Soler, leader of the Women in White, was also interviewed on the program. Dr. King said “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I made the case for more understanding of the plight of Afro-Cubans by African Americans in the US, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, and mentioned that King associate Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) had broken ranks with other Black Caucus members by meeting with Cuban Afro-Cuban democracy activist Antunez in his office—and I said I had sent a copy of my Cuba book to Lewis who sent me a letter of thanks.
Chaos and strife in Haiti after electoral postponement once again, in a country that can ill afford it:
Some Iraqi Christian refugees, with Christians becoming an endangered species in the Middle East, have resettled in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. A friend who works with them tells me they are not in refugee camps with majority Muslim refugees because of attacks against them, hence are not in the usual refugee streams.
One night before a heavy interpretation day, I woke up with hiccups. They persisted. I fretted: What can I do if they don’t stop? I’ve heard of people in that situation who had to have surgery. Not only was I unable to sleep, but how could I possibly be an interpreter with hiccups? I held my breath, drank lots of water, jumped up and down—finally, they stopped.
I’ve been doing interpretations at Workers’ Compensation hearings in a center located out in the middle of nowhere in Beltsville, MD. Already, the name of the area gives an idea of the kind of place it is. There is not even a bus stop nearby, so it requires considerable walking between bus stops to get there without a car. It’s not my favorite sort of assignments, but work is work and I won’t be doing any or getting paid in Feb. while in Honduras. One day, I got there early and the door did not open until 8:30 am, so I stood out in the cold. That day, I also had 4 consecutive cases and we went right through to the afternoon without a break for me or the judge. The center has three complete courtrooms, with the public sitting in the benches and observing, the swearing-in of claimants and interpreter, lawyers for both sides, and lots of documents. Decisions are sent in writing later—the same thing that used to happen when I did appeals of unemployment compensation denials. However, in driver’s license suspensions, which I also used to do, the decision was rendered immediately. From what I have observed so far about workers’ comp, the decision comes later and the situation is not always clear cut—I suppose otherwise, we wouldn’t be having the hearing. From my observation, there usually seems to be fault on both sides for a worker’s injury—a malfunction of equipment coupled with a mistake in its use. Of course, the older the worker, the more likely that an injury will have serious consequences. And employers will go to great lengths to represent the injured worker as an independent contractor or ay fault, so as not to have to pay compensation, though some situations are blurry. I would not want to be a judge in such cases. And, frankly, I still prefer to work in schools and hospitals.
However, in schools now, especially high schools, Hispanic students are staying away for fear of immigration raids, although the schools deny that this is allowed in the schools.  

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