Saturday, May 14, 2016

Family, Local, National, and International Issues, New Huffington Post Cuba blog

Back yard picnic with neighbors Kilof and Pris and friends

Amnesty International Group 211, Capitol Hill 

 Mother's Day with daughter Melanie, granddaughter Natasha and great-grandson De'Andre

The two photos above are about the subject of my latest Huffington Post blog in my Cuba series, explained below, link is (sorry these photos appear out of order here)

Mother's Day continued 

With friends Jose and Manolo at
Shakespeare's 450th birthday
celebration, Folger's Library, DC

Please excuse the long time between postings, too much going on. I let excessive time elapse between postings, so it became harder then to actually post. Mea culpa. Look in bold below for a topic of interest.

This local murder by a man of his estranged wife took place at a high school where I have served as a Spanish interpreter. Apparently, he went on to kill at least two others at suburban malls, incidents too close for comfort.

DC Emancipation Day
You never heard of it, but District of Columbia offices were closed on Friday, April 15, in advance of a holiday celebrated locally, Emancipation Day. On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, granting freedom to 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia. The act was passed nine months before Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation and granted freedom to enslaved persons in the District of Columbia, those first freed from the institution of slavery in the US. Now, all we need is voting representation on Congress and the Senate, as enjoyed by all other Americans.

Mexican Flag Flies over Trump Tower in Vancouver, Canada
put there by a Mexican construction worker, where it apparently stayed all day.

Fires raging perilously close to the Alberta tars sands. Alberta was my father’s birthplace, back when it was a wheat-producing province before the oil boom. Our family never cashed in on the oil.

Pope Francis provided a good example by taking Syrian families back to Rome (chosen by lottery, the luck of the draw). Francis is certainly a skilled PR and political operative, much more so than any recent predecessors, though all popes have had a bully pulpit, which they’ve used more or less. Benedict did travel, including to Cuba, but seems to have been mostly interested in parsing the philosophical and historical fine points of church doctrine and tradition. With the European refugee crisis, as with the minors’ border surge previously in the U.S., migration is always a combination of push-pull factors. “Push” are wars, crime, and poverty in the original country, while the pull factors are the attraction and receptivity of the receiving country. There can be too much “pull,” as Sweden and Germany have found out. Certainly, the US has lots of “pull” power, like it or not.


I've been trying to make Cuba a bipartisan issue, but a friend in Florida wrote to her Democratic Congresswoman about the subject of my latest Huffington Post Cuba series (below) and got a call back from a staff person suggesting my friend contact Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, not even her own Congresswoman and a member of the opposite party. Is Cuban human rights only of concern to Republican Cuban American lawmakers? That's stereotyping the issue.  My book has been trying to make the case that even non-Cuban American Democrats, like myself, can support Cuban human rights. Here’s the latest (4th item) in my Huffington Post Cuba series

As an admittedly IT challenged author, I tried to make some changes to my post after it was submitted, along with requested links to statements and quotes, which were not published—supplied for the reviewers, I guess. But it was published without those references or changes, so will mention some additional information now. After Avila found her animals poisoned, house vandalized, and well contaminated, she later had her pig and cherished mare killed. Also, the full statement of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission last Sept. was that she "is at serious and urgent risk, inasmuch as her safety and life are threatened.” Fortunately, her rehabilitation is progressing well and she is starting to walk again. But, she needs protection when she returns home, especially as she is now disabled and more vulnerable, so, as a life-long Democrat, I would hope that both Republicans and Democrats might ask their elected representatives to request that the U.S. Embassy in Havana assure Avila’s protection, as that diplomatic channel is now open to us. Protection of peaceful Cuban citizens, like those anywhere, should be a bipartisan effort.

Personal note: As a former social worker myself who then worked 16 years at the Amer. Occupational Therapy Association, 3 ½ years as a Peace Corps health volunteer in Honduras with 12 return trips for medical volunteering since, and now as a Spanish interpreter in hospitals and schools, I consider it important to focus not only on the physical injuries that Avila and other Cuban dissidents endure, but also on their psychological trauma and recovery.  So I trust that Avila’s rehab takes that into account. I recently helped a Venezuelan woman referred to me by Catholic Charities prepare for an asylum hearing. She lost her job, then was threatened and physically attacked after joining Leopoldo Lopez’s political party. In one of the documents I translated, a Venezuelan psychiatrist diagnosed her with PTSD because of those attacks.

From her own description of her previous life, Avila was a confident woman coping well with daily problems and family responsibilities, a respected member of the community, elected by her neighbors to fulfill a government-sanctioned position. However, after running into government opposition and joining a dissident group, her home and person were attacked and while she tries now to put on a brave front, it is evident from her hesitant demeanor that she is suffering from psychological as well as physical wounds, so that should be considered in her rehabilitation. Since she plans to return to her community in Cuba, where she will no longer feel safe, she needs to learn some coping mechanisms for the attacks she is likely to confront after her trip to the US. Belonging to UNPACU and having support there will certainly help. The psychological aspect must also be addressed for the Women in White and other dissidents who are not only beaten up and often detained, but suffer psychological trauma in addition to physical harm. It’s not surprising that most Cubans are afraid of stepping out of line.

We might ask Cuban authorities in Las Tunas what happened at the hearing for Avila’s attacker. While a response is unlikely, it would not hurt to ask and might afford her a modicum of protection when she returns.

In AI, we advocate the end of the US Cuba embargo in part because the Cuban government would no longer be able to use that as an excuse to attack its citizens. However, the protection of “socialism” and “the Revolution” will remain as justifications for human rights abuses. We can only hope that the Castro offspring and others designated to inherit the crown after the Castro brothers’ demise will follow the example of the Burmese generals and start making some reforms on their own. Meanwhile, Sirley Avila will require continuing support.

Message received by Amnesty International regarding our former Cuban prisoner of conscience of painted pig fame:
Danilo Maldonado Machado, “El Sexto,” has been detained four times in the past month of April, and was detained again today until further notice. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, called CANF to inform of his situation. As is typical, there are no paper trails or legal explanations for his continued arrests. Danilo’s family will be visiting the police station tomorrow to inquire on his behalf. In the meantime, Maria Victoria has asked that Danilo’s friends outside the Island be informed and circulate the details of his situation throughout the international community.

Cubans stuck in Panama will be flown to Mexico, but Panama says it’s not accepting more Cuban migrants on its territory. First Nicaragua, then Costa Rica, would not let them enter their countries any more.

An open letter was instigated by former Costa Rican President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias and signed by 80 Latin American leaders, urging Cuba, at the start of its recent super-secret Communist Party Congress, to  open up to its own people:

As my Cuba book readers know, I met Arias back in 1990, when he was president. I saw him inaugurate a municipal pool by swimming the whole length under water without coming up for breath. A photo in my book shows me greeting him as he emerged afterward. In 1987, he had gotten the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Central American conflict. I just Googled his age and he is said to have been born either in 1940 or 1941, making him a little younger than I. In 1990, he was about 50, so his swimming feat was pretty good for his age. I felt then and still do that Arias knew the score on Nicaragua and Cuba.

In 1990, I'd been scheduled to be an election observer in Nicaragua, back when Ortega lost, though he has come back now in a somewhat muted form. Just before that 1990 election, I’d gotten a letter from the Nicaraguan Embassy in DC, saying my visa had been revoked and that I'd be turned away at the Managua airport, no explanation given. So, I went to Costa Rica instead, met with then-president Arias, and saw him inaugurate the pool. I then traveled to the Nicaraguan border by ordinary bus to an obscure jungle crossing where the Nicaraguan guards there saw my visa in my passport and let me through. As we all know, Violeta won that election against all predictions. I was at her house that midnight when former Pres. Carter strode in, acknowledged her victory (speaking Spanish with a Georgia accent!), though he advocated delaying the announcement until morning to give him time

The recently concluded Cuban Communist Party Congress included dire warnings from Raul and others that Obama was trying to provoke internal change by friendly means and hence the need to guard against US stealth attacks on “the Revolution” (code for the ruling elite).The US government has been wise to ignore this rhetoric and just continue with friendly overtures.
When Fidel goes (in photos, he looks almost gone already), while some will continue (at least rhetorically) to support policies in memory of their late great founding hero Fidel, gradually that support will fade in practice. Fidel's reign was mostly a disaster for Cuba and Cubans, but it did have some good aspects. Although he pushed the country into the arms of the USSR, he increased its independence from the US (now reverting to that former dependence) and, initially, he inspired many Cubans to work hard supposedly for the greater good. Also, there were gains in education, especially medical and health related education (partly to prepare graduates to earn money for the regime). But the health system for ordinary Cubans, especially in rural areas, is not that different from what's available to Hondurans in rural health clinics—Honduran rural health clinics that are sometimes under the direction of Cuban doctors who have defected. 
I never met totally illiterate Cubans, as I still do among Central American adult interpretation clients; at parent-teacher conferences, it is not uncommon that Central American parents aren't able to monitor students' homework because they never attended school themselves or dropped out in first or second grade. Most Cubans, at least, have had a rudimentary education, although some, like my late foster son Alex or Armando, my kidney patient friend, make frequent spelling and grammatical errors in Spanish. 

One reason for the Cuban government's initial prohibition against allowing Cuban-born Americans to be cruise passengers is because they are still considered to be Cubans (partly to force them to get Cuban passports and pay extra fees to visit their land of birth) and Cubans are not allowed to get into boats and to travel by sea. 
Omar Everleny, a Marxist economist, for years a darling of the party as well as an internationally recognized scholar, has suddenly been dismissed, stripped of his party membership and banished to what is known in Cuba as the “Pajama Plan,” namely retirement into ignominy. An acquaintance of his now living in the US thinks he should come here to teach in a university because his career is obviously finished in Cuba. What did he do or say? Something about the excessively complicated import bureaucracy, while giving a nod to perhaps extending more involvement to private actors.

Well-meaning friends have been urging me to try going back to Cuba. One asked me to join her group to visit Protestant churches (bravo for them, I mean that sincerely). She doubted that I would be turned away, but I certainly wouldn't dare spend money to be stopped at the Havana airport and turned back.
The following case is illustrative: US citizen Arturo Villar, born in Spain of a Cuban mother, decided to attend a family reunion in the small town of CaibariĆ©n (I’ve been there) and bought a ticket and visa through Gulfstream Air Charter. At the Havana airport, he was taken aside and questioned by two Cuban agents regarding a story he had freelanced to the Wall Street Journal 23 years ago about the dollarization of Cuba. Villar, now 82, had been on a family visit back then, when he found out that Fidel Castro was getting ready to make that change. His story was a scoop, well-regarded in the U.S. but taboo in Cuba. When he was put on a plane back to Miami five hours after landing, he discovered that the Cuban government holds a grudge. (He did not get his money back.) (The Miami Herald, April 20, 2016, "Usher, Smokey Robinson in Cuba for some cultural diplomacy, but U.S. consumer beware")

I don't think even a small country like Cuba can survive economically only with tourism, remittances, and the earnings of its medical workers sent abroad. All that is money from other sources--charity to some extent. Long gone are the days of the Sugar Daddy USSR. Cuba itself has to begin to produce something, make something, grow something, sell something, and more than just rum and cigars. That Cuba must import sugar from neighboring DR is totally ridiculous.

Cuban Cardinal retires at age 78.  As my book readers know, I met Jaime Ortega in Cuba before he became a cardinal. At that time (in the 1990s), he and his deputy, Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, since deceased, argued that the church had to walk a very fine line to maintain such influence as it was able to muster. Their efforts have allowed the Catholic church to enjoy a little more space than other religions.

A partial way around Cuba’s internet restrictions:
Bystanders protect Woman in White from arrest:
Although the following is in Spanish, it’s also showing that ordinary Cuban citizens can intervene when the authorities are mistreating someone, which may have a moderating effect:
There are parallels between what happens in Cuba when authorities are being filmed and the same happening with police interactions here in the US.

These vintage pre-Castro Cuba travel posters make it look like we’re now going back to the future,

Maybe the Castro government really doesn’t want the embargo gone, as now everything is blamed on the embargo, since they can no longer blame "the Empire" directly. See

Cuba already trades with 120 countries and the US embargo has been gradually rolled back, no longer including food and most medicines and medical supplies, so the end of the embargo, if and when it happens, is not going to make a dramatic difference unless and until the USA actually gives actual aid to Cuba because Cuba is not producing much of anything. One of my correspondents paraphrases Shakespeare: The fault, dear Castros, is in yourselves rather than in the stars …on the US flag.

The following is a thoughtful article that takes a long-term view.

South Sudan
Apparently, the two warring leaders in South Sudan’s civil war have agreed to a truce, a sort of stalemate rather than actual cooperation, so let’s hope their fighters agree? It took a long time for rival vice president, rebel leader Riek Machar to actually return to the capital, Juba, to mend fences and show unity with the president, Salva Kiir. South Sudan has not been helped by the fall in the price of oil, its only export commodity. My heart goes out to the struggling people in South Sudan whom I met there in 2006. Seeing photos of the leaders and South Sudanese people, I am again struck, as I was when I actually saw them in person, by how very dark-skinned they are compared to other Africans, many of whom may have more of a mixed heredity—or perhaps that more intense blackness is a particular characteristic of South Sudanese? Most African Americans, including members of my own family, have a mixed-race heritage.


The current Honduran president, not a very likable guy in my opinion, prone to gestures and histrionics on TV, vows to be tough on crime, corruption, and police misconduct (even recruited a new force, but some have been the same guys). However, is he really doing anything? Is he able to accomplish anything? I wonder if a Honduran president might be worried about losing his own life if he goes too far?
In 2009, former Costa Rican President Arias tried to mediate the conflict in Honduras over the ouster of President Mel Zelaya. Bernie Sanders’ supporters and maybe Sanders himself have accused Hillary of supporting a "coup" against Zelaya. There is much disagreement about whether there ever actually was a coup there--it's complicated--certainly Hondurans don't have a consensus on the question. Zelaya did go back to Honduras, ran his wife as a presidential candidate for a new party he formed; she lost, but he won as a legislator for that same party and now is a gadfly in the legislature, a thorn in the side of his opponents. I do not blame Hillary for supporting a "coup" in Honduras because there is major disagreement there about whether there actually was such a coup. I especially don't blame Hillary, as some are doing, for the recent murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cacares, when her murder had more to do with her activism and her opposition to a local dam project. Hillary has faults, but, in my mind, but failing to call Zelaya's ouster a "coup" was not one of them nor is she omnipotent and all-knowing. However, when the Sanders camp makes such unfair accusations against Hillary, it almost makes me want to actively support her. 

Berta’s daughter Bertita and other Honduran environmental activists are taking their message to Europe with a tour of Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, and Germany. Amnesty International in the various countries is accompanying and supporting these visits.

In the FIFA scandal investigation, it has been revealed that former Honduran President Rafael Callejas (1990-1994) admitted to taking bribes and will be sentenced Aug. 5. He was president before my time there, which began in 2000.

Presidential Election USA
Former presidential candidate John Kasich said that he's against giving us in the District of Columbia voting representatives in Congress and the Senate because we are mostly Democrats—a very sore point for us living in DC. The Republican Party is in a big mess, but Donald Trump has confounded all predictions, so we cannot be sure he wouldn't actually win a presidential election. Many of us had expected him flame out long ago. 

So, it looks like we will have to go with Hillary. No one is perfect--and she certainly is not. But I'm influenced by a couple of small meetings on health care (when I worked at the Occupational Therapy Ass'n) and also on gun control that I attended when she was First Lady; she seemed quite alert and genuine then--now, she's (necessarily) more scripted. Bernie was never really an option, though he does seem genuine, but is always shown frowning and apparently righteously angry (an occasional smile wouldn’t hurt). Single-payer health care would be nice, but Hillary tried that and failed. Her vote for the Iraq war was based on the GWBush administration’s faulty intelligence that many believed at the time, including Gen. Colin Powell. Bernie has never said anything about his previous endorsement of Fidel Castro and of the Sandinistas, certainly mistakes when viewed in hindsight. If it's Hillary against Trump, of course, we have to go with her.

Perhaps Donald Trump, if actually elected, would get some advisers to moderate his positions, but he's unpredictable, like a bull in a china shop, so who knows? I hope if he gets the nomination that he not only loses, but takes down some of the most obstructionist Republican senators and congress people with him. His front-runner status should enliven an otherwise dull Republican convention. If nothing else, the guy is entertaining.

I wonder what Obama plans to do after the presidency, as he says he plans to stay in DC at least until his younger daughter graduates? I wonder where they would live?

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida--recent presidential candidate--was sitting across the aisle from me on my return flight from Miami to DC. He tried to shield his face as he consulted an electronic device during the flight, but I noticed the American flag on his lapel, so there was no doubt. I told him I was surprised to see him flying coach like the rest of us. "It's the way to go," he said. He helped me get my luggage down from the overhead rack. I wonder what his future plans are now that he isn't running again for the Senate? Maybe he hopes for a position in a Republican administration, but no chance of that if somehow Trump wins--not after his remark about Trump's small hands! 

 Above photos of myself, acting as interpreter for Afro-Nicaraguan environmental activist protesting route of proposed Chinese canal, AI USA annual conference 2016

At Amnesty International USA’s annual conference held in Miami, April 1-3, I moderated a panel on human rights in Cuba and internet prospects there and served as interpreter for the Nicaraguan activist shown above. Our local group, 211, received a national award for our activism. 

Use of the death penalty worldwide appears to be on the increase after apparently waning. China is thought to have the highest rate of executions, several thousand a year, but does not release figures nor do Vietnam and Belarus. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan account for most of the current increase, countries in which not all executions are for capital crimes. Of course, the US is a death penalty nation, at least in some states, which saw 28 executions in 2015. Japan and Singapore also use the death penalty.

It does seem that the whole transgender phenomenon and conflicts regarding it have been made possible by modern surgery and hormone administration, but it could further bankrupt the medical system if more people want to do it, as it apparently involves not only multiple surgeries, but also continuing hormone use. Even prisoners have been asking (i.e. Chelsea Manning). What did people who felt they were born with the "wrong" gender do in the old days? Just cross-dress? That would be a lot easier. I agree that no one should be harassed, especially someone who feels vulnerable or looks a little odd, but I do think the bathroom opponents have a point--how to distinguish between someone who is genuinely transgender in "their" heart and a guy wearing a dress who just wants to spy on women? 

Researchers are working against the clock to develop a Zika vaccine, based on some success with closely related vaccines for diseases associated with various forms of encephalitis, including Yellow Fever, West Nile, and dengue.  When I was in Honduras in Feb., contracting Zika was everyone’s the greatest fear. Heavy fumigation, unfortunately, kills not only harmful insects, like mosquitoes, but helpful and necessary ones like bees.

Yahoo in Transition?
Yikes! Yahoo, my main internet provider, is up for sale. If they jettison free e-mail, I am in trouble, though I do have a g-mail account. I wonder if my Yahoo address book could be transferred? If it has to be done one by one, that might force a much-needed pruning.

The following article from the New York Times Magazine prominently mentions the debate within Amnesty International about the decriminalization of sex work.®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0