Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Advance 2017 Medical Items Appeal, Peace Corps in Vietnam, Hiroshima, AI’s Controversial Sex Worker Policy. Hawaii’s Kiluea Volcano, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras, Hillary & Bernie

Myself, guests of honor, at farewell party for departing members of Amnesty International Group 211, Washington, DC

2017 MEDICAL ITEMS APPEAL-Starting out early this time, needed are (manual) wheelchairs, folding walkers, crutches, canes, slings, and boots and braces for feet, legs, and arms to take with me on my next annual volunteer medical brigade mission to Honduras, in Feb. 2017. If you have access to any of these items, we’ll have to figure out how to get them to me. None are made in Honduras, but all can make a big difference; photo is of some previous recipients. Also need un-expired medications, good at least through March 2017. 

Feb. 2016 recipients

The Peace Corps will be going to Vietnam, mainly to teach English. The Peace Corps is already in China, so why not Vietnam? I've predicted Peace Corps in Cuba (as per my Huffington Post blog on that), but that's a long way into the future. None of those 3 countries has a good human rights record, but why not improve what we can through the "soft power" and people-to-people exchange of Peace Corps? PCVs do not engage in in-country politics and are NOT CIA (even if Evo Morales of Bolivia has suspected that). 

Even as a child, I never accepted the rationale for dropping the atomic bomb—twice even—on Japanese civilians and always considered President Truman’s legacy tainted by his approval of that action. So, I certainly welcomed President Obama’s overdue visit to Hiroshima. For this, his last year in office, he is completing many activities he might have wanted to do all along. But, realizing his goal of closing the Guantanamo military prison seems unlikely.

The Obamas have already made plans to lease a DC mansion when the President’s term ends:

Here is more on Amnesty International’s controversial sex worker policy, controversial within, as well as outside, the organization. (Many members not only object to the new policy but feel that it was rammed through in an undemocratic manner):

Former President Jimmy Carter (someone I knew in my past life) has come out for punishing the buyers of sex, not the sellers (Washington Post, June 1, 2016).

 Kiluea, the volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island that has been flowing for more than 30 years and which I have seen, very spectacular, especially at night, has new eruptions:

Haiti still in turmoil:
Rather belatedly, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro is holding talks with the opposition in the DR, where the newly re-elected president has been one of his allies:

In Canada, glad that the devastating fire, too close for comfort to Alberta’s tar sands, is finally coming under control and that no one died, which is a miracle.  Alberta was my late father’s birthplace, but his family lived there before the oli boom—they were wheat farmers, a much more benign occupation.

In South Sudan, where I had a mission in 2006, has a high maternal mortality rate, which does not surprise me:

Here’s the NY Times changing its editorial tune as the mood and times change in Latin America:The Left on the Run in Latin America,” now even promoting a comprehensive trade agreement between the US and Latin American countries, an effort that had been abandoned in the wake of resistance due to the alliances created by Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Obama’s outreach and accords with Cuba may have played a part in this changed mood in Latin America, although the death of Hugo Chavez and the fall in the price of oil are also important factors. Raul Castro saw it coming and decided to throw in his lot with the USA.

Cuban foreign minister expresses solidarity with Maduro in Caracas

Fox News Latino Tue, May 24 Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, where he traveled - he said Tuesday - to bring a message of "solidarity" from Cuban President Raul Castro. "We were with President Nicolas Maduro. We had an extraordinary meeting," said Rodriguez on Venezuelan state-run VTV television regarding the encounter at which, he added, he confirmed "Cuba's full solidarity, which is the message from Raul, the embrace of Fidel and the Cuban people, which is what I've brought to Caracas."

Gen. Cliver Alcala, retired from the Venezuelan military and once a strong Chavez supporter, apparently now has turned against Maduro, but doubts there will be a military coup because of all the benefits given to the military—the same thing that happens in Cuba. Why would a military leader risk sacrificing that at the risk of his life and freedom if he should end up on the losing side?

Cuba campaign to diminish Obama’s visit:

One of my correspondents, a retired academic librarian, sent me an article about the recent visit to Cuba by a group described as “the first official delegation of American librarians” to Havana’s International Book Fair. One member of the delegation was identified as a retired director of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) “Office for Intellectual Freedom.” The group was reportedly impressed by Cuban librarians’ apparent pride in their profession and with the results of the long-ago literacy campaign which, the article said, had “turned Cuba into the most literate country in Latin America.” That might possibly be true, but is questionable. My late foster son Alex, from the eastern province of Holguien, was barely literate, even in Spanish, but eventually became so in English and eventually attended college in the US. I met some Cubans in the 1990’s who had been taught to read during the literacy campaign but said they had later “forgotten,” not so surprising since there are few books in circulation in Cuba and because independent libraries have had their books confiscated and even burned. As recently as 2014, copies of my own book have been reported confiscated at the Havana airport. So is that the sort of “intellectual freedom” ALA stands for? And what about Argentina and Chile? Is there less literacy there than in Cuba? I would doubt it. So many Americans are now excited about going on Cuban government sponsored tours, returning home none the wiser. Another of my readers, who recently went on a religious-themed Cuba tour, said their guides assured them that dissidents were few and not well-respected. That’s probably true, given the draconian attacks against them. In my book, I recount how my own Havana friends in the Gil family, certainly no supporters of the regime, steered clear of the home of a local dissident (whose place I recognized without telling them I knew him), whom they described disparagingly as a “rightist person.”

Cuba’s campaign to diminish Obama’s visit: Cubans migrants stuck in Panama and Costa Rica are now able to fly to Ciudad Juarez on the border with El Paso, Texas. Local churches and refugee agencies are not equipped to handle such a large influx, up to 350 Cubans per day, when previously, they were processing only 60-100 per month.

Cuban authorities may have initially resisted cruise ship travel because of the potential for stowaways. Perhaps it didn’t happen on the cruise ship’s maiden voyage, but 3 hidden Cuban migrants suddenly disembarked in Florida from a cargo ship returning from the filming of “Fast and Furious.” Ships leaving Cuban will now be meticulously searched before leaving. As readers of my Cuba book may recall, I once sailed to Cuba with my daughter, a friend, and a feisty Canadian called Captain Dave. Soon after that trip, Captain Dave was barred from Cuba, because, my friend thinks, he used to often smuggle people out with him after his frequent sailing trips, perhaps for a price.

Its verges on the obscene for the Kardashians, fashion shows, and movie shoots to invade impoverished, so-called “socialist” Cuba, especially when local people are kept away by barricades and police, and receive none of the financial benefits. That three stowaways managed to escape Cuba on a transport ship for the filming of “Fast & Furious” is poetic justice.

Cuban democracy advocates are discussing running opposition candidates in that country’s 2017 elections; can the Cuban Communist Party continue to claim exclusive jurisdiction over promoting the goals of “socialism” and “the Revolution”? If the idea of other parties and candidates better able to promote the goals of socialism and the revolution is able to actually pick up momentum, it will either result in a stronger crackdown or a wider citizen revolt and clashes. President Obama may have planted a seed when he advocated voting for the leadership in his televised address—indeed, the Cuban Communist Party was right in reacting defensively against his visit, characterizing it as undermining “the Revolution” (code for those now in power) by friendly means. In the short term, such resistance may continue to result in more and harsher attacks. “Nos vamos a presentar a las elecciones y vamos a ganar”, [we’re going to present ourselves for election and we’re going to win] said opposition leader Manuel Cuesta, spokesman for a collective of small dissident organizations not recognized by the government. The government has reacted on Granma, the official newspaper and website, saying that debate is open as long as it does not try to undermine socialism and replace it with an outdated capitalism and that debaters are not provided (moral or financial?) support from outside the country. Under those rules, can the opposition say, with some justification, that it is promoting the original ideas of the revolution: equality, justice, freedom of expression? They should emphasize that they are not capitalists, but true socialists wanting a more equitable distribution of wealth. That message might resonate even with some members of the Communist Party.

21 Cuban rafters who made it to a Florida lighthouse are clinging there claiming “dry-foot” privileges, while a Miami benefactor has filed suit in court asking that they be allow to stay. The lighthouse is located several miles south of the Florida Keys—is it dry land or not?

A series of vignettes about Cubans crossing the border at El Paso

Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer was in DC, but I missed him because our meeting place was changed—will try again if he comes back later:

Here he is in the Washington Post:

His biography from Wikipedia: José Daniel Ferrer García (born July 29, 1970) is a fisherman and Cuban dissident from Santiago de Cuba.[1] A member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) founded by Oswaldo Payá, he participated in collecting signatures for the Varela Project, in which 25,000 signatories petitioned the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as well as institute a multi-party democracy. Ferrer was detained during the subsequent Black Spring crackdown of March 2003 and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. His brother Luis Enrique Ferrer García, also an MCL activist, was sentenced to 28 years. In May 2003, José Daniel began a hunger strike after he was allegedly refused medical treatment for an intestinal issue. He was also subjected to punishment cells for refusing to stand in the presence of military or prison guards. The prison cells are reportedly and habitually below the international standard and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.[3]
Amnesty International declared both Ferrer brothers to be prisoners of conscience.[3] US President Barack Obama called for Ferrer's release in 2009, urging the Cuban government to allow him to "fully participate in a democratic future in Cuba."[4]
Ferrer remained in prison until 2011.[5] He and Félix Navarro Rodríguez were released on 23 March 2011 as part of an agreement between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church. They were the last two prisoners of the Black Spring to be released. Ferrer refused the option to emigrate to Spain, stating, "I want to see a free people, and the best place to fight is here inside." 

Ferrer was detained again in April 2012 for "public disorder", and again for two days in August 2012 for his work with Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU). Amnesty International described the arrests as part of "a pattern of harassment by the Cuban authorities against UNPACU members and other political dissidents." In 2009, Ferrer and fellow Cuban dissidents Librado Linares GarcíaIván Hernández CarrilloJorge Luis García Pérez, and Iris Pérez Aguilera were jointly awarded the Democracy Award of the US National Endowment for Democracy. Ferrer was unable to attend, as he was still in prison. Ferrer's wife, Cantillo Belkis Ramirez, is a member of the Ladies in White, a group of wives of political prisoners protesting every Sunday for their release. She was herself detained for 48 hours in March 2012.

A baby with microcephaly was born in NJ to a Honduran mother who had contracted the virus on a visit to her home country--

Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo was arrested in Haiti and extradited to the US on drug trafficking charges. Lobo was president after I left Peace Corps in Honduras, but was in office during my subsequent medical brigade trips. He was a member of the conservative National Party, as I recall.

A friend just forwarded me yet another internet item, this one from TruthOut, tying Hillary Clinton to the Zelaya “coup” in Honduras and, by extension, to the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres. Is this an effort by Bernie Sanders supporters to further tarnish Hillary’s reputation? All this blaming of Hillary Clinton for supporting a "coup" in Honduras and for the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres is a total stretch and a figment of an overactive imagination. First of all, Manuel Zelaya, now a member of the Honduran legislature, who ran his wife in an unsuccessful presidential bid, was thought to be going against the Honduran constitution in seeking a second term and ordering the army to support him. Whether or not there was actually a "coup" in 2009 is therefore a matter of debate, but a debate that has long been over in Honduras itself, where people have moved on. As for lawlessness in Honduras, it existed before, during, and after Zelaya's presidency. Caceres, touted as an indigenous Lenca leader, was not actually Lenca, but supported Lenca people opposing the building of a local dam. Of those arrested for her murder, two are associated with the dam project. So, is Hillary to blame? Hillary may have other faults, but this is not one of them. If you don't like Hillary, don't vote for her, but don't pin the so-called Honduran coup or Caceres' murder on her. Zelaya won the presidency with the financial backing of an American who had been supporting the establishment of local libraries in Honduras, but suddenly diverted his money to Zelaya, a candidate of the traditional Liberal Party, who governed in a traditional way until halfway through his presidency when he struck up an alliance with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who gave Honduras free LED light bulbs and low-priced oil--this allowed Zelaya to raise the minimum wage--even Peace Corps volunteers there asked for a raise as a result.  

Bernie Sanders’ supporters are unhappy now that it looks like their candidate won’t win the Democratic presidential nomination. They feel “the system” is against them. (I do not argue with my friends who still support Sanders, as they certainly get an “A” for passion, something rare among Hillary supporters.) While both Sanders and his supporters may feel strongly and sincerely that he is not only the most principled candidate, but the best one to win against Trump, I think he is now on a quixotic quest. When the campaign started, I was willing to support either Hillary or Bernie, whoever got the nomination. Now, with Trump rising dangerously in the polls (why??!!) and Hillary falling, it’s time for the Democratic Party to unite behind their current front runner. I would make the same plea to Hillary supporters were Bernie ahead now in terms of delegates. Voters have often been faced with voting for the lesser of evils and no candidate is without faults. Sanders, who has an appealing, but fairly predictable, stump speech, has already made his point about Wall Street and income inequality. He might actually have more influence on the platform if he were to gracefully withdraw now instead of fighting on, which he may be doing not only to further his own ambitions and influence, but in order not to disappoint his fervid supporters. As a declared “Socialist” for all his years in the Senate, he has not made a big splash previously, though he has always been beloved in Vermont; now he is enjoying a national platform and may want to make the most of his moment in the sun. However, his persistent fight may come to be seen not so much as a defense of principles, but as a stubborn and grudging effort to hang on, not the best way to unify the Democratic Party to defeat Trump. Sanders’ attacks on Clinton now may actually be weakening her against Trump. I considered it a mistake for Sanders to agree to debate Trump, but he had wanted to give himself more visibility in a last-ditch effort to win in California. If he wins there, we will have an even more divided Democratic Party and electorate, but Hillary will still be ahead in delegates. It’s hard to make the case for changing the rules because you are losing according to the existing rules. As a septuagenarian myself, I understand Sanders’ need to make an impact on the world while he’s still living in it. But Donald Trump, in my opinion is not just not “politically correct,” he is “politically incorrect.” He and his supporters must be resoundingly defeated, not only for the sake of our country, but the world. Bernie, do the right thing. It’s too late now for you to get the nomination.

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