Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sept. 11 Remembrance, Interpretation Observations, Cuban Democracy Advocate Lost & Found, More on Cuba, Honduras, Venezuela, Trump Hotel Opens in DC

Fall flowers

            With all the ceremonies around the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded that I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras then. I happened to be in the PC office in Teguc, waiting for a medical appointment. In the lounge area, some of us were watching CNN on TV when all of sudden, a newsbreak showed the first plane crashing into one of the twin towers. Then there was another showing the second plane crashing into the second tower, so then we knew it was not just an accident. Our PC director announced over the intercom that we were to remain in the city and in the walled office compound until further notice. The whole incident caused a major shock and horror all over Honduras, as recounted in my book, Triumph & Hope (pp.147-148).

My interpretation work does offer me some interesting variety, giving me glimpses into other lives in other places. I went back recently to the children's specialty hospital where a Central American first-time mother whose baby was born at 2 lbs. was now getting ready to take him home and was a bit apprehensive about being on her own without all the supports she had been offered while staying at the hospital with him, a baby now at 6 1/2 lbs. with no more feeding tube who was going home on his previous due date. The next day, I was at a school meeting with a mother from Mexico who was holding a squirming 2-year-old on her lap, while a bevy teachers and therapists discussed her 7-year-old child and his supposed academic deficiencies and how they were planning to help him overcome them. The mother admitted she knew nothing about math and certainly didn't know English. I think some of the so-called below average scores of a child from such a family who enters an English-speaking school for the first time are to be expected and, with proper help and coaching, that child can catch up. But, it seems the problems are being over-pathologized to some extent, making parents anxious. This boy may need remedial help, but, I suspect, he is a normal kid. In Mexico, nothing unusual would be noticed about his school performance. 

Cuban Democracy Leader Avila Disappears As most of you know, I met Sirley Avila in April in Miami at Amnesty Int'l USA's annual conference, wrote about her in the Huffington Post, talked with her by phone several times since. Now there was fear that Avila may have been arrested upon her return to Cuba as she was not found at the airport. She had left Miami on Sept. 8. The day before, when I wasn’t home, she’d left a farewell message on my answering machine, saying she was going back to Cuba and thanking me for my support. I had hoped her Congressional testimony would protect her, but maybe it had the opposite effect. She is still disabled and has limited mobility. (For those who need a reminder of weho she is, click on to find my Huffington Post Cuba articles--the one about her is called a "A Revolution with Promises to Keep.")
Later, thankfully, Avila was found at her mother’s home, as her own place had been occupied by unauthorized individuals. She reported that her attacker is still free and threatening “to finish the job.”  

In Cuba, there are probably many secret activists opposing the government afraid to be “out,” but if they could feel solidarity and support, they would reveal their true feelings, just as kids do now who come “out” as gay. I know when I was in Cuba, I was always on guard about what to say and where to go. For many Cubans, such habits are almost second nature.

Most people, whether in Cuba, the US, the UK, or elsewhere, are less interested in voting, rights of free speech and assembly, and in humanity's overall wellbeing than in their own family’s immediate needs for food and shelter. However, they need to realize that freedom of expression and assembly and, yes, voting, do impact on their own access to food and shelter. Just look at Venezuela now. Of course, that message has not penetrated here in the USA either, as too many millions of Americans seem ready to sacrifice their own interests and that of the rest of the world by voting for Donald Trump. Hillary, for all her failings, can still carry out the duties of president adequately, but Trump cannot. Do voting and democracy really result in the best system of government?  

Sorry that Hillary fell ill--she has had a punishing schedule. Already, some Republicans are suggesting that she is seriously ill and will drop out (hope that’s not a real prospect). Many of us would agree with her "deplorables" remarks, a characterization that may have hurt her, though, perhaps, only with people already against her, whom many of us would actually put into that “deplorables” category. 

I suspect that Trump does not want to release his tax returns because he may not have made as much money as he claims, may have paid very little in taxes, and probably has barely given anything to charity. Apparently, he has had the habit of collecting charitable donations from others, then funneling them to charities in his own name without putting in any of his own dimes and dollars. Trump Hotel, here in DC, is now open for business.

Perhaps the impulse to vote for The Donald springs from the idea that jumping into the unknown might actually improve our situation, that we can always start over with something new. If “life sucks,” if our existence is dull, dreary, and exhausting, then a blind leap into the unknown probably wouldn’t be worse and might even be better—or so we might hope. That’s often the impulse behind decisions to move to a new city, marry, have a baby, get divorced, change gender, travel, and foment revolution. Surprises and gambles are exciting and change holds out the promise of improvement. As Trump would say, “What have you got to lose?” Of course, once American voters of any stripe take that leap toward Trump, they will find out soon enough what they have to lose.

From Yahoo News, 9-17-2016: While campaigning in South Florida, which has a large Cuban-American population, Trump also said that if he's elected president, he will reverse Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba — unless the country abides by certain "demands." Among those, he said, would be religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of all political prisoners.
Trump says he'll "stand with the Cuban people in their fight against communist oppression."
The comment marks yet another reversal for the GOP candidate, who previously said he supported the idea of normalized relations, but wished the U.S. had negotiated a better deal.

After Venezuelan oil subsidies to Cuba have been reduced, Raul Castro is appealing to Putin to help make up the shortfall.  Algiers has stepped in, volunteering to help Cuba with oil.
Cuba’s internet phone service is reportedly blocking text messages containing the words “democracy,” “hunger strike,” and “human rights.”

Not surprisingly, the Cuban military is kicking so-called “self-employed” licensees out of heavily visited Old Havana to take over the profits generated there by the flood of American tourists. (Still, at the UN, a Cuban government spokesman complained of massive losses from the US embargo—losses from imagined profits if the embargo were completely eliminated. Despite the surge in US tourism and oil from Algiers, the Cuban economy is still reeling from the reduction in Venezuelan oil. It is not a productive and self-sustaining economy and is surviving now mainly thanks to American tourism and remittances, but the government likes to bite the hand that feeds it and tell its people and the world—still—that the big bad USA is at fault for everything that goes wrong. )

Raul Castro is moving to assure continuity by means of a family dynasty in control of military power.  First, he named his son head of the army, then he named his son-in-law head of the Cuban military arm which now controls 80% of the Cuban economy, and his latest move was to name his eldest grandson head of the Cuban equivalent of the Secret Service in charge of all bodyguard duties.  

Switching geography, a friend has told me about an apparently successful volunteer program working with youth in Progreso, Honduras called OYE (the name means “Listen” in Spanish). Volunteers can participate for a week or more.  After the Peace Corps and other established organizations have left Honduras, it’s good to see new ones springing up.

Venezuelans banging pots and pans from front doors and balconies as a form of protest for not having enough to eat is an action to register similar complaints in Cuba, where food scarcity goes back more than 60 years to when Fidel Castro first came to power and tried to collectivize agriculture despite its failure elsewhere around the world.                                           

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