Friday, December 2, 2016

Fidel Castro’s Long-Awaited Demise, More on Trump, Cuban Machete Victim

My appearance at DC book fair, Martin Luther King public library

Fidel Castro liked to give the USA the finger.

Miami celebrates Fidel Castro's death.

On Fidel Castro’s death

This time, reports of Fidel Castro’s death are real. And, as I’d predicted in Confessions of a Secret Latina, outsiders are praising his accomplishments more than many Cubans are. Hours after his death, media commentators were extolling his purported achievements in health and education and praising him for making sure everyone had enough to eat. Fidel’s propaganda lives on! As I argue in my book, provision of social benefits doesn’t require the jettisoning of democracy and civil rights—the two are not antithetical. Furthermore, Cuba’s actual provision of superior educational and health benefits has been overblown, a myth that persists to this day, thanks to successful government propaganda. I would agree that Cubans, on the whole, are better educated than citizens of some other Latin American nations, but there are gaps, especially in rural areas and in eastern Cuba. The health system is two-tiered, abysmal for ordinary people, great for the elite and foreign medical tourists paying in hard currency. And while outsiders rightly extol the skills of Cuban doctors, they wrongly believe that foreign medical missions express Cuban generosity, when, in fact, excessive medical personnel are trained precisely to be sent abroad to earn money for the regime, with only a small fraction of payment actually going to doctors themselves. I’ve often worked with Cuban medical practitioners in Honduras, some of whom have remained there. As for food, tourists and the elite do dine in luxury, but the ration food allotment for other people runs out mid-month. Food rationing has been in place since 1962 and, despite much fertile land, most food must be imported, including sugar from neighboring Dominican Republic. Cubans are often hungry and seem always obsessed with food. They are not allowed to fish, as in other Caribbean countries, for fear boats might make a beeline for the US. Afro-Cubans suffer the greatest deprivations. When Cuba was under the Soviet umbrella, medical care was better, but even when Venezuelan oil replaced Soviet largess, care for ordinary Cubans did not improve. Independence from the US did not bring economic independence, but was replaced by dependence on the USSR and Venezuela. Why did I have to bring Armando Hernandez to this country via Mexico, as per my Confessions book? Because he couldn’t get his necessary lifesaving medicines in Cuba. Cuba produces little besides the rum and cigars President Obama has allowed Americans to bring back. Rum and cigars and even tourism and remittances are not sufficient to sustain a nation.

Here are items from my Confessions book, though I was wrong, Fidel’s body is being cremated, not embalmed. [He wasn’t looking so good when he died.] My position, as expressed in that book, is that support of human rights in Cuba, or anywhere else, should be a non-partisan, non-political issue and that a particular government's avowed political ideology should not matter, only the facts on the ground. (That applies here in the US as well.) Book excerpts follow:

Some truly do admire Fidel, especially those remembering the heady days right after the revolution. A former political prisoner wearily admitted, “Some older folks think Fidel actually is a saint.” They will shed genuine tears when he dies, just as some mourned other dictators from Stalin to Pinochet to Kim Jong Il. (Dozens of mourning Russians were reportedly trampled to death trying to reach Stalin’s body when it first lay in state.) Fidel’s embalmed corpse, like those of Lenin and Mao before him, may one day become an object of veneration like a precious religious relic. And when the Castro regime has ended, even some dissidents may miss the good old days when ration lines stretched around the block and folks used sign language to avoid being recorded or overheard, a type of nostalgia aptly depicted in “Goodbye Lenin,” a film about Eastern Germany. The warm solidarity fondly recalled by those who suffered together from government repression too often fractures after that repression disappears. 

And, if anything [after Fidel's death], expressions of loss and praise of his accomplishments will be greater outside than within Cuba itself. 

A former political prisoner living in this area, who served 22 years of an original 20-year sentence and was released with Jesse Jackson in 1984, said of Fidel “Too bad he died of old age in his bed. He should have died from a gunshot to the head or, better yet, a slow, tortured death like the one he inflicted on so many others.”

It’s amazing how just one person like Fidel Castro could have held control over so many people for generations. Let’s hope his death will break that hold.

Here are current Amnesty International Cuba items:

Six facts about censorship in Cuba (Feature, 11 March 2016)

Obama-Castro encounter: More than a handshake needed to thaw the Cold War’s human rights freeze (Comment, 21 March 2016)

[Note: Cubalex’s director Lartiza Diversent, below, was a member of my Cuba panel at AI USA’s annual conference last April in Miami.]
Remember last year’s Cuban Amnesty prisoner of conscience, El Sexto, who painted two piglets with the names Raul and Fidel? Well, he’s back in prison.

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (‘El Sexto’) – named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2015 – was re-arrested on 26 November, shortly after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death.
Name: Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as ‘El Sexto’
Gender m/f: m

I would also remind folks of my dream of Peace Corps in Cuba, especially to revive agriculture there, so Cubans can feed themselves as they did before the revolution and as other countries in the region do:

Marcell Felipe [not sure who he is, but he sent this e-mail] As we received news of Castro's death, we remember the victims of his regime. Over 73,000 dead, hundreds of thousands imprisoned, and 2 million exiled. In a country of 11 million, Castro's death toll would be, by US standards, the equivalent of 2,000,000 victims. 
I had a chance to speak with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet in Havana.  He asked us to remember the victims and to remember that the totalitarian system implanted by Fidel Castro remains as his legacy, using neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. Dr. Biscet stressed the importance of continuing to demand a change and that we must all intensify our efforts to promote democracy. He was hopeful that with such commitment, freedom and democracy are within reach.

Barack Obama: “We offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people…History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him…During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity…In the days ahead, they [Cubans] will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

Justin Trudeau: “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President….While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’….It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

Trudeau soon faced backlash regarding his very conciliatory statement.
Like many leaders around the world, he misreads the Cuban people's "affection" for Fidel Castro and of Castro's "love" for them. Within the Communist Party whose membership is shrinking (600,000 members out of 11 million citizens) and among some older people, yes, there will be sadness and tears, but not for most people. 

The Economist, Nov. 26, has a long article that seems pretty complete and balanced—my only issue is that it states that Raul has made the internet accessible to Cubans, yes, slightly more than before, but hardly accessible to most Cubans.

Sirley Avila, the farmer in rural Cuba whose arm was severed and her legs crippled in a machete attack, is back in Miami after being threatened and harassed. Her friend told me: She had to flee Cuba. Situation had become intolerable. Home was occupied. Mother's home where she was staying had a microphone and camera placed across the street along with constant harassment by state security agents. Finally the man who attacked her was on the street and bragging how he was going to finish the job.

Here’s my original article on her.

Moving to Canada?
Many of us in the US, facing the prospect of a Trump presidency, find ourselves envying Canada, with its young, personable, and progressive prime minister, though he was wrong on Cuba, in my opinion. How many Americans will really move to Canada now, as they have threatened to do? Or will they stay here to fight another day? The polls were right in terms of the popular vote, but did not do a state-by-state prediction taking the Electoral College into account. And now, it turns out, even the Electoral College is even unfair among states—giving small states a larger number of electors per capita than larger ones.

My friends and acquaintances who didn’t vote or voted for a 3rd party are now distressed over Trump’s rise, as if they had no part in it. They couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton and now she isn’t president-elect. Isn’t that the outcome they wanted?  Even left-leaning Noam Chomsky says those who voted for a third-party candidate in the election made “a bad mistake.” In an interview with Aljazeera, when asked about Trump’s position on climate change, Chomsky called it a “radical setback.”

“Trump’s position is more fossil fuels, eliminate regulations, even coal, refuse the payments, promised payments to countries trying to move to sustainable energy. To claim that this is the same as Clinton’s programs is just madness in my view,” he said.

Admittedly, many of us who voted for Hillary were not out there actively getting out the vote for her or contributing to her campaign. I count myself among them. Some of my neighbors had Hillary yard signs, but I did not. Many of us believed that she didn’t need our advocacy as she was obviously the more qualified candidate and ahead in the polls. Well, as of now, she is ahead by over 2.3 million in the popular vote, surely a record for a losing candidate, but all those votes are not in the right places.

If I’ve been depressed, I can only imagine what Hillary is feeling about the election. She should at least write a memoir that includes her participation in the whole campaign and get some things partially off her chest.

In any case, hope to see all my female friends (and some male ones too) at our women’s rally the day after the inauguration—let’s make it much, much bigger than the inaugural crowd, not that our event will change the election outcome. It’s just a way for some of us to express our opinion and burn off some negative energy. I remember being at MLKing’s iconic “I Have a Dream” gathering and speech and that memory has been important to me. So, I will attend the women’s march, which my daughter Stephanie will us join from Hawaii. She already has her plane ticket, ahead of the rush. The women's march will be disparaged by Trump and his supporters and certainly won't influence or win them over.

Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein has been collecting money for a recount before the Electoral College deadline, but, of course, a recount may not result in a changed outcome.

It’s best that Stein has initiated this effort, rather than Hillary herself, though the Hillary folks have recently joined in. Probably nothing will come of it, but the margins for Trump are so slim, it just might make a difference. It’s a long-shot that is worth a try with all that is at stake. But Clinton would have to win in all three battleground recount states, a real long shot. Still, to get rid of Trump once and for all, it would be worth the effort. He has done so little to instill confidence in his presidency. Actually, if Stein had not been on the ballot herself, Clinton might have actually won those states from the start, based on Stein’s own totals of votes cast for her there. While people may be donating to Stein in hopes of securing a Clinton win, Stein’s motivations may be more to enhance her own and her party’s brand. Or maybe she just wants to try to save the American people and the world from a Trump presidency. In the unlikely event that irregularities are found that change the outcome, Stein would be hailed as a hero. I have not yet wrapped my mind around the idea of a President Trump and am glad to be able to maintain a flicker of hope right now, which is probably why Stein has raised so much money so fast. Trump’s tweets and staff picks so far have not enhanced confidence in his ability to be president. The man is too thin-skinned and insecure.

If Trump had lost in the Electoral College but been ahead by more than 2 million votes, you’d better believe he would have demanded a recount, but not paid for it, of course, as he avoids paying for anything; after installing a golf course in Scotland, he even tried to bill poor Scottish homeowners for an unsightly wall cutting off their ocean view. The man is a cheat and a penny-pincher who seems to have no compassion whatsoever for others. Now he’s started a tweet-storm against the vote recount, claiming he really won the popular vote:

If Trump really wants to assure an accurate vote count and a check on voter fraud, he should welcome and support Stein’s efforts. If Trump were a statesman, which he obviously is not, he would simply ignore the recount effort, as it's very unlikely to jeopardize his presidency (unfortunately). Trump is too thin-skinned to be happy as president or even to function adequately.

Allegations are also growing that in addition to possible (though unlikely) vote miscounts, widespread voter intimidation and suppression occurred in slim-margin battleground states. With all these concerns, might Trump not be actually certified as the winner in the end? That would be a major upset after all the hand-wringing about the neglected grievances of white, non-college educated voters and Trump’s attempts to move forward on his administration and even to raise funds for the 2020 election. But, is there now even time to prove voter suppression or to declare a miscount in order to thwart his current bid? It would further rip the country apart and set Donald Trump on a furious rampage. He and his followers would shout “rigged” to the rooftops, even if rigging was actually what they themselves had been engaged in. But it would give him a forum on which to appear at rallies and charge admission.

In another long shot, an on-line petition is asking the Electoral College to certify Clinton, not Trump:

The stock market has rallied at the prospect of lower taxes and more infrastructure spending, but may tumble again when deficit fears kick in. The market doesn’t like uncertainty and that is what Trump epitomizes. However, infrastructure projects and an a revision of Obamacare may be easier with a Republican Congress that is less obstructionist.

Trump has already said he won't prosecute Hillary, to the dismay of many of his followers. Melania has wisely decided to stay at Trump Tower and avoid all this hassle. Now there is the question of the secret service protecting her and Trump on his weekends at Trump Tower and of renting space from Trump for millions of dollars to protect his own family in NYC. Is that a conflict of interest? Will the Republican majority protect the American people and Trump from conflict-of-interest situations?

Trump went back on the campaign trail, you might say, with his “Victory Tour,” as he prefers spouting off to crowds to staying in office-mode. He has made much of preventing part of a possible Indiana job move to Mexico, but at a cost to the state’s public finances through generous tax breaks. Should the president of the United States be picking winners and loser on the corporate landscape? And what about the lost tax revenues? Also, if jobs go to Mexico, might that not mean fewer Mexicans wanting to come to the US, an outcome Trump and his supporters seek? It doesn’t seem that a president should micromanage a local economy.

As for Rosie O’Donnell’s speculation that young son Barron Trump is autistic based on his mannerisms, maybe that’s why his mother wants to protect him and keep him at Trump Tower? Trump should ignore this issue, as a First Family needs to get used to scrutiny and doesn’t have to respond to all allegations. However, Melania has now threatened to sue. She should just ignore the speculation, but, like Donald, she is super-sensitive. Remember Trump’s own relentless attacks on Barack Obama regarding his birth certificate? Obama ignored them until the relentless crescendo by Trump himself became too great and he finally released his birth certificate.

The New Yorker for Nov. 28, with an illustration of Barack Obama on the cover, includes along, thoughtful article by editor David Remnick on Obama’s reaction to the election outcome and the threat of dismantling his legacy and hard-fought programs.

It's been interesting to say the least and the future is as unpredictable as Trump himself, who may not even know what he plans to do next—he seems to lack concrete plans, rather to act and speak (or tweet) on impulse, something his followers loved during his candidacy, but which may be harder to take in an actual president. We can only hope that more moderate Republicans might oppose some of Trump’s more egregious ultra-rightwing staff picks and proposals.

Whatever happens, I hope to outlive the Trump administration, though it would be best if it could just be nipped in the bud right here and now. I don’t know that Trump would really mind such an outcome, as he is obviously unprepared for assuming the presidency. He wants to continue to be involved in managing his vast business empire and in making even more money. An unprecedented overturning of his election victory would allow him to keep on hosting rallies around the country, something he has shown he enjoys more than being in an executive position, and he could even charge admission to his rallies, thus further increasing his fortunes. Trump might actually have preferred to lose. Just a thought.

If nothing else, this whole ongoing presidential election saga has kept the public engaged in a way that politics-as-usual has not. And Republicans might approve measures similar to those that Obama proposed but which they had thwarted simply on partisan grounds. And some Republicans might even act as a break on Trump. After all, they must realize that a majority of Americans do not support him and Republicans must also resent his take-over of their party. Maybe our focus of attack should be on Trump’s most egregious proposed candidates, like Sessions and Bannon, though the latter may not be subject to Congressional approval. Trump sounds pretty phony when sending out a filmed message about “healing” on Thanksgiving. That must have been his advisers’ doing. He seems most genuine (and is most popular) when being fiery, outrageous, and unscripted. That might be a way to run a campaign, but not the presidency.

From Yahoo News: Donald Trump's approach to military service is well established — the president-elect avoided the draft five times, once for bad feet — but it turns out his grandfather shared his reluctance to head to the front line for his country. Friedrich Trump, Donald's grandfather on his father Fred's side, was kicked out of Germany in 1905 for failing to complete mandatory service, according to a royal decree unearthed by a historian and submitted to German newspaper Bild. He was permanently banished for emigrating to the U.S. in 1885 without giving the authorities notice of his departure, thus blocking his repatriation and establishing the Trump family in America for good. According to historian Roland Paul: Friedrich Trump was born in 1869 in the German city of Kallstadt and joined his sister. Katharina, in the US in 1885.

Although in my recent book talks, I was preparing to suggest ways that a President Hillary Clinton might move forward with the Cuba accords to promote democracy, I do think the US approach since the accords were signed has been due for a course correction. The Democratic Party’s Cuba approach has seemed unduly deferential to the Cuban leadership, beginning with Senator Leahy’s successful transfer of sperm donations to the wife of imprisoned (later released) Gerardo Hernandez, mastermind of the Cuban Five, accused of betraying the Brothers-to-the-Rescue location to the Cuban air force, which shot down their aircraft, killing all 4 crew members. Since the accords were signed and the remaining three Cuban Five prisoners were released, Democratic lawmakers (Republicans cannot get visas) have made a trek to Cuba, having photo-ops with regime officials and avoiding democracy activists. Meetings of embassy staff, if any, with activists have taken place off embassy grounds. The chief of mission met with some recently at his home. More travel options and allowance for the purchase of more Cuban rum and cigars (what else do they produce?) have been opened up on the US side, though Obama’s timing of the announcement of those purchases was ill-timed just before the election, at least for the Florida vote. Yet even after these overtures and the flood of US visitors, the Cuban government continues to shout “genocide” and to yield nothing visible. Most hurtful, in my opinion, to the spirits of dissidents has been denial of the use of embassy computers for secure communications, something available to them when the building was just an interests section. Now, they must go to other embassies for internet use, mainly Czech and Swedish, I’m told. Nor are US visas so easy to obtain now for dissidents. Meanwhile, Cuban government arrests, raids, and beatings of peaceful opponents have reached record levels. And self-employment has been rolled back by the regime. Obama’s tactic aimed at softening the regime’s resistance seems to have made the leadership more suspicious and defensive. What Trump might do on Cuba is anyone’s guess. He has vowed to reverse course regarding the Castro regime, perhaps what put him over the top in Florida, but, as with his other policies, specifics are lacking and he may not know himself, not having had to confront such issues previously.
My position—and that of my Confessions book—has been that support of human rights in Cuba or elsewhere is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but of concern to all sides.

Now, in my interpretation assignments, I'm seeing undocumented parents of children in DC public schools or whose children are receiving early intervention services worried about what happens next.

Why is immigration good for our nation? For starters, it keeps our population from shrinking, especially among workers and younger people, as has happened unfortunately in Western Europe and Japan. Angela Merkel in Germany recognizes this. Immigration also keeps our country vital intellectually and socially, introducing new ideas, different modes of dress, varied food options, and philosophical and religious enrichment. While some folks prefer to live in gated communities along with people of their same age, ethnicity, and beliefs, many others, like myself, prefer a more varied social landscape. We find sameness boring. I admit I’ve been an outlier in my choice of partners, friends, and housemates; I enjoy exchanging and merging divergent views and customs from around the world. So I’d like to support or even increase US immigration. Are people like me more common than narrow-minded Trump supporters? Of course, some bad or careless folks will always be found among immigrants, just as among any group, but probably fewer, percentagewise, than among the general population.

We all know that Donald Trump is not going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Whether he will deport more than Barack Obama, already “deporter-in-chief,” is unlikely.  There is only so much manpower and resources that can be devoted to that job and it would harm our country more than help if were actually possible. But Trump has engendered fear and the nomination of Sessions is bad news. Some Republicans (such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich) have urged allowing the undocumented to remain legally but not become citizens (and thus not become Democratic voters). Most such immigrants would be satisfied with that compromise, as mainly they don’t want to live in constant fear of deportation. However, Dreamers, who have known no other country and consider this their own, should have a path to citizenship.

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