Canadian Government Also Baffled by Medical Problems of Diplomats in Cuba

For nearly two years the U.S. publicly remains baffled by the causes of the medical problems of 26 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba. Twelve Canadian diplomats while in Cuba also have suffered similar problems, and the Canadian government publicly also remains baffled.[1]

Now the Canadian government has engaged brain injury experts from the Brain Repair Center, affiliated with Dalhousie University, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Isaak Walton Killam Health Center, to investigate the symptoms and possible causes that left Canadian diplomats and family members with a series of mysterious symptoms.[2]

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[1]  See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2]   Campion-Smith, Ottawa teams with brain injury experts as it probes mystery attacks on Canadian diplomats in Cuba, Toronto Star (Sept. 30, 2018); Experts in brain injuries will examine Canadians affected by the ‘attacks’ in Havana, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 2, 2018).

“Who Is Jesus for Us Today?”  

This was the title of the sermon on September 9, 2018, by Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. (A photograph of the church with its new addition is below.)

Biblical Texts for the Day

 Psalm 8 (NRSV):

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

 John 1: 45-51 (NRSV):

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

 The Sermon[1]

 “The work of the Church is fundamentally a teaching task: asking questions, seeking answers, exploring possibilities – and then translating all of that into life between Sundays. . . .”

“Christianity is never settled for any of us, no matter our age or the extent of our involvement in church. The world is always changing. If our faith is not similarly dynamic, not living, not rising to the challenges we see all around us, not attuned to the context in which we live, it will slowly wither away. . . .”

“Actually there’s something appealing to the notion that what happens in churches can be hazardous to the status quo. Powerful worship is subversive; it wants to upend the dominant ethos. A church ought to be considered a place the world enters at its own risk. After all, we follow a Savior perceived to be such a serious threat that he was crucified.”

“But the Church is not only what happens inside these walls for a few hours each week. . . . Church mostly happens the rest of the week, out there. We – you and I – are the Church when we leave here and go out into the world. . . . “

“The faith we practice has always felt compelled to move out into the streets and ask, ‘What is God up to in this place and in this time?’ because we want to join that work. Call it public theology, or our witness in the world, or the pursuit of biblical justice – our faith has never wanted to sequester Jesus in the sanctuary, as if he might – we might – be sullied by the messy reality of what’s going on in the world around us.”

“We Come Together not to be sheltered in this sacred space, but, rather, to hear the call of God to go forth and be the Church. To do that, however, means we need to understand whom we follow out into those streets. . . .”

“The decision to follow Jesus, Professor Gail O’Day says, ‘Is inseparable from the decision one makes about Jesus’ identity.’ [New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) p. 534] . . . .”

“Who we think he is will determine the kind of Christians we become.”

“In the 1930s in Germany, the young pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself growing skeptical about the Jesus being preached in the churches of that land. As political rhetoric became more overtly racist and the culture increasingly supportive of extreme Aryan nationalism, most German Christian churches rolled over and acquiesced to all of that. They gave their Jesus over to the rising ideology of the times. It was expedient for them, convenient for them, to go along with the predominant and popular spirit of the land.”

“Bonhoeffer and his colleagues – Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and others – resisted, and some of them eventually paid for it with their lives. They wrote an affirmation of faith rejecting the distorted theology used to underpin racism and nationalism. They started an alternative church, called the Confessing Church, as opposed to the German Christian Church, which supported the ideology of the times.. They founded an underground seminary, as over against the schools of the German Christian Church, which taught theology that supported the direction the nation was moving. They preached and worked against the tide.”

“And behind all that work, according to Bonhoeffer, was a single, driving question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? . . . .”

“Who is Jesus Christ for us today? That question will inform our worship at Westminster this fall, even as it informs our life as we move from this place out into the world . . . “

 “Eighty years ago in Germany was not the only time when Christians have resisted the prevailing winds. Forty years ago in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church wrote and adopted what became known as the Confession of Belhar. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was the segregated denomination created for “mixed race” persons in the 19th century by the white Dutch Reformed Church, the denomination that eventually – by the mid-20th century – would develop a theological justification for apartheid, a theological basis for apartheid.”

 “The Confession of Belhar is a theological denunciation of the racist political system of South Africa of that time. It rejects the notion that God would accept the dividing of the human family on the basis of race or color. The Confession answers Bonhoeffer’s question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today,’ by portraying Jesus as the one standing with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” (Emphasis added.)

“Who Jesus is for us determines what it means for us to pursue his way – to be Christian in our time.”

.“Like the Germans of the Confessing Church, and like many in our land today, the ‘mixed race’ South Africans stood their ground . . .against those who would corrupt Christianity to make it supportive of the politics of exclusion and racial superiority. They declared that one could not be a follower of Jesus and, at the same time, a supporter of apartheid. Think of that in our time: it is not possible to a follower of Jesus and supporter of racism at the same time.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our denomination adopted the Confession of Belhar two years ago. . . .  We chose to adopt it to speak to our own historic and current racism in America, a system that has been in place for so many centuries.”

“Westminster has embarked on a pilgrimage to join the great effort in our nation finally, finally now wanting to come to terms with the original sin of this land, the enslavement – the buying and selling of human beings, the thinking of people as less than human – the enslavement of Africans to build up our nation. The legacy of that terrible time yet endures today. That journey for us, as followers of Jesus, starts with the question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” (Emphasis added.)

“Following Jesus is costly. The South Africans found that out. The Confessing Church in Germany discovered that. We will learn that, as well. The challenge to love in the way of Jesus should not be undertaken lightly. It will change each one of us and, hopefully, the world in which we live.”

“That’s why it matters what we do here in worship week after week. That’s why it matters that our children and youth are engaged in nurturing their faith. That’s why it matters who we are as a congregation in this city.”

The Confession of Belhar[2]

After the  sermon, the congregation read in unison the following extracts from the Confession of Belhar:

  • “We believe: that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker; that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells;
  • That the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation hatred and enmity;
  • Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.” (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

This sermon provided at least a partial answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus for us today?’ It d did so by referencing the creation of the Confessing Church in Germany and the Confession of Belhar in stating, “Jesus stood “with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” [3](Emphasis added.) ==================================

[1] Sermon: Who Is Jesus for Us Today? (Sept. 9, 2018).

[2]  See The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2016).

[3] The sermon went on to say that further answers to this question will be provided in future sermons and other discussions at Westminster.

 

 

South Africa’s ANC Members Killing One Another 

On September 30 the New York Times reported that over the last several months at least three members of the African National Congress (ANC) who had spoken out against corruption in the political party had been murdered. [1]

Another ANC member who had spoken out against the corruption and who is now in hiding said, “if you understand the Cosa Nostra, you don’t only kill the person, but you also send a strong message.” He added, “We broke the rule of omertà,”  saying that the party of Nelson Mandela had become like the Mafia.

Moreover, about 90 politicians have been killed since the start of 2016, more than twice the annual rate in the 16 years before that, according to researchers at the University of Cape Town and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime.

According to Mary de Haas, an expert on political killings who taught at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, “The politicians have become like a political mafia. It is the very antithesis of democracy, because people fear to speak out.”

In the meantime, South Africa’s economy is struggling. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “economy has plunged into recession, its rand currency has slid and pressure is mounting from a dissident faction within his ruling party [the ANC].” These problems are occurring “amid a selloff in emerging-market assets, rising oil prices and a historic [South African] drought that cut agriculture production.” The country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said, ““The economy moved against us.…We were too slow with some reforms.” But “Now the reforms are coming fast and furious.”[2]

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[1] Onishi & Gebrekidan, Hit Men and Power: South Africa’s Leaders Are Killing One Another, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2018).

[2] Parkinson, Steinhauser & Keeler, Economic Problems Exacerbate Challenges for South Africa’s Leader, W.S.J. (Sept. 26, 2018).

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).

Nelson Mandela’s Letters from Prison

This Summer  The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela was published. It contains over 250 letter, over half of which previously had been unpublished. Tayari Jones, a professor of English at Emory University, said in the New York Times that these letters reveal Mandela was “as vulnerable as any other human,” especially to being stripped of his family and “the “agony of separation.” He lost “decades of intimacy with a young family, growing away from him in his absence.”[1]

The New York Times published a few of these letters from his imprisonment (11/07/62 to 02/11/90).[2]  Here are some tidbits from these letters:

  • On 02/04/69, in a letter to his two daughters, Mandela said, “Nobody knows when [I will come back to you.] But I am certain that one day I will be back at home to live in happiness with you until the end of my days.”
  • On 04/02/69 in a letter to his wife Winnie, he said that Rev. Norman Vincent Peale had asserted “that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness and live a happy life, is already halfway through to victory. . . . Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost.”
  • In a 11/03/69 letter about the death of his son Thembi in a car accident, Mandela referred to the man who in the prosecution of Apostle Paul had called him a “pest”   and “the ringleader of the Nazarene Sect.” But this “’Nazarene Sect’ was to spread to almost every corner of the globe and be embraced by many nations as their state religion. The man who was described as a perfect pest later became a saint loved and respected by millions of Christians throughout the world.”
  • In a 07/01/70 letter to wife Winnie, he said, “ We fight against one of the last strongholds of reaction on the African Continent. In cases of this kind our duty is a simple one — at the appropriate time to state clearly, firmly and accurately the aspirations that we cherish and the greater South Africa for which we fight. Our cause is just. It is a fight for human dignity and for an honorable life.”
  • In a 08/31/70 letter to another son, Mandela said, “It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. Those who want to wipe out poverty from the face of the earth must use other weapons, weapons other than kindness. …This is not a problem that can be handled by individual acts of hospitality. . . .Experience shows that this problem can be effectively tackled only by a disciplined body of persons, who are inspired by the same ideas and united in a common cause.”
  • In a 02/01/75 letter to Winnie, he said, “internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others — qualities which are within easy reach of every soul — are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. . . .Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. . . . Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. … No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise and win in the end.”
  • In an 08/19/76 letter to wife Winnie, he said that writing to her is “the only time I ever feel that someday in the future it’ll be possible for humanity to produce saints who will really be upright and venerable, inspired in everything they do by genuine love for humanity and who’ll serve all humans selflessly.”
  • In a 05/27/79 letter to a journalist friend, Mandela said that the “numerous messages of good wishes and hope sent by people from different walks of life, have cut through massive iron doors and grim stone walls, bringing into the cell the splendor and warmth of springtime..”

These letters are truly inspiring to those suffering in prison and to those on the outside. They also instruct us on the outside, as Tayari Jones said, “for people in prison, letters remain the best way to engage with a society that has forcibly excluded them”and “someone, somewhere—in a prison across town, in a border detention facility, in a country you’ve never known—is waiting for a letter.”

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[1]  Mandela, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela (W.W. Norton & Co. 2018); Jones, What Mandela Lost, N.Y. Times (July 6, 2018).

[2] ‘Hope Is a Powerful Weapon’: Unpublished Mandela  Prison Letters, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2018).

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review 

On September 21, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council held a meeting in its 39th regular session. An important item on the agenda was the final review of the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights records of three more states, including Cuba.[1]

Just before this session, the Council provided an Addendum to Cuba’s national report that listed its responses to the 339 recommendations that had been made by other U.N. Members and Stakeholders. Of these 339 recommendations,  Cuba had “supported” (accepted or noted) 309, and rejected 30 in the following categories[2]

Recommendations Rejections
Improve freedoms of assembly & association  13.0
End arbitrary detentions    4.0
Release prisoners of conscience    3.0
Recognize rights of political activists    2.0
Respect independent media    2.0
Allow independent monitoring of detention    1.5
Establish independent judiciary    1.5
Allow complaints to treaty bodies    1.0
Allow multiparty elections (U.S.)    1.0
End coercive labor    0.5
Increase laws against human trafficking    0.5
TOTAL 30.0

Cuba’s Ambassador, Pedro Pedrosa, made  introductory and concluding statements that included the following comments:

  • Cuba had rejected 30 of the recommendations because they were “politically skewed” and some reflected the “hegemonic ambitions of some [the U.S.] to undermine Cuban systems.” He also condemned the U.S. embargo (blockade) as a “massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights.”
  • For Cuba, ratification of an international treaty is a “very serious process” and is never made under pressure, again referring to the “hostile policies of the U.S. against the Cuban people.”
  • Cuba is against the death penalty and has not had an execution since 1923. However, it needs to keep the death penalty because of terrorism.
  • Cuba has a “system of independent courts to insure “ respect for human rights.
  • In 2017 Cuba welcomed two international human rights monitors (human trafficking and international solidarity).
  • Cuba calls for democracy and international governance of the Internet and the end of the digital divide and monopolies of these technologies.
  • Cuba is proud of the accomplishments of its Revolution and its contributions to the broadening of human rights.
  • Reforms in Cuba can only happen with true international and impartial cooperation.
  • The UPR process should not be a forum for attacks or proposals by foreign powers [U.S.].
  • Cuba rejects “rash” comments at this session by the World Evangelical Alliance and the Christianity Global Solidarity because they ignore the Cuban reality of religious freedom and right to change religion. Nevertheless, he invited these organizations to visit Cuba.
  • He also criticized the comments from Amnesty International and U.N. Watch.

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[1]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Documentation (39th Regular Session). Previous posts about the current (and other) Cuba UPRs are listed in the “Cuban Human Rights” section of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba: Addendum (Sept. 18, 2018) (views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review).

 

 

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review

On September 20, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council held its 39th regular session. An important item on the session’s agenda was the final review of the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights records of 11 states, including Cameroon.[1]

Just before this session the Council provided an Addendum to Cameroon’s national report that listed its responses to the 196 recommendations that had been made by other U.N. Members and Stakeholders. At the end of this session, the Council President said that of the 196 recommendations, Cameroon had “supported” 134, “noted” 59 and rejected 3.[2]

A close examination of the record, however, reveals the following rejections:

Recommendation Rejections
Abolish death penalty  14.5
Legalize honmosexuality, etc.  12.0
Diability rights    2.5
ICC membeship    1.5
Women;’s rights    1.0
Children’s rights    1.0
Birth registration    1.0
Abortion    1.0
Human rights defenders    1.0
No military courts for civilians    1.0
Ratify all H.R. treaties    1.0
Migrants rights    0.5
Stateless rights    0.5
No disappearances    0.5
Torture treaty opt. protocol   0.5
Independent investiagtions   0.5
TOTAL 40.0

Thus, the total of acceptances and noteds is 196-40 = 156, not 193.

Cameroon’s Foreign Minister, Lejeune Mbella Mbella, made an introductory statement that included the following comments on the current internal conflict:

  • The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest provinces began in 2016 with protests by advocates for English common law and Anglophone teachers.
  • Then an insurrection arose with atrocities in an effort to partition the country. These acts of revolt included kidnappings; killing of authorities, security forces, teachers and pupils; arson attacks; and recruitment of child soldiers.
  • The country’s security forces responded to restore order, security and peace and to defend the unitary state. These forces have been trained to observe ethics and professionalism despite provocations. There also are investigations of alleges abuses by these forces.
  • The government has adopted an emergency assistance plan for these two provinces with a platform for exchange of intelligence. It has a budgetary goal of 12.7 billion CFA.
  • Journalists are free to operate, but need to be protected.
  • Children’s right to education has been adversely affected by the violence. Cameroon supports the Declaration on Security in Schools proposed by Norway and Sweden.
  • Detainees are jailed (pursuant to criminal procedure) or put on house arrest. They are free to communicate with attorneys and families.
  • Cameroon is now proceeding to its national presidential election with nine candidates, three of whom are from the Northwest and Southwest provinces.

At the end of its session, the Council approved the Outcome of Cameroon’s UPR, which will be confirmed in a subsequent brief statement and a logical matrix of the recommendations that Cameroon “supported” or “noted.”[3]

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[1]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Documentation (39th Regular Session). Previous posts about the current Cameroon UPR are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cameroon: Addendum (Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review)(Advance Unedited Version)(Sept. 12, 2018).

[3] For example, from its prior UPR, here are (1) U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Human Rights Council on its twenty-fourth session (Advance unedited version)(Jan. 27, 2014) and (2) U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, UPR of Cameroon: thematic list of recommendations (Matrice of recommendations).