Pandemic Journal (# 29): Current Reflections on COVID-19 Pandemic

As of 8:48 CST on September 20, more than 6,790,500 people in the U.S. had been infected with the coronavirus (the most of any country in the world) and at least 199,500 have died. In Minnesota, there have been 88,773 cases and 5,133 deaths. For the world as a whole the numbers are 30,675,000 cases and 954,427 deaths.[1] These statistics cause one to have sympathy for all those who have or had the disease and all those who have died from it and for all their family members and friends.

I only know two people who have had the coronavirus. One is a nephew who is recovering at his home in another state. The other is Nachito Herrera, a friend and a  famous Cuban-American jazz pianist in Minnesota, whose ICU care with a ventilator was covered by Minnesota media and who recently played several pieces, including his arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” on a public television program. And on September 25 he is scheduled at the Minneapolis’ jazz club, the dakota, for a concert.  [2]

On March 19, 2020, our condo building management instituted new regulations in response to the coronavirus: residents were required to report to the office coronavirus symptoms; all common areas in the building were closed; new practices of cleaning and disinfecting the common areas were adopted; and residents were requested to minimize the number of contractors and visitors entering the building. Since then other measures have been adopted and some of the common areas were reopened with usage restrictions.

Thus, for roughly six months my wife and I have been spending most of our time in our own condo, walking and biking outside on nice days and going to grocery stores for our food supplies. More recently we have been going to doctors and dentists for necessary care, a barber and hair stylist for necessary services and restaurants for occasional meals outside on patios. For example, on an afternoon last week we walked on Nicollet Mall to Barrio Restaurant for delicious tacos at a table on the sidewalk. The Mall, which is Minneapolis’ main street (in normal times) for restaurants, bars, stores and office buildings, now has covered all ground-level windows and glass doors with plywood, most businesses are closed and most of the time very few people are walking around.

For these six months we have not traveled anywhere outside Minneapolis and nearby western suburbs except for two trips to a nearby town: one for our granddaughter’s high school  graduation party and the other for a walk with our son and his family. Thus, we have a great desire to see other places, and this week we plan to  drive to the North Shore of Minnesota for two nights to see the beautiful fall colors of the trees.

We are grateful that we and our family have not caught the virus and are healthy and hope that that will continue. We worry about our sons and their families here and in Ecuador and relatives in Nebraska and elsewhere and pray that they stay healthy.

Last Friday Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, died. For many years she has been an inspiring voice against gender and other discrimination. Last night I watched “RBG,” a moving documentary film about her by CNN Films. The film reminded me of what a wonderful human being she was and how we all will miss her.

Then we have to return to reading about the horrible words and actions of President Donald Trump, who immediately said that this week he will nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of that body, who has said he will lead the effort to have the Senate confirm the nomination as soon as possible and maybe even before the November 3rd presidential election. Many people, including me, fear that the nominee will be very conservative and a threat to undo many of the principles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg struggled for. I, therefore, sent some money to a group supporting Amy McGrath, who is McConnell’s opponent in this year’s election.

Another example of Trump’s insensitive and harmful remarks happened on his visit to Minnesota last Friday when he “extolled at length the battle prowess of” Confederate General Robert E. Lee to audiences that contained descendants of Minnesota men who were members of the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment that played a vital role for the Union, many of whom were killed in the Civil War.[3]

This morning I attended a very moving virtual worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. The Scripture for the day was Samuel 3: 1-10 and Luke 2: 41-52 as the foundation for the sermon “Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn” by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. [4]

A new moving voice in the service was Joe Davis, a poet and Artist in Residence at the church, who previously said, “ I am a poet because I struggle desperately to express my soul’s deepest longings each and everyday—yet I never shy away from the fight.” He “grew up in a non-denominational Pentecostal church in North Dakota, where his parents were active members. In college at Minot State, Joe began to go on spring break service trips with the campus ministry. The campus pastor, who happened to be Lutheran, encouraged Joe to become a peer minister. Her mentoring helped him grow in faith and as a leader, and the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] became an important part of his life.” Now he “feels ‘a little bit of both ‘Lutheran and Pentecostal’ while also being “a strong believer in ecumenicalism—the unity of Christians across denominational lines.”[5]

This worship service was previewed early last week at a ZOOM conversation about aging in the Covid pandemic. Rev. Hart-Andersen said that spirituality should be addressed holistically and intentionally by focusing on your heart (writing hand-written letters or emails to your family and friends); your soul (developing and following a discipline for praying); your mind (reading); your body (exercising); and your love (serving, praying, advocating, writing and volunteering). Afterwards I told Tim that the activities for the “mind” should be reading, reflecting, studying or researching, writing about these activities and then sharing the writing with others. This is what I strive to do on most subjects of posts to this blog.

On today’s beautiful sunny 70-degree afternoon in Minneapolis my wife and I went for an enjoyable walk up Kenwood Parkway from the Walker Art Center Garden to the north end of Kenwood Park and returning on Mt. Curve Avenue to the western side of the Walker to Kenwood Parkway.

Tomorrow morning I will be having coffee with three friends from our condo building in our entertainment center, a practice I started several weeks ago. We have enjoyable conversations and, I think, all of us welcome this opportunity to have social interaction in this age of social distancing.

Another item on my ongoing agenda is preparing for the October 12th meeting of my men’s book group from Westminster Church. I will be leading the upcoming meeting to discuss the novel, “The Last Trial,” by Scott Turow. Most of our meetings this year have been by ZOOM although last month five of us met in the outdoor patio of one of our members; the other five members could not make the meeting. Reading and discussing books with other men is another important way to have needed social interaction.

These are the thoughts of one day of a human being’s living through the pandemic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. I am managing to stay healthy in mind and body despite worries about the coronavirus and the headaches caused by Trump and fears over his supporters somehow damaging or disrupting the November 3rd election.

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[1] Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Sept. 20, 2020); World Health Organization, WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard.

[2] Bream, Minnesota pianist Nachito Herrera on surviving COVID-19: ‘This it the worst thing I’ve had in 54 years of my life, StarTribune (Sept.5, 2020); Nachito Herrera Concert at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 7, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (∆an. 13, 2015)

[3] Van Ooy & Smith, Trump’s praise of Robert E. Lee gets pushback from Minnesotans proud of state’s role at Gettysburg, StarTribune (Sept. 19, 2020).

[4] The video of this service is  available in the church’s Archive of services, and a future blog post will examine details of the service.

[5] Joe Davis Poet, joedavispoetry.com; Parent, Poet in Residence at Redeemer Lutheran Church, zionbuffalo.org (March 2014).

U.S. Insulting Proclamation of May 20th as Cuba’s Independence Day

On May 20, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo stated that May 20 was Cuba’s Independence Day. Cuban officials immediately rejected that assertion.

Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020[1]

“On Cuban Independence Day, we recognize the patriots who fought to liberate Cuba from its colonial oppression and build a society founded on freedom. We continue to stand with the Cuban people as they seek those fundamental rights, and we express our commitment to supporting them as they continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

“The United States has historic ties to the Cuban people and remains in solidarity with the millions who have fled the oppression of Cuba’s tyrannical regime in search of a new life. Cuba’s people deserve a government that promotes individual liberties, basic human rights, and opportunities to prosper. The Cuban model represents failed socialism, and we will continue to ensure that Cuba does not export its repression anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. That is why I took action early in my Administration to implement a strong policy toward Cuba that promotes respect for human rights, free markets, and a transition to democracy in Cuba. America will keep working with our allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere to bring stability, religious liberty, cooperation, and a freer future to the great people of Cuba.”

“Today, we celebrate the many contributions of Cuban Americans to our American story, and we pledge to continue working with them to secure a better tomorrow for Cuba.”

Later that same day Trump delivered a video message to Cuban-Americans. “We proudly stand with the people of Cuba. We’re with you. We’re fighting with you. We’re thinking with you. Cuban Americans, we’re extremely proud of you. And I am glad you are on my side.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Statement on Cuban Independence Day[2]

“On Cuban Independence Day, I extend my warm regards and best wishes to the people of Cuba.  The United States joins you in celebrating the anniversary of Cuba’s independence, 118 years ago today.  The struggle of the Cuban people continues.  Your democratic system was overthrown by a military dictator at the middle of the last century.  But the revolution your forefathers fought for your rights, freedoms, and prosperity was hijacked by a communist dictatorship that has inflicted the worst forms of abuse on the Cuban people for 61 years.”

“Both Americans and Cubans alike value our independence and we seek to provide a better, more prosperous future for families, in realization of our God-given rights and dignity as individuals.  We salute the brave Cubans who carry on this struggle despite the threats and abuses of the Castro regime:  human rights defenders like José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White; and journalists and truth-tellers like Roberto Quiñones, who by shining light on conditions in Cuba prevent the regime from hiding the truth.  We salute those demanding the right to exercise their faith in peace, like Pastors Ayda Expósito Leyva and Ramón Rigal, who chose to provide their children with a faith-based home-school education but were imprisoned for doing so.  These brave individuals, and many more who are unjustly imprisoned for their beliefs, or who daily face threats and abuse for standing up for what is right, are the true heirs to José Martí.”

“The United States stands with the Cuban people as you struggle to achieve your vision of a Cuba that is free and more just.  The day when your dream of freedom becomes reality is decades overdue, but that day will come.”

Cuba’s Responses[3]

An immediate response came in Tweets from Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He said, “The US Secretary of State is lying. Cubans do not commemorate this date, only remembered by the anti-Cuban groups which, from South Florida and with the broad support of the White House, still maintain annexationist interests and domination over Cuba.”

This thought was echoed by Rodrigo Malmierca, the head of Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment: Pompeo’s statement towards the Cuban people was “historical and politicized manipulation.”

In response to a similar message by President Trump in 2017, the Cuban government stated, “what was born on the day [May 20, 1902] was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived on until [the revolution on] January 1, 1959.”

Historical Context

This dispute over the “true” date for Cuba’s independence has been going on since at least 1959. The U.S. continued insistence on May 20 as the correct date is driven by U.S. hostility towards Cuba ever since the military defeat of the Cuban government by Fidel Castro-led rebels on January 1, 1959 (except for the period of normalization of relations led by President Obama,  December 2014—January 2017). An examination of history is necessary to understand this conflict.

May 20, 1902[4]

On April 24 and 25, 1898, Spain and the U.S. declared war against each other after the explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. The U.S. Senate’s authorization of that declaration included the Teller Amendment, which disclaimed any “inclination or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control” of Cuba and the U.S. intention to “leave the government and control of the island to its people.” Thereafter the U.S. entered Cuba’s war of independence from Spain, which formally was ended on December 10, 1898 with the Treaty of Paris whereby Spain ceded Cuba (and Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines) to the U.S. Cuba was not a party to that treaty.

Thereafter, the U.S. assumed military control of Cuba. On May 20, 1902, the supposed date of Cuban independence arrived when the U.S. flag was lowered in Havana and the new Cuban flag was raised. This was after the U.S. adoption in early  1901 of the Platt Amendment, whose terms Cuba on December 25, 1901, reluctantly included in its constitution granting the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba to preserves its independence and imposing other restrictions on Cuba.

These provisions of the Cuban constitution existed until 1934 when the U.S. and Cuba executed a treaty allowing Cuba to delete them from its constitution.

October 10, 1868[5]

This is Cuba’s real Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia) when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the “Father of the Homeland,” gave freedom to his slaves and started the first war of independence against the Spanish colonial power.

July 26, 1953 [6]

This is the Day of the National Revolution (Dia de la Rebeldia Nacional) to commemorate the day that the Cuban rebels started the Cuban revolution with an attack led by Fidel Castro on the Cuban Government’s Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The rebels lost that battle, Fidel was captured,, tried, convicted, imprisoned and eventually exiled to Mexico, from which he successfully returned to Cuba in 1956 aboard the boat Granma and thereafter orchestrated the successful overthrow of the Batista regime on January 1, 1959.

July 26th, therefore, was chosen as the date for a speech in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991 by Nelson Mandela only a year-and-a half after his release from prison in South Africa.

January 1, 1959 [7]

This is the Triumph of the Revolution (Triunto de la Revolución) public holiday to commemorate the triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Conclusion

Yes, on May 20, 1902, Cuba officially ceased to be a colony of Spain. But on that same date Cuba became a neo-colony of the U.S. or a territory under a de facto U.S. protectorate. It, therefore, is an insult for the U.S. to use grandiose language to proclaim that date as Cuba’s independence day.The U.S. should stop doing so.

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[1] White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020 (May 20, 2020); White House, President Trump’s Video Statement on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, [Pompeo’s} Press Statement: Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020.  Secretary Pompeo also issued tweets with the same theme. (Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020).)

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Bruno Rodriguez affirms Cubans don’t celebrate May 20th (May 20, 2000); Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020); Center for Democracy in Americas, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (May 22, 2020).

[4]  U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of  Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017); U.S. DeFacto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019); Pérez, Cuba Between Empires, 1898-1902 (Univ. Pittsburgh Press 1983).

[5] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post after comments from several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[6] Ibid.; Cuban Revolution, Wikipedia; Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2018). [This section was revised after several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[7] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post to complete the account of most of the major political holidays in Cuba.]

 

U.S. State Department Announces Funding Opportunities for Cuba Proposals         

On April 17, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced it was accepting applications for “proposals that align with the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum—entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” —as well as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act and other relevant legislation.” [1]

Requirements for Applicants

Eligible applicants are  “U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses.  DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. In addition, applicants must have “proven capacity to implement foreign assistance programs to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights in Cuba” and the “existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders, including private sector partners and NGOs, and have demonstrable experience in administering successful and preferably similar projects. “

The Department anticipates making three to five awards with a “Funding Floor” of $500,000 and “Ceiling” of $2,000,000.

The Department’s Context for Proposals

“For more than sixty years, the Cuban regime has denied its citizens many of the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Political participation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are restricted through tightly controlled, undemocratic elections and by withholding legal status from independent civil society organizations, labor unions, and diverse political parties or movements. The free flow of information and freedom of expression are suppressed by blocking the Cuban peoples’ access to media outlets, and by censoring independent journalists, artists, and other individuals with alternative views. As connectivity slowly increases, the government is also expanding measures to surveil and harass citizens online to further inhibit the free flow of information and to prevent activists from connecting with broader audiences in and outside Cuba.”

“The Cuban government also abuses freedom of religion or belief by restricting the ability of faith communities to congregate and worship outside of the state-sanctioned Council of Churches. Cuban state security regularly threatens, harasses, arbitrarily arrests, detains, and restricts the movement of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists on-island. Human rights organizations report more than 100 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, most sentenced under fabricated charges like “contempt” of Cuban authorities or “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” This repression is financed in large part by the labor exploitation of medical workers and other service providers, who receive only a fraction of the salaries paid by third countries for their services and often face threats from their Cuban government handlers to discourage them from absconding. Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions.”

“DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the above-mentioned rights and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil and political rights.  DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, and other individual characteristics.”

“DRL seeks proposals that support Cuban-led initiatives that promote the human rights of all in Cuba—particularly the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, expression, political participation and religion and belief—and strengthen and expand the reach of those initiatives in Cuba by focusing on issues that resonate with Cuban citizens. Competitive proposals may also support the documentation of human rights abuses, including for use in domestic and international advocacy, and increase the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.  Proposals should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging and developing contingencies for challenges to program implementation. Proposals should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society.  Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that address recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts while leading to long-term sustainable change. (Emphasis added.)

“DRL prefers innovative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to ongoing efforts by other entities.  This does not exclude projects that clearly build on existing successful projects in a new way.  DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined proposal in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant.  The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments.  Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by Cuban civil society organizations.”

“Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries.  Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure that beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.” (Emphases added.)

DRL also has a long list of activities that “typically are NOT considered: “The provision of humanitarian assistance; English language instruction; Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware; Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships; External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six weeks; Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns; Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;  Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives; Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact; Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba; [and] Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.”

Finally there will be no funding of “programs . . . that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.”

Conclusion

This is yet another of the weird and misguided U.S. public announcements of U.S. government-financed unilateral programs in Cuba without the cooperation of the Cuban government and indeed with the latter’s opposition and hence the need for these programs to be under-cover. The Department, therefore, highlights the need for applications to consider “contingencies for challenges to program implementation” and the “practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities.” In short, this is a fatally flawed idea.

How would the U.S. government react if Russia were to publicly announce that it was soliciting proposals for under-cover hacking of the U.S. election of 2020?

This proposal also continues to embrace the flawed claims that Cuba “abuses freedom of religion or belief” and that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program constitutes illegal forced labor, as discussed in many previous posts to this blog.[2] This proposal also continues to fail to understand why a small, poor nation of 11 people has rational fears of its much larger and more powerful neighbor to the north with a long history of hostility towards the island.

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[1] State Dep’t, Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): DRL FY19: Cuba Proposals (April 17, 2020).

[2] See these sections (“Cuban Human rights,” “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.”) in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Ferrer Sentenced to Prison and Then Released  to House Arrest 

On April 3, José Daniel Ferrer appeared in the Provincial court in Santiago de Cuba, where the judges announced that he was guilty of assault and kidnapping and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.  Instead the judges released him to house arrest on condition he not carry out any political activity.. His civilian clothes were returned, and he was returned to his home in a patrol car.[1]

Afterwards Ferrer said, ““I am not going to comply with any of the rules imposed by the court. I will continue with more strength than ever.” He added that for him “overthrowing tyranny is a sacred matter. Without the solidarity of many brothers within Cuba and abroad, he would not be alive, because the intention was to leave me and other fighters within Cuba.” The regime “was looking for ways to get out of international pressure” due to his preceding imprisonment.

At the same court hearing, five other activists with Ferrer’s group (UNPACU) were sentenced to five years in prison, but also released for house arrest.

Diario de Cuba believes the granting of house arrest was due primarily to pressure from the European Socialist Group. Some of their leaders were on the island to attend his trial on February 26, but were denied entry to the courtroom. Immediately afterwards they voiced their complaints to the island’s senior leaders, including the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power. In addition to complaints about the Ferrer arrest and trial, the Europeans raised more general complaints about Cuba’s arbitrary arrests, imprisonment awaiting trial, reduced freedom of expression and restrictions on movement,[2].

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[1] The regime releases José Daniel Ferrer and detained UNPACU activists, Diario de Cuba (April 3, 2020); Assoc. Press, Cuba Gives Prominent Dissident House Arrest, Reads Sentence, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020). This blog has published many posts about the Ferrer case, including protests from the U.S. and international human rights groups, which are summarized in this post: Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer (Mar. 19, 2020).

[2]  The release of José Daniel Ferrer would [not] have materialized. . .  [without] pressure from the European Union, Diario de Cuba (April 4, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 7): Latest Statistics  

The morning news on April 2 has these COVID-19 statistics for the world: 946,000 confirmed cases and 45,000 deaths. The most deaths have been in Italy at 13,155 and Spain at 10,003.[1]

The U.S. Situation[2]

The U.S. now has the most cases in the world with 214,461 and the third-most deaths at 4,841. In addition, the federal government is projecting U.S. total deaths (best case) to be 100,000 to 240,000

Adding to the gravity of the situation in the U.S., the federal government’s “emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is running low and is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the Trump administration and the states to compete for personal protective equipment in a freewheeling global marketplace rife with profiteering and price-gouging, according to Department of Homeland Security officials involved in the frantic acquisition effort.”

According to an anonymous DHS  official, ““The stockpile was designed to respond to a handful of cities. It was never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic. This is not only a U.S. government problem. The supply chain for PPE worldwide has broken down, and there is a lot of price-gouging happening.”

Moreover, thousands more of the ventilators in the federal stockpile do not work and are unavailable “after the contract to maintain . . .  [them] lapsed late last summer, and a contracting dispute meant that a new firm did not begin its work until late January.”

State of Minnesota Situation [3]

 My State of Minnesota has 689 cases and 17 deaths as it struggles to acquire needed supplies and equipment. The peak of our cases is now expected between early May and early June followed by the highest need for hospital beds.

“Several hospitals are adding more beds on their campuses. ‘The limiting factor is the availability of ventilators to be able to equip those rooms,’ Jan Malcolm, the State Health Commissioner, said. Operating rooms could also be converted to intensive care because many of them have ventilators. The state is also scouting locations for temporary hospitals, using buildings, such as closed nursing homes, that could house patients who don’t need critical care and are not infected with the coronavirus. The goal is to add 2,750 temporary beds, with 1,000 of them in the metro area.

According to Lee Schafer, a business columnist for the StarTribune, Minnesota’s hospital system is designed to handle “a normal patient load” because “unused capacity costs money” and  because “health care in this state was efficient.”

Conclusion

All of the these developments  makes a Minnesota senior citizen currently in overall good health like this blogger realize that if he contracts the COVID-19 virus during the next 60 days or so, he will enter the hospital system at its most stressful period. Therefore, it is even more important now to maintain six feet of separation from other people, to avoid groups of 10 or more people, to cover your mouth when you cough, to wash your hands frequently and to maintain physical fitness. Finally make sure your wills, trust agreements and health care directives are up to date. And study the Protective Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) and determine your choices on that form.[4]

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[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (April 2, 2020).

[2] N. 1 supra; Miroff, Protective gear in national stockpile is nearly depleted, DHS officials  say, Wash. Post (April 1, 2020); Miroff, Gloves, masks and ventilators near gone, StarTribune (April 2, 2020) (print edition); Madhani, Freking & Alonso-Zaldivar, Trump says ‘life and death’ at stake in following guidelines, StarTribune (April 1, 2020).

[3] Tracking coronavirus in Minnesota, StarTribune (April 1, 2020); Howatt, Minnesota COVID-19 cases increase by 60 to 689 with 5 more deaths, StarTribune (April 2, 2020); Schafer. Here’s why Minnesota doesn’t have enough hospital beds right now, StarTribune (April 2, 2020).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentarie.com: Pandemic  Journal (# 5): POLST (Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) (Mar. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 6): Maintaining Physical Fitness (April 1, 2020). Here are the earlier posts in this ongoing series: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (03/22/20) (Mar. 24, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem (Mar. 28, 2020);

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem

Important reminders of more important issues for us all as we live through this stressful period of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are found in different places. [1] For example, in organizing some personal papers I came across the following poem by Kristi Brown, the daughter of my cousin, Lloyd William Brown, Jr., and his wife, Karen Brown.

Life

 Life is not long enough to accomplish all your goals.

Life is too short to waste a minute of .

Life always has to end sometime or another.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life ends instantaneously for some,

Life’s end is long and painful for others.

Life’s end is known by some, but for others,

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is good to most people for a long time,

Life takes some people very early on.

Life fights with death for the cream of the crop.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is taken advantage of by some, others live

Life one day at a time, and cross bridges when they come to them.

Life usually ends for the careful ones, not careless.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life’s end is welcomed by those who are suffering.

Life’s end is not welcomed for those who are not.

Life is hard after a loved one dies, but

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is a terrible thing to waste.

This poem in her handwritten spiral notebook was discovered in her nightstand drawer in the summer of 1987 by Kristi’s parents. This discovery was necessitated by Kristi’s having been killed, at age 19, on June 24, 1987, in a terrible multiple-vehicle crash on the Capitol Beltway outside Washington, D.C. on her way home from a summer job following her first year at the University of Virginia. Pursuant to her written instructions, Kristi’s heart, cornea and kidneys were donated to the Washington Regional Transplant Community.

Thereafter her parents organized an annual event they called “Kristi’s Christmas” when students from her high school in Springfield Virginia joined her parents and siblings to provide breakfast to a group of underprivileged grade-school kids and then escorted and provided money for them to go Christmas shopping followed by a special visit with Santa Claus. After her mother’s death, the West Springfield Rotary Club has taken over the organization of this annual event.[2]

Thank you, Kristi, for reminding all of us that life “ends when you least expect it” and that “life is a terrible thing to waste.” I am truly sorry that I never had the privilege of meeting you and learning about your inspirations for these amazing deeds.

This profound and beautiful poem helps me cope with the morning news on March 28th that  the world in at least 171 countries has seen 585,500 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases with at least 27,164 deaths while the U.S. has become the epicenter of the world with 102,838 cases and 1,646 deaths. My state of Minnesota has had 398 cases and 4 deaths, including 1 death in Hennepin County, where I live.[3]

My wife and I continue to be in good health while sheltering in our downtown Minneapolis condo with occasional outdoor walks on nice days and trips by car to buy groceries and once-a-week take-out dinners at restaurants, gas for the car and necessities at drug stores.

==============================

[1]This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic. Here are the earlier such posts to dwkcommentareis.com: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (o3/22/20) (Mar. 24, 2020); Pandemic Journal (#3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020).

[2] Korff, ‘Kristi’s Christmas’ honors the late Kristi Brown with day of giving for Fairfax kids, WJLA (Dec. 11, 2014); Ours, Kristi’s Christmas makes the holidays merry and bright, The Oracle (Dec. 15, 2016).

3] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2020; Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Mar. 28, 2020); Olson & Snowbeck, Stay-at-home order now in effect to fight virus that has killed four Minnesotans, StarTribune (Mar.28, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses

Sunday morning’s news outlets reported that worldwide there now are over 300,000 persons who have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  and at least 12,944 have died of this infection while the U.S. statistics are more than 24,300 cases and more than 370 deaths. My State of Minnesota has 169 confirmed cases and its first death while the state’s most populous county (Hennepin with the City of Minneapolis), where I live, has  57 confirmed cases and no deaths.

This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic.

This first post will focus on some of today’s overall perspectives from those who know about what is happening: Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who has talked with a lot of experts, and Michael Osterholm, now at the University of Minnesota as Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School.[1]

Other posts will discuss other important developments in the crisis as well as his personal reactions to these problems.

Kristof’s Analysis[2]

One of the most disturbing Sunday articles was by Nicholas Kristof, who set forth what experts are seeing as the “worst case” and “best case” for the U.S. in March 2021, one year from now.

Worst Case

“More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.”

The U.S. “badly bungled testing, and President Trump repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus, saying it was ‘totally under control’ and ‘will disappear,’ and insisting he wasn’t ‘concerned at all.’ . . .The United States has still done only a bit more than 10 percent as many tests per capita as Canada, Austria and Denmark.”

“By some counts, the United States is just eight days behind Italy on a similar trajectory, and it’s difficult to see how America can pirouette from the path of Italy to that of South Korea. The United States may already have 100,000 infected citizens — nobody knows. That’s too many to trace. Indeed, one can argue that the U.S. is not only on the same path as Italy but is also less prepared, for America has fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than Italy does — and a shorter life expectancy even in the best of times.”

“Mitre, a nonprofit that does work on health care, calculated that coronavirus cases are doubling more quickly in the United States than in any other country it examined, including Italy and Iran.” Two experts’ models suggest “that up to 366,000 I.C.U. beds might be needed in the United States for coronavirus patients at one time, more than 10 times the number available.”

Therefore, the U.S. “should be urgently ramping up investment in vaccines and therapies, addressing the severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment, and giving retired physicians and military medics legal authority to practice in a crisis.” But that is not happening. Moreover, the U.S. “isn’t protecting health workers with the same determination” as China did after its initial failure to do so.“In the worst-case scenario, will social services collapse in some areas? Will order fray? Gun sales are increasing, because some people expect chaos and crime.” The U.S. “is in a weaker position than some other countries to confront the virus because it is the only advanced country that doesn’t have universal health coverage, and the only one that does not guarantee paid sick leave. With chronic diseases, the burden of these gaps is felt primarily by the poor; with infectious diseases, the burden will be shared by all Americans.”

Best Case

“Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.”

According to Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist, “The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out.” Another expert,  Dr. Charles G. Prober, a professor at Stanford Medical School, agreed. Two other lethal coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, both petered out, and that is possible here. “My hope is that Covid-19 will not survive.”

“Several countries have shown that decisive action can turn the tide on Covid-19, at least for a time.” This especially is true for Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong that “responded with the standard epidemiological tool kit: vigilance and rapid response, testing, isolating the sick, tracing contacts, quarantining those exposed, ensuring social distancing and providing reliable information. They did not shut down their entire countries.”

It is possible that the U.S. and other Northern Hemisphere nations soon will experience warmer weather that will dampen the coronavirus as was true with two of the four other coronaviruses.

“There is hope that some antiviral medicines currently in clinical trials will be successful.”

Finally there is hope that “the coronavirus may be less lethal than was originally feared, so long as health care systems are not overwhelmed.”

Yet another expert, “Dr. Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, summed up all of these considerations: ‘I’m not pessimistic. I think this can work.’ She thinks it will take eight weeks of social distancing to have a chance to slow the virus, and success will depend on people changing behaviors and on hospitals not being overrun. ‘If warm weather helps, if we can get these drugs, if we can get companies to produce more ventilators, we have a window to tamp this down.’”

Our Responses

“This crisis should be a wake-up call to address long-term vulnerabilities. That means providing universal health coverage and paid sick leave.”  The coronavirus legislation adopted last week does not do that. “It guarantees sick leave to only about one-fifth of private-sector workers. It’s a symbol of the inadequacy of America’s preparedness.”

“More broadly, the United States must remedy its health priorities: We pour resources into clinical medicine but neglect public health. . . . The United States has a decentralized and spotty public health system, and it has endured painful budget cuts, yet historically public health has saved more lives than clinical medicine.”

Osterholm’s Perspective[3]

U.S. Difficulty in Appreciating Risk of Pandemics

First, the U.S. government and citizens “had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate … . We, of course, know that is folly. A microbe anywhere in the world today can be anywhere in the world tomorrow.”

Second, “we tend to lack creative imagination. {Yet those ]who knew health care knew that health care [had been] carved down to the bone for which there was no resiliency of any substantial nature, no excess capacity, no monies to stockpile large volumes of protective equipment.”  In addition, there has been “no real understanding of the vulnerability of this country outsourcing all of its drug supply manufacturing to places like China.”

Third, “I think it’s human nature to not want to believe this” risk.

This January Osterholm wrote a notification for the CIDRAP leadership forum, saying, “ “I now am absolutely convinced this is going to be a pandemic. This will be a worldwide epidemic. We will see major transmission around the world. And what has happened in Wuhan [China] will happen in other places.” But this warning had no impact on U.S. policies.

 U.S. Needs ‘New Normal’

 U.S. and others need to find a new normal, a way to live with COVID-19. We “can’t shelter in place for 18 months. This isn’t going to work.” Instead, we need a national goal.

We must “make every effort to … protect those most vulnerable. And we [need to] continue to emphasize social distancing, … [and] keep the hospitals from being overrun. We [must] keep doing that until we get a vaccine. . . . It won’t be perfect. Some people will get sick, some may die.”

“People are really concerned. They’re scared … but they’re not panicking. They want straight talk.” They want the truth, and they are not getting it from the Trump administration.

“[A recent British scientific paper] said crowd size really makes no difference. We really have no data on crowd size. Their modeling says we have to have contact … that if you shook hands with all 50,000 people in an arena, you got a problem. But if you didn’t, the risk of transmission is not nearly as great as people think it is. We also don’t have good data that we have major transmission in schools from kids to kids and that they take it home to Mom and Dad.”

“Singapore did not close schools. Hong Kong did. We saw no difference. . . . {On the other hand,] I do know it makes a difference in saving lives in a hospital when you take out 20% of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists who can’t work because they’re at home [to watch their kids]. I know that is a risk in putting grandparents in so that some can keep working.”

He is hopeful about some new potential treatments for COVID-19, such as chloroquine, that are being studied, but that, he says, is not a strategy.

Conclusion

As a retired lawyer in his 80’s with no experience or expertise on these global health issues, I concur in Professor Osterholm’s assertion that others and I want the truth from our government and national and local leaders. That truth will include admissions that they do not yet know certain important factors, that they are investigating those issues in a focused, disciplined, scientific manner and that the rest of us need to follow developments in the pandemic and follow the straightforward instructions: wash your hands frequently and carefully, maintain at least six-feet social distancing with other people and do not join groups of (10?) or more people. As noted above, other posts will explore my personal reactions to all of this situation.

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[1] Osterholm also currently holds, and has held, other important positions in this field and is the co-author of “the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them.” (CiDRAP, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH.)

[2] Kristof, The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst, N.Y. Times (Mar. 20, 2020).

[3] Burcum, Coronavirus pandemic: What’s ‘normal’ now? What’s next? An interview with Michael Osterholm, StarTribune (Mar. 22, 2020). /

 

Request for U.S. Records in Salvadoran Trial Over 1981 El Mozote Massacre

On December 10-12,1981, during the Salvadoran Civil War, 978 men, women and children were massacred in the country’s northeastern village of El Mozote, the largest mass killing in Latin America’s modern history. Of those victims, 447 were age 12 and under while 4 were unborn infants in their mothers’ wombs.[1]

Eventually it had become clear that  “the Salvadoran military’s Atlacatl Battalion was responsible for the massacre. But details were vague. The commanders of the Battalion remained free. So do the former senior defense officials who allegedly issued orders to the battalion. In the 1990s, the country approved an amnesty that protected war criminals. That law was declared unconstitutional in 2016 by a Salvadoran court, thereby clearing the way for reopening a Salvadoran criminal trial over this massacre.

Early Stages of Salvadoran Trial Over the Massacre[2]

Since that year (2016) a Salvadoran court has been conducting a trial of 16 former Salvadoran military commanders, including a former minister of defense, over this massacre. They are charged with murder, torture, aggravated rape, forced disappearances, forced displacement, acts of terrorism, illegal detention, theft and damages. The evidence implicated the involvement of the Atlacatl Battalion, which had been U.S.-trained, in contradiction of the original Salvadoran and American accounts of the massacre.

U.S. Congressional Decision To Help Salvadoran Trial[3]

In 2019 in establishing the annual budget for international aid, the Congress directed the U.S. Government to cooperate with El Salvador’s investigation of the El Mozote massacre in the following language:

  • “The [House] Committee [on Appropriations] directs the Secretary of State to work with the relevant federal departments and agencies to, as appropriate, assist the judicial authorities of El Salvador in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the El Mozote massacre. [This includes] the identification of and provision of related documents, correspondence, reproductions of Salvadoran documents, and other similar materials from January 1981 to January 1983.”
  • The Senate version stated, “The Secretary of State… shall encourage the Salvadoran Armed Forces to cooperate with prosecutors and investigators, including providing access to archival documents.” The bill also included a mandate for the Department of State to update its report on the current status of the Salvadoran trial.

In response to the Senate’s direction, the State Department on February 5, 2020, sent a letter to the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, with a report on the Salvadoran government’s cooperation with the court’s investigation.[4]

Recent Developments in Salvadoran Case[5]

In January 2020, a retired Salvadoran air force general, Juan Rafael Bustillo, testified in the trial that that the Atlacatl Battalion had carried out the massacre, which was the first time a Salvadoran military official had admitted such responsibility. He said he had not taken part in this event, but that it had been conducted on orders by Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, the commander of that Battalion who died in a 1984 helicopter accident.

After that testimony, the Salvadoran judge, Jorge Guzman Urquilla, concluded that the court did not have an important set of evidence: “U.S. documents that might shed light on how the massacre was planned and executed.”

 Salvadoran Judge’s Letter to U.S.Government[6]

As a result, the judge on January 27, 2020, sent a letter to  U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo with copies to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Robert P. Ashley, Jr. and CIA Director Gina Haspel. The judge’s letter requested “at minimum, any document in the possession of the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other defense or intelligence agencies” relating to the El Mazote massacre. The letter stated the following:

  • “I recognize and am thankful for Congress’ initiative in asking the State Department to look into information that the United States may have on this case. As a judge, I would hope that it would provide me with greater certainty and clarity on these heinous acts that are now part of our country’s history, something we are not proud of, but which the historical record will demand we adjudicate.”
  • “The El Mozote trial is nearing the end of its investigative phase and will soon move to sentencing. Though some expert military testimony is forthcoming, the main phases of the examination portion have been completed. Service members, including several soldiers and a general, have given their accounts of the relevant events, confirming that the massacre took place as well as the role played by various units of the [Salvadoran] Armed Forces. A lack of documents is the last big hurdle. Despite [Salvadoran] President Nayib Bukele’s assurances that he will collaborate, the [Salvadoran] Army has stuck to the position it’s taken since the investigation began in the 1990s: that no relevant documents exist.”
  • “Even if they no longer can be found in El Salvador, it’s still possible that there are copies or records of these files in the United States, a country that was closely involved with and aware of the [Salvadoran] Army’s operations in the 80s as part of its foreign policy agenda.” Though a good deal of documents were already declassified [by President Bill Clinton in 1983], the letter also asked for “any other document that was not declassified by President William Jefferson Clinton or subsequent presidents.”
  • The letter also asked for “any other document that was not declassified by President William Jefferson Clinton or subsequent presidents” and for files on “the operations of the Armed Forces of El Salvador in the Morazán area, including any information on military planning, operational planning, and war planning, and involving any of the military units that I have mentioned,” between 1981 and 1983.
  • The letter specifically solicited information on General José Guillermo García, General Rafael Flores Lima, and 14 others who were charged and remain alive; on Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, Mayor Armando Azmitia, and 14 others who were charged and are now dead; on the municipality of Arambala and the seven sites where the massacre took place; and on the four military units being held responsible: the Atlacatl Battalion, the Third Infantry Brigade of San Miguel, the Fourth Military Detachment in San Francisco Gotera, and the High Command of the Armed Forces.
  • The letter emphasized the need to “move forward with this case in an expeditious manner” and asks Pompeo for a response “within the period of time set forth by the law.”

A journalist for elfaro, a Salvadoran online newspaper, apparently added, “Among the [U.S.] files declassified in 1993, for example, are several diplomatic cables between San Salvador and Washington from January 1981, which make clear that then-U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton was consistently transmitting details about the operation that would ultimately result in the massacre. ‘[I]t is not possible to prove or disprove excesses of violence against the civilian population of El Mozote. It is certain that the guerrilla forces…did nothing to remove them from the path of battle… Civilians did die during Operation Rescate, but no evidence could be found to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operation zone, nor that the number of civilians killed even remotely approached the number being cited in other reports circulating internationally,’ read an initial cable from Hinton, from January 1981.”

The elfaro journalist also said, “Later, in another communication, [Hinton] . . .  offered a different account of what may have taken place: ‘The estimated population of El Mozote during the massacre was about 300 inhabitants. The Atlacatl Battalion conducted Operation Rescate from December 6 to 17 of 1981. The guerrilla knew of the operation since November 15. The civilians present during the operation and the battles with the guerrilla may have been killed.’” Following Clinton’s declassifications, several agencies have continued providing documents in response to petitions from human rights organizations.

Additional support for U.S. production of such documents comes from an analyst for the U.S. National Security Archive, Kate Doyle, who believes the U.S. has additional relevant documents about the Salvadoran civil war that could and should be declassified.[7]

U.S. Government’s Response to the Judge’s Letter

To date, Secretary Pompeo has not responded to the court’s letter; nor have the three others copied on that letter. The subject came up again at a March 11th Salvadoran court hearing in the case when the judge said, ““This information could be very valuable to us. It could clarify what happened.” A State Department spokesman, however, said, “We do not comment on the Secretary’s correspondence.”

Conclusion

 Given the congressional demand that the U.S. cooperate with the Salvadoran investigation of the El Mozote massacre and the U.S. support of human rights by its recent publication of the  latest annual report about human rights in every country in the world and Secretary Pompeo’s proud creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, there is no excuse for any further delay in providing an affirmative response to the Salvadoran judge’s letter and the requested documents.

This conclusion is buttressed by the following words in the March 11, 2020, State Department’s report about human rights in El Salvador:[8]

  • “In February [2019], in a renewed effort to shield the perpetrators of war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the country’s 1980-92 civil war, a group of influential legislators proposed a draft national reconciliation law. Despite Constitutional Court rulings in 2016 and 2018 that expressly prohibited a broad and unconditional amnesty, the proposed bill would have granted amnesty to several high-level officials who enjoyed immunity from prosecution due to their positions in the recent administration of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. Victims’ rights groups, other civil society actors, and the international community successfully campaigned against the proposed bill, and President-elect Bukele stated his strong opposition to an amnesty bill and expressed his support for additional consultation with victims. On May 29, [2019] the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to immediately suspend consideration of the proposed law. The proposed bill eventually lost support among legislators and failed to reach a floor vote.” (Section 2.E)
  • “Despite a June 2018 Constitutional Court order directing it to release military records related to the El Mozote killings and serious civil war crimes, the Ministry of Defense had not produced the requested documentation as of November 12 [2019]. On November 1, President Bukele stated that he was committed to the truth and that he would release the records. Previously, the Ministry of Defense claimed the El Mozote archive records were destroyed in an accidental warehouse fire. Civil society and victims’ groups continued to press for release of these archives.” (Section 2.E)
  • “On April 23, [2019] the judge in the El Mozote prosecution issued an order adding three new charges against the 16 remaining defendants: Torture, forced disappearance, and forced displacement. He also imposed several provisional measures on the defendants, including a prohibition on leaving the country or contacting victims, and a requirement that the defendants physically appear in court biweekly. The defendants appealed these rulings, which were affirmed by an intermediate appellate court. On February 14, [2019] the Legislative Assembly approved a transitory law establishing mechanisms designed to allow family members to be added to the El Mozote victims’ registry.” (Section 2.E)

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[1] See generally list of posts in the “El Mozote Massacre” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADORThe massacre of children and others at El Mozote, El Salvador Perspectives (Dec. 10, 2017); Posts about El Mozote. El Salvador Perspectives.

[2] Zabiah, El Mozote judge asks the United States for confidential documents on the massacre, elfaro (Mar. 5, 2020) (Zabiah #1).

[3] Zabiah # 1, supra; H. Rep., 116th Congress, 1st Sess., Rep. 116-78, State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2020 (May 20, 2019); H. Rep., Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Funding Bill (May 5, 2019); H. Rep. Comm. on Appropriations. Public Witness Hearing: State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (Mar. 12, 2019).

[4] Letter, State Dep’t to Senator Leahy (enclosing three-page report) (Feb. 5, 2020)(hyperlinked to Zabiah #1, supra).

[5] Zabiah #1, supra; Zabiah, General Bustillo breaks the officers’ script and admits that ‘rudeness’ occurred in El Mozote, elfaro (Jan. 26, 2020); Schwartz, What the El Mozote Massacre Can Teach Us About Trump’s War on the Press, The Intercept (Jan. 28, 2020); El Salvador general admits army carried out El Mozote massacre, Aljazeera (Jan. 25, 2020); Pierce, It’s a Bull Market for Bashing the Press. Under Conservative Governments, It Often Has Been, Esquire (Jan.27, 2020); Renteria, Salvadoran general admits army carried out infamous 1981 massacre, Reuters (Jan. 24, 2020).

[6] Zabiah #1 , supra.

[7] Alvarado, “The attorney general can ask the United States for information about El Mazote,” elfaro (Mar. 23, 2018).

[8] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: El Salvador (Mar. 11, 2020).

Spanish Court Upcoming Trial Over 1989 Murders of Salvadoran Jesuit Priests

On June 8, 2020, the Spanish National Court in Madrid will commence a trial over the November 16, 1989, murders in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. The sole defendant will be Inocente Orlando Montano, who at the time was a Colonel and the Vice-Minister of Public Security in that country and who on November 19, 2017, was extradited from the U.S., where he had been living, to Spain to stand trial.[1]

On May 20, 2011, the Spanish court had issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 Salvadoran military officers, including Montano, for this horrible crime and thereafter requested El Salvador to extradite 15 of them still living in that country to Spain to stand trial, but the Salvadoran courts refused to do so. (As of November 2017, one of the four others had died, two were cooperating with the prosecution and one had been tried, convicted and imprisoned for this crime in El Salvador.) [2]

The law, including universal jurisdiction, facts and circumstances leading up to this trial have been discussed in many previous posts. [3]

The prosecution will be lead by attorneys from The Guernica Centre for International Justice and Spanish co-counsel Oilé & Sesé Abogadas. According to the Centre,

  • “The trial for the murder of the Jesuits and the two women they employed is extremely significant. This trial has the potential to reopen the discussion in Spain about the necessity and importance of an effective universal jurisdiction law. It also supports the ongoing realization that countries like Spain need to ensure that victims of human rights violations can find redress when legal avenues have been foreclosed in other jurisdictions due to restrictive legislation, corrupt judiciaries, impunity, or political opposition. This trial also comes at a time when Salvadoran civil society is struggling to push forward investigations and prosecutions in El Salvador following the Supreme Court’s repeal of the Amnesty Law in 2016, while simultaneously political sectors in El Salvador threaten to enact legislation that once again could shield those most responsible from prosecution and criminal sanctions.”

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[1] Bernabéu, Email: Trial Date Set for the Jesuits Massacre Case (Feb. 17, 2020); Former Salvadoran Military Officer Extradited from U.S. to Spain for Trial in Jesuits Murder Case, dwkcommentaries.com (December 1, 2017).

[2] Update on Status of Extradition of Defendants in Spain’s Criminal Case Regarding the 1989 Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests, dwkcommentareies.com (Aug. 22, 2016); Spain Ready to Proceed with Case Over the 1989 Killing of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador, dwkcommenaries.com (Nov. 19, 2017).

[3] See the posts listed in “The Jesuit Priests” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical:  EL SALVADOR.

Bernie Sanders’ Early 2014 Cuban Prison Meeting with U.S. Prisoner 

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ recent comments about Cuba and Fidel Castro resulted in journalists’ rediscovery of a meeting Sanders and two other U.S. Senators (Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND) and Jon Tester (Dem., MT)) had in February 2014 with Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen then in a Cuban prison.[1]

Gross in 2009 had been arrested in Cuba for bringing communications equipment to Jewish synagogues on the island under a subcontract with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Gross then was tried and convicted for violating Cuban laws and sentenced to 15 years in prison, and in 2014 as a result of his poor health, the U.S. was seeking his release from the Cuban prison. On December 17, 2014, as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to  embark on normalization of relations, Gross was released from the Cuban prison in exchange for the U.S. release of three Cubans from U.S. prison.[2]

In a March 2020 interview by National Public Radio (NPR), Gross recalled the hour-long prison meeting in February 2014 with the three senators and his pleasant conversation with Heitkamp and Tester while Sanders was silent until the end. Then Sanders said he did not see what was wrong with Cuba.

At the time Gross had lost a lot of weight and teeth as a result of mistreatment, and he told NPR that he was offended by Sanders’ comment. “I just think, you know, it was a stupid thing for him to do. First, how could he not have seen the incredible deterioration of what was once the grandeur of the pre-Castro era. And two, how could he be so insensitive to make that remark to a political hostage — me!”

Gross added in the interview, this Sanders’ comment is “relevant now. The guy’s  running for president of the United States. And for him to make those statements [in 2014] demonstrating  a basic lack of a grasp on reality is problematic for me. I don’t want to see this guy in the White House.”

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[1] Mak, Former Prisoner Recalls Sanders Saying, ‘I Don’t Know What’s So Wrong with Cuba, NPR (Mar. 4, 2020); ’I don’t know what’s so bad about this country’: Bernie Sanders told a Alan Gross prisoner in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 5, 2020); Edwards, Cuba: Sanders Meets with Imprisoned American, http://www.sanders.senate.gov (Feb. 11, 2014).

[2] Davis, Alan Gross Gains the Freedom From  Cuba He Thought Would Never Come, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2014); The American Prisoner Alan Gross and Cuban-American Relations, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2014). See also these posts of dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation (Dec. 21, 2014); President Obama’s Strategic Timing of Announcement of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation (Dec. 26, 2014); U.S. Imprisonment of “The Cuban Five” and Their Recent Releases from U.S. Prison (Dec. 31, 2014).