Thursday, July 31, 2008

O How I Want to Be in That Number

Earlier this month eProf found an AP story about an upcoming July 27 rally at Postville, IA, site of history’s largest immigration raid May 12. From the moment he told me, I longed to attend it. And Sunday, attend it I did. I had to go. You probably know how I’ve poured over this story, searching the internet for details of the raid and its aftermath and sharing them here. This story broke my heart, and I so longed to put my body where my mind already was: Postville.

Some people question the efficacy of rallies and protests. They may be right. Millions around the world marched against an initiation of Gulf War II to no avail. But a song-writing, professional musician-hippy-leftover I worked with (and adored) once realized aloud to me why he went to a little rally we’d both attended. With eyes wide in a new self-understanding, he exclaimed: “I go to these things because that’s who I am. And that’s what I have to do to be me!”

I couldn’t have put it any more succinctly.

  • Sunday’s Highlights:
    Hearing the Scriptures—powerful passages of liberation and justice—read sequentially in Spanish, English, and Hebrew.
  • Marching with old friends from my hometown, busing with activists from my new metro area whom I’d never met before, praying with strangers from Minneapolis and Chicago, saying to (an apparently Guatemalan) woman on the march: “We’re here because you are in our hearts and we support you.”
  • Meeting and thanking Postville’s pastoral leaders upon whom national attention was thrust uninvited but who have proven that small town Iowa can be equal to that challenge.

The relentless camera coverage of Lynda Waddington of The Iowa Independent and Essential Estrogen indeed caught me marching as part of “that number.” People-watching is a lovely perk of these events, so if you care to indulge, her vid is below. [I march past at 2:42-2:44, BTW.] .

There's more--so much more--to say. Postville is full of stories. I'm not finished, just ending for today.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama on "Walls:" A Speech/Policy Disconnect?

Obama waxes eloquently about tearing down walls but supports, nevertheless, present and proposed future wall construction between the U.S. and Mexico.

Express your concern about the plans for more border fences and the walls under construction on Obama's comment site:

He must get his words and his policies in sync. For more thorough treatment of this topic, visit eProf's post: Obama on Walls.

Monday, July 28, 2008


This is the final posting in a series of stories from the 1998 Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba.
The punishment for breaking the embargo on Cuba is one good indicator of just how skewed the U.S. foreign policy on Cuba is. As I recall it (and it was very clear to me at the time) the maximum sentence for a conviction of this felony offence was: 1) a quarter of a million dollar fine, and 2) ten years in the federal penitentary.

I'm the nerdy kind of person who always gets caught. When I'd complain to a grade school girlfriend about our teacher, inevitably I'd turn around to find that teacher right behind me, listening to every word. So I pretty much figured that I'd get caught for breaking the embargo. I gambled on the fact that the feds have not prosecuted any caravanistas so far. (Still true as of 2008!)

The Department of the Treasury actually has to enforce this U.S. policy, and--surprisingly--the real deal-breaker is not so much entering Cuba as it is spending money in Cuba.

Pastors for Peace trained us on how to re-enter the country before we ever left it. We learned our rights and what we should not say to the Border Patrol. Lawyers in New York would be on call to assist us. As the caravanistas gathered in Texas after canvassing the nation, the Treasury Dept. offered the delegation a deal: they'd allow 20 of us to legally enter Cuba and deliver our aid if the rest of us would go home. "Submit a list of the 20 names," they said. Someone drew up a name list, including: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., 18 other famous civil disobedients. But I doubt anyone ever actually sent in that list. Unanimously, we decided to continue undeterred.

As we left the country, a poker-faced man in a dark suit handed each vehicle a letter formally reminding us of the penalty for a conviction. This was sobering to a nerd like me.
On the return crossing, most of the group got through the border undetected. But the vehicle I was in did not. We had a Canadian on board who decided to bring home some Cuban rum--that's legal in Canada but not in the U.S.

"Were you in Cuba?" the agent asked us, his face registering incredulity. (gulp)

"Yes," we each responded--as previously instructed.

Thus ensued our detention. I took two photos of the holding tank before being reprimanded for taking pictures, so here's a (very rare!) look at where they put the drug runners, the human traffickers, incoming terrorists, the so-called "illegal aliens" and Pastors for Peace caravanistas:

Photo Caption: Apprehended caravanistas do not appear to be suitably repentant.

At this point in our day we were on hour 20. We were as blitzed as we looked (note the 2 caravanistas along back wall staring straight ahead with unseeing eyes):

A royal conflict swirled around us. This story is too long to tell here. We were released six hours later, but they took our passport numbers. They knew who I was; I was busted.
Now I hope the statute of limitations lifts the burden of a felony conviction from me. But still today, when I enter the country, I've noticed the eyes of the Border Patrol agent stay on the monitor just a microsecond too long before he clears me for entry.

Now when the undocumented workers are apprehended, detained...sometimes even convicted of trumped-up charges, penalized and then deported, I think, "It could have been me, but instead it was you."

And now you know why the Holly Near song is posted near the top of my blog these days. Thank you for your graciousness in reading my Cuban adventures all the way through.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To "Fidel?" Or, not to "Fidel?": On receiving a presidential invitation.

This post is 3rd in a series of reminiscences from the 1998 Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba.
The Pastors for Peace organization runs several caravans and trips to third world countries every year, but the '98 Cuba trip was my first with them. Being a conscientious nerd, I read all the info they sent. I learned that being a caravanista meant more than just going on the trip. We were also supposed to lobby our reps in D.C. about Cuba, collect supplies for Cuba and/or raise money to help fund getting the stuff there.

Since this was my chosen summer project, I undertook the fund-raising effort earnestly. In the end, my little Cuba fund totaled into the thousands. Later, the Pastors' Midwest coordinator told me that our small Iowa city contributed more than Los Angeles had.

Maybe that is why she took me aside quietly in Texas, before the group of us caravanistas mobilized to cross the border, with a special offer. Fidel Castro had invited the Pastors to sit on the stage with him as he addressed the nation on July 26 in his annual Independence Day speech. This would be a select group of caravanistas, she explained, who would participate in a special VIP tour in Santiago de Cuba. And, while she couldn't absolutely promise it--this group would likely meet Fidel personally.

While I maybe should have jumped at the chance, I asked her instead if I could think it over. Lacking Spanish, I'd be totally dependent on interpreters who would filter what I'd see. I'd have to separate from my (brand new) husband and his son for the several day duration of this side trip, and I'd miss taking the Pinar del Rio side trip with them. Worse, I'd be exiled into the rarefied air of the "uppity-ups," getting the royal treatment. I'd be totally dependent on strangers, unable to experience the country on my own, unable to meet the common folk.

Well, that decided it. I passed on my chance to meet this pivotal figure in 20th century history. And on July 26, while I was swilling beer in the streets with the commoners, the Pastors for Peace delegation sat in state on the stage while Fidel waxed on...and on....and on. I tuned into the televised speech periodically and smiled to myself. Because as Fidel talked, the hours passed: 3, 4, 5, going onto 6. I had made the right decision for me, after all.
And if I missed a great name-dropping story, well, I can always truthfully say that I declined Castro's invitation. That oughta be worth something.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

July 26--Happy Independence Day, Cuba!

In 1953 Fidel Castro led a July 26th attack on the Moncada garrison in Santiago de Cuba. Although unsuccessful, it was the beginning of the end of the hated dictator Batista who was eventually overthrown years later in 1959. So July 26 is remembered as the start of the revolution. It's the day Cuba pulls out the stops to celebrate its national pride--like July 4 in the USA.

I joined the festivities in Cuba on July 26, 1998 with the Pastors for Peace Caravan. We--my husband and his 2nd son--received treatment worthy of diplomatic guests. Residing that week at a "vacation-reward" resort, we used some afternoon free time to break away from our delegation and wander the streets of Pinar del Rio. A short mile walk brought us into an ordinary Cuban neighborhood where the party-hearty rule reigned.

We foreigners attracted the attention of resident-celebrators who don't see U.S. citizens often. Instant friendship ensued, as Mr. B.E. and his son were soon jabbering away (I was Spanish-less then) while I enjoyed the non-verbals and their "fill-in-the-blanks" interpretation.

A highlight of the day, they explained, was the beer-truck which made the rounds of the neighborhoods. It dispensed beer from a large, rear, holding tank through a plastic delivery tube into assorted plastic buckets awaiting the liquid gold on each block. The party was BYOG--with "G" for "glass"--and the beer flowed freely. Glasses magically appeared for us; we were now one of the revellers.

"A photo?" I asked. BANG. No false shyness, no hesitation...the pose was immediate. The memory permanent. But Time fades all things. The slide (above) shows the storage-damage of Midwest heat and cold as I've left it, neglected, while I trapse about the planet. So thanks to my good friend Dada whose encouragement prodded me to retell the Cuba experience, this photo--so dear to me--now resides securely on the internet, impervious to future damage.

Happy Independence Day, Cuba!

Friday, July 25, 2008

On becoming the media darling of Cuba

The 19th Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan returned this month, prompting a few stories from my caravanista experience. This entry begins a series of four stories I've promised to share with a couple of my friends. Anyone can be my friend and read these stories.
My husband took a notion to go to Cuba with the Pastors for Peace delegation in 1998.

"Why not?" I agreed. Cuba would be my summer vacation project during my break as an elementary school educator. So I applied for the delegation and began reading everything I could to prep myself for the trip. Since Cuba doesn't get a lot of positive MSM coverage; I learned a lot I didn't know. Cuba disappeared behind a blanket of U.S. silence in the early 1960's.

The delegation flaunted U.S. law and the U.S. embargo. It didn't apply for a license for the tons of vehicles and humanitarian aid it collected for Cuban delivery; none of us applied for permission to visit Cuba. In the tradition of civil disobedience, the caravan blatantly--to this day--refuses to cooperate with an unjust U.S. system, and it refuses very publically, defiantly.

I published an article in a NE Iowa newspaper. In our small city it was easy enough to get myself a slot on the nightly local newscast, newspaper coverage, a slot on radio news. "Anything to get the word out," I thought. Most everyone I talked to knew very little about the U.S. embargo, including it's annual denunciation from the U.N. and its condemnation from the Vatican.

As you might imagine, we were welcomed as heroes in Cuba, not so much for the millions of dollars of aid we collected and brought them as for the symbol of hope and solidarity we were to them. There were stories about us every day in the national newspaper Gramma. One day, the Pastors' Midwest coordinator asked me to participate in a Cuban press conference. While honored, I was also puzzled. The press was taping video interviews. The other caravanistas were bilingual. I had studied only a couple weeks of Spanish the year before, so I was virtually tongue-tied, but I really wanted to use the chance to speak.

When it was my turn to appear before the camera, I indicated to the reporter that I wouldn't be taking questions, but I would read my statement which I had prepared with our interpreter's help. It was:
"As a citizen of the United States I would like to ask the forgiveness of the Cuban people for the suffering that my govenment is causing you. I represent many people from the center of the country--which is its heart--and they send you their love and support. Thank you for your hospitality and your friendship."

My sincerity shone through my stumbling, gringa Spanish. From the group of us, mine was the statement that they chose to televise. My stepson heard it broadcast on the radio in Havana. I was quoted by name in Gramma. A Cuban woman a month later mailed me a clipping from her city's local newspaper: it was a scan of my written statement. The reporters, who asked me to sign and date it, published it without a caption. That little piece of me had remained in Cuba and appeared even after my departure at the end of our ten day visit.

It was a highlight of my life. When it's time for me to leave this world, that simple statement may be perhaps the most satisfying thing I've ever said.

photo caption: Cuban press greets us Pastors for Peace Cuba caravanistas as we debark from the plane in Havana

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The sleeze gets deeper: Agriprocessors impersonates a rabbi!

Outspoken critic of Agriprocessors (the kosher IA meatpacking company which ICE raided May 12 to apprehend nearly 400 undocumented workers), Rabbi Morris Allen was astonished to read blog comments attributed to him that he never wrote. The Iowa Independent reports that someone associated with a New York-based public relations firm hired by Agriprocessors was impersonating Allen online.

Allen remarks: "What's ironic is that [Agriprocessors] is currently being investigated, and there are two plant supervisors sitting in jail for encouraging people to use false identities," Allen said. "Now the Agriprocessors' PR firm believes it is acceptable to just take someone else's identity and run with it. It is outrageous to say the least."

Neither Allen nor the movement he founded to create ethical standards for the production of kosher food has received an apology. The owner of the blog investigated the IP addresses of the phony statements--including one statement in which Allen's name was misspelled--and discovered that they originated from a computer connected to the PR firm's network. The firm, 5W Public Relations, represents diverse prestigeous accounts such as Fannie Mae, Harrah's and the American Bible Society. After an initial denial, the firm acknowleged the truth of the accusations and attributed the situation to corporate growing pains.

Allen, meanwhile, is consulting a lawyer to determine his response.

The joke on the streets in Iowa since May: the meat may have been kosher, but Agriprocessors' business practices were anything but that. Now, the sleeze deepens. To date, no upper management personnel are under arrest. The two middle management supervisors who are in custody are both Hispanic.

Monday, July 21, 2008

July 21: No ordinary day.

As of today, the United States has been engaged in Iraq War II for a period exceeding that of our involvement in WW I and WW II combined.

Let us continue to resist.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Oh, what fragility, what vulnerability!

photo: post-flooding residual damage blankets LeClaire Park, Davenport IA

Fragilidad - Sting

Frequently a song chooses me, popping out of the machine and summoning me, siren-like. Fragilidad by Sting helps me grieve the assassination of the lawyer of the Lomas Del Poleo community. Beyond that, it laments all the sadnesses and vulnerability we fragile humans experience. Lyrics are HERE, but here's my own ("gringa-Spanish," non-poetic) translation (improvements welcome). Enjoy it and do your own grieving...the menu is endless.

Already tomorrow there will no longer be blood
as the falling rain washes it away.
Steel and skin—such a cruel combination,
But something will continue to remain in our thoughts & minds.
Thus, an act will finish a life, and nothing else…
Nothing is obtained with violence,
Nor will anything ever be gained that way.
Those born into this kind of world
Don’t forget their fragility.
You cry, and I cry
And the sky cries too, the sky also cries. (repeat)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Updates from an Iowa activists listserv

Telling fact regarding working conditions at AgriProcessors:

When Paul Rael, director of Hispanic Ministries at St. Bridget's Church in Postville, spoke at the Decorah Rotary Club last week, he reported that since the May 12th raid on the Agriprocessors plant three consecutive groups of new employees have been brought in to Postville--and not a single employee remains from those first three groups.
---commenter Diane's remark here on 7/12/08 is verified.

Donations needed for Food Pantry at Postville

The Postville Food Pantry volunteers have struggled to keep up with the need to help supply food for the families who have no source of income. These families must wait either for a hearing or for a loved one to leave prison and have no way to earn an income. The Food Pantry is serving as many as 100 people in an afternoon. The Postville Community Response Committee is asking those who are concerned about the situation to send a $20 donation. This will allow the Food Pantry to purchase approximately the following items for a family of four: rice, beans, a can each of fruit and vegetables, a box of cereal, eggs, and a $5 coupon for milk.

Please send your donation to the Postville Food Pantry c/o Pastor Steve Brackett, St Paul Lutheran Church, 116 Military, Postville IA 52162

--I can't be in Postville, but I can still help.

And a Rally! SAVE THE DATE: Rally and March in Postville, July 27 , 1:00 p.m.
An Inter faith prayer service followed by a March and community gathering.
The march is a call for immigration raids to be stopped until fully evaluated, a call for support for those affected, and encouragement for the community. In addition to local folks, there will be people coming from Minneapolis and other areas, representing religious groups and others who have been supportive (one of the organizers is a Jewish organization in Minneapolis that will bring a couple of bus loads of people).

--Interesting that that AP story called it a "protest" but the organizers consider it to be a positive show of support that includes a call to stop immigration raids. Thanks to eagle-eyed reader eProf for first noting this AP story.
--Finally: a new (to me) blog I've discovered is Essential Estrogen, Iowa women bloggers whose efforts merited a subscription.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Happy Ending. And the struggle continues.


Members of the 19th US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravan returned to the US today after challenging the US blockade on travel to Cuba and delivering nearly 100 tons of humanitarian aid to that island nation. When they crossed through Mexico and reached the US border at Hidalgo, TX today, the members of the caravan were processed through US Immigration and Customs.

Responding to constant pressure from communities all across the US, US officials then returned to the caravan the 32 computers that had been seized on July 3.

"It’s difficult for even the US government to enforce the blockade against us, since they know that we are acting on the basis of our moral principles -- principles which are supported by the great majority of the US people," said Rev. Thomas Smith, president of the board of directors of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.

Determined caravanistas then hand-carried the 32 computers across the International Bridge from Hidalgo, Texas into Reynosa, Mexico.

The computers will be sent from Reynosa on to Cuba, which means that every item of the nearly 100 tons of humanitarian aid collected by the caravan from all across the US will in fact be donated to Cuba.

"We appreciate that the computers were released today. But our work could not be complete until we knew for sure that the computers would be on their way to their intended home," said Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. "In fact, even now, our work is not complete — not until this mean-spirited, foolish, petty, counterproductive, immoral blockade against our Cuban sisters and brothers is ended."
It's nice to have good news today.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Our Rights Are Being Used Against Us

"Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account" by Erik Camayd-Freixas, Ph.D. is online. It's recommended reading, excerpted here today. Federal court hired Camayd-Freixas to interpret proceedings for the nearly 400 meatpacking workers apprehended by ICE in Postville, IA May 12. Four days later, he found himself in a state penitentiary to translate for the court-appointed attorney:

"... While we waited to be admitted, the attorney pointed out the reason why the prosecution wanted to finish arraignments by 10am Thursday: according to the writ of habeas corpus they had 72 hours from Monday’s raid to charge the prisoners or release them for deportation (only a handful would be so lucky). The right of habeas corpus, but of course! It dawned on me that we were paid overtime, adding hours to the day, in a mad rush to abridge habeas corpus, only to help put more workers in jail. Now I really felt bad. But it would soon get worse. I was about to bear the brunt of my conflict of interest.

[Readers familiar with this story from past posts here already know info in the next paragraph and can skip ahead.]
It came with my first jail interview. The purpose was for the attorney to explain the uniform Plea Agreement that the government was offering. The explanation, which we repeated over and over to each client, went like this. There are three possibilities. If you plead guilty to the charge of “knowingly using a false Social Security number,” the government will withdraw the heavier charge of “aggravated identity theft,” and you will serve 5 months in jail, be deported without a hearing, and placed on supervised release for 3 years. If you plead not guilty, you could wait in jail 6 to 8 months for a trial (without right of bail since you are on an immigration detainer). Even if you win at trial, you will still be deported, and could end up waiting longer in jail than if you just pled guilty. You would also risk losing at trial and receiving a 2-year minimum sentence, before being deported. Some clients understood their “options” better than others.
That first interview, though, took three hours. The client, a Guatemalan peasant afraid for his family, spent most of that time weeping at our table, in a corner of the crowded jailhouse visiting room. How did he come here from Guatemala? “I walked.” What? “I walked for a month and ten days until I crossed the river.” We understood immediately how desperate his family’s situation was. He crossed alone, met other immigrants, and hitched a truck ride to Dallas, then Postville, where he heard there was sure work. He slept in an apartment hallway with other immigrants until employed. He had scarcely been working a couple of months when he was arrested. Maybe he was lucky: another man who began that Monday had only been working for 20 minutes. “I just wanted to work a year or two, save, and then go back to my family, but it was not to be.” His case and that of a million others could simply be solved by a temporary work permit as part of our much overdue immigration reform. “The Good Lord knows I was just working and not doing anyone any harm.” This man, like many others, was in fact not guilty. “Knowingly” and “intent” are necessary elements of the charges, but most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security number was or what purpose it served. This worker simply had the papers filled out for him at the plant, since he could not read or write Spanish, let alone English. But the lawyer still had to advise him that pleading guilty was in his best interest. He was unable to make a decision. “You all do and undo,” he said. “So you can do whatever you want with me.” To him we were part of the system keeping him from being deported back to his country, where his children, wife, mother, and sister depended on him. He was their sole support and did not know how they were going to make it with him in jail for 5 months. None of the “options” really mattered to him. Caught between despair and hopelessness, he just wept. He had failed his family, and was devastated. I went for some napkins, but he refused them. I offered him a cup of soda, which he superstitiously declined, saying it could be “poisoned.” His Native American spirit was broken and he could no longer think. He stared for a while at the signature page pretending to read it, although I knew he was actually praying for guidance and protection. Before he signed with a scribble, he said: “God knows you are just doing your job to support your families, and that job is to keep me from supporting mine.” There was my conflict of interest, well put by a weeping, illiterate man."
There you have it: our "rights"--in this case habeas corpus--being used against us, if you can consider yourself on the same side as a weeping, illiterate man. It is a heart-breaking story. The world is populated by billions of men like this one, living on $1-$2/day. May we allow this story to break our hearts...and then grow stronger in the broken places to act for justice.
To assist families stranded in Postville, send tax-deductible checks payable to "St. Bridget's Hispanic Ministry" to St. Bridget's Hispanic Ministry, St. Bridget's Church, P.O. Box 369, Postville, IA 52162.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"They crossed a line in Postville." Let's thank Bush.

A New York Times editorial today reinforces yesterday's article on Erik Camayd-Freixas, the translator-educator & professional translator of 23 years who speaks truth to power about the justice(?) process the apprehended workers experienced. The 14 page article he authored about it shocked his profession and is reverberating into Congress.
Quoting the Times:
Dr. Camayd-Freixas’s essay describes “the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see” — because cameras were forbidden.

“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.”

He wrote that they had waived their rights in hopes of being quickly deported, “since they had families to support back home.” He said that they did not understand the charges they faced, adding, “and, frankly, neither could I.”

The Times editorial suggests that the Bush administration succumbed to pressure by immigration extremists in ICE's show of power against people who faked identities--but not to fraud or to rob, but simply to earn money for their families. In the video posted on the site of yesterday's article*, the professor-translator tells the Times that the workers did not even know what social security numbers were (thereby invalidating the "intent to fraud" necessary in a conviction of this crime). He felt certain they were honest when admitting this because, "They spoke with shame, as though they were embarrassed by their ignorance."

Workers received a 5 month sentence for a guilty plea. A "not guilty" plea required 6-8 months of jail time while waiting for a trial which, if lost, would entail two years in prison. However, the workers' guilty plea and resultant jail sentence leaves their families in Postville stranded without income. This entire situation is intolerable.

*I urge you to follow the link and view the video. These links are time-sensitive.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

More Than His Interpretation: An Inside Perspective on ICE Raid in Postville, IA...and what it may mean for you!

Today's New York Times records the splintering of silence. A 23-year veteran, certified Spanish interpreter for federal courts broke the code of confidentiality in a highly unusual act of protest to what he witnessed in the prosecution of the workers apprehended in Postville, IA May 12 at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. He cites:

  • Most of the workers did not understand the criminal charges they faced.
  • Workers didn't understand the rights they were waiving.
  • The rapid pace of the proceedings was remarkable.
  • Prosecutors upped the ante in a highly unusual way by pressing criminal charges instead of deporting the workers immediately for immigration violations.
  • Defense lawyers had little time or privacy to meet with their court-assigned clients in the first hectic days after the raid.
  • Most of the Guatemalans could not read or write. Most did not understand that they were in criminal court.

Professor Camayd-Freixas, who is the director of a program to train language interpreters at Florida International University, has stirred controversy among legal interpreters because of his "highly unusual" stance here. He may be called to testify before the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee. What a heroic act: to courageously call this kangaroo court process into question.

I urge you to watch the video on the Times site in which the Professor cogently explains the travesty. The post-ICE raid legal processing is a direct result of the Patriot Act, he says.

Taking shortcuts with justice in this case against undocumented workers in this country is another slip taking us further down the slippery slope. Eventually it may well affect citizens like you and me.

Please go to the site of the Times article and watch the video (I can't embed here) while the link still works. The Professor's testimony is convincing, his empathy is unmistakable. How rare and wonderful to experience a hero in action!

First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
--Pastor Martin Niemöller, about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Photo credit: NY Times--"Erik Camayd-Freixas is a certified Spanish interpreter."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Caravan to Cuba with Pastors for Peace...or maybe just stay home and listen to elevator music?

The Revolutionary Challenge I issued myself was to protest the U.S. government for confiscating alms a religious group was donating to a 3rd World nation.

Thirty-two computers bound for Cuba with the Pastors for Peace delegation didn't make it across the U.S./Mexico border. P for P did not bother to apply for a license for the tons of aid they're toting, thinking that in the United States the separation of church and state clause should rule out the government dictating to a religious group whom could receive their charitable donations.

On July 3, most of the donations crossed with the caravanistas, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized the 32 computers intended for Cuban schools. In past years, thanks to citizen pressure, they've relented and released seized aid. "So," thinks I, "it'll be interesting to make that toll-free call and complain."
First, the run-around. The Office of Foreign Asset Control, a subsidiary of the Department of Treasury, told me that they were not the bad guys here. A young, monotone male curtly explained that while they write the policy, the Customs & Border Protection guys enforce it. I could find their phone number on the internet, he said, "Look under Homeland Security," he directed. So helpful.

Now I'm on a mission.
U.S. C&BP wouldn't take my call or accept a message on the first attempt to their customer service number [877-227(CBP--cute, huh?)-5511]. That's strike 2 in this ballgame.
But I persevered, connected and navigated the touch tone menu. "There are currently 17 calls ahead of you," the electronic voice intoned at 2:05 PM. A lengthy recording delineating passport requirements for U.S. and Canadian citizens/residents cycled by me several times, mercifully interrupting the elevator music with some content.

When my turn came around at 2:30PM the agent who took my call spoke heavily accented English. I explained my purpose. He was confused. He explained that he didn't have anything to do with this situation. He was in an office in Washington DC. I should call McAllen TX directly. He'd get me the number. He can't find it. Can I wait on 'hold' while he gets it?

Five minutes pass. He's back. "I can't find that number. We have a person who worked there in McAllen, but he isn't here today. I'm going to put you back on hold while we find it, OK?" Sure.
Finally he came back with a number [956-523-7300] in Larado TX. That's the office in charge, he assured me. Unexpectedly, he began to show an interest in the situation, asking me for more info. He suggested that the computers were singled out because "since 2001 they've been more sensitive to computers and the information on them." It's still hard for me to understand him, but he seems like a real guy. He put me on hold again--I went on and off "hold" several times. He returns and asks for my name. I gulp. I give it. He offers more info on seizures, something about a 15 day holding period. I don't care. I've gotta get to work at the neighborhood pantry. Who knew the call would take 50 minutes?

I thank him for his efforts. Modestly, he replies, " No, that's OK. That's what I'm here for. I get paid by the time (sic)."
Sigh. "Yeah, I know," I think, "because I'm paying you."
For more info on the Pastors for Peace Cuba caravan, you can watch this 8 minute video and see a first-hand account:

The Caravan is currently enroute to Cuba. Wish I were there.

Bush Tours America to Survey Damage Caused by His Disastrous Presidency

Although we know that Bush is in Japan at the G-8 meeting, we can always fantasize.

And, by the way, what's the deal with the G-8? Is its relationship to the U.N. analogous to a little clique of the popular kids that ignores the student council and really runs the high school?

Here is where Bush ought to be:

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency
Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Corpse is a Curiosity: Lawyer assassinated

--June 27, 2008 (My commentary is interspersed in this font style.)
The lawyer working for residents of the Lomas de Poleo community in regards to their land dispute was shot and killed in Chihuahua City June 20. Police said the investigation was ongoing, they have no suspects, and the motive is unknown. [We already knew this.]

Carlos Javier López Avitia, 42, was in a red Ford truck when he was fired upon by armed men driving in a Jeep, according to various accounts in El Diario and El Heraldo de Chihuahua. The men used an AK-47, among other weapons, in the attack. [Describes a typical Borderland-style assassination. Common occurrence these days.]

The death was not widely reported in Mexico, being just one of 10 that day in Chihuahua. But the news spread through Lomas de Poleo and through a community of activists in the U.S. who have been advocating for Lomas residents and following developments in the land dispute.
Father Bill Morton, who was ordered to leave Mexico because of his activities in support of the residents, said what was reported described a terrible violence. [10 murders--ho hum, just another day in Chihuahua, the state in North Mexico to which Juarez and Lomas belong. Also: N.B. that Morton was expelled from Mexico.]

After leaving a hearing at the Agrarian Court in Chihuahua City, Avitia’s vehicle was followed by a Jeep Cherokee.

"He was shot 19 times with an AK 47 in the head and neck and his head was nearly shot off," Morton said. "Two cabdrivers were also killed, but it appears that they were bystanders.
“They let him lay there (in the street) for quite some time. It seemed to be a message to those connected to Avitia. By the time the police arrived, the crime scene was contaminated. People were picking up souvenirs.” [...just when I think I'm beyond being shocked]

“Even in death you become a curiosity,” said Morton, his voice filled with emotion. Avitia, who was married and the father of four young sons, had represented residents of Lomas de Poleo for about three years. [Morton: courageous Catholic priest. Unusual man. Inadvertently he was a factor in my resettlement to El Paso, a story for another time.]

Background on the story ensues. You already know most of this:
The dispute pits a dwindling number of residents of Lomas de Poleo, a small community on a bluff overlooking Anapra, Juarez, and Sunland Park, N.M., against the wealthy industrialist Pedro Zaragoza Fuentes.

The Mexican constitution allows homesteaders to claim of up to 20,000 square meters per family, provided that federal agrarian authorities regulated the settlements, and the residents claim that they have proper title to the land. But Zaragoza claims that his family held title to the land, and that the residents of Lomas de Poleo moved in illegally.

Over the years, a small community grew in the area, with federally registered schools being built in 1980. These two primary schools are still registered, and the Corpus Christi Parish helps the spiritual needs of the Lomas residents.

Something else also built over the years -- tension between the settlers and Zaragoza. With the nearby Santa Teresa border crossing being approved and opened, the value of the land skyrocketed as did the legal bills, violence, and accusations on both sides.

In 2003, workers from the Mexican Federal Electric commission dismantled the power system that had just recently been set up, because of a federal court order requested by the Zaragoza family, which has claimed that many of the residents were new arrivals hoping themselves to speculate on the land.

It was also about this time that the first ‘goons’ were hired to intimidate and bully the residents of the mesa. Not long after, barbed wire fences and guard towers were built around the community, forcing residents to pass through gates.

Incidents of violence were reported in Lomas de Poleo, with several deaths occurring and two children perishing in a house fire, with both sides blaming the other. A number of bodies of young women also have been found, victims of the ongoing femicide that has gripped Juarez for years.

The court system has been busy with lawsuits and injunctions filed by both sides, and until recently, 62 of the landowner disputes filed against Zaragoza were being handled by attorney Avitia. Several other suits are being handled by Barbara Zamora Lopez, a well known human rights lawyer based in Mexico City. However, in recent months, speculations about Avitia’s activities concerned Lomas residents. [Wishing Barbara the very best...]

[The following controversy was news to me:]
According to a story published in April at, 57 of the 62 cases Avitia was working on had lapsed.

Jon Williams, a professional photographer and documentarian who has been following the Lomas del Poleo dispute, said that Mexican agrarian law requires that any case that involves land must be followed up on and brought up to date every four months.

“The LDP Alliance (one of several local activist groups that are working on the issue) met on the Monday after Avitia was killed. They were confused and upset, and were trying to piece things together, and the question was raised about whose side he was on,” Williams said.

But, said Williams, “(Avitia) was in Chihuahua City following up on one of the cases" when he was killed.
[according to Paso del Sur website: Avitia was killed two blocks from "the agrarian state courthouse where he had just filed two cases that morning related to Lomas del Poleo."]

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Anger Management 101 and 102

Thinking that things have been heavy here on the Border Explorer, today I'll share anger management techniques:

101--get your anger out in safe ways
In this video we see a talented, beautiful, sexy, young-woman-with-attitude take "no flack from no one." I completely identify with her (except I'm not young, talented, etc. etc). She is what young Clint Eastwood would look like if on estrogen.
Note how "Hasta Siempre" loses the hymn-like character we saw on 07/04/08's version.

I particularly like the AK-47 part (at 1:25) as well as how she withers the CIA guy with a glance. Cool!

102--laugh a lot with your friends
A couple extremely cool bloggers brought the following video to my attention. I fully credit the multi-talented and twice Arte y Pico award-winning Diva Jood who "shamelessly stole" (her words, not mine) the video from Padre Mickey's Dance Party. To borrow the words of Richard Nixon, "I am not a crook" but merely copy-catting those who are way-cooler than I. I urge any who have not already visited their blogs to do so. And to make it easier for you to watch this video which released more endorphins than a bottle of psychotropic meds, I'll repost it here:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Cost of Bragging Rights [or "It Ain't Over Till It's Over, part 1"]

photo at right: Residents of Postville, IA, site of
largest raid ever conducted in the U. S. by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) on May 13, 2008, regroup themselves in local church after the raid.

Regular readers here know that ICE justified its existance by executing a hugely successful operation, apprehending nearly 400 undocumented workers at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant. (BTW, the May 15 Border Explorer post by a Postville teacher now is verified here at this website.)

Readers unfamiliar with this situation can get up to speed in a few minutes with this video. It's horrifying. Even if you already know the story, it's well worth your time:

Did that fill you with patriotic pride? Do you feel safer now?

Well, it ain't over 'till it's over...and the fat lady hasn't sung yet. The pain, a legacy of the raid, continues in Postville. ICE perhaps has gone home, but the havoc in their wake has not vanished as quickly. Yesterday Fran-I-Am posted on the heroic efforts of Postville church ministers to pick up the pieces.
Pastor David Vazquez, a campus minister in nearby Decorah, IA, reports that Postville always welcomed the immigrants, eager to reverse a declining population and revitalize its economy. Now it is left as it was 20 years ago. In a town of 2,300, 400 of its citizens, more than 1 in 6, was arrested. The streets are quiet, the businesses desperate and nearly everyone--immigrant and non-immigrant alike--affected.

Specific problems today in Postville (according to Pastor Vazquez in a July 3 communication from the non-profit Centro Legal):
* The women and children who are on monitoring devices and waiting for their criminal and immigration hearings "don't have anything and they are in need of basic goods like food, housing and baby formula."
*Many rumors ICE will strike again: "People are constantly asking us, ‘Do you know whether or not they will return'?"
*Lack of legal advice and assistance for other immigrants in the community who were not detained. "While some have legal remedies, the legal support is insufficient to address the overwhelming need."
*While the churches received generous donations after the raid, now "the resources are nearly gone because the town is so small and such a large proportion of it has been impacted."

David's short list of Postville needs:
*funds to cover the basic legal representation of those affected. These folks are hard working people, many of whom have been victims of a variety of labor and other crimes, and need support in advocating for their basic rights
*supporting nearly 60 families who are required by the conditions of their humanitarian release to remain in the community until their legal and immigration cases run their course.
*support the families of 270 people who have been given a 5 month sentence-their needs are both financial and emotional.
*emotional needs of children whose parents have suddenly disappeared, women whose inability to find their husbands, brother or other relatives (as it has been very difficult to track the location of people in the jail system) echoes their own difficult experience in their country of origin.

The Postville Relief Effort Priority List and Cost Estimate is worth a look.
Simply to do the minimum, the ESTIMATED TOTAL RESPONSE NEEDS is $681,200.00. (Follow the link for analysis of the bottom line.)

And that, my friends, is the cost of ICE bragging rights. For now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Honor revolution today 1-800-540-6322

Click for the audio--then proceed (video not really the point, but the audio--heaven!)

The blockade-busting Caravan to Cuba with Pastors for Peace burst out of the U.S. yesterday. They did lose 32 computers--an event explicitly documented by Janine Bancroft on her blog--to U.S. government confiscation. But the caravanistas are on their way to Cuba undaunted.
Janine asks: "PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE, THE MEDIA, OR THE U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to voice concern at these actions at 1-800-540-6322."
B.E. affirms: Citizen pressure has been quite effective in releasing goods destined for donation after their confiscation by the OFAC in past Cuba caravans.

Ten years ago I was a caravanista. It was a memorable moment in my life, perhaps my proudest moment. I hope in the upcoming days to tell a story or two--fond memories of the glory days, much like an aged athlete recalls the time his high school basketball team won the state championship.

For today, I'll content myself with recalling the small bands of folk groups who entertained the caravan in countless little receptions during our travels throughout the island country. Without fail "Hasta Siempre, Comandante Che Guevara" was on their play list. I had never heard it before. The groups almost prayed the song, performing it with unmistakable devotion--hymn-like. I fell in love with it, and each time it was performed I would hang on each syllable transfixed, afraid that I'd never hear it again. Thanks to the Buena Vista Social Club which released not long afterward, my fear never materialized; the song is readily available.
It is an apt song for July 4, the day we remember our heritage of revolution in the U.S. Sadly although our C.I.A. assassinated Che, providing another example of how we have moved from being revolutionaries to squelching the movements of the people's revolutions, perhaps I can resolve to be at least revolutionary enough to make a toll-free call and request insist that the donations of computers to hospitals and schools in Cuba be sent on their way.

This being a government holiday and a three day weekend, this may be an exercise in futility. But I'll give it a whirl and maybe it'll turn into a story to tell here next week. If you try, I'd love to hear your experience. Hasta la victoria siempre, Compas.
Hasta Siempre, Che Guevara

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: "Who in the bleep made me the symbol of that frickin' Empire?"

photo taken at Niabi Zoo, Quad Cities (IL)

Border Explorer receives Arte y Pico Award

I am taken aback and so very honored. My blogging friend eProf has bestowed on me the Arte y Pico Award for blogging excellence. In communicating his decision, he said: "BE, I've nominated one of the five best blogs on the Internet."

I picked myself up off the floor about five minutes later. I don't feel like I deserve that kind of praise, but, I mean, how do you argue with a professor? Isn't that pretty futile?

Although new to Blogger, I've been around enough already to visit blogs with lots of awards running down their alternate column. An award is not something I ever thought I'd be displaying. And this Arte y Pico award is the name is in Spanish. How neat is that? eProf, I want to say a humble and sincere thanks to you. Although we're electronic friends only, your comments and your blog are a part of my day I look forward to with anticipation. This award will be a permanent and cherished fixture here on the Border Explorer.

My responsibility as a winner is to bestow the award to five other blogs. I chose the following from among my many favorites:

1) Tim's El Salvador Blog is so consistently excellent that I'm enrolled on his email list so it's delivered to my inbox as it is published. Tim puts his journalism skills to work writing topic-specific posts on El Salvador. Brief, concise, relevant, interesting since 2004, he has built up a significant following for a reason. If you're interested in El Salvador, Tim will keep you updated.

2) Even before I visited Bolivia, I met Jim Schultz on The Democracy Center blog. While in Cochabamba, it was a pleasure to meet him in person. His blog is a top-notch resource for English-speaking people who want info from the perspective on-the-ground in Bolivia. The country is complex, but Jim's intelligent and creative approach is equal to the challenge.

3 )Lillian/Lilly threw herself into the grinder which is migration between Central America and North America this year. She occasionally blogs about her rehabilitation therapy with train amputees and migrants and her life on her blog LL in Tapachula, which she writes to keep her family and friends updated. It deserves a much wider audience. This is what blogging is about, folks.

4) The Diana Washington Valdez Blog informs regarding the war-in-progress in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico...a war against women (femicide) and Mexico's "Dirty War" involving the drug cartels...from her perspective of investigative journalism. She is a personal hero for me. Her relentless search for truth and justice could most certainly cost her her life; she modestly states, "I'm just doing my job." She has also authored The Killing Fields, the definitive book on the subject of femicide in Juarez.

5) Who doesn't want to hobnob with a diva? Connect with DivaJood on Journeys with Jood and you get your chance. Her concern for good writing, her sharp intellect, her wit and wide ranging interests will make your visit a pleasure. A world traveler, Diva's heart is as great as her intellect. She's a real, authentic human being (one meets too few of these, unfortunately)--and a Cubs fan, to boot. I have loved getting to know her during my time on Blogger and recommend her highly.

The blogging world, a rich one indeed, is the richer for all six: these five and for eProf. I am honored to be numbered alongside them.