Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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Uruguay's Congress votes to legalize abortion, President Mujica says he'll support the legislation if the Senate approves the changes - @AP

Spanish 10 year bond yields rise above 6% level - @SkyNews

Greek police put on their helmets in Athens' Syntagma square as number of protesters grows - @NBCNews

RT @MakisSinodinos: Riot police wore their gas masks, next to the Parliament and the iron fence #rbnews #26gsr http://t.co/IeraOHBA #Greece

More: Press TV correspondent, Damascus bureau chief were covering twin bombings when they were shot - @Reuters

Update: Correspondent for Iran's Press TV shot dead by sniper in Syria, Damascus bureau chief wounded - @Reuters

At least 3 Pakistan army soldiers killed, 15 others in attack by armed men on convoy - @NBCNews

More: Firebrand South African politician Julius Malema says he will visit Impala's Rustenburg mine to push for a wage strike - @Reuters

Update: South Africa's Malema says he is unshaken by money laundering charge, will continue struggle for 'economic freedom' - @Reuters

Syria's military leaders unhurt, several guards wounded in the blasts at military headquarters in Damascus, Syrian statement says - @Reuters

                                                                               

Dolor & Horror: State Homophobia in Cuba

For those who haven't read my last post or the comments it generated, or the original post from Alexis Romay that prompted it (all in Spanish), here's a quick summary:

Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuba's current president (and the niece of its former one), made a trip to the U.S. in May, which included a presentation at the LASA conference in San Francisco followed by a supposedly public talk at the New York Public Library (the main branch at 42nd Street).

Many Cubans in the NY Metro area attempted to get tickets to her talk to engage her in a real debate but were told inexplicably that the event had already reached capacity.

Some of them sent a letter to the NYPL demanding an explanation and a public hearing.

In response, last Saturday, the Schomburg Center - the Harlem branch of the NYPL - hosted an event entitled, "LGBT Lives in Contemporary Cuba," that served as a forum for some of the independent, academic, and exile LGBT voices that had been shut out of that previous event.

There were two independent LGBT activists who joined us via phone from Havana, Leannes Imbert and Ignacio Estrada, along with Jafari Allen, Achy Obejas, Mabel Cuesta, and Emilio Bejel who took the stage. Maria Werlau of the Cuba Archive helped to coordinate the event and acted as intrepid interpreter.

Achy's comments came last and amounted to a powerfully devastating combination of personal reflection and narrative together with a point-by-point enumeration of the repressive and homophobic laws and practices that have characterized revolutionary Cuba's policy toward the LGBT community.

At the close of the Q&A session, I asked the panelists to comment on the level and virulence of homophobia among the Cuban population both in Cuba and in exile, naming Miami as a proxy for exile.

While my question was aimed at getting the panelists to focus briefly on the socio-culural side of homophobia (in Cuban and in Miami) after they had expertly described and roundly condemned state sanctioned homophobia in Cuba, I now realize that in that particular context my question was understandably taken as a provocation by many of the already aggrieved Cubans in the audience.

At the close of the event and in many e-mails, blogs posts and comments, and Facebook updates since then, some of these Cubans (many of them friends) have tried to make me to understand the depth of the hurt (dolor) and terror (horror) that they carry inside in relation to this particular issue.

Of the many comments I received, the following one from an old friend named Monica was perhaps the most eloquent and helpful. I translate part of it into English below as a way of sharing her valuable point of view (you can read the entire original comment in Spanish here):
"In regard to the Cuba-Miami thing, I understand both points of view.  Your question is perfectly pertinent in a purely academic setting, but what happened was the event was in some sense an attempt at healing and I suppose had the aim or expectation of showing the other side of the issue.
In all sincerity, I tell you that it is necessary to take this into account when you put together a question.  You can't forget the horror - the word is not at all an exaggeration - that many people lived though in that country.
HORROR Ted, absurd physical and psychological abuses that that same woman who responded from the audience to your question must have suffered. Each suicide, recorded or not, is a life lost, and we have our own.
There were many of them Ted.  There was a time in which there were many suicides because of this.  Students full of talent, good children, friends, lovers...
How many victims and how much suffering caused by the intolerance of a few simple fanatics who hijacked the future of the country and now want to rewrite history.
Always, even in the face of the most virulent comments, I have learned to respect the pain of the victims of dictatorships, especially the Cuban one because it is my own, because it is so absurd, but above all because it has lasted so long.
No one, and nothing can compensate for the suffering endured by generation after generation with nothing to hope for.  Even today, we all are still paying in one way or another.
It was this pain and these experiences of horror which generated the responses you got to your question.  I think that in order to ask such a question, it was first necessary to make clear your academic approach that was going beyond the scope of what had been discussed up to that moment.
Also, perhaps you should have asked a different question knowing that yours would be the last one.  Don't you think?
In the end, I write you this note so that you can see that - even without intending to provoke a confrontation - legitimate pain and suffering can result, and that as long as there are still victims it is necessary to speak with delicacy and respect."
--Mónica

Venezuela poll: Chavez leading rival by 10 points

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez held a 10-point lead over rival Henrique Capriles in one of the final polls ahead of Venezuela's Oct. 7 election, but the survey released Tuesday showed the challenger narrowing the gap.
The poll by Datanalisis, one of Venezuela's most respected polling firms, found that about 49 percent said they intend to vote for Chavez and about 39 percent said they plan to vote for Capriles.
About 11 percent didn't reveal a preference, said Luis Vicente Leon, who heads the polling firm.
The results showed Capriles narrowing the 46-31 percent lead that Chavez held in June's poll by the same company.
Leon said it was the final poll Datanalisis plans to release publicly before the vote. It's possible the candidates' percentages may already have shifted somewhat since the survey was carried out weeks ago.
The poll questioned 1,600 people between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5, and had a margin of error of about 2 percentage points. It was paid for a group of about 100 clients, including businesses as well as government entities.
Leon said Capriles' active campaigning in about 260 towns across the country has had an impact.
Chavez, in contrast, has concentrated on a smaller number of campaign rallies, and has been less active after more than a year of cancer treatments including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.
Even though Chavez has said he's now cancer-free, Leon said the president's campaign clearly has been affected by his health problems.
He said that after nearly 14 years in office, Chavez for the first time will face a strong rival and that no other opposition candidate has achieved such support in pre-election polls when facing Chavez. The pollster also cautioned that changes in public opinion can still occur in the less than two weeks before the Oct. 7 vote.
Venezuelans have been bombarded with widely varying poll results ahead of the vote, and some pollsters haven't been open about discussing their sources of funding or political leanings.
Some political surveys, including those conducted by the pollster GIS XXI, run by Chavez's former justice minister Jesse Chacon, have repeatedly shown the president with a lead of more than 20 percent, and have been touted on state television.
Other polls, such as those of Consultores 21 and Varianzas, have shown Capriles either roughly even with Chavez or slightly ahead.
A survey released by Varianzas on Tuesday indicated a close race, with about 50 percent saying they plan to vote for Chavez and 48 percent siding with Capriles. The Varianzas poll consulted 2,000 people between Sept. 7 and 20, and had an error margin of about 2 percent, said Rafael Delgado, the company's director. He said the survey was financed by a private group, which he declined to reveal.
Meanwhile, state television broadcast the results of a survey by another company, International Consulting Services, saying Chavez had a lead of nearly 20 percentage points. The source of funding for that poll was unclear.
The wide differences in results have led many Venezuelans to doubt the accuracy of polls.
"The variation between the polls is so big that there are some that say Chavez is winning by 30 points and others that say he's losing by almost 10 points," said Angel Alvarez, a political science professor at Central University of Venezuela. "Most people don't believe in any of the polls anymore because they see so much variability that they say somebody is lying or everybody is lying, and on top of that ... there's been a lot of skepticism about the quality of the polls to predict results."
Many polls in the country are conducted using face-to-face interviews with people at their homes, and firms typically release details of their methodologies, including how interview questions are framed. In some cases, though, pollsters haven't released full details.
Datanalisis is widely considered one of the country's leading polling firms. It has had a record of accuracy in past elections and has earned respect from both political camps with its monthly surveys. The pollster accurately gauged that Chavez was leading ahead of his last re-election victory in 2006, when he won with 63 percent of the vote.
Chavez's approval ratings have slipped since then, and he has been spending heavily on social programs and public housing construction this year seeking to shore up support while facing a vigorous challenge by Capriles.
Adding to the uncertainty ahead of the vote is the large segment of voters, in some polls more than 10 percent, who describe themselves as undecided or who don't reveal which candidate they plan to support.
In Venezuela nowadays, people seem to view it as normal for there to be a "war of the polls" and don't appear to be swayed one way or the other by the surveys, said Ignacio Avalos, director of the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, a vote monitoring group.
"Part of the election campaign is about making people think you're the one who's going to win and generating a positive effect," Avalos said. Despite the conflicting surveys, he said, "I have the impression that the results are going to be close, that it's going to be an election decided by a narrow margin."

Syrian rebels bomb security building in Damascus

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian insurgents detonated bombs at a building occupied by pro-government militias in Damascus on Tuesday and France called for U.N. protection of rebel-held areas to help end Syria's bloodshed and rights abuses.
Activists say that more than 27,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad but jostling for regional advantage by world powers has thwarted effective U.N. Security Council action to defuse the conflict.
The United States, European allies, Turkey and Gulf Arab states have sided with the Syrian opposition while Iran, Russia and China have backed Assad, whose family and minority Alawite sect have dominated the major Arab state for 42 years.
With no foreseeable prospect of foreign intervention and peace diplomacy stuck, outgunned rebels have relied increasingly on attacks with home-made bombs, striving to level the playing field against a state using fighter jets, artillery and tanks.
"At exactly 9:35 a.m., seven improvised devices were set off in two explosions to target a school used for weekly planning meetings between shabbiha militia and security officers," said Abu Moaz, a leader of Ansar al-Islam, one of the rebel groups in the 18-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Rebels said they hoped their attack would kill top-level security officials - as they did with a major Damascus bombing in July - but gave no casualty figure. State media said at least seven people were wounded, with minor damage to buildings.
At the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, French President Francois Hollande sought to shake up international inertia over Syria's crisis by demanding credible U.N. protection of areas now in insurgent hands.
"The Syrian regime ... has no future among us," Hollande said in a speech. "Without any delay, I call upon the United Nations to provide immediately to the Syrian people all the support it asks of us and to protect liberated zones."
Protection for "liberated" areas would require no-fly zones enforced by foreign aircraft, which could stop deadly air raids by Assad's forces on populated areas. But there is little chance of securing a Security Council mandate for such action given the continuing opposition of veto-wielding members Russia and China.
"How long can we accept the paralysis at the U.N.?" Hollande said from the U.N. podium. France in August started funneling aid to rebel-held parts of Syria so that they could administer themselves and help staunch an outflow of refugees.
But Western powers have shied from supplying military aid to the rebels to an extent that could turn the tide of the conflict, in part out of fear of arming Islamist militants who have joined the anti-Assad revolt.
In another speech to the General Assembly, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said Arab nations should intervene in Syria given the Security Council's failure to stop the civil war.
Qatar, which backs the rebels, earlier called on big powers to prepare a "Plan B" within weeks and set up a no-fly zone to provide a safe haven inside Syria in case international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi fails to make headway.
The Qatari emir said he believed Arab and European countries would be ready to take part, despite their public wariness of committing the forces needed for such a mission.
Addressing the General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama accused Iran of helping keep a dictatorship in power in Syria.
"Just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government props up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad," Obama said in a reference to Assad.
"We again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop, and a new dawn can begin."
"BAD AND GETTING WORSE"
Syria's conflict, once a peaceful protest movement, has evolved into a civil war that the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said was "extremely bad and getting worse." He said that the stalemate in the country could soon "find an opening", without elaborating.
Even the capital Damascus has become a battleground between Assad's forces and opposition fighters.
Last week, the army bombarded rebel strongholds there to flush them out of the capital, once seen as Assad's untouchable seat of power but now a scene of daily fighting.
In Tuesday's Damascus bombing, the state news channel Syria TV quoted a government official as saying two improvised explosives planted by "terrorists" blew up near the "Sons of Martyrs" school.
Residents said smoke was billowing from the area in southeastern Damascus and ambulances were rushing to the scene. Some said they believed two people had died in the attack but could not name the victims.
Damascus residents also reported heavy clashes for two hours on Baghdad Street in a central district of the capital, just to the north of the ancient Old City.
ABUSED CHILDREN
The British-based charity Save the Children released a harrowing report about abuse of Syrian refugee children.
Khalid, 15, said he was hung by his arms from the ceiling of his own school building and beaten senseless. Wael said he saw a 6-year-old starved and beaten to death, "tortured more than anyone else in the room.
"He was beaten regularly. I watched him die," Wael was quoted as saying. "He only survived for three days and then he simply died."
U.N. investigators say Syrian government forces have committed human rights violations "on an alarming scale", but have also listed multiple killings and kidnappings by armed rebels trying to oust Assad after 12 years in power.
The children that Save the Children spoke to in refugee camps in neighboring countries said they had witnessed massacres and seen family members killed during the conflict.
Humanitarian conditions are worsening as the violence drags on. The president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which has been the only relief group on the ground the entire 18 months of conflict, said it was in dire need of supplies.
"We need to concentrate mostly on health and shelter because there are 1.5 million displaced people," Abdul Rahman Attar told Reuters during a visit to Oslo. "We need more of everything."
"We need help with shelter, medical equipment in medicine," he said. "There's still killing and that's most critical, we must stop the killings first." (Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)