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Obama Takes Step Backward on Cuba

Republished with the permission of New America Media

The Obama administration took a step backward on U.S. relations with Cuba when it included it on a terrorist list. We urge the administration to reconsider this decision.

The list of 14 nations the United States considers either sponsors of terrorism or countries of interest includes Cuba and Saudi Arabia. U.S.-bound air passengers from these nations are to receive extra security checks, including pat-downs. This was in reaction to the Christmas day terrorism attempt during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Last we understood, the attempted attack broke through because of a failure of national intelligence, not out of a terror campaign by Cubans. As is, the United States applies a long list of restrictions to Cuba under a decades-old embargo policy.

The U.S. State Department has said that Cuba harbors fugitives from justice and has supported Colombian and Basque rebel groups. The Cuban government disputes these claims or offers political rationalizations for individuals it brands as asylees.

But we know that if Cuba posed such a clear and present danger to the United States, that President Obama would not have relaxed some travel and other restrictions on Cuba, as he did last year. Representatives like Jose Serrano and Sam Farr have called for building on that momentum to change stagnant, ineffective policies toward Cuba.

In the context of the last eight years and specifically the events since Christmas day, the nation has been focused, and rightfully so, on terrorism campaigns against U.S. citizens. It makes sense that Saudi Arabia, where the Sept. 11 attackers trained, is included on that list.

While the Castro regime is not innocent, putting Cuba in the same league as Iran, for example, is unfair and undermines efforts towards a 21st century foreign policy.

Jesuit Massacre Still Haunts Salvadorans After 20 Years

Republished with permission of New American Media

Written by Mary Jo McConahay, Originally posted: Nov. 16, 2009

SAN SALVADOR — Twenty years ago, three colleagues and I were the first reporters on the scene of the murders here of six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter, a turning point in the civil war that cost 75,000 other Salvadoran lives. As gatherings the world over commemorate the special anniversary, I remember details of that morning I do not want to forget.

“They’ve killed Ellacuria,” said the young priest in the hotel parking lot.

He had rushed over to tell reporters, he said, and we were the first he met.

We reserved belief. The death of Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of San Salvador’s Jesuit university and a world-renowned theologian, had been announced more than once during the civil war. We jumped into a jeep anyway.

At the university side gate, we knocked on a black iron door. From across the street, a soldier in a guardhouse kept watch. Guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) had been trying for six days to take over the capital. The army was fighting back with all the U.S.-supplied arms and aircraft it had. At this hour of morning, just after curfew lifted, you didn’t know what lay behind any closed door.

Inside, on the grass, we saw four bundles covered with white sheets stained with what looked like blood.

“Come with me,” said José María Tojeira, the Jesuits’ Central America provincial. My colleagues, radio reporters, were already striding with their mics toward two clerics, one elderly and one very young, who stood gazing at the bundles. I followed Tojeira.

“Come, look,” he said as we stepped inside the residence.

A man lay lifeless in the hall. A priest, I supposed, but not Ellacuria. A smear of crimson streaked the floor. Tojeira stood by an open door to one of the rooms. He didn’t speak, but tilted his head for me to look inside. A narrow room with a small bed and books, one fallen on the floor, next to a man’s body, some blood. Not like knife wounds, likely bullets. I wrote in my reporter’s notebook furiously, sloppily, tethering myself to the pages. Each time, Tojeira waited.

Instead of returning to the garden, however, we descended a short flight of outdoor steps. A door stood ajar. I asked myself what more might be possible.

The body of a woman lay over that of a girl. The woman’s remains faced the door, as if she had stood in front of the girl at the last moment. I could hardly breathe. My own daughter was three at the time.

By the time Tojeira and I ascended to the garden once more, news photographers had arrived.

“Father, you have to take the covers off the bodies,” I said.

Tojeira looked alarmed for a moment, then decisive.

“Promise me that these pictures, all this, will reach the Jesuits, will be known,” he said.

I felt a jolt. Tojeira’s words told me he was uncertain whether he would live through the day. Jesuits, most notably Ellacuria, had had the ear of both sides in the civil war, from President Alfredo Cristiani of the right-wing ARENA party, to leftist FMLN commanders. The scholar-priests pushed for a negotiated, non-military solution. To radical rightists, this was intolerable. A call for “Death to Jesuits” had surfaced, along with threats to others in the atmosphere of war.

I knew the photographers. I promised Tojeira. The sheets came off.

There was Ellacuria, still in his bathrobe, looking up, as if he had faced his killer. There was Ignacio Martin-Baro, the psychologist I had first met in San Francisco years before, when he explained to me how difficult it was to treat traumatic stress while people were drowning in war. Segundo Montes lay there, the sociologist to whom we always went for facts about the exodus that was making Los Angeles the second largest El Salvadoran city. He had tracked the uprooting carefully, sadly, holding back anger -– it seemed to me -– when he had described how the war was separating families, and emptied old towns.

I did not know the other priests who died that day, Amando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno. I did not know (but felt I did) the cook and her daughter, Julia Elba Ramos and Celina Ramos. When I visited the place of the murders recently, I saw that the roses Julia’s husband planted in the days after the massacre had grown to dominate the garden. Ellacuria’s brown bathrobe hung behind glass in the nearby museum.

An engineering student named Martin sat in the little room I had last seen disheveled and smelling of death, with the bodies of the two women on the floor. Young Martin was describing to visitors the history of that day, allowing them to choose which of two photo albums they wanted to see, one that was more “difficult” to pore through, and one that was “softer.” How in God’s name, I wondered, might there be a “soft” version of the images I saw?

I did not feel like speaking, but carried away something I heard Martin say. He was only a toddler on that day 20 years ago, but as he learned how the men worked to end the war, minister among the suffering, and how they died, he decided to join others volunteering for the “museum.”

“We cannot allow forgetting,” he said.

Journalist Mary Jo McConahay’s “Maya Roads, Travels through Space and Time in the American Rainforest,” will appear in 2011, from Chicago Review Press

Reconnecting Broken Links

Entering a concentration camp at 13, Benjamin Waserman, a Holocaust survivor, moved to the United States in hopes of starting a new life, yet a big chunk of his past was missing. His daughter, Kastle, with the intent of learning more about her ancestry decided to do something about it.

She proceeded to contact the Red Cross of Los Angeles and submitted a Family Tracing Services request. Family Tracing Services is provided by the Red Cross free of charge to anybody in the U.S. looking for a close relative in another country. In order to qualify, separation or loss of contact needs to have occurred because of armed conflict or a natural disaster.

Kastle’s efforts proved fruitful as her father was reconnected with his long-lost cousin who relocated in Paris, restoring a link within the family history.*

Now imagine similar success stories from the countries devastated by blood-thirsty civil wars such as the guerrilla filled mountainous regions of El Salvador or the grim jungles of Guatemala.

*The Wasermans’ full story and more information can be found at www.redcrossla.org