Curtain Raiser

Drowning Refugees & Hope, Colltalers

Omicron entered Covid’s lexicon of despair this week as a new variant potentially capable of undermining current vaccines. Its timing couldn’t have been worse as the world still fights 263 million cases. Off the coast of France, 27 refugees drowned as Europe continues to mishandle its borders.
Honduras may change if progressive front-runner Xiomara Castro beats Nasry Asfura, picked by President Juan Orlando Hernández,  who the U.S. accuses of being funded by drug money. And Sharbat Gula’s on the run again, having fled Afghanistan. You do know who she is: Google it and weep.
But let’s start in Oklahoma where 21-year-old Native American Brittney Poolaw was convicted of manslaughter for a second-trimester miscarriage. A medical examiner attested that she’d methamphetamine in her system during pregnancy. As she began a four-year sentence last month, groups such as the Indigenous Women Rising are trying to thwart a growing national trend of criminalizing people of color for the outcomes of their pregnancies.
In Vienna, Iran and Russia, China, the U.K., France, Germany, and the European Union will talk about reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement that the U.S.’ former president destroyed. That’s right, the Biden administration was not invited, but can you blame them? The world, of course, is grateful that the Iranians are having another go at it even if they’ve got no choice: sanctions are strangling the country. But the U.S. still has a lot to catch up with.
In Peru, which just got hit by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, the opposition has called for President Castillo’s impeachment and hordes took the streets to protest corruption. The ex-rural teacher has suffered a relentless push from wealthy conservative segments of the Peruvian society to adopt economic policies friendlier to businesses. “If there’s proof of corruption during my tenure, do your job to clarify the facts under the rule of the law,” he tweeted.
Castillo was heading to Bagua, in the north of the country, to access the earthquake’s damage. Peru is prone to seismic activity but so far there’s been no report of fatalities, only material harm. That may change as the impact area extends to Colombia, Ecuador, where the quake was felt, and Brazil.
In Qatar, host of the World Cup seven months from now, an AP probe found that the megarich oil emirate hired a former CIA agent in 2010 to spy on soccer officials and gain an edge on its bid for the multimillion-dollar tournament. The revelations are the latest in a long string of alleged human and labor rights abuses against thousands of foreign workers it hired to build stadiums and who, according to some, were kept in a regime of semi-slavery.
Speaking of soccer, the 2021 Ballon D’Or will be awarded to the world’s best players tonight. On the men’s side, odds are again in favor of Argentinian striker Lionel Messi who’s already been chosen a record six times before. He’ll probably beat Polish Robert Lewandowski and others, which includes French Karim Benzema, who’s found guilty in a child pornography ring. Spanish wonder Alexia Putellas is favored to win Female Player of the Year.
In Paris, the American singer and undercover spy Josephine Baker will be the first Black woman to enter the Panthéon, France’s mausoleum of its main historical figures. Quite an accomplishment for a poor Black girl born in 1906 in Missouri who grew up to become a gifted, world-famous performer and civil rights activist. Even more, as research now shows, La Baker was also a resistance fighter who risked her life to defeat the Nazis.
The confluence of science-deniers and greed has been part of the DNA of the Covid pandemic from the get-go. While the well-to-do rally against any virus-driven restrictions, only 10% of the 1.2 billion Africans, for instance, have been vaccinated. The scare over Omicron, the newest variant, will lead wealthy countries, such as the U.S., to continue piling up stocks even as some have committed to giving away the excedent to those in need.
By undermining trust in public health policies based on unfounded fears, anti-vaxxers have also unwittingly helped giant pharma companies to quickly engorge their already obscene earnings. Rather than preventing them from making life-or-death decisions concerning humanity based on their bottom lines, the “movement” actually helped increase our dependency on their products, as fewer people vaccinated = more chances for the virus to mutate.
The inflatable dinghy that went down in the frigid waters off Calais was crossing the English Channel full of asylum seekers hoping to immigrate to the U.K. The 27 who perished last Wednesday, who were reportedly mostly from the Middle East, are but a fraction of the thousands of refugees who rather risk life and limb at the open sea than stay trapped by warfare and climate change woes, whose triggers may be tracked back to rich countries.
Xiomara Castro may become Honduras’ first female president, as early polls indicate but results will be out only in a few days. A win for the wife of Manuel Zelaya, deposed in 2009 by a U.S.-supported coup, may reshuffle immigration policies toward Central America as many Hondureños come to America as refugees fleeing mayhem. The U.S. accused President Juan Orlando Hernández of drug trafficking and sent his brother to life in prison.
When Sharbat Gula’s big green eyes greet the world in 1985 from a Pakistani refugee camp during the Soviet-Afghanistan war, not even photographer Steve McCurry who captured her for National Geographic, knew her name. In 2002, the “Afghan Girl” was a mother of three who looked much older.
Life hasn’t been kind to her. “Time and hardship had erased her youth. Her skin looks like leather,” McCurry wrote then. In 2016, she was deported back to her homeland, which is again too dangerous a place for her. She’d to flee as she’s done all her life and is now living in Rome with her children.
Hanukkah is here but celebrated American composer and playwriter Stephen Sondheim won’t be around to light up the candles. He passed on Friday at 91, after an incredible run of Broadway musical hits penned or co-authored by him, starting with lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story music. He once credited his consistency in delivering shows that easily found audiences to his love for his craft. So long, Sondheim. You’re in good Company.
To wrap up November on a riveting note there’s the 26-year-old man who survived a plane ride to Miami as a stowaway at its landing gear. How bad things may be in Guatemala for someone to battle sub-zero temperatures, death by falling, and even deportation back only for a shot at a decent life? What we do, impacts others. He’d learn a lot with the courage displayed by the several heroines mentioned above. That said, get your jab. Cheers WC


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