On the road to St. Martins in southern New Brunswick you see a sign in a clearing on a corner. Willow Grove Black Settlement Burial Ground, it says. Behind it is a large cross and a tiny church. You stop to take a look.
This small meadow marks the memory of a once vibrant community, the Willow Grove Black Settlement. Its significance goes beyond local history, to the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States as well as slavery in the US.
The tiny church is a scaled-down replica of one that stood there a hundred years ago. Looking in the windows, you see photographs of what that church looked like, and the community around it. Also notices and papers pertaining to the settlers and land grants of 200 years ago.
The cemetery is beside the church but there are no longer any individual grave markers. Two large granite markers tell you the history of the site and the settlement.
The settlers at Willow Grove were African-Americans who escaped the United States during the War of 1812. Royal Navy Commander Alexander Cochrane invited them: “…they will have their choice of either entering into His Majesty’s Sea or Land Forces, or of being sent as FREE settlers to the British Possessions in North America or the West Indies…”
A Proclamation, 2 April 1814
So slaves took him up on this offer. Some joined the British armed forces, in a newly formed Corps of Colonial Marines. About 4000 people left the Chesapeake Bay area in 1815 on British vessels. Many went to Nova Scotia, others to Trinidad. But nearly 400 came to Saint John in New Brunswick on HMS Regulus.
The new settlers received grants of land east of Saint John. Each grant was about half the size of those given to white settlers who also came. The land was less arable and farther away from the desirable Saint John River Valley. Still, they made a community here at Willow Grove. They farmed, ran businesses and raised families. They built a school and the church.
Over the following century, the community dispersed. The church burned down in 1931, grave markers in the cemetery disappeared. Only the cleared field where they stood remained.
But in the 1980s, descendants of the Willow Grove settlement brought back their history. They built the tiny church, using photos of the original. The sign and cross tell passersby what this place was, invite you to stop. Invite you to feel the lives lived there.
Day 27 of the US government shutdown. Food banks are helping feed furloughed federal employees. Animal shelters are helping feed their pets. This is short-term desperate need. These are people with jobs. Many are still working, but not getting pay cheques. So volunteer and community groups are trying to minimize the damage. Here’s my St. Thomas Dog Blog post from March 13, 2011 on ten weeks into operating a pet food bank. A bit of inspiration, I hope.
Ten Weeks = 1,071 pounds of kibble
Ten weeks, nine donation boxes and a town of 35,000 people equals over 1,000 pounds of dog and cat kibble. That’s what’s been donated to the Caring Pet Cupboard so far, plus cans and treats. I am absolutely astounded – and delighted and proud.
In 2½ months – from the end of December to March 12 – we have received 1,071 lbs of dog and cat kibble for the Caring Pet Cupboard. There’s also been 97 cans of dog and cat food, packages of treats, a box of litter, and some dog toys. Plus there’s more that has been taken directly to the St. Thomas Food Bank. And food has been taken to Tabby’s Treasures where Pat distributes it.
There has been very little advertising of the project. We had an article in the St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News (thank you very much). It’s been written about here, on the main STDOA site and the St. Thomas Blog and that’s pretty much it. No significant Facebook presence, no tweets, not even much in the way of flyers.
It’s just people buying a bit extra when they’re in a pet store or vet clinic. Pet food suppliers have also contributed food that hasn’t been purchased rather than throwing it out. People have donated partial bags that their dog or cat wouldn’t eat. There’s nothing wrong with it, just little Miss Finicky doesn’t like it, so why throw it out?
If the success of this project continues, we are looking to expand our collection and distribution to nearby towns and organizations.
In a time of economic downturn, with layoffs and people having a hard time of it, it’s wonderful to see people helping other people and their animals. So if you happen to hear “oh, people in St. Thomas are so…” just think of this and finish the sentence with “kind-hearted,” “willing to help”. Over half a ton of food in 10 weeks. Not bad, St. Thomas!
At this point. our pet food bank was a two-person operation (plus 3 cat and 2 dog “helpers”). Pick up from donation bins, rebagging in smaller portions, then delivery to the food bank and other distribution points. So it can be done quickly. You need collection bins and bags and labels for rebagging. After this government shutdown is over, there will still be a need for pet food banks. So if you can get one up and running, why not keep doing it?
Maybe a good time to mention Freekibble also – your click gives kibble and litter to shelters. Almost 4 billion pieces of kibble in 10 years – that’s a lot of cat and dog meals!
A poster of a young man in Tegucigalpa’s central square. Kidnapped April 19, 1988. It’s in a photograph I just happened to take when I was there one year later. Looking at it recently, I wondered who is he? Thanks to search engines and dedicated searchers for the disappeared in Honduras, I found him. Roger Gonzáles, 24 year old student. Still disappeared.
Last week I’d wondered if Donald Trump remembered anything about the 1980s US interference in Central America. If he really didn’t realize that there might be a connection between then and the caravan of people at the US border now. (see Honduran Contra Camps 1989)
Disappeared in 1988: ROGER SAMUEL GONZALEZ
The contradictory responses of the military no longer surprise Elvia Zelaya, mother of the “disappeared” student Roger González.
Roger González, a 24-year-old leader of the Federation of Second-Year Students (FESE) and employee of the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (COHDEFOR), was kidnapped before witnesses on April 19, 1988, at noon, while walking through the Central Park of Tegucigalpa. His captors were two men and a woman dressed in civilian clothes. Subsequently, one of them was identified by a witness as a member of the DNI*.
In the Honduran courts, five writs of habeas corpus were filed in favor of Roger González. In response to these appeals, several members of the DNI, FUSEP* and the First Infantry Battalion denied having Roger González in their custody. In one case, the executing judge was not even allowed access to the cells of the police unit cited in the habeas corpus. A statement by a spokesman for the Armed Forces, according to which Roger González had been captured by FUSEP, was later vehemently denied by agents of FUSEP itself, one of whom added that, in fact, FUSEP was looking for Roger González in relation to a violent demonstration held before the United States Embassy in Tegucigalpa on April 7, 1988.
In May 1988, relatives, friends and colleagues of Roger Samuel González Zelaya began a hunger strike in the Central Park of Tegucigalpa to protest their arrest and demand their release. The hunger strike lasted 23 days, and was suspended when Roger’s mother became ill.
In an interview with the press on October 8, 1988, the then head of the armed forces declared that Roger Samuel González Zelaya was probably hiding somewhere abroad.
However, Fausto Reyes Caballero, a former member of Battalion 3-16* who fled to the United States of America after deserting, testified in a testimony before several human rights groups in 1988 that he had seen Roger González in mid-July in the barracks of Battalion 3-16 in San Pedro Sula.
(Google translation of COFADEH page)
*DNI is Dirección Nacional de Investigación, National Directorate of Investigation (police).
FUSEP is Fuerza de Seguridad Pública, Public Safety Force (police).
Battalion 3-16 was an intelligence unit of the Honduran army “responsible for carrying out political assassinations and torture… Battalion members received training and support from the United States Central Intelligence Agency” (Wikipedia).
Reyes said he last visited the [Battalion 316] office in San Pedro [Sula] in mid-July , caught a glimpse there of a pale youth, handcuffed and blindfolded, and was told by a sergeant on duty that the prisoner was Roger Gonzalez. Gonzalez disappeared in Tegucigalpa during a police sweep in which about a dozen Hondurans were arrested after the burning of the U.S. Consulate there April 7…
Honduran police first acknowledged, then denied Gonzalez was in their custody.
Where are you Roger?
“My tongue sticks to my palate from so much repeating your name to the wind. My hands age playing insensitive gates They offer me silences for an answer … “
– Fragment of the poem Where are you Roger?, written by his mother Elvia Zelaya.
In a 2017 Conexihon post (Spanish, or see in English), Doña Elvia remembers her son Roger. He’d be 52, she says. She still offers a Mass for him. Aside from protests for answers, that’s all she can do in his memory. “When the mother buries her son, she knows that she is going to put a flower in the cemetery, she is going to visit there,” she says, but “not even that” for her. There still are no answers to what happened to Roger Samuel González Zelaya.
Donald Trump calls it “the Democrat Party led… assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador…” (Twitter Oct. 18, 2018). A caravan of migrants started in Honduras, headed to the US border. This is one time when he legitimately can blame his predecessors. Especially the Reagan Republican administration which did everything it could do, legally and illegally, to get rid of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. That included funding an army and basing them in – guess where – Honduras. Honduras and all of us are still paying for that today. This is what I saw at a contra camp in 1989. (Click/tap photos to enlarge.)
Killing Time in the Honduran contra camps
The Sunday Express, August 20, 1989 pp 25, 40
Last week, five Central American presidents signed a peace accord for that region, agreeing to demobilize the Washington-backed rebel army by December 1989. Contra leaders say they will not lay down their arms, but nine commanders have already asked for asylum in the U.S. In April, Dorothy Anger visited the contra camps.
By Dorothy Anger, Special to The Sunday Express
From 1 a.m. until almost daybreak, the slap-slap-slap of hands shaping corn meal into tortillas is the only sound heard in the camp in the jungle of the Yamales Valley in southern Honduras. This is the strategic command base camp of the Nicaraguan resistance army – the contras. Nearer dawn, the noise of roosters and cicadas is joined by noise of the waking troops. The soldiers bathe and do morning exercises before daylight.
At 6:30 breakfast is served from a kitchen hut just outside the barbed-wire which surrounds the camp. Fifteen kilometres from the Nicaraguan border, this is the administrative centre for the 10,000 contra troops. The troops are divided into 26 regional battalions scattered over several kilometres in the valley.
Women and men commandos
Most of the commandos, as they call themselves, are men, but there are some women among them. Now that they are not engaged in active fighting, the women have been removed from combat roles and instead are responsible for cooking. The soldiers said that when they were militarily active, both men and women cooked and fought.
The women, both commandos and civilian family members, seemed shy. They, and the children, avoided me during this visit, only occasionally scurrying by with a pot of food or jug of water. The men, however, were happy to talk about anything from politics to North American music. Most of the men I met were young, in their 20s. However, there were some as young as 13 years old carrying rifles in the drills. They jokes and laughed, talking about being homesick, posed for pictures, wanted to take pictures, and were quite happy to talk in sign language to a non-Spanish speaker like me. No different than the guys on the other side of the border, except that these guys were killing the ones across the river in Nicaragua.
Outside the base camp is a collection of plastic-covered tents, hammock shelters and small wooden huts. The soldiers on guard duty are rotated from within the ranks of the regional commands. Some soldiers, such as the five musicians in the camp band, are permanently stationed in these huts. Half a kilometre from the guard post there is a row of wooden shacks where Hondurans sell pop and food or clothing and trinkets to the troops.
Large pine trees, palm trees and ferns cloak the surrounding hills. Helicopters go back and forth all day long from a nearby U.S. Agency for International Development landing pad used to supply the contra. Security measures for visitors to the camp are even stricter since a news photograph was published, showing the USAID helicopters carrying armed contra troops, in direct violation of U.S. regulations prohibiting military assistance by the agency. Everywhere there are automatic rifles – a presence that was very disturbing at first, though I soon stopped noticing them.
Eventually I was allowed into the camp, accompanied by a man who used as his nom de guerre Commander Jackson, and was second in command of psychological operations. With him, I visited a classroom where a human rights class was in progress, a regional command post, and the strategic base command.
Classes are periodically given in literacy, artillery practice and human rights. Human rights in this context does not only mean what the contras must do to ensure they do not violate human rights. Rather, it is mostly an explication of the ways in which the Sandinistas violate Nicaraguans’ human rights. Literacy classes are held less often but are necessary because, according to one estimate, as many as half the contras are unable to read or write. Skill-development classes, such as carpentry, are supposed to be taught in order to prepare troops for return to civilian life, but as yet none have been held.
Salvador Perez regional command
In the Salvador Perez regional command, 500 commandos and some family members live in plastic-covered or wooden huts perched on the side of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a parade ground which doubles as a baseball diamond and volleyball court. I watched a dress rehearsal of military drills being prepared for a visit by American officials the next day. Commander Jackson gave the troops a pep talk, exhorting them to remember the struggle, and the importance of throwing over the so-called communist dictatorship of the Sandinistas. The weapons carried by the soldiers included AK-47 automatic rifles obtained from the U.S. and some weapons taken from Sandinista soldiers. At sunset, the men sang the Nicaraguan national anthem, followed by their own Resistance army hymn. Night fell quickly, as it does everywhere in Central America, and the troops dispersed back up the hill in virtual blackness, to sit outside their tents and talk or play cards by flashlight.
Waiting while war is on hold
Military drills, particularly with arms, are rare now that the contra war is supposedly on hold. They probably provide the most excitement available in a very boring routine. A tiny girl of about three looked out through the doorway of her family’s hut, watched by her grandfather who lay on a hammock inside. A pig strolled across the parade ground during the exercises, causing a recess until it was shooed away.
Back at the strategic command base, there was a bit more excitement this evening, for the guide brought movies with him. The choices are a soft porn movie, “The Terminator” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The VCR machine made the decision for us, giving only Indiana Jones both a clear picture and sound. About 50 men crowded around the rolled-up flaps of the administration tent, standing or sitting on wooden benches, to watch the derring-do of Harrison Ford.
$4.5 million US per month
The overwhelming impression of the camps is of people putting in time. They are no longer actively fighting, but neither are they farming or doing any other type of productive work. They are being paid $4.5 million U.S. per month to be there.
Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the contras over eight years in military and non-lethal aid. Nicaragua has moved ahead elections by six months to February of 1990 as part of a deal which would have demobilized the contras within 90 days. This was the peace plan signed by the presidents of five Central American countries in February of this year. Despite this accord, the Washington administration wants to keep the contras in place until the Nicaraguan elections take place. The American argument is that the contra presence will ensure that the Sandinistas run a fair and open election and that without this threat they would not. The problem is, contra leaders such as Adolfo Calero have stated that, “If it is a free electoral process, it is almost impossible for the Sandinistas to win.” A Sandinista victory, therefore, could provoke charges of unfairness and allow the Americans to justify re-engaging the contras in military action.
Pawns in international games
So for the time being, the soldiers wait, with their material needs looked after but their futures in limbo. They are pawns in the international games of the United States, as ex-contra leaders have said, but they get three good meals a day to be pawns. That is more than they would get in Nicaragua or as civilians in Honduras.
A storehouse by the kitchen hut is filled with sacks of rice and flour. Big slabs of beef are served along with rice and beans for breakfast. Cattle awaiting slaughter are kept in pens near the camps. The men receive soap, toothpaste and other such items. Bedrolls and tents are basic, but durable and warm, and have “U.S. Army” stencilled on them. Cigarette rations are supplied fortnightly.
The only items in short supply in the camp are cash and information from the outside. The men get about five Honduran limpira a month – enough to buy a couple of beers and a few packs of cigarettes in Los Trojes, the nearest town. Thirty-five kilometres away, Los Trojes is as far as the men can go without special permission and a pass. The town is small, with wide dusty streets with more horses on them than cars. Along the main street in its small wooden or adobe buildings are stores, restaurants, bars, and even a disco and hotel.
No communication but contra radio
But for the most part, the troops stay at the camps or surrounding area if their families are living there. In the camps, they see no newspapers and hear no radio aside from the contra radio station. They have no communication with their families in Nicaragua. Many have been told that family members are dead or imprisoned.
The level of political analysis ranges from simple repetition of anti-communist slogans, from most of the men to whom I talked, to a willingness to consider both sides of Nicaraguan-American history and philosophy, from Pepe, a senior advisor with the contras. His willingness to discuss the possibility that the Nicaraguan people might want a Sandinista government did not extend to permitting such thoughts to be recorded on tape, however. The other extreme, more commonly found, was the opinion that life in Nicaragua would be better under anyone other than the Sandinistas. An 18-year-old recalled how much better life was under the ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza and said he was fighting to restore that. When Somoza was overthrown, he would have been eight years old.
Somocistas, anti-Sandinistas and non-affiliated
There are some Somoza-regime leftovers in the contras. Some others are disenchanted Sandinista supporters. However, most had no overt political affiliation with any side in Nicaragua, but are poor peasants or labourers who volunteered or were recruited by the contras. Coming from these men, the political rationale of oppression in Nicaragua sounds like so much cant. For example, torture by the Sandinistas was frequently given as the reason for joining the contras, although the only example of torture provided was the men’s conscription into the Sandinista army.
Despite the ban on military action, the troops still get to see some fighting. During my visit, they were talking about a recent incursion into Nicaragua and another planned for the next month. And the next week, near the border on the Nicaraguan side, I was told of a recent attack in which contra soldiers repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl in front of her house and then kidnapped her.
There, I met two “secuestrados,” people who had been kidnapped and held by the contras. In April they and two others were released by the contras after two American doctors and a journalist located them in the camps. The Nicaraguan National Reconciliation Council, a bipartisan committee headed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop, says that 3,000 of the contras are secuestrados. The contra leaders do not like discussing the point, acknowledging only that they “conscript” people.
Dr. Susan Cookson and Dr. Tim Takaro, now living in North Carolina, worked in the northern Nicaraguan province of Jinotega. They knew nine people from the area, including several community health workers, who had been kidnapped by the contras. Finding these people in the Honduran camp was made very difficult by the contra officials, but the doctors succeeded in talking to five of the nine. One young woman to whom they talked did not want to leave the camp. She was pregnant by one of the soldiers and wanted to stay with him.
They were examined and interviewed by the doctors, with a contra lawyer in full military uniform present. The four who left signed statements which were taken to the United Nations human rights officer in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, who arranged for their return to Nicaragua.
Health-care worker and a cook
I talked to José Gabriel Lopez, a farmer and health-care worker near the village of Mancantal in northern Nicaragua, and Gema Valásquez, a 16-year-old who had been working as a cook at a Nicaraguan army camp near the town of Jinotega. Both still feared that the contras would return and kidnap them again.
José Gabriel spent nine months with the contras after he was taken from his house at night. Gema had been walking home from work when she was taken, and spent 10 months in Honduras.
The prisoners’ walk to the camp took six weeks. Neither José Gabriel nor Gema attempted to escape during the walk; José Gabriel saw what happened to people who did try. One of the men with him tried to run the night they were abducted, and was shot as he ran. Gema was beaten with the butt of a rifle when she was unable to keep up the pace.
Isolation and indoctrination
Once in the camp, isolation combined with indoctrination to make the secuestrados believe that they had no choice but to stay with the contras. Gema was told that her mother, a Sandinista supporter, had denounced her. When Dr. Cookson told her that her mother sent her love, Gema simply cried, saying, “I knew my mother hadn’t forgotten me.”
Neither Gema nor José Gabriel have strong political leanings in either direction. Gema is a young girl concerned with music and clothes, the usual interests of 16-year-olds, even in Nicaragua. José Gabriel is a Catholic lay minister whose foremost allegiance is to his faith. José Gabriel assumes he was abducted because of his health care work and Gema says the contras took her employment at a military camp to mean she was a Sandinista supporter.
For two weeks after her arrival in Honduras, Gema was imprisoned in the military police camp. She was kept blindfolded the whole time, was beaten with a hose, tied up all day with no water. What she especially dreaded was having a poncho wrapped tightly around her head smothering her, a torture widely used in Latin America, and known as la capucha, or “the hood.” Dr. Cookson said that many women are sexually molested but Gema was fortunate to escape that, although she did see another woman die after being beaten by the soldiers.
Gema said that during the night that the doctors talked to her, Pepe, Jackson and other officials warned her that she would be killed by the Sandinistas if she left, offered to move her to any camp she wished to go to, and, finally, asked that she make clear in her statement that she had not been mistreated in any way so that negative publicity would not result for the contras.
Gema and José Gabriel both said that there are many in the camps – “hundreds,” according to José – who would like to go home. They do not go because, unless people like Drs. Cookson and Takaro find them, there is no escape. They do not know whether they will be safe in Nicaragua or if their families are alive. And even if they do not believe what the contras tell them, they have no money and they cannot get further in Honduras than Los Trojes without official contra permission. If they overcome these obstacles, they must then navigate through the contra land mines on the border with Nicaragua.
“they don’t want to leave”
According to the contra human rights officer at the base camp, although the contras do take people by force, “after they see what it’s like with us, they don’t want to leave. There is no one here who does not want to be.”
Gema and José Gabriel, as well as the other two men who were freed, have returned to their customary routines. José Gabriel is again living with his wife, child and parents on their farm about an hour’s walk from Mancantal, a small community north of Jinotega. He said that he intends to continue his health care work.
Gema is in Managua living with her mother and brothers and sisters. Her father lives in Jinotega, but the teenager does not intend to visit him again until she feels safe, for the contras still patrol the area. Sitting on the couch holding a doll, she talked only to an intermediary until he convinced her that I was trustworthy.
Aileen Tobin is a Canadian nurse working in Mancantal, the village close to José Gabriel’s farm. Several of the area’s health care workers have been kidnapped or threatened by the contras, and the small clinic in town has been attacked five times in the past three years.
Afraid to travel
Ms. Tobin said many health workers have stopped going about their jobs because they are afraid: they have to travel long distances to small settlements and outlying farms and they are vulnerable to attack on the lonely roads. More importantly, they feel that they are special targets for the contras because of their work in the health field. Ms. Tobin agrees with them, but laments the resulting loss of proper health care. A Canadian doctor in Jinotega, Dr. Myung Kim, said that his tuberculosis patients often do not get the necessary treatment because they don’t have transport to the clinic and he can’t travel to outlying areas because of risk of attack.
Dr. Kim, Ms. Tobin and other health workers are angry because they see the deterioration of a health system which won a World Health Organization award in 1983, and they can do little about it. They have no medicine or supplies, and a worsening economy means there is no money to buy any. Fear of contra attack keeps patients away from clinics.
If children start to die again…
Ms. Tobin said health care workers and teachers are targets of the contras because they represent the most basic and universally available improvements in ordinary people’s lives brought about by the revolution. If children start to die again from malnutrition and other easily-cured illnesses, and if access to basic education is lost, then ordinary people will no longer see that the revolution is giving them fundamental social benefits. Combine this with an inflationary economy which means that while food is available, people have no money to buy it, and the foundation is laid for a crisis of confidence in the government.
On both sides of the Nicaragua-Honduras border there are Nicaraguans carrying no strong ideological flag who have become part of a battle which, at root, is about the right to self-determination on the part of Central America. The United States has long considered Central America to be its backyard, with plantations and industries which produce goods for the American market, and governed by American-installed or approved leaders. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 made official policy of the American belief that no other country had any right to intervene in the Americas. Nicaragua is the first country since Cuba in 1959 that blatantly went against this dictum, accepting support from Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Contras, Cubans and Washington
The perception of Nicaragua is so radically different in Miami, Honduras and Nicaragua that one could be excused for not realizing that the same country is being discussed. In Miami, contra leaders and the Cuban exile community plan a new Nicaraguan revolution, a reversed one. In their minds, even if Washington backs down in its support of the contras, their movement will continue, with the help of “right-thinking” Americans like Oliver North.
In Washington, the highly charged rhetoric of the Reagan administration is being downplayed by President George Bush, but the same interventionist policy is being pursued.
In the Honduran contra camps, where the commanders imagine victory and the U.S.-supplied soldiers regularly eat meat, Washington is criticized because more aid is not forthcoming. In the Honduran capital the views are more diverse, but with one factor remaining constant. If you walk through the crowded main square, it is almost impossible to find a Honduran who does not want the contras to leave immediately.
Coping with an embargo and war
And in Nicaragua the leaders cut back on social programs, and devalue the currency, and scramble to obtain the hard currency needed to buy industrial equipment and other goods. They try to cope with the continuing American trade embargo and rebuild the Atlantic coast after the devastation of Hurricane Joan. They still find time to release National Guard prisoners, remove restrictions on La Prensa, an opposition newspaper, and prepare for the February 1990 election. Ordinary people now watch their children die of malnutrition and lack of health care. (In Mancantal, Aileen Tobin says, “Even aspirin, I often haven’t even got that to give people.”)
In this eight-year war, 40,000 have been killed on both sides and hundreds of millions of dollars given to the contras by the United States. Although former president Ronald Reagan did not succeed in displacing the Sandinista government, his actions in promoting trade embargoes and a costly war did succeed in destroying the economy.
“Washington created them…”
Now, thousands of Nicaraguans are leaving the country. Because the U.S. considers them to be fleeing “communism,” none have been sent back to Nicaragua. If the American demobilize the contras, most spokespeople for all sides of the issue believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take them in. Julio Somoza, a Miami restaurateur who is the nephew of the ex-dictator of Nicaragua, has said “Washington created them, Washington has to look after them.”
There are two great tragedies in this seemingly never-ending war. One is the waste of lives on both sides, through death in battle and through the slow death of poverty and displacement. The other tragedy is the possible death of a Nicaraguan idealism which brought social justice to a country and a region more accustomed to mass poverty amid pockets of opulence and brutal repression.
It has been said that the real threat posed to the United States by Nicaragua is not the threat of encroaching communism, but “the threat of a good example.” That example is of a Central American country which despite the opinion of its critics is democratic and independent. Against all the odds, it still exists.
In 1971 my parents and I drove through West Virginia on our way from Ontario to Kentucky. We’d never been there before and it was stunningly beautiful. So we took back roads and made lots of stops.
The stop I remember most was at a small house. A wooden sign, “antiques for sale”. A table covered with old glass bottles and china. Over by a tree, machine parts and old tools.
Everybody came out to see the pickup with Ontario plates come in the driveway. A man from somewhere out back. Woman and kids from the house. Lots of kids, teenage to toddlers.
Mom looked at the glass, Dad the car parts. But I saw a kid holding a pup. Then I saw kittens playing in the flowerbed. Chickens scratching around the side of the house. I went to the kids, and the animals.
We stayed a long time, long enough for the woman to ask if we’d like a cold drink. So lemonade and cookies, served on a small table under a tree. When we left, with some blue medicine bottles, they asked if I wanted a pup or the kitten I held. A gift. No, sorry, our dog doesn’t take kindly to sharing.
That small farm in the hills was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. They farmed a bit and they hunted. The kids knew the woods as well as they knew the inside of their house.
I don’t remember anyone mentioning coal. But it had to be coal country. Commercial coal mining had been a part of West Virginia for a century and a half by then. But underground mining, not strip mining. Not mountaintop removal. Not on a large scale anyway. Mountain-top removal mining started in the 1950s but didn’t take off as the preferred method of mining until the early 1970s. Just a couple years after we stopped at that house to look at glass bottles.
The oil crisis of 1973 gave an impetus to fast, cheap coal mining. Bulldozing and blasting soil, trees and rock to reach the seams of coal under the land. Taking down the mountain to reach what’s underneath. And taking it down further and further, to reach each seam deeper in the mountain. Until there is no mountain left.
All that soil, vegetation and rock has to go somewhere. Into the valleys, filling them. Thereby filling rivers and lakes, farms and houses. Then the mined coal has to be cleaned. More waterways polluted by the runoff from the washing process.
This is the industry that President Trump wants. Despite the demand for coal having dropped over the past years, due to no real need for it and no desire for the air pollution that burning it causes. Yes, less coal mining in Appalachia caused unemployment. But retraining and economic aid programmes were helping. Then Trump swore he’d revive coal. Miners would go back to work, he promised. Are there really markets for what they’d produce? Not so sure, even in China where coal-burning plants are being phased out.
EPA and coal lobby
The US Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump, is now headed by a former coal lobbyist. Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator, took over from Scott Pruitt, himself a former energy industry lobbyist and a big friend of big coal. Neither Wheeler nor Pruitt have rethought their former employment positions. Both have publicly stated their support for coal and energy industries, even their pride in their former work. Both in charge of the federal agency responsible for, well, protecting the environment. Fox guarding the henhouse?
Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed the mountains of West Virginia and throughout Appalachia. Destroying the mountains also means destroying the entire waterway system of lakes, rivers and ponds. It destroys wildlife and fishstocks and their habitats. It also destroys human habitats.
The other big industry in West Virginia is drugs; meth labs and distribution of opiods. That filled the economic gap left by the loss of mining jobs. It destroys people’s health and lives. But it doesn’t destroy the environment as well. Mining destroys people’s health, their homelands and the whole environment. That damage hurts Appalachia and everywhere else too.
If you want a quick primer in the coal industry and mountaintop removal mining, and a good story, read John Grisham’s 2014 novel Gray Mountain. He also writes about those fighting back. The lawyers and legal clinics who fight big coal and fight for the miners suffering black lung disease and other debilitations caused by their profession.
Today, the Trump Administration announced a major scale back of constraints on emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA said the regulations set by the Obama administration were “burdensome”. President Trump will celebrate this at a political rally in Charleston, West Virginia, tonight.
Writer Dave Tabar wants to make a movie called Angel in a Foxhole – about Smoky, the Yorkshire Terrier war dog. Until July 4th, Blackpool Records will match all contributions. Here is Dave’s email.
Smoky the WWII Dog – Short Film Project Update
96 year old WWII Veteran Bill Wynne needs your help! He has a Yorkie story that must be told – the incredible and inspirational TRUE story of “Smoky”, his 4 lb. Yorkshire Terrier, who literally became the tiniest Hero of WWII!
Little Smoky was stuck in a foxhole in New Guinea when she was rescued by Bill Wynne’s army regiment. With Bill by her side, Smoky went on to win an army mascot competition, grace the cover of the GI newspaper, Yank Magazine, become the first-ever Therapy Dog and literally save lives and planes during the war.
Her heart-warming story shows how much our four-legged friends can accomplish and the powerful impact they have on others’ lives, even when they’re only 4 lbs. Little Smoky did not stop there! After the war, she became a celebrity in Cleveland, Ohio and had her own local TV show [WXEL’s Castles in the Air].
Help us share her charming place in history as a movie! Please check out our Indiegogo campaign and donate whatever you can – no amount is too small. With your help, 3-time Emmy Award-Winning Director Dean Love can create a memorable short film that will touch all of our hearts and help us convince Hollywood to turn this into a blockbuster feature. Let’s put Smoky’s name in lights and make 96 year old Veteran Bill Wynne’s dream come true!
To all who have helped fund the “Angel in a Foxhole: Smoky the WWII Therapy Dog” short film / Indiegogo campaign: Thank you for your support!
Blackpool Records matches funds until July 4th
We are writing to inform you that we have received a generous offer from Blackpool Records to match all personal donations received during the final days of the campaign, beginning today, to assure that we reach our minimum $25,000 campaign goal!
Please consider a contribution, no matter how small, to take advantage of this offer. Otherwise, please forward this message to friends, family and others, as the current campaign ends on Wednesday, July 4th. Today we reached 50% of our minimum goal of $25,000 to produce the film that will put “Smoky” on the big screen at selected 2019 short film festivals, as we continue to work toward achieving a full feature film!
STUDIO A FILMS (Cleveland) and DEAN LOVE FILMS (NYC)
Angel in a Foxhole perks, and more about Smoky
Check out Indiegogo for great perks you get with your donation! If you want to know more about Smoky, see my review of Mr. Wynne’s book Yorkie Doodle Dandy. I also posted about the tribute Australia paid to her, as well as an email I received from Bill Wynne in 2015.
Known best as “the girl in the car”, Mary Jo Kopechne had a promising career as a political worker in Washington. She was idealistic and enthusiastic – the sort of person you want to see in public service. Then she died at Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts on July 18, 1969. The car she was in, driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy, went off a bridge. He survived. The next week, she would have celebrated her 29th birthday.
Mary Jo was born July 26, 1940 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. She was the only child of Joseph and Gwen (Jennings) Kopechne. Her grandfathers were coal miners. Her family had been in the Wyoming Valley of north-eastern Pennsylvania for 250 years.
Soon after she was born, her parents moved to New Jersey. She graduated from that state’s Caldwell College for Women in 1962 with a business and education degree.
After graduation, Mary Jo moved to Alabama. There she taught school at the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic mission in Montgomery. From its establishment in 1938, it served both black and white community members.
St. Jude was put in the spotlight in March 1965 when it opened its grounds and doors for the march from Selma to Montgomery. Harry Belafonte organized and paid for a concert there that last night of the march. The “Stars for Freedom” rally included Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Joan Baez, Sammy Davis Jr., and many more.
White parents didn’t like the attention this gave the school so they pulled their kids out. Just as it had become de facto integrated, St. Jude became de facto segregated.
Mary Jo had left Montgomery by then. She moved to Washington where she worked as a secretary for Florida Democratic Senator George Smathers. A year or so later, she began work for Sen. Robert Kennedy.
During Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, she was one of six aides called the Boiler Room Girls. They compiled and analyzed data and intelligence on primary delegate voting probabilities.
After Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Mary Jo left Washington. She was devastated by the loss of the man who represented the ideals of social justice in which she so strongly believed. But she didn’t leave politics. She moved to Colorado to work as the campaign strategist for the former Governor’s Senate campaign. Then she returned to Washington. She worked for a political consulting company, one of the first, organizing campaigns at all levels of office.
She kept in touch with friends from Robert Kennedy’s office. The party in Chappaquiddick was a reunion of the Boiler Room Girls. Ted Kennedy was the host, and he left the party with Ms. Kopechne.
One week after her death, Kennedy appeared in court. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury. The judge suspended the mandatory jail time, saying Kennedy “has already been, and will continue to be punished far beyond anything this court can impose.”
“A man does what he must…”
Later that night on television, Ted Kennedy quoted from his brother John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage. He said, in part:
A man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressure… Each man must decide for himself the course he will follow… For this, each man must look into his own soul. [NY Daily News July 27, 1969]
An odd – even audacious – choice in light of the circumstances. Legal charges, an ongoing investigation and controversy about his actions the night of the accident. However, his words somehow close the circle of the Kennedy decade.
The youngest, and only surviving, son quoting the elder brother who ushered in the 1960s. Such hope, dashed by assassination. Then his brother Robert assassinated, another loss of hope. The decade ended with this third tragedy, the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. An accident, but a messy and mysterious one. She was not a Kennedy, but her life was entwined with theirs in terms of her beliefs and work. Her death also.
Ted, his wife Joan and Robert Kennedy’s widow Ethel attended Mary Jo’s funeral in Pennsylvania. Joan, who was pregnant at the time, later miscarried. Joseph and Gwen Kopechne moved back to Pennsylvania. They received a settlement of $141,000 from Kennedy’s insurance. Joseph died in 2003 and Gwen in 2007.
The movie Chappaquiddick is now, or soon will be, in a theatre near you.
I don’t remember what I was doing when I heard that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed. I do remember the shock and horror I felt. The loss and hopelessness that it signified. Even to me, a kid. But a kid old enough to understand what he was saying, and how important he was. How important his message was. He was the hope.
Then two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot. Another hope, gone in the flash of an assassin’s bullet. It was like some horrible circle was closing, taking down those in whom we all had invested so much. First President John F. Kennedy, then five years later Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. The killing of those whom we believed would make change. Would indeed make America great again.
1968 was a bad year. There were no giants left. No individuals who spoke with the authenticity and lyricism of Dr. King. No presidential candidates who made you believe yes, we can!
Four decades after Dr. King
Forty years passed and Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States. Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers rolled into one. If any of you ever rolled your eyes when someone over 50 said they feared for his safety, think of this: that person remembers those assassinations.
Fifty years on, Donald Trump, a president whose electoral campaign and time so far in office has spurred different memories of 1968. George Wallace, former governor of Alabama, also ran in the 1968 presidential election. Fears again felt by those old enough to remember. The white supremacism that we thought was gone, clamoring again at the White House.
This Saturday, January 27, is the 2nd annual Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in Florida. The richest horse race in the world, it costs one million dollars to enter. The total purse is $16 million, up from $12 million last year. That’s the million each from the owners of the twelve horses running, plus $4 million from the Stronach Group which owns the track.
It is a Grade 1 race, with a distance of 9 furlongs or 1 1/8 miles. That’s one furlong shorter than the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. It’s open to 4 year olds and up. So horses from the previous year’s Triple Crown races are eligible. With January 1st being the official birthday of Thoroughbreds, those 3-year-olds have turned four. For many of them, it’s a final kick at the racing can before they take up stud duty.
Arrogate 1st Pegasus winner
In 2017 Arrogate won in a track record time, ridden by Mike Smith (Watch race on NBC). Named American Champion Three-Year-Old Male in 2016, Arrogate won the 2016 Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the Classic, he beat favourite California Chrome, winner of 2014’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness and Horse of the Year in both 2014 and 2016.
Gulfstream opened in Hallandale Beach, Florida in 1939. The Florida Derby began there in 1952. The Canadian Turf Handicap started in 1967 in honour of the many Canadians who winter or live in Florida.
One of those “snowbirds” was Sam Russo. His wife was my mother’s best friend from childhood. They lived near the track, and Sam worked in the betting windows during their winters there. It gave him a good excuse to go to the races, he said. He loved Gulfstream, and I loved his stories about it. Sam passed away in January 2017.
In this Saturday’s race, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner is entered, along with other top finishers in the Classic. It will air on NBC and TSN at 4:30 ET. It will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app as well.
One Trump year is like one dog year – very long! Tomorrow, January 20th, is the first anniversary of his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. A lot has happened, both silly and serious. The tweets and braggadocio coming from the White House have been entertaining and frightening. Also so mind-occupying that it’s hard to think of the serious stuff that’s happened. Actual legislation passed, revoked, deferred and proposed.
So here’s a summary of just one aspect of the past Trump year, the effect of his administration on the environment.
Earth’s 1st Trump Year
January 20, 2017
Trump is inaugurated. He says he’s going to drain the swamp. He meant the swamp of Washington politicos. But it’s real swamps that need to worry.
January 24, 2017
Trump issues memoranda to permit Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. He does this despite indigenous peoples’ protests and environmental concerns.
January 25, 2017
All references to climate change removed from White House website.
February 1, 2017
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is appointed Secretary of State. From 18 Dec 2016 in OilPrice.com:
[P]utting Tillerson at Secretary of State does present some questions over conflict of interest. After all, Tillerson could be instrumental in removing sanctions on Russia, which would be a highly favorable outcome for ExxonMobil, where Tillerson has worked for his entire 41-year career… As Vox’s Brad Plumer succinctly put it, “In a lot of ways, Putin and Exxon need each other. And Tillerson is now in the middle.”
February 14, 2017
Trump signs a Congressional Review Act resolution that ends a financial disclosure requirement for energy companies.
February 16, 2017
Trump signs joint resolution passed by Congress revoking “Stream Protection Rule”. The rule had placed restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways.
February 17, 2017
Scott Pruitt confirmed as head of Environmental Protection Agency. When he was Attorney General for Oklahoma, Pruitt was best known for suing the EPA. He was also known for his close relationship with oil and gas companies.
March 2, 2017
Newly appointed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rescinds ban on lead ammunition on federal lands and waters. NRA approves the move as being good for hunters. Conservation groups disapprove as poisonous for wildlife.
March 6, 2017
After ordering an EPA review of it on Feb 28th, Trump announced his decision to rescind or revise the “Clean Water Rule: Waters of the United States”. Intended to clarify federal jurisdiction over US waters, it had extended federal protection to some waterways, wetlands and lakes.
March 7, 2017
EPA Office of Science and Technology removes word “science” from its mission statement. New wording stresses “economically and technologically achievable performance standards”.
March 13, 2017
First preliminary budget makes cuts to EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, other science and environmental agencies and social programmes. The cuts are made in order to allow $54 billion increase to defense spending.
March 15, 2017
EPA considers rolling back emissions standards for future new vehicles, as goal of greater fuel efficiency said to be unachievable.
March 17, 2017
EPA does not rescind $100 million to Michigan for water infrastructure upgrades in Flint. Hurray.
March 21, 2017
The rusty patched bumblebee is listed as an endangered species. Trump had previously signed an executive order that delayed its listing by one month. It used to be a variety of bee commonly found in North America.
March 24, 2017
Keystone XL pipeline given permit by State Department.
March 27, 2017
Oil is pumped into the Dakota Access Pipeline.
March 28, 2017
Trump signs Executive Order to begin rescinding EPA’s Clean Power Plan, moratorium on coal leases, and more.
April 3, 2017
Trump donates first quarter of his presidential salary to National Park Service. His 2018 budget plan includes a $1.5 billion cut to the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service is part of that department. Funding for some National Heritage Areas will be eliminated.
April 19, 2017
All but one reference to climate change are removed from the climate change page on the Interior Department’s website.
April 26, 2017
Trump signs Antiquities Executive Order, instructing review of national monuments created since 1996.
April 28, 2017
Trump signs an executive order for a review of bans on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Also stops designation or expansion of National Marine Sanctuaries unless an “energy or mineral resource potential” estimate has been done by the Interior Department.
April 28, 2017
EPA climate change website is removed, remaining on the new page only in archived form.
May 5, 2017
EPA dismisses several scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors. The EPA says this allows a “more diverse” membership of the board, including industry representatives.
May 23, 2017
Trump sends his budget to Congress. It proposes a 31% cut to the EPA budget. It also eliminates Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound restoration programmes.
June 1, 2017
Trump says the US will pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
June 12, 2017
Interior Secretary recommending decreasing size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
June 13, 2017
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cancels a rule designed to prevent endangered whales, dolphins and sea turtles getting entangled in fishing nets.
August 7, 2017
Interior Department recommends relaxing plan for protection of greater sage grouse habitat. The Department also recommends reprioritizing oil development in the affected federal lands.
Interior Departmental Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement stops a study of health risks from mountaintop removal coal mining. Also, the Trump administration disbanded a federal advisory panel for National Climate Assessment.
October 9, 2018
EPA head Scott Pruitt announces plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, saying “the war on coal is over.”
October 23, 2017
Department of Interior announces largest ever auction of offshore oil and gas leases. 77 million acres of federal water in the Gulf of Mexico outer continental shelf, off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The announcement comes days after a 672,000 gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to a pipeline leak off the coast of Louisiana.
December 4, 2017
Trump announces an 85% reduction in size of Bears Ears National Monument and an almost 50% reduction of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Both are in Utah. The Valley of the Gods, above, is now outside the boundaries..
December 18, 2017
Trump administration drops climate change from national security threat list.
December 20, 2017
Congress approves opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. It was bundled with the tax reform bill.
December 22, 2017
Department of the Interior removes “incidental takes” – industry-caused bird deaths – from being a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
January 4, 2018
Interior Department releases new offshore drilling plans. 5 days later, Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts are excluded. “Florida is obviously unique” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s also home to Trump’s “Winter White House”.
January 6, 2018
Interior Department says it will approve a road to be built through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. One village and a fish cannery wanted it. It was added to the tax reform bill passed by Congress in December.
January 15, 2018
Nine of the 12 member National Park System Advisory Board resign. From their letter of resignation: “For the last year we have stood by waiting for the chance to meet” with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.