Thursday, February 28, 2013

France: Socialist President Hollande Popularity Drops to 30%, Worst in 32 Years

According to The Buenos Aires Herald, and only ten months into his first term of office, President François Hollande scored the worst of any French president since 1981, in the TNS Sofres poll for Le Figaro released today, as he grapples to promote economic growth and create jobs.

Unfortunately, the Socialist voters who propelled Hollande to the presidency in May 2012 are now beginning to question his ability to produce results, as France slumps towards recession. 

Hollande's rating fell by 5% in February in the monthly poll to 30% when respondents were asked whether they had confidence in their president to resolve the country's problems.

COMMENT: To make matters worse, Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's rating also fell 5 points to 28%.  

Data shows jobless claims rose to 3.17 million last month, the highest since July 1997, and Hollande admitted this week that the lack of robust growth would make it harder to fulfill his pledge to stem the rise in unemployment by the end of 2013.  

The survey was conducted between February 21 and February 25.

Costa Rica: Five Gunmen Storm Upscale Hotel Samasati, Steal Valuables from 18 Guests, Mostly US

According to The Tico Times, five gunmen forced their way into the upscale Hotel Samasati, in the Caribbean province of Limón [Puerto Viejo] during  hours of darkness earlier today (February 28) and robbed mostly US citizens who were staying at the one-of-a-kind hotel situated on 250 acres of forest.

Reportedly, the gunmen stole up to US$6,000 in cash, digital cameras, electronics, passports and other valuables.

Upon their departure from the hotel, they also stole a car belonging to the hotel owner and on their way out, slashed the tires in most vehicles in the parking lot. 

One of the hotel guests was also punched in the face, who required medical treatment at a local clinic. 

COMMENT: As most of our regular readers know, in recent years Costa Rica has experienced a significant spike in violent crime, largely because it is such a magnet for tourists and expats.

For information on the hotel, please go to: http://www.samasati.com.


Global Impact: Update--Swiss Hostage, Held by Yemeni Tribesmen for a Year, Released Safe, Well, Thanks to Qatari Government

According to Reuters, Swiss citizen Sylvia Abrahat, 34, who was held for nearly a year as a hostage in Yemen has been freed by her abductors and flown to Doha yesterday (February 27) following mediation by the government of Qatar.

Armed tribesmen had kidnapped the young teacher in the western Yemeni port city of Hudaida in March 2012 to press their government to free jailed relatives.

COMMENT: An assistant to the Qatari foreign minister and the Swiss ambassador in Doha were at the airport to greet Ms. Abrahat and thank the government of Qatar for their successful effort.

In an unrelated development, a Finnish couple and an Austrian man are currently being held by suspected Islamist militants, having been sold by armed tribesmen who kidnapped them in December 2012. 

The Austrian hostage, Dominik Neubauer, 26, appeared in a video clip posted on the Internet on February 21, saying he would be killed if ransom money was not paid to a Yemeni tribe within a week, which ends tomorrow (March 1).

In the video clip, an AK-47 assault rifle was pointed at Mr. Neubauer's head.

On Wednesday (February 27), Mr. Neubauer's family appealed for clemency as the execution deadline approached.

México: Despite Stepped Up Security for US, Canadian Spring-Breakers, Cancún Discouraged

COMMENT: A word of caution for the parents of college students and young adults:

According to EFE, “Operation Spring Breakers 2013” calls for the deployment of 138 tourism police officers, 100 federal law enforcement agents, 86 marines and 80 army troops to maintain order in Cancún.

The augmentation of additional military and police support during spring break is scheduled to be in effect until April 15, where at least 60,000 college students from the US and Canada are expected to arrive over the next few weeks to enjoy their break from the rigors of academia.

Although it is completely understandable why the state of Quintana Roo accounts for roughly 50% of México's tourism revenues, the fact is that the Texas Department of Public Safety for the third year in a row has issued a travel warning to all young adults to avoid México during spring break.

While México's envoy to the US, Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, was quick to criticize the DPS travel advisory, I concur with it for the following reasons:

Parents, please do consider the downsides for your sons and daughters:

1. México has one of the most corrupt police systems in Latin America with misconduct being a common occurrence;

2. Please note that Mexicans themselves, according to México's National Human Rights Commission, report crimes only 8% of of the time and only 1% of those victimized ever result in a conviction;

3. Many of the sexual assaults, shootings and other acts of violence we commonly see in México, which can occur anywhere, should be a concern for all US and Canadian parents;

4. Misunderstandings in language almost always produces conflicts between young adults and uniformed police and military personnel; 

5. Alcoholic beverages in México are much stronger than those found at home, which renders young adults much more vulnerable to doing things they might otherwise not do; and

6. Being detained and/or arrested in México is no day at the beach; it varies dramatically from one young adults may experience at home.

It is noteworthy to point out that many young adults from both the US and Canada look forward to "letting their hair down" with excitement and often don't possess the experience to do things in moderation.

In the end, most parents want their sons and daughters to have a safe experience during spring break, not one that may result in their being unexpectedly victimized and/or detained/arrested in a country not particularly well known for its benevolence toward foreigners.



Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guam: Update--Assailant, 21, Who Killed 3 Japanese Tourists, Injured 11 Others with Car, Knives Pleads Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Defect

Chad Ryan Desoto, 21, who was arrested on February 12, on Guam after attempting to kill as many people as he could with his car and two long-bladed knives (held in each hand), pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect earlier today (February 27) to three counts of murder and 11 counts of attempted murder.

COMMENT: Desoto's attorney Thomas Miller said his client had entered the plea because he was mentally ill when the attack took place and was waiving his right to a speedy trial, preferring instead to have his case heard by a twelve-person jury.

Judge Alberto Tolentino ordered a psychological evaluation of Desoto to be completed by March 8.

All of the victims of the attack, including an eight-month-old baby and a three-year-old toddler, were Japanese. Three of the dead included victims who were also Japanese, ages 29, 51 and 81, respectively.

Desoto's motive for the attack remains unknown.

Yemen: Update--EU Adviser Requests Help in Mediating Kidnapping of Europeans

COMMENT: Since the 1970s, Yemini tribal chiefs have from time to time kidnapped foreigners in an effort to pressure Sana'a into giving them a bit more than squalor. Sometimes it has worked, and sometimes it hasn't.

Now, fast-forward to December 21, 2012, when a Finnish couple and an Austrian were kidnapped by elements of al-Qaeda, which is much, much different than being abducted by tribesmen, who normally treat foreigners very, very well.

Considering that a significant period of time has passed since the three Europeans were kidnapped, last week President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi received a phone call from European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, during which the president promised to initiate mediation efforts on all levels to free the three hostages. 

Now, in view of the fact that al-Qaeda has been holding a Swiss woman and a Saudi diplomat captive for nearly a year, does not give the the Yeminis a whole lot of pressure to wield.

To make matters worse, an intelligence source apparently told the Xinhua news service negotiations will take place at an al-Qaeda-controlled location that would involve the payment of a cash ransom approaching millions of euros.

Unfortunately, pressure from Ms. Ashton is not particularly helpful, albeit very understandable and warranted, considering the Yemini government is (1) impoverished; and (2) has virtually no political pressure they can apply to al-Qaeda.

Last week, when the Austrian hostage was interviewed in a video released to local media, he said that the hostages would be killed if the ransom is not paid in the course of a week.

Although such "pay-or-die" pressure is often productive, it is very doubtful that either the EU or the government of Yemen has the political will or resources to pay a massive ransom.

On a positive note, the Saudi diplomat who has been held for nearly a year, was also threatened with death, yet presumably he is still alive. 

Yemen, like Jordan,  does not have priceless natural resources, thus they are forced to survive on generous international donors and their friendly dispositions.  

Egypt: Guardian Piece a "Must-Read" on Hot-Air Balloon Crash, Killing 19

COMMENT: In today's issue (February 27) of the London-based GUARDIAN is a "must-read" piece entitled "Egyptian Hot-Air Balloon Flights Cancelled as Crash Investigation Begins." Thus, I strongly encourage our readers to review it below:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/27/egyptian-hot-air-balloon-company

As a matter of interest, I have traveled to and worked in Egypt extensive since 1973, and have seen it through good times and bad.

Yet, over the range of nearly 40 years, I must regretfully acknowledge at I have never seen Egypt in such political and economic chaos as I see it today, and particularly since the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, which eventually brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

In the Egypt of today, foreign tourists have dramatically declined in huge numbers. Additionally, the country's cultivation of hard currency has equally diminished as it tries desperately to hang-on to the US$2 billion in foreign assistance that Washington has given to Cairo since 1979.

In case you're wondering, yes, that does amount to $68 billion that could have been put to much better use.

Although Washington has not "turned off the annual pipeline" of foreign assistance cash going to President Mohamed Morsi as yet, in December 2012, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) led Congress in adding language to an Egyptian spending bill that requests the US Secretary of State to "certify" that Egypt is supporting human rights and being a good neighbor.    

It should also be noted that according to a recent survey of Americans, 42% were in favor of cutting aid to Egypt and another 29% were in favor of cutting all of it.

Although I was hardly an apologist for former President Hosni Mubarak, it should be noted that Mubarak was, for roughly 30 years, an Egyptian president that kept Western interests safe, suppressed Muslim extremists and was very loyal to the West, including the US.

Unfortunately, for Mubarak, his loyalty resulted in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama "throwing him to the wolves" when Mubarak was deposed. 

Spain: Update--Chittock, 38, Gets 24 Years in Prison for Beating Death of Sarah Shields

COMMENT: According to http://www.eadt.co.uk, a Las Palmas court earlier today (February 27) sentenced defendant Christopher Chittock, 38, to 24 years in a Spanish prison for beating his girlfriend, Sarah Shields, 23, to death and throwing her body into the sea.

Our only wish is that Chittock's sentence could have been  lengthier, but 24 years in more than sufficient to bring Sarah's family some closure and a sense of justice.

We suggest that new readers review previous postings, as this homicide was particularly brutal, not to mention the fact that when Sarah's parents picked Chittock up at the airport in the UK, he told them that Sarah had left him for another man, and continued to use her mobile phone with friends and family, as if he was she until his bizarre deception eventually unraveled.
   

Péru: Update--California Cyclists Thought To Be Missing, Safely Found on River Boat Bound for Ecuador

As a follow-up to my previous postings, and according to Reuters, and after the families of Californians Jamie Neal and Garrett Hand, both 25, insisted the couple had "disappeared," the two were found on a river boat destined for Ecuador, seemingly shocked that Peruvian police were turning the region upside down looking for them.

For background, please see my previous postings.

COMMENT: Although Peruvian authorities are to be commended for their exemplary efforts in finding the two Americans, who told police their were in "good health," the lesson learned in this case is that travelers who choose to travel aimlessly around the world, need to exercise some responsibility in advising family when they're not going to have access to Internet communications.

Such responsibility as proposed above would be an excellent way in avoiding cost-prohibitive searches in developing countries that they can hardly afford such efforts, particularly when those being searched for are not "missing" at all. 

As most of us now know, after communicating every few days on Facebook since they left on their cycling trip through South America in November, without an explanation, they fall out of contact with family and friends for nearly a month. 

Considering that the US Embassy in Lima issued a travel warning for Cuzco and Machu Picchu on February 13, urging Americans to avoid the area, it is understandable why the families of the two cyclists thought they may have been kidnapped. 

Another facet of the "search" for the two Americans, who were not missing at all, is that Jeff Jerge, owner of The Pedaler Bicycle Shop in El Sobrante, CA, raised a reward of $4,000 for information that might lead to the whereabouts of his former employee [Neal], who had worked at his shop for 2.5 years as a bike mechanic. 

Presumably, Jeff will now have to return the donations, considering that the couple never was "missing" after all.

As a final note, traveling throughout South America via bicycle is something that young adults could safely and comfortably do in the 1960s, yet the world is much more perilous than it was then.

In today's world, just given the calamities described in my roughly 1,800 postings in recent years, biking South America can only be described as "living on the edge." 

During my years as the US Department of State's associate director of security for Latin America, I religiously urged US diplomats headed abroad not to travel by bicycle. FYI: I say this is as an avid cyclist. 

 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Afghanistan: Update--2012 Disappearance of US/Canadian Couple Has Dropped Off Media Threshhold

COMMENT:  Knowing that many of our loyal readers have been checking on the status of an American/Canadian couple that disappeared while hiking in Afghanistan on October 8, 2012, I wanted to update what is currently known about US citizen Caitlan Coleman, 27, and her Canadian husband, Josh.

As much as I have attempted to be an advocate for foreign travelers who have disappeared, and as a follow-up to my numerous postings of 12/31/12, 1/1/13, 1/17/13 and 1/30/13, it appears that the welfare of Caitlan and Josh, despite the efforts of their parents and the US and Canadian embassies in Kabul, the whereabouts of the couple has slipped well below the media thresh-hold.

The harsh reality is that I strongly discourage any traveler(s) from visiting war-zones WITHOUT a well-supported organizational sponsor, which Caitlan and Josh did NOT have.

In point of fact, the non-existence of such a sponsor may have contributed to the misfortune this couple befell.

In my posting of 1/17/13, I outlined seven factors that should be vigorously considered before backpackers visit any war-zone. All of these factor remain valid.

The worst part of this tragedy is that Caitlan and Josh were expecting their first child in January 2013.

Hence, it is not even known whether the couple was alive when the baby was due, as they were last seen FIVE months ago.

For those naive travelers who may be reading this, if you do nothing else BEFORE traveling abroad, go to the on-line website of your foreign affairs agency and learn whether it is safe to travel to your destination.

If there is one lesson to be learned from independent travelers visiting active war-zones, please DON'T, as far too many very bad things can happen to those who still believe that foreigners can travel anywhere. They simply cannot.


México: Italian Businessman Kidnapped from Restaurant in Amecameca de Juárez

Although details are sketchy, according to EFE, upwards of nine gunmen kidnapped Italian businessman Gilberto Soliman Corollo, 54, from the Los Venados Restaurant in Amecameca de Juárez on Saturday (February 23).  

COMMENT: From all indications, the victim was promoting the 9th bicycle race on Popobike mountain, held near the Paso de Cortes on the slopes of the Popocatepetl volcano.

Despite few details, it seems apparent that the kidnappers knew exactly where Mr. Corollo would be in Amecameca and were no doubt "well-staffed" to ensure success of the abduction. 

Interestingly, virtually all of the kidnappers carried rifles, which is very atypical of most kidnappings, particularly in México, where for reasons of  concealing firearms, high-capacity semi-auto pistols are generally used.

Although ransom kidnapping in México is a frequent occurrence, very little has been said in Mexican media concerning the abduction. The Italian Embassy has made no comments; the investigation has been turned over to the Office of the Attorney General in Estado de México (Edomex).

Another interesting detail about this abduction is that both English and Spanish news accounts reflect essential the same limited information.

Amecameca de Juárez is a town and municipality of roughly 49,000, located in the eastern panhandle of Estado de México between Mexico City and the Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl volcanos of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This area is popular with weekend visitors from Mexico City, Puebla and Morelos to enjoy the scenery of the mountains, eat local foods, visit the Sanctuary of the Señor del Sacromonte, the Panoaya Hacienda and other attractions. 

At this point in time, it is unknown what the motive was for Corollo's kidnapping, although in all likelihood it was economic.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.


  

Péru: US Bike Shop Offers Reward For Leads on Alleged Disappearance of US Couple

As a follow-up to my posting of February 24, concerning the alleged disappearance of American couple Jamie Neal and Garrett Hand, 27 and 25, respectively, after they were last seen on January 25, boarding a bus from Cuzco to Lima, Jeff Jerge, owner of The Pedaler Bicycle Shop in El Sobrante, CA, has reportedly raised a reward of $4,000 for information about his former employee [Neal].

The young couple subsequently embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime bicycle trek through South America last fall [2012].

Friends and family of the couple describe the two as having disappeared, largely because the two stopped emailing, using financial accounts and posting their adventures on Facebook.

COMMENT: Although the ending of financial transactions could be a "red flag" of a genuine disappearance, the reality is that Internet communications is unreliable throughout much of rural Latin America.  

After hearing nothing for two weeks, family members contacted the US Department of State which has joined the effort to locate Neal and Hand, using their various host government contacts. 

Concern for the couple has been elevated by the dissemination of a kidnap threat released in the form of a travel warning by the US Embassy in Lima on February 13, in the Cuzco and Machu Picchu areas. That threat is valid through the end of February. 

Although it is commendable that Jeff Jerge's reward was announced in THE SACRAMENTO BEE, it would have been far more useful if he had small ads placed in Spanish in newspapers in Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, where locals that might have seen the couple could report sightings or leads.

Jerge is asking anyone with information to call him at (510) 589-6644, or email help@theped.com.

México: Update--A New Twist in Alleged Armed Carjacking, Death of Belgian Expat in Acapulco

According to http://www.mercurynews.com, what had seemed to be just another isolated armed carjacking that resulted in the death of Belgian expatriate and businessman Jan Sarens, 59, last Saturday (February 23), apparently stemmed from death threats Mr. Sarens had received following a legal dispute with a former business contact

The murder of the Belgian executive followed just weeks after six Spanish women were gang-raped in Acapulco with up to fourteen members of their party being robbed at gunpoint of all of their valuables.

COMMENT: When I posted my report on Jan Sarens' death on February 24, I was puzzled by the fact that after shooting and killing the Belgian, why didn't the gunmen steal the high-end Mercedes-Benz they purportedly killed him for? 

As notable US radio icon Paul Harvey used to say, "Here is the rest of the story." 

On February 25, Sarens' company, the Belgium-based Sarens Group, said in a statement that Jan had received death threats after he filed a lawsuit against a former Mexican associate, Gruas Industriales Ojeda. Both companies are involved in the industrial crane business, and the dispute apparently involved the ownership of cranes. 

The end result of the lawsuit was that the Sarens Group prevailed in the legal action, although the judgment was never satisfied. As a result, Sarens was forced to go back to court to pressure Gruas Industriales Ojeda to fulfill the judgment.

Yet, apparently Sarens' counterpart at Gruas Ojeda decided to reconcile the dispute through other than legal means.

As it turned out, Sarens, who lived in Mexico City, just happened to be in Acapulco on February 23, when he was shot and killed by unknown assailants and his Mercedes-Benz convertible left in the street.  

Sadly, according to México's National Human Rights Commission, only 8% of crimes in México are even reported, and only 1% result in a conviction. 

Egypt: At Least 19 Foreign Tourists Killed in Hot Air Baloon Crash Near Luxor

According to The New York Times, British, French, Hong Kong and Japanese nationals are among at least 19 tourists killed in a hot air balloon crash near the Egyptian city of Luxor at approximately 0630 hours earlier today (February 26) local time.
Health Ministry officials said that the dead included nine Hong Kong residents, four Japanese, two Belgians, two British, and two French nationals. Additionally, four other foreign tourists are missing. Three injured passengers, who jumped from the balloon before it exploded, included the pilot.
According to local media, the pilot had been pulling a rope to stabilize the balloon as it landed in a field of sugar cane. Then a gas hose ripped and the fire began. The pilot and two others reportedly leapt from the burning balloon before it soared back up high into the air and burst into flames. 
The nine Hong Kong residents who died were from a group of 15 people from three families who had traveled together on a ten-day trip to Egypt, according to Kuoni Travel, the Hong Kong agency that handled arrangements.

The Egyptian Aviation Ministry said it was examining the pilot’s license, experience and the balloon company’s operating permit; a senior official was traveling to Luxor to investigate.

COMMENT: It is safe to say that since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak two years, foreign tourism in Egypt has continued to plummet and sputter, largely because of security concerns, given frequent and violent street protests.

It is also noteworthy to point out that as in many developing countries, hot-air balloons are in their infancy in Egypt, but have become a major hit amongst tourists because of the panoramic aerial views in the Nile Valley.

Nevertheless, all tourists should keep in mind that the regulation of hot-air balloon is not anywhere close to what one would find in a developed country. 

In 2008 and 2009, hot-air balloons crashed into utility poles, injuring passengers, but no deaths were reported.

Militant groups have proliferated around the Sinai Peninsula where Bedouin tribesmen have occasionally kidnapped tourists to try to bargain for the release from jail of some of their family members.

Additionally, demonstrations and strikes closed down the Mediterranean city of Port Said for about a week following clashes last month that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and dozens of civilians. 

And, at about the same time, vandals in Cairo capitalized on the chaos surrounding a street protest to loot and ransack the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. 

Needless to say, all travelers and tourists should use caution with all forms of transportation in Egypt, as accidents are a frequent occurrence.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Global Impact: Secretary of State John Kerry Says the US Will Not Take Sides Re: Sovereignty of Falklands

According to EFE, US Secretary of State John Kerry, on his first foreign visit abroad as the US' top diplomat, said in London earlier today that the US government will not take sides in the dispute between Britain and Argentina over sovereignty in the Falkland Islands.

“First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the president (Barack Obama), on a referendum that has yet to take place,” the secretary said when asked whether the world was bound to respect the Falklanders’ opinion as expressed in a vote set for next month," Kerry was quoted as saying.

“Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto,” Kerry said after talks in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague.


COMMENT: No doubt, Secretary Kerry's words were well-chosen while in London, avoiding siding with either the UK or Argentina, despite Argentina's recent nationalization of Spanish-owned companies, which continues to prompt a rife between Argentina and Spain, not to mention extensive protectionist strategies outside of the MERCOSUR trade bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela; with Bolivia becoming an accessing member on December 7, 2012.

As is well known, the Falklands War between Argentina and the UK ensued for a period of 74 days after Argentine forces invaded and occupied the Islands and South Georgia only to be retaken by British forces, resulting in an Argentine surrender on June 14, 1982. During the conflict, 649 Argentine forces, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders were killed.

Interestingly, at the outset of the conflict between the UK and Argentina, the US was concerned by the prospect of Argentina turning to the Soviet Union for support, and initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. Yet, when Argentina refused US peace overtures, then US Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both Houses of the US Congress passed resolutions supporting the US action siding with the United Kingdom.

How quickly US foreign policy objectives can change with the passage of years, even for two of the West's closest allies.


Cuba: Update--US Congressional Delegation Fruitless in Effort to Gain Release of Imprisoned US Contractor

As a follow-up to my last postings of 12/3/12 and 12/7/12, in conjunction with the 15-year prison term that US Agency for International Development-funded American contractor Alan Gross, 63, is serving in a Cuban prison, a seven-member delegation from the US Congress wrapped up their visit to Havana on February 20.

Unfortunately, other than great "photo-ops," the delegation left Cuba without Alan Gross in their party, failing in their efforts to secure the American's release, just as other "official" visits to Cuba by US lawmakers, former President Jimmy Carter and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have been unsuccessful in doing.

COMMENT: Despite the fact that Alan Gross has been in prison since 2009, it is useful to offer some context for our readers who may not be current on Mr. Gross' plight. 

What is most important to clarify is that Mr. Gross signed a binding legal contract with one of USAID's institutional contractors, Maryland-based Development Alternatives, Inc., to implement  a project in Cuba designed to set up Internet access for Cuba's Jewish community.

On paper, such a project sounds well and good, yet one would hope that Mr. Gross' project was APPROVED by the Cuban government before the project was activated.

As an employee of Development Alternatives, and with the project being funded by USAID,  one could hope that the Cuban government approved of the project, but obviously if Mr. Gross was subsequently sentenced to prison for 15 years for subversive activities, something within USAID's bureaucracy went very, very wrong.

On a project such as the one that Gross was assigned to implement, it would have been far more astute of USAID to write a personal services contract (PSC) for Mr. Gross, which would have accorded him legal protection as a US government contractor, rather than one working for a private US company.

It is impossible for anyone to fully understand why Mr. Gross was imprisoned for implementing a USAID-funded contract, yet in prison is where this poor man sits.

Alan Gross is now 63, which means that he will serve in a Cuban prison with ailing health until he is 75 years of age, without the benefit of living a normal life.

Thus, the real question is why is Gross in prison and who in USAID is responsible for that happening, as few, if any, USAID-funded contractors all over the world expect that they could be imprisoned for implementing a US Government project? 

As I said earlier, the delegation availed to the senators and representatives who made up the group great "photo-ops," as few Americans get to travel to Cuba. Even Senator Patrick Leahy's (D-Vermont) wife was able to have her photograph taken,  standing next to a 1939 Ford Model A convertible with a rumble seat in the back.

As a footnote, it should be mentioned that since he was arrested by Cuban officials, most of it in a military hospital due to numerous physical ailments, he has lost 100 pounds.

Now, here is the interesting part: Cuba has voiced an interest in freeing Gross, but only if Washington agrees to consider releasing five Cuban agents sentenced to long jail terms in the United States.

In the meantime, Alan Gross' wife must wonder how long she must wait to see her husband again.


México: Update--Belgian Businessman Shot, Killed While Resisting Armed Carjacking of His Mercedes-Benz in Acapulco

COMMENT: According to The Associated Press, Belgian businessman Jan Sarens, 59, who was shot and killed on Saturday (February 23) when he resisted an armed carjacking of his Mercedes-Benz convertible in Acapulco, not far from where the Mexican Open tennis tournament was being held.

Mr. Sarens was an executive with a family-owned firm that supplies heavy transportation equipment for construction, mining and energy. It has offices in 50 countries, including México.

The incident occurred in a shopping center parking lot, and his body was found outside his car which bore Mexico City plates.

As I have emphasized all too often in the past, no amount of replaceable property is worth losing one's life over.

Yemen: Kidnapped Austrian Citizen Appeals to His Government For Ransom Payment, Fears for Life

According to The Associated Press, Dominik Neubauer, an Austrian citizen who has been held by Yemeni tribesmen since December 21, along with a Finnish couple, has appealed to his government to save his life, saying his captors would kill him in a week if their ransom demand was not met.  The hostage did not state what the amount of the ransom was.

COMMENT: Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said Neubauer had been studying Arabic in Yemen.

Mr. Neubauer identified himself in the video, the date of his capture and appealed to the Yemeni and the Austrian governments and the European Union to pay his abductors the ransom.

Although all hostage experiences can be terrifying for the victims, most abductions by tribesmen are motivated primarily  as bargaining chips to pressure the Yemeni government to improve social services in their villages.

Roughly 90% of the abductions of foreigners results in their being released, although generally hostages are held only for a short time before there is a successful resolution. 

Thus, it is outside the norm for foreigners to be held for periods approaching three months, which is a basis for concern, as there have been a small number of abductions of foreigners that have resulted in injury or death, yet that is hardly any consolation to those hostages harmed.

What is interesting in this case is that the Finnish couple abducted with the Austrian did not make a similar plea.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.  


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spain/UK: Briton, 38, Convicted of Murdering His Girlfriend, 23, in Canary Islands

According to The East Anglican Daily Times, Briton Christopher Chittock, 38, of Alnesbourn Crescent in Ravenswood was convicted of murdering his British girlfriend, Sarah Shields, 23, by a Spanish jury in the Canary Islands' capital of Las Palmas on Friday, February 22.

Chittock killed Sarah Shields on a deserted beach not far from where they were staying in the islands. He then dumped her body into the sea off the southern coast before burning her belongings.

COMMENT: Now comes the interest part: Chittock then flew back to the couple’s home in Ipswich, after Sarah’s parents picked him up from Stansted. He then texted her friends and family pretending to be Sarah, claiming she had stayed in Spain with a new lover. Eventually, his deception unraveled.

Chittock has already been warned by his counsel that he could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Chittock's apparent motive, and rationale for killing Sarah apparently stemmed from his discovery that she had been in touch with her ex-boyfriend Will Newham.

According to police, Chittock took Shields to a dark, deserted beach opposite their holiday complex, punched her repeatedly in the face until she fell to the ground, causing her injuries including a broken nose. Her head was then smashed against stones on the beach before Chittock strangled her to death with his bare hands.

Sarah’s naked body was pulled out of the Atlantic Ocean near the couple’s holiday apartment early on July 7, 2010.

The defendant was extradited to Spain from the UK in September 2010 and charged with Ms. Shield’s murder.

Fortunately for the prosecution, there was a witness to observing the scratch marks on Chittock's face, not to mention seeing her body floating in the water the morning after she was killed. 

Sadly, it appears that domestic violence is now so commonplace in our societies that it does cause one to ponder why people have such a strong sense of rage, hostility and anger. Why are people so high-strung today?

Clearly, there is a vital need for the women of today to be trained in self-defense tactics and how to thoroughly screen and identify behavioral "red flags" that may well become life-threatening factors in the future.