What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Light at the End of the Tunnel......in Afghanistan

We are just beginning to perceive a notable change in the fortunes of the international community, led by the United States, in the war in Afghanistan. President Obama, his civilian national security advisers and his generals and admirals deserve credit for having turned around a major foreign policy defeat in this most difficult environment. The decision to increase troop levels immediately upon taking office and adding another 30,000 troops in the surge was critical in this turn about.

Some might say, "What turn about?", but there is definitely a trend towards success. The surge itself is now allowing for the kinds of major operations in the volatile South, in Helmand right now, that will successfully clear these areas of entrenched Taliban control. And the capture in Karachi of the leading Taliban military commander Mullah Bareder and of two Taliban "shadow governors" are major breakthroughs. Meanwhile, the success of the London Conference on Aghanistan, with a new commitment by the international community and the Afghan government under Hamid Karzai gave some new impetus to the resolve of the coaltion working to save Afghanistan from the brink. In particular, the emphasis given to luring Taliban followers into "reintegration" programs, and a willingness to let the Aghan government seek reconcilliation talks with some Taliban leaders, are very important as they point the way to a real solution to the conflict there.

Much still needs to be done. The commitment of President Karzai to attack corruption remains to be demonstrated in real actions. Also, his commitment to take the Afghan government out to the countryside to deliver essential services needs to take place, but the US "civilian surge" taking place should facilitate that process. Finally, the expansion of the Afghan Army and police is vital to the country ultimately taking responsible for its own security. This will be a difficult and painful process, but it is encouraging to see Aghan troops taking the lead in the ongoing operation in Marjah.

As a political analyst, I would like to think that the success of winning this war lies in political solutions of more and better governance, less corruption and real economic and social development programs. But, all of this will not be able to take hold without what is essentially a numbers game: getting an overwhelming number of Afghan troops recruited, trained, equiped, led and organized to carry out the essential security functions throughout Afghanistan.

In all this, the role of the international community is essential: it provides the resources at this point required to make everything happen; it provides the security umbrella which will turn the tide in the battle and allow Afghan security and government institutions to develop and take control. The international community can also do a lot to help Afghanistan join the world economy and enable it to develop on its own and move away from the opium economy to which it is still addicted.

However, I am very optimistic at this moment and I hope it is not just a fleeting one. I also hope that the American people and their NATO and free world counterparts do not give up the struggle just as we are beginning to get results from our efforts. There will be more sacrifice in lives and treasure, but this sacrifice is worth the price. A Taliban and Al Qaida resurgence and possible takeover of Afghanistan would have been a slippery slope towards a greater unravelling in the Muslim world and an increased threat to the world community. I am optimistic that this administration understands that and will take necessary steps to defend our national interests over and above the often fickle trends in public opinion.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tribute to Uncle Arnold

Just before New Years, I was unexpectedly informed of the death of my mother's youngest brother and only living sibling, Arnold (Morris) Groveman. Uncle Arnold played a very special role in my life. He was a friend, a surrogate father (mine died when I was just 14) and a hero to me. Arnold's place as my favorite uncle belied the fact that he may have been among the least personally successful uncles, yet he had personal qualities and we shared a life story that made him especially dear to me. The photo above has been in my family all my life, on the walls of both my Mom and her late sister Lil's homes as well as my own. It is a historic photo of Uncle Arnold, face up, during the World War II landings in Salerno, Italy. This photo (which will blow up into full size if you click on it) can be found at: http://education.eastmanhouse.org/discover/kits/imageNotes.php?id=10
, with the caption:

"51. Unidentified U.S. Coast Guard photographer
September, 1943
U.S. Coast Guardsmen and Navy beach battalion men are shown hugging the shaking beach at Paestum, just north of Salerno, as a Nazi bomber unloads on them. In the background of the photograph — one of the most outstanding of the war — debris from a bomb hit can be seen in the air. Coast Guardsmen said this was much worse than the Sicilian and North African invasions, in which the Coast Guard also participated."

I remember being in a library looking through WWII photo books and finding this photo in one of them. and saw it flashed briefly in a PBS special series on WWII, but only now found a copy of it online.

The War was both Arnold's glory and his wound. He suffered some kind of shell shock in Italy and was hospitalized. I never noticed any direct effects, but he did manage to get a disability ruling later in life which helped him quite a bit financially and in terms of his medical treatment at VA hospitals. What I remember most, however, besides the photo above were others of Arnold in uniform--good looking, in a leather and fleece Army jacket--and with the German Shepard he brought back to the States from Europe, a dog which sired Beauty, the dog with which I grew up in my early childhood that belonged to his brother, my Uncle Phil, and his family, with whom we lived in the same house in New York and with whom we spent a lot of time once they moved to California to live near us in the San Fernando Valley. A classic story in our family is how Phil's daughter, Nickie, my older cousin, "married" me and Beauty in an backyard ceremony in the Bronx in New York.

Like all of my Mom's siblings, Arnold survived not only the War, but a childhood of relative poverty as children of Eastern European immigrants and a mother left widowed when their father died in his early 30s of tuberculosis, and the Great Depression. As young children, they lived in bad housing and their mother traded in rags and remnants. They often lived off of the largess of better off relatives. My Mom remembers enjoying the chance to visit an aunt's appetizing store so she could dip her finger in the pickle barrel and lick it. Access to food was always a theme in my own childhood, not unlike many Jewish families. My Mom would walk instead of taking the bus places so she would have a few pennies to go to the movies. She also sold paper bags she bought for 2 cents for 3 cents.She held a life-long grudge against Arnold, who would come to the movies looking for her and telling the owners their mother wanted her, in order to sneak inside, but getting her sent home.

Before going to war, Uncle Arnold was a bit of a street punk and he always dressed that way, reminding me of John Travolta in he early roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. He had his bunch of street pals. My Mom said he used to spend his days as a kid playing marbles in the gutter and coming home smelling of the street. His street punk look, was also part of his vanity about how he looked. He also was a bit of a flirt, to the chagrin of his wife and daughter. During the Depression, Arnold and some of his friends went into the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and he spoke nostalgically about his days clearing fire breaks in national forests and living in a camp environment. My Mom would say it and the War saved him from turning into a gang member.

After the War, Arnold did not get very good jobs. He tried his hand, with my father, as a plumber, worked distributing bathroom sanitizers to restaurants and later worked as a cutter New York's fashion district, probably his most solid job. His family lived in a fourth story, one bedroom walk up off of Bronx Park in a largely still Jewish section and later, as the Bronx changed, moved to Coop City, a huge project in the east Bronx where a lot of Jews moved during the 1970s.

My relationship with Arnold and his family, my Aunt Margaret and cousin Carol, was unique in that they were the only members of my Mom's family not to move out to Southern California in the 1950s. They remained in the Bronx due to my aunt's close ties to her parents, who were wonderful people. I was the only nephew or niece to return to New York and thereby establish a very close relationship with Arnold, Margaret and cousin Carol. When I returned to the States by student ship from a year abroad in Spain in 1966, it was Arnold and Carol who met me at the dock and took me home to a wonderful warm Jewish meal that Margaret had waiting for us at their home.

A year later, following graduation from UCLA, I went back to New York to study International Affairs at Columbia University. Arnold's family became my main family during very formative years. Though I lived at a campus dorm, I visited them often and Carol, already in college herself, often came to visit me at Columbia. I actually lived with them during the summer of 1969 after finishing up at Columbia and before going to Washington to begin a career in the State Department. In the late 1970s, my wife Yeda and I returned to New York where I took up a position at the US Mission to the United Nations and we visited with the Grovemans often at their Coop City apartment on weekends. A very reliable bus service connected Manhattan with the distant housing development.

What I can say about my relationship with Arnold is that he always remained very loving towards me and very interested in my life as a student and in my career. He was one of those people who would ask a million questions of a young person, seeming both really interested, but also living vicariously through a young person;s successes.

When Arnold and Margaret finally did move out to California in the 1980s after Margaret's parents had passed away, it was to move into retirement along side my Mom and Phil in San Diego where they had moved from Los Angeles. My relationship with them there was just part of visits I would make, either from abroad or from Washington, DC, with Yeda and our two children, Andrew and Dana, to San Diego with a side trip up the the San Fernando Valley where my Aunt Lil and her husband and my cousin Nickie and her family still lived and to Los Angeles where my brother Averill and his family lived. Those visits had a certain routine, which included visits to San Diego's Old Town, Balboa Park, the Zoo, Sea World, the Ocean front, lunch at the spectacular La Valencia Hotel. However, a certain amount of time with Arnold and Margaret, and of course good Jewish meal at their home were always required. I also always had a special relationship with Margaret, who is a delicate, Czech-born woman of great sensibility whom I also love immensely.

I rembember one experience with Arnold in New York when both he and my familty were visiting, he from California and we, if I am not mistaken, from Washington, DC. We used to stay at the Murray Hill East hotel where we could get a big one bedroom apartment and it was in the same neighborhood where Yeda and I had lived in Manhattan in the late 1970s. Arnold came and stayed over at our hotel and we all went down to Katz's Deli on Housten Street on the Lower East side for lunch. Arnold never stopped being a kid, and he had to order an enormous pastramii sandwich and two hot dogs which he ate with gusto to satisfy the cravings in his soul for something out of his past. (He had a similar fondness for Chinese food, and you could not get anywhere near his plate of shimp in lobster sauce once it hit the table. Of course, shimp was taboo in his own Kosher home.) Indeed, he lived pretty much in the past, the old neighborhood in the Bronx, his boyhood friends, the War. His stories were of great amusement to me, but some of his siblings found him to be a broken record on these subjects.

Arnold and Margaret stayed in San Diego after Carol, her husband Don decided to move back to New York--Teaneck, New Jersey actually--seeking an Orthodox Jewish education for their four daughters. We saw Carol's family quite a bit during that period, as I had retired from the Foreign Service and moved to Poughkeepsie in 1996, to take a job at the Roosevelt historic sites in Hyde Park, New York. However, Arnold and Margaret reached to point where living on their own was less feasible due to health issues and aging, Carol and her husband Don helped to move them to Toronto where they had moved in 2001.

Arnold was never happy in Toronto. He loved San Diego, a paradise which had been denied to him for years when he stayed in New York, and where he had finally found happiness. In his last couple of years, he complained a lot and spoke often of wanting to return to San Diego, which was not very feasible, due to his health problems. He never stopped calling me and trying to keep up with me and my family. Although I was sad for him, there was not much I could do and did not have the opportunity to visit his family in Toronto. When Carol moved back to New York, late last year with her parents, I was looking forward to visiting them, but Arnold's unexpected death deprived me of a last chance to see him. Arnold in his old age had become cranky and argumentative, did not feel well loved by his own immediate family, despite the fact that his granddaughters doted on him and Carol and Don did everything they could to meet his and Margaret's needs, and seemed to depend more on his calls to his nieces and nephews for affection. Nevertheless, I will always remember him fondly. It could not be otherwise.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gerardo Le Chevalier – no one better understood democracy’s prospects in the Americas

From the Democracy Digest

By Michael Allen on February 2, 2010

More tragic news emerging from Haiti where the United Nations confirmed that Gerardo Le Chevalier, head of the UN Electoral Assistance unit, was killed in the 7.0 quake.
A Salvadoran citizen and former director of Latin America and Caribbean programs for the National Democratic Institute, he was among those who died when the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince collapsed.

Democracy advocates are mourning his loss.
“For 10 years, NDI was fortunate to benefit from Gerardo’s expertise, first as a resident director in Haiti, Paraguay and Bosnia, and finally as the Latin America regional director,” said NDI President Ken Wollack. “There is probably no one who better understood democratization opportunities and challenges in the hemisphere or the political dynamics within each country in the Americas, or possessed such a broad range of contacts in the region.”
Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, recalled “his engaging smile, his sparkling eyes that could light up a room, his sense of humor, and above all his dedication to our work and values.” NDI is one of the NED’s core institutes.
NDI has established a “NDI Haitian Staff and Family Disaster Assistance Fund.” To make a donation, please follow this link.
4 responses to “Gerardo Le Chevalier – no one better understood democracy’s prospects in the Americas”
Martin Edwin "Mick" Andersen February 3, 2010 at 10:40 am
One of the things for which Gerardo should be remembered is his moral and physical courage. When he worked for Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte Gerardo faced down death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson during a television debate. Gerardo asked that D’Aubuisson be given a bar of soap, because the Christian Democrat’s mother had always said that if one was a liar, they needed to wash their mouth out with soap.
Gerardo’s left a large footprint in many of the countries where he worked. His efforts in Paraguay led his friends to call him the “ambassador” from that country. He was generous and self-effacing, and always had a joke or a good story to share. His vision remains, of a better world on the horizon, one just a bit farther away now that he is gone.

Norman F. Anderson February 4, 2010 at 4:26 am
Gerardo was a great man, one of the most hard-working and dedicated people I have ever met. He was, I think, not particularly easy to figure out, but very easy to like – whether on the streets of Paraguay, sitting on the floor in the São Paulo airport, playing squash (he was very good). He was Charismatic Humanity…a tremendous Force. We need more people like Gerardo, may he rest in peace.

Marta Digna February 4, 2010 at 5:18 pm
Gerardo Le Chevallier fue un hombre integro, respetuoso y amigable con todos los que trabajamos con el en el Partido Democrata Cristiano de nuestro pais El Salvador, me uno al pesar de toda la familia y que Dios les de conformidad por esta irreparable perdida, siempre le recordaremos en nuestras oraciones.QDDG.

Barbara Haig February 4, 2010 at 6:22 pm
Those of us who were on the NED Program staff back in the 1980s will remember how every now and then strange sounds would vibrate through the walls and from behind the office door of our then Latin America Program Officer, Chiqui. First was the repeated sound of her open hand slamming down on the desk; then came the exaggerated “nnno, mentira!”, followed by loud bursts of laughter; and eventually the sound of the phone hanging up. “What is going on?” I would always ask. And the response was always, “nothing, I was just talking with Gerardo.” He was a good friend to us in those days. It was a really dangerous time in El Salvador, but somehow, he was the one making us laugh in our little office in Washington, as if the whole world was a place where one could find mischief.

Dan Strasser February 8, 2010 at 11:43 pm I was saddened to read of Gerardo’s death after googling his name to see if there was anything about what had happened to him in Haiti. I met Gerardo back in 1994 when he and I first worked together on Haiti for NDI. I was a US foreign service officer on detail to NDI, who took over the Haiti program at NDI when Aristide was returned to power that year. Having been the Haiti desk officer at the State Department in the 1970s, I was glad to re-engage in Haiti’s political development. Gerardo was already a known quantity at NDI, so I cannot claim to have recruited him as the number two member of our team in Haiti, but I was very pleased to work with him as he seamlessly put together the democratic development project we developed in Haiti in a very difficult environment. Besides NDI’s classic political party development programs, he creatively developed a unique media program which established NDI Haiti as the focus of all election media activity. I had no idea that Gerardo would wind up dedicating most of the rest of his life to Haiti. He was always very empathetic to the Haitians, had a wonderful capacity to understand and deal with them, and when he took over the program, I had absolute confidence in his ability to manage it in this tough place. Later, he ran NDI’s Latin American program before returning to Haiti with the UN. We exchanged some emails while he was there. My heart sank when I heard of how badly the UN staff was hit by the earthquake but only now dif I learn that my worst fears had come about. Gerardo deserves a place in the pantheon of international civil servants who have given their lives to better those of their fellow human beings in less fortunate countries.

Dan Strasser February 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm Just to add another note about Gerardo that might be unknown among those who know of his role both in his native El Salvador and in Haiti: Gerardo’s father was a Holocaust hero, although an unheralded one. As the Salvadoran consul in Vichy France, Gerardo’s father was one of the few Latin diplomats who gave Salvadoran visas to Jews seeking to excape Nazi aligned France. Gerardo, learning of work I had done for the Wallenberg Committee, told me this story over dinner in Port-au-Prince. He said his father had earned the French Legion of Honor after the war but he had little other information. I said I would try to help dig up more information on his father’s role with the objective of it gaining some recognition among Holocaust organizations. On a trip to Paris, I visited the Holocaust museum, but found they had no information on Gerardo’s father. They did, however, put me in touch with the Legion of Honor, which confirmed that the honor had been bestowed, but unfortunately, there was nothing written down about why it was given. A letter to Yad Veshem, the Holocuast memorial in Isreal, showed they had no knowledge of Gerardo’s father and a letter to the French Nazi hunters, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, was never answered. I reported my results to Gerardo and was sorry not to carry the investigation any further. I still remain curious, however, about his story.