A Thaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations

la-habana-1070897-1In2016, I traveled twice to the Republic of Cuba, once in February and then again, in May.  On my trip in February, I boarded an American Airlines charter destined for the José Martí International Airport, which is just a short cab ride away from the center of La Habana, (sic) Havana.  I still remember the excitement I felt as the plane approached the island nation of Cuba because of all I had heard about its political system, and its most infamous leader, Fidel Castro.  It surprised me to see how green and lush the island is, and how well manicured the land was.  Most surprising were the occasional swimming pools in the back yards of what appeared to be modest homes from the air.

Since the 1960s, successive U.S. administrations have maintained a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation of Cuba.  It is the reason why Cuba appears to have been frozen in time.  The so-called “Embargo” also affects nations, which are aligned with the U.S., because it imposes legal and economic penalties to those U.S.-aligned nations, if they decide to go against the U.S. economic embargo – or as the Cubans refer to it: the blockade.  While the U.S. lead economic embargo is designed to compel the Cuban government to adhere to political and social norms more in line with U.S Foreign Policy.  For more in-depth look a U.S.-Cuba foreign relations read this article: U.S.-Cuba Relations.

The airport terminal was exactly as one would expect to find in any Third World country: it was cramped, dark and lacking all manner of modernity.  The airport was a stark reminder that the Republic of Cuba (Cuba) is an economically and diplomatic alienated nation, the result of the U.S. Embargo.  It is noted that Cuba is by definition, not a “Third World” country, but rather it is a “Second World” country because of its alignment to the former Soviet Union and China, which comprised the major portions of the Communist Bloc at the time of the Embargo.

I hope you enjoy the following images I made in La Habana, and Viñales, Cuba: La Habana, Cuba, Images Gallery.

The Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program

Photographs of Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Program in action at the All Souls Church in New York City

Slide Show | Photos of the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program.

For an understanding of what Human Trafficking is, Article 3, paragraph (a) of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons begins to lay the ground work of defining the act, or commission of “Human Trafficking.”  The Protocol notes the coercion or exploitation of individuals, to include prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.  The definitions contained in the Protocol are meant to provide consistency and consensus around the world on the phenomenon of trafficking in persons.  Further, the Protocol calls for the local criminalization of any of the defined acts of Human Trafficking.

The term “human trafficking” is an umbrella term for the acts of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force or coercion.  For a detailed definition as provided by the U.S. Department of State, please read its Trafficking in Persons Report 2013.

It may be surprising to some, but the United Nations only began addressing the phenomenon of Human Trafficking in the late 1990s when it issued a comprehensive strategy to combat Human Trafficking and migrant smuggling.  Human Tracking is a crime most people fully do not understand, or care to hear about: there exists a general lack of awareness of the crime of Human Smuggling, and little empathy for the victims and survivors of said crime.

Many Human Trafficking victims are never heard from again, and simply vanish from society and our collective consciousness.  However, there are also many survivors who are on the mend and weaving their way back to normalcy.  I have met many Human Trafficking survivors through the local New York City nonprofit organization, Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program, Inc.  Mentari is dedicated to providing Human Trafficking survivors with direct services, education/training, advocacy initiatives, and mentorships.  Directing Mentari through all of its advocacy and assistance programs for the many survivors are Randall Roca, President, and Shandra Woworuntu, Founder, Vice President, and Human Trafficking survivor.

Ms. Woworuntu is one of the strongest and most amazing people I have ever met.  To learn more about Ms. Woworuntu’s plight and her story of survival, please read the BBC Magazine article chronicling her story.  More recently, in 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Ms. Woworuntu to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.

The photographs I have taken of team Mentari are meant to document a story of survival and empowerment, rather than a story of victimization and marginalization.  My work with team Mentari is intended to be a long-term project as I hope to be able to follow some of the many survivors as they re-enter society with a sense of purpose and normalcy.  Please follow the following link to the photos gallery: Mentari, Images Gallery.

N.Y.P.D. Chief John F. Timoney Begins His Final Journey

John F. Timoney, Dies at 68

An N.Y.P.D. Honor Guard carries coffin with Chief John F. Timoney from inside funeral parlor to a waiting hearse for the short ride to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
An N.Y.P.D. Honor Guard carries coffin with Chief John F. Timoney from inside funeral parlor to a waiting hearse for the short ride to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Free Speech in Action at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

Philadelphia is the birthplace of American Democracy and as such, provided the perfect backdrop as it hosted the DNC.

Slide Show | Photos of demonstrators outside the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 25th-28th, 2016.  On July 25th, 2016, I proceeded to the an area just outside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to witness and document some the political demonstrations, and social protests, taking place thereat.  Philadelphia is the birthplace of American Democracy and as such, provided the perfect backdrop as it hosted the DNC.

The DNC is the formal nominating event for the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President of the United States.

Protesters and witnesses to the events outside the Well Fargo Center came from all over the country to witness or have their voices heard.  Some felt disenfranchised as they were prevented from attending the actual Convention activities held inside the Wells Fargo Center.

Crystal, a Morgan, West Virginia resident, informed me she had been a registered Bernie Sanders volunteer for the past year but was denied access to enter the Wells Fargo Center to support Mr. Sanders.  Others in Crystal’s delegation of volunteers had been denied access to the Center as well.

A contingent of local and Federal law enforcement agencies were on hand to provide security to the venue, while ensuring demonstrators and observers coexisted peacefully.  Most importantly, the police presence ensured all who wanted to exercise their right to free speech.

For a historical commentary on past Democratic National Conventions held in Philadelphia read the following Opinion at Philly.com: Article.

I hope you enjoy the following images I made at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia, PA: 2016 DNC, Images Gallery.

September, 2015 | Pope Francis Visit to New York City

A very diverse crowd of gathered in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay homage to Pope Francis on his 2015 New York visit. Crowds lined for hours along New York’s Fifth Avenue for the chance to see Pope Francis.

simplyJUANfoto_Pope Visit 2015-1000945

On September 24, 2015, a very diverse crowd of gathered in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay homage to Pope Francis on his New York visit.  Crowds lined for hours along New York’s Fifth Avenue hoping for a chance to see Pope Francis arrive at St Patrick’s in his so-called Pope-Mobile.  All along the avenue, the Pope’s safety was ensured through the multi-agency law enforcement efforts, which included the New York City Police Department, the U.S. Secret Service, and Department Homeland Security, just to name a few.  Once inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pope Francis prayed the Evening Prayer at a Vespers service.  New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand greet Pope Francis to New York City.

I hope you enjoy the following images of events surrounding Pope Francis 2015 visit to New York City: Pope Francis 2015 Visit, Images Gallery.