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Intelligent People More At Risk of Mental Illness, Study Finds

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schwit1 shares a report from The Independent: The stereotype of a tortured genius may have a basis in reality after a new study found that people with higher IQs are more at risk of developing mental illness. A team of U.S. researchers surveyed 3,715 members of American Mensa with an IQ higher than 130. An "average IQ score" or "normal IQ score" can be defined as a score between 85 and 115. The team asked the Mensa members to report whether they had been diagnoses with mental illnesses, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They were also asked to report mood and anxiety disorders, or whether the suspected they suffered from any mental illnesses that had yet to be diagnosed, as well as physiological diseases, like food allergies and asthma. After comparing this with the statistical national average for each illness they found that those in the Mensa community had considerably higher rates of varying disorders. While 10 per cent of the general population were diagnosed with anxiety disorder, that rose to 20 percent among the Mensa community, according to the study which published in the Science Direct journal.

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11 days ago
Seattle, Washington
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The dilemma of rebuilding Puerto Rico or paying the debt

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Esperanza Street, Ponce, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Abimael Medina for Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.)

By Joel Cintrón Arbasetti and Carla Minet, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

Hearing room #3 of the U.S. District Court in San Juan is full; the words that are heard among the collective murmur are in English. They are pronounced mainly by white men in dark suits who become silent all at once, when a black woman enters: federal bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain.

It’s Aug. 9, 40 minutes before the session begins, the third one under Title III of the federal PROMESA Act (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016), where the government of Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy case is being discussed. Here, you can feel the tension for the legal battle to collect $74.7 billion in debt, the biggest in history for a U.S. jurisdiction which will have repercussions upon the entire population and people not on the island. This debt is added to the pension system obligations, which reach $49 billion.

The crowd of more than 100 lawyers in this hearing room should not be confused with representation of the majority of the people that the case impacts. Many of the people holding government debt are not represented, for example, the so-called individual bondholders: rookie investors who trusted their savings to mutual funds such as Franklin Advisers and Oppenheimer Funds, or brokerage houses such as Popular Securities, UBS, or Santander Asset Management.

On the contrary, the legal battle for public funds under Title III is carried out by specialized investors: mutual funds companies, hedge funds experts in litigating to collect debt, and bond insurance companies (monolines) responsible for paying their clients’ total debt. Assurers are jointly claiming $21 billion, according to the certified Fiscal Plan.

The litigation by the lawyers of these companies, with large amounts of money to win or lose on Puerto Rico’s debt, sometimes becomes violent.

“I’m from Queens (New York) and I remember that when you don’t pay, there are consequences,” said during the hearing Susheel Kirpalani, attorney for the investment firms that comprise the Cofina Senior Bondholders Coalition, in obvious reference to the underworld’s common practice, where the debtor is threatened or murdered. The debtor in this case is the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which is supposed to be represented by the Fiscal Oversight Board imposed by U.S. Congress a year ago by approving the PROMESA Act, to have the government pay and be able to issue debt again.

If the scenario was complicated, after Hurricane Maria comes a new bill for the government of Puerto Rico that could surpass that of the government debt: damages caused by the storm could fluctuate between $45 billion and $95 billion, according to estimates from Moody’s.

According to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, only $2 billion is left in the Treasury Department’s account, so the government warned that it could run out of money in October. Since June, the Fiscal Control Board warned that the government could run out of money for the payroll of public employees in November or December.

The question everyone has in mind is whether investment firms claiming millions in debt will go ahead with their claims under the new landscape of the country; which almost a month after the storm has more than 5,000 refugees, food and potable water rationed, with only many hospitals in partial operation, 90 percent of the island without electricity service and general failures in all communications.

“We have to look at all their debt structure. You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we gonna have to wipe that out. You know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is you can wave goodbye to that. We have to do something about it, because the debt was massive on the island”, said the president Donald Trump on Fox News after a quick stop in Puerto Rico. Next day, the director of the White House budget office Mick Mulvaney said in another interview: “I think what you heard the president say is that Puerto Rico is going to have to figure out a way to solve its debt problem.”

In fact, Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) bought $120 million in the General Obligation junk bond issue made by the government of Puerto Rico in 2014, while Goldman Sachs & Co., another of The Goldman Sachs Group divisions, was one of the banks in charge of selling the issue. In 2015, GSAM came to have $1.3 billion in bonds from the island.

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The mutual Oppenheimer Fund claims the largest amount of debt under Title III of PROMESA, according to a list generated by the Center for Investigative Journalism from documents submitted by lawyers of the firms in the Puerto Rican government bankruptcy case. Oppenheimer claims $4.9 billion in General Obligation bonds, Cofina, Highways and Transportation Authority and the Electric Energy Authority (known as PREPA), through 16 funds belonging to the Mutual Fund Group.

Franklin Funds, a mutual fund belonging to the same group, ranks second with $1.8 billions in General Obligation bonds, Cofina and PREPA, distributed in 22 funds.

Although they are also mutual funds, the UBS Puerto Rico Family of Funds, managed by UBS Asset Managers of Puerto Rico, are not part of the Mutual Fund Group. They are in third place, with $1.4 billion distributed in 89 funds with Cofina bonds, the Highway and Transportation Authority and Retirement System bonds.

Puerto Rico government’s top three creditors between 2013 and 2016, Oppenheimer, Franklin and UBS, paid $378 million in fraud fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In the case of Oppenheimer and UBS, the SEC fined them for “improper sale” of island bonds.

Aside from the fines from the regulatory agencies for which UBS has had to pay millions, the amount they have paid individuals for lawsuits and settlements outside of court regarding the sale of Puerto Rico bonds could be close to a billion “and growing,” one of the lawyers who brought cases against the brokerage house told the CPI.

Due to the hurricane, Judge Swain postponed until further notice the general view of Title III that would take place on October 4 in the Federal Court of San Juan. But the case continues, with an argumentative view to be held on September 27 and held on Oct. 4 in a New York court. And while almost all of the island is offline, lawyers of the parties interested in the process have not stopped submitting motions in the digital docket of the case.

The PROMESA Act is a new type of social experiment whose consequences are beginning to show: a Control Board that claims the territory’s laws do not apply to them, that ordered a furlough, and though it went to court to enforce it, then gave up after Hurricane María; cuts in services such as education and health, privatizes public assets, increases in water rates, and general austerity measures, without consulting or showing studies or arguments that support the benefits of those policies.

The Title III process, which is the last chance PROMESA offers the unincorporated territory to negotiate and pay its creditors, treats the island as a guinea pig, testing a bankruptcy code that has never been implemented in the United States. After being tested on the island, it could be applied to other territories.

So far, the bankruptcy cases being heard in court are those of the central government, the Sales Tax Financing Corp. (Cofina), the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Retirement Systems Administration. The bonds issued over the years by each of these entities are now the object of a great legal battle.

The investment firms that lead the race have formed groups according to the type of bonds they hold: they hire law firms and act as an alliance that can vary in membership (some enter, others leave) during the process of trying to collect their debt. It also happens that depending on how convenient, not all the names of the firms belonging to the group are made public.

The Mutual Fund Group is the one that claims the largest amount of debt with $7.2 billion in various types of bonds, and is comprised, in addition to Franklin and Oppenheimer Funds, Santander Securities (First Puerto Rico Family of Funds), that accounts for $478 millions in General Obligation bonds, Cofina and Highways and Transportation Authority bonds. Santander Asset Management paid $8.4 million for two fines, one in 2011 and one in 2015, issued by FINRA.

Among the groups represented in the Title III process are the Mutual Fund Group, the Cofina Senior Bondholder Coalition, the Ad Hoc Group of General Obligation Bonds, the ERS Secured Creditors, and the QTCB Noteholders Group. There are firms that don’t belong to any group, such as Goldman Sachs and UBS. Also, there is the Puerto Rico Electric Energy Authority’s group of bondholders. The insurers Insured Guaranty, National Public Finance, Ambac Insurance, Syncora and Financial Guaranty are also part of the litigation, but are not in a group.

The Ad Hoc Group of General Obligation bonds began with more than 30 firms and now the group in court reportedly have seven, while the Cofina Senior Bondholders Coalition has been adding members, with 44 so far. Both groups were formed before the start of the Title III case, perhaps in anticipation of what was coming, and are now the main rivals within the case. The Cofina Coalition requires $3.2 billion in bonds and the Ad Hoc of GO’s claims $3.3 billion.

The Employee Retirement System (ERS) Secured Creditors claims $3 billion in bonds from the Government Employee Retirement and Judiciary Retirement System (ASR). The approved Fiscal Plan and a Control Board memorandum on retirement pension reform include a 10% annual reduction in pensions. According to these group of bondholders, government contributions to pensioners are the source of repayment of their bonds.

On the other hand, the QTCB Noteholders Group says it has $690 millions in bonds from the Public Building Authority.

All these groups are dominated by vulture funds, with the exception of the mutual funds and its groups.

A 2016 report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development warns that vulture funds can undermine the orderly restructuring of sovereign debt. And although Puerto Rico’s debt is not considered sovereign because of the colonial relationship between the island and the United States, the strategies deployed by these investment firms in the purchase of Puerto Rico bonds and in the bankruptcy process are just the same described in the UN report and by other experts to define the vulture funds.

“In the context of the restructuring of a public debt, its role is essentially that of vultures,” the report says.

“The vulture funds are ‘patient bondholders’ in the sense that their legal and financial power allows them to oppose restructuring and any reduction in the value of their bonds that this may entail.” By opposing a restructuring, “they make the process slower, more difficult and uncertain, causing economic and social costs for the debtor country in need of debt relief. The prey of these funds is the debtor country, but in the process, they can hurt other creditors by rejecting some form of burden sharing among bondholders,” said the report, prepared by senior economist at the Paris-Dauphine University, Edgardo Torija Zane.

Using these parameters, the CPI identified at least 24 vulture funds distributed among the groups that have been formed to fight for the payment of the debt under Title III in Puerto Rico.

There are firms of international fame for their aggressiveness when it comes to collecting debts from countries in crisis, such as Aurelius Capital, who opposes any debt cuts and in a lawsuit argues that the PROMESA law violates the US constitution, and therefore request that the Title III case be dismissed. They oppose restructuring and argue that the government must use all its resources to pay off General Obligation’s debt.

Tilden Park, Värde Partners, Whitebox, and Autonomy Capital, are firms belonging to the group in the Tittle III that appear in the 2016 Top 100 Hedge Funds (Barron’s).

Apart from law firms and legal tactics in the negotiation process, there are individual bondholders. They are not part of organized groups or official committees, and if they decide to enter the case, they will have to pay for their legal representation.

“We are not members of any organized group,” an agricultural worker referring to his family who asked for anonymity said. He has Cofina, General Obligation and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) bonds.

“There are Senior and Subordinated Cofina bonds; everybody has everything, because at that time, when I bought it, I did not know what was subordinated or Senior, or anything. You bought what was available… I bought them from Popular Securities, I liked them because they are from here,” he said before emphasizing his preference for that bank.

The worker and his family hired a lawyer who already submitted a proof of claim for each of the cases where his clients have bonds. “That proof of claim is the claim of each individual that is being filed for the purpose of stating that they have that claim, so that when the time comes for a distribution (of money,) they are not left out,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified.

“Right now (my clients) have no participation in the negotiations, because the Control Board submitted a document for the approval of the judge to appoint a representative for General Obligation bonds and another for Cofina; with the purpose of carrying out a mediation procedure aimed at reaching an agreement regarding the controversy between these two types of bondholders. I imagine that when the time comes for this mediation, the organizations that are established and have their representatives and groups formed (in Title III), they will participate in them and at that time if we believe we must participate, I would do so on behalf of my clients,” he added.

Meanwhile, although it costs him, the lawyer is observing the process at a distance.

“The judge gives us the opportunity so that if one has an interest in any of the controversies and wants to be heard, a motion may be filed to that effect, so that you can participate during the hearings. Another way to participate in the hearing, but as a listener, to know what is happening, is that we can do it by phone and you have to sign up. I’m not going to appear, but I’m going to listen. The call costs $70, but you can hear the procedure as if you were in court.”

Attending in person to be heard is even more expensive, since you have to pay $300 to the Court to submit a motion of appearance.

“Individual bondholders are not really represented (in the Title III case). It is too expensive and it takes too much time for them to get involved and try to influence a solution. It is different for institutional investors who have made bigger bets, like portions of their companies’ assets. The exception is hedge funds, bond insurers and some mutual funds, for whom it makes sense to get involved,” said Matt Fabian, a municipal bond market analyst and a partner at Municipal Market Analytics, in an interview with the CPI.

The Mutual Fund Group and the Ad Hoc Group of General Obligation bonds have conflicts of interest in the Title III case because they have several types of bonds that are in dispute with each other. For example the Franklin mutual fund, which is part of that mutual fund group, is also in the Ad Hoc Group where it adopts the same legal strategies that characterize the vulture funds that dominate the group.

The Cofina Senior Bondholders Coalition is represented by individual and retired bondholders, but is controlled by vulture funds such as The Baupost Group, one of the biggest of the world, Canyon Partners, GoldenTree Asset Management and Tilden Park Capital Management, which require its clients a minimum of investment that fluctuates between $1 million and $5 million.

On the other hand, there is the case of the UBS and Santander Asset Management funds, which claim in Title III that they be paid debts related to bond issues for which they have been sued.

Lawyers who intervene directly in the bankruptcy case come to the Federal Court before 8 a.m., pass the checkpoints, and eat lunch at the cafeteria on the 7th floor, segregated like tribes at the lounge tables. Many work for the most quoted firms on Wall Street, and for every foreign firm there is a local firm hired. For now, more than 55 law firms on the island have been recruited by creditors to represent them under Title III of the PROMESA law. If any sector will experience economic development during the crisis, this will surely be one of them.

“Some people or entities hire a law firm in the U.S., in which two, three, or four lawyers from the same firm advise and represent them. Such law firms can not come to Puerto Rico to practice and appear in court if they are not admitted to the practice of law here, or in the U.S. District Court, since it is necessary to pass an exam to be admitted to practice there. Therefore, they have to hire attorneys in Puerto Rico admitted to that court to endorse their request to be allowed to appear pro hac vice (for this case or for this occasion,)” said Carlos Rodríguez-Vidal, of the Goldman Antonetti & Cordova law firm that represents insurer Syncora in the Title III case.

In the court lobby, Arthur González, a member of the Oversight Board, talks to Jaime El Koury, legal counsel for that entity. The voices sound like rumor in the void. You hear soles sticking to the floor, the sound of heels and the rattling of briefcases that roll full of documents.

Some law firms may also have conflicting interests.

For example, Puerto Rican law firm McConnell Valdés was hired as a lobbyist in the House of Representatives in 2016 by two firms from the Ad Hoc Group of General Obligation bonds, Aurelius Capital and Stone Lion Capital. At the same time, it is a legal representative of Autopistas de PR, LLC, Autopistas Metropolitanas de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Telephone Company (Claro) and Rexach Hermanos Inc, in the Title III case. Any collection claims by these companies to the government could be in contrast to the claims of Aurelius Capital and Stone Lion that the state must use all available resources to pay General Obligation debts.

Lawyers and advisors to these firms enter Judge Swain’s chamber, including Matt Rodrigue (without z), general manager of Miller Buckfire Bank, which advises the Cofina Senior Bondholders Coalition, along with Rafael Escalera, of the local law firm which represents that group, Reichard & Escalera. Wearing a bowtie, Hermann Bauer, a lawyer at the O’neill & Borges law firm, joins stateside firm Proskauer Rose on behalf of the Board; and Andrés López, a lawyer for AAFAF, who was mentioned last year as one of the possible candidates to join the Board and who has his office in San Juan. The AAFAF also has an $18 million contract with U.S. law firm O’Melveny & Myers for Title III.

When the judge enters, all go silent and stand, as if in church. Swain says “Good morning,” in Spanish, and the hearing begins, in English. Almost seven hours later, a black SUV with a sliding door and darkened windows picks up the lawyers from the U.S. law firms and transports them in groups to the hotel, or directly to the airport.

Before hurricane María, the US outlet The Intercept contacted 51 Puerto Rico creditors to ask them if they would support a moratorium or cancellation of the debt, due to the humanitarian crisis of the people living in the Island. They also asked if they would do any donation because of the emergency. From the 51 bondholders contacted, only Goldman Sachs, Citibank and Scotiabank answered, who donated together $1.25 millions for Puerto Rico and other zones in the Caribbean. Also, the Cofina Senior Bondholders Coalition sent a press release where they say that they will make a donation to the American Red Cross, Puerto Rico Chapter, without specifying the amount.

The “The creditors that control Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy” series of the Center for Investigative Journalism digs into in the characteristics and the background of the investment firms that until now have dominated the government of Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy case. The next stories will be published this and next week.

Laura Moscoso collaborated on this story.


Attorney Carlos Rodríguez-Vidal is chairman of the Board of the Center for Investigative Journalism.

This reporting was supported by a grant from the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and is part of a collaboration between In These Times and Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.

The post The dilemma of rebuilding Puerto Rico or paying the debt appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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12 days ago
Seattle, Washington
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Dutch Privacy Regulator Says Windows 10 Breaks the Law

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An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The lack of clear information about what Microsoft does with the data that Windows 10 collects prevents consumers from giving their informed consent, says the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA). As such, the regulator says that the operating system is breaking the law. To comply with the law, the DPA says that Microsoft needs to get valid user consent: this means the company must be clearer about what data is collected and how that data is processed. The regulator also complains that the Windows 10 Creators Update doesn't always respect previously chosen settings about data collection. In the Creators Update, Microsoft introduced new, clearer wording about the data collection -- though this language still wasn't explicit about what was collected and why -- and it forced everyone to re-assert their privacy choices through a new settings page. In some situations, though, that page defaulted to the standard Windows options rather than defaulting to the settings previously chosen. In the Creators Update, Microsoft also explicitly enumerated all the data collected in Windows 10's "Basic" telemetry setting. However, the company has not done so for the "Full" option, and the Full option remains the default. The DPA's complaint doesn't call for Microsoft to offer a complete opt out of the telemetry and data collection, instead focusing on ensuring that Windows 10 users know what the operating system and Microsoft are doing with their data. The regulator says that Microsoft wants to "end all violations," but if the software company fails to do so, it faces sanctions.

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18 days ago
Seattle, Washington
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Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami

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The Mutiny Hotel is a luxurious property near Coral Gables that was essentially the epicenter of the coke “hurricane” in Miami four decades ago. Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami tells…
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21 days ago
Seattle, Washington
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Without Trump’s help, Puerto Rico’s poorest communities organize their own relief

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

As we wind our way down Avenida Rexach, one of the main pathways through the warren of streets in San Juan’s Barrio Obrero Marina, Lymaris De Jesús tries to paint a picture of what it was like after Hurricane Maria passed through. Today, the streets are packed with kids riding bikes, trucks collecting trash, people sitting in chairs on the sidewalk to escape the heat of their homes, and, every few blocks, somebody with a generator and a power strip who’s offering phone charges for $2. But two weeks ago, De Jesús says, “this was all filled with black water.”

I’m with De Jesús and several local journalists, and she’s showing us around the neighborhoods that surround the Martín Peña Channel, a body of water nearly four miles long that snakes through the heart of the capital. Some 26,000 people, most of them poor, call these densely packed communities in the shadow of the city’s financial district home.

Hurricane Maria caused extensive flooding in the area, and the black water De Jesús mentions was the product of heavy rains mixed with the overwhelmed channel, which has been polluted with raw sewage and garbage for decades. The toxic mix was several feet deep in places but quickly receded. Now, two weeks later, parts of the neighborhood still have the occasional, overwhelming smell of an open sewer.

But aside from the lingering stink in some places, the communities around the Martín Peña Channel have rebounded relatively quickly from the hurricane’s destruction. Soon after the storm hit, people here are starting coming together to clear many of the streets themselves, separating debris into distinct piles: one for vegetation and garbage, and another for heavier items like utility poles and chunks of concrete or zinc from damaged homes. De Jesús tells us that the community had many of the streets cleared and the piles formed by the third day after the storm.

That’s because while President Donald Trump was complaining that Puerto Ricans haven’t helped themselves and were too reliant on federal help, people living near the channel were busy tapping into a network of community organizations, nonprofits, and corporations working with the local government to mobilize, clean up, and begin the long process of bringing life in their neighborhoods back to normal.

Inés Vega (left) and María Huertas take inventory of donations at Corporacíon Proyecto Enlace Caño Martín Peña. AJ Vicens/Mother Jones

And that network goes back decades. As the story goes, ever since a group of peasants established these communities by occupying the mangroves around the channel in the 1920s and 1930s, developers and the government have been trying to force them from the land. To combat these efforts, residents got together and eventually formed a land trust in 2004.

The grassroots organizing that went into creating the land trust made planning the recovery here much easier than in other parts of the island torn apart by Maria. The public corporation that manages the land trust, Proyecto Enlace del Caño Martín Peña, has been a hub for donations and relief efforts, documenting which homes in the area are destroyed or damaged, coordinating relief package deliveries, and doing it all without much help from the feds.

“This is a community of hardworking people,” says Lyvia Rodríguez Valle, the executive director of Proyecto Enlace. She tells me that the people of the area knew that they’d have to organize their own relief because Maria “had devastated all of Puerto Rico, and they were just one community.”

Lyvia Rodríguez shows a map showing damage to homes in the community. Yellow means a destroyed roof; green means the entire house was destroyed. AJ Vicens/Mother Jones

Soon after the storm passed, Enlace staffers and volunteers were working out of their office with no electricity, using laptops and phones they managed to charge somewhere else. They began organizing groups that did a census of the damage to the homes in the area and went house to house, assessing medical needs and identifying the most vulnerable. The headquarters got its power back two days ago, and they’ve been busy coordinating deliveries of donations to the community almost as fast as they come in. They’ve also organized brigades of volunteers to help residents fill out paperwork that will be submitted to the US Army Corps of Engineers to help with damage estimates.

Many in the community have volunteered to help others, even though they had their own issues to deal with. Take 72-year-old José Caraballo, who lost part of his roof of his home on Calle 10 in nearby Barrio Obrero Mariana. He says he stayed with a friend for two days before telling his wife that it was time to go home. “There’s no place to sleep like home,” he says. He secured enough metal sheets to repair his roof but had to hand cut them, from 10 feet long down to eight. After that, he says, he was able to repair the roof in about a day, with the help of a relative. “You can’t wait for the government to help,” Caraballo says.

But problems remain. Enlace has managed to get some meal donations from FEMA, but staffers have to go through each box to check the items because they’ve found fungus in some of the packages. FEMA also gave Enlace more than 400 tarps to distribute, but the ropes that came with them were too short, so the group had to buy its own. And the FEMA donations themselves offer their own particular challenge: The warehouse storing the items is in Caguas, about 30 minutes away from the channel, and trucks and diesel fuel are hard to come by right now.

There are also reports that landlords have hassled some area residents and threatened eviction if they don’t pay rent, even for homes that have been destroyed. And the piles of trash that remain on many of the narrow streets of the neighborhoods create a major safety hazard. If a pile of ruined furniture, garbage, and dead branches and leaves catches on fire — it’s been blazing hot since the hurricane, and everything’s drying out quickly — the tightly packed neighborhoods could go up in flames. “In regular conditions, one fire will burn eight houses,” Rodríguez said. “In this situation, it would be a tragedy.”

A smartphone photo showing damage in the community surrounding the Martín Peña Channel. AJ Vicens/Mother Jones

Enlace is also still seeking donations of money and items such as food, battery-operated fans, mosquito repellent, water filters, and solar lamps, among other items. They’ve set up a GoFundMe fundraising drive to raise money for the effort, and have already raised more than $20,000 of their $25,000 goal.

Meanwhile, Lucia Cruz Rivera, the president of the G-8, an organization formed to coordinate community and recreational organizations in the communities of the Martín Peña Channel, says the hard work of local residents is living proof of the effort Puerto Ricans are putting into the recovery — regardless of what the president tweets.

“We don’t give any importance to what Trump says,” she tells me. “Because here, people are doing work every day.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Without Trump’s help, Puerto Rico’s poorest communities organize their own relief on Oct 5, 2017.

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22 days ago
Seattle, Washington
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Seattle’s Caribbean communities send aid to storm-damaged homelands

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Homes lay in ruin as seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk during a flyover of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria September 23, 2017. (Photo by Kris Grogan for U.S. Customs and Border Protection via Flickr)

When I reached Carmen Maymi O’Reilly last week, she was standing in line at Western Union and asked me to call her back. An hour later, she answered the phone exasperated. Western Union would only let her send a maximum of $50 per person to four family members in Puerto Rico suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service wasn’t taking packages. She had almond milk for her nephew, who’s allergic to dairy milk, but no way to send it.

“I’m not doing well, I’m a mess,” she told me. “The hardest thing for us is that there’s nothing we can do, every avenue is blocked.”

That sense of helplessness in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria was shared by many in Seattle originally from the Caribbean. First came the dread of following news of the storm from several thousand miles away, then waiting in agony for friends and family to resurface after communication was cut off for days, and now the slow calculation of how to support recovery efforts.

For Maymi O’Reilly, a retired Seattle Public District social worker who was born in Caguaz, Puerto Rico, and came to the University of Washington in 1978, the waiting period from when the storm made landfall until she heard from her loved ones was “pure anguish,” she said.

“I had a knot in my stomach for almost the whole week,” said Pauline Elwin-Smith, a native of Dominica, an independent nation that Hurricane Maria ravaged before thrashing Puerto Rico. Elwin-Smith took a personal day off from her job as a city of Seattle grants and contracts specialist on Sept. 19, the day after Maria made landfall in Dominica.

“I was devastated, worried, and concerned after hearing what CNN had to report,” she said. It wasn’t until the end of that week, Friday, Sept. 22, that she received a text message from her brother saying that her immediate family had survived.

While that was good news, there was still plenty of bad news to report. Elwin-Smith knew people who perished in the storm and several of her relatives’ homes were severely damaged — a cousin’s roof was ripped off and an electric pole fell on her 95-year-old grandmother’s house.

For a woman who survived Hurricane David in 1979, Maria was much worse.

“It was just disastrous,” Elwin-Smith said. “From what I understand, [my grandmother] has never experienced anything like that in her life.”

Marcus Barry, a manager at Amazon originally from Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, shared the sense that September’s hurricanes were the worst in a lifetime. He was a teenager in 1995 when Hurricane Luis brought his home island, which is half-Dutch and half-French, to its knees.

His family was smart about rebuilding, he said, describing his house as “like Fort Knox” with solid mahogany shutters and metal bars designed to be resistant to hurricanes as well as looters. So when Hurricane Irma roared through, the house withstood the worst. “I’m one of the luckier ones,” he said.

But lucky in such a brutal context still meant hardship. In the days leading up to the hurricane, he had to coach his mother over the phone about how to react to the direction the wind is blowing during the storm, for example opening certain windows slightly to avoid too much air pressure building up inside the house.

Amazingly, Barry received a call from his mother while the island was in the eye of the storm, but then lost contact for two days once the second half of Irma slammed through the island.

Barry’s father, who is on dialysis, has since been airlifted to Aruba, which is a Dutch possession like Sint Maarten, to keep up his medical treatment. His mother and elderly grandmother remain on the island and until recently were living on rations provided by Dutch soldiers.

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin remains under a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew following bouts of violent looting, but electricity has been restored. On the Dutch side of the island, where Barry’s family lives, one-third of all buildings were destroyed and 90 percent were damaged.

Barry monitors the situation closely from his office at Amazon, where he said countless coworkers have come up to him to offer their support and inquire about his family. In late August, Amazon announced a $1 million matching donation to Red Cross relief for Hurricane Harvey in Texas, but has yet to announce any charitable efforts for Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“Right now I’m more (of) use to my family out here,” Barry said. “Going down there would just be me walking amongst destruction.”

With an established life in the U.S. – a former Microsoft employee, he has lived in the Seattle area for 12 years – he will be a resource to order building materials from the U.S and send them to Sint Maarten once the shipping and air routes reopen.

While the U.S. government’s overall response to the post-hurricane need in its Caribbean territories has been criticized, some immediate relief for the islands has come from the Puget Sound region in the form of Joint Base Lewis McChord, home of the 62nd Air Lift Wing. The Air Force has relied on its Northwest contingent to fly 15 missions to hurricane-affected areas, delivering FEMA personnel to St. Thomas, coordinating air traffic from Martinique, and providing supplies and airlifting out medical patients across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Caribbean community, meanwhile, will be mounting its own fundraising relief efforts this weekend at two restaurants in Seattle that serve the West Indian and Puerto Rican communities. They will be offering traditional food, music from salsa to soca, and a domino tournament to raise money with all proceeds after costs going to support relief efforts.

Can’t make it to either event? The people interviewed this story endorsed the following charities to support the people suffering in their homelands.

Vox also has a useful guide when deciding how to donate after natural disasters.

Correction: an earlier version of this post listed the dates incorrectly. The dates are now corrected. A quote by Marcus Barry was also clarified.

The post Seattle’s Caribbean communities send aid to storm-damaged homelands appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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25 days ago
Seattle, Washington
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