A locked room mystery within a manhunt killer [is] a clever and gripping set-up that helps makes Duffy's third outing easily his best so far.
The Sunday Times
Not content with constructing a complex plot, McKinty further wraps his story around a deliciously old-fashioned locked room mystery, the solution to which holds the key to Duffy’s entire investigation. Driven by McKinty’s brand of lyrical, hard-boiled prose, leavened by a fatalistic strain of the blackest humour, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone is a hugely satisfying historical thriller.
The Irish Times
This is the third in the series and, for me, the best, for it contains a locked room mystery at the heart of a drama about a major terrorist escape from the Maze prison, Belfast in 1983. Written in spare, razor-sharp prose, and leading up to a denouement that creeps up on you and then explodes like a terrorist bomb, it places McKinty firmly in the front rank of modern crime writers. The Daily Mail
[A] superb trilogy reaches its finality...The hunt for [Duffy's quarry] begins and ends spectacularly. McKinty is particularly convincing in painting the political and social backdrops to his plots. He deserves to be treated as one of Britain’s top crime writers. The Times
An action movie view of the Troubles...a fast and thrilling ride from the reliably excellent McKinty. The Mail on Sunday
It's a sad day for fans of Adrian McKinty's smart 1980s-set procedurals featuring mordantly charismatic Belfast cop Sean Duffy. Not because his latest, In the Morning I'll Be Gone is any sort of let-down, but because it concludes what has been a hugely enjoyable trilogy. In some ways, Duffy resembles Iain Banks's young male heroes – crass and impetuous, but also wickedly funny and capable of an intense, redeeming empathy. The Guardian
An older, more sobered Duffy, still unconventional and willing to take chances, but more reflective, more Sherlock Holmes. His growing maturity result in fewer bedroom scenes but there is plenty of excitement and suspense elsewhere in this intelligent and gripping yarn. The Irish Independent
Sardonic Belfast cop Sean Duffy [in] another terrific Troubles-set thriller 4.5/5 The Sun
You also might want to check out this extraordinary review of Duffy#1 at The Drowning Machine Blog by an American reviewer who really understood what I was trying to do with the book.
For those who wring their hands when thinking Oscars, remember two years ago, when “The Tree of Life” was among the nine Best Picture nominees, and its demiurgic creator, Terrence Malick, was up for Best Director alongside Martin Scorsese, whose gleaming cinephilic fantasy “Hugo” was also one of the nine contenders. The fact that Michel Hazanavicius and his historical glitch, “The Artist,” won in both categories instead, along with his high-gloss star Jean Dujardin, for Best Actor, is regrettable. The fact of being nominated is one for the books, but it’s the winners who are remembered—even derisively.
Last year brought one of the most woeful crops of nominees in recent memory, despite Hollywood having offered, in the course of 2012, several movies—including “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Master,” and two of the key works in Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence, “Magic Mike” and “Bernie”—that ought to have garnered nominations....read more
It’s Carnival time again! Besides being one of my favorite annual excuses to party (although I usually partake in August, as I’m usually stuck in the northern cold at this time of year), it always gives me an excuse to catch up on the musical output of many of my favorite scenes from around the Atlantic world.
Yesterday, when listening to a new soca mix from Hamburg-based DJ duo So Shifty, I couldn’t help but get (over)excited about some of the connections I heard being made between Africa and the Caribbean. The first song that stood out was “Chuku Chuku” by Denise Belfon:
“Chuku Chuku” caught my ear, because I noticed that it interpolates “Ashawo,” a global smash by Nigeria’s Flavour. The song already had a trans-atlantic dimension as a version of the classic Cuban song “Manisero” or “The Peanut Vendor.” Afropop did a great audio documentary on the legacy of the Cuban original, and its mark on popular music:
However, perhaps unaware of the origins of the melody, Flavour meant for “Ashawo” or “Nwa Baby” to be an homage to Nigerian Highlife, a style that had lost out to the more Hip Hop and Dancehall inflected musics that became popular across West Africa in recent years. The original highlife version of “Nwa Baby” was Rex Lawson’s “Sawale”:
In the end Dancehall won out, and Flavour’s popular “Ashawo Remix,” versioned from Benin to Ethiopia to Zambia, became the logical candidate for a song to cross back over the ocean to the Caribbean.
That’s all exciting in its own right, but it wasn’t what excited me most about So Shifty’s mix. The song that deserves that distinction is one by Olatunji Yearwood (shout out the Nigerian OG). This is the tune that caused me to proclaim via Twitter the arrival of Azonto Soca:
To me, besides the clear rhythmic similarities of the Stag Riddim to Azonto, Olatunji is clearly channeling the singing styles of Ghanaian and Nigerian pop singers, making the connection explicit.
I’ve been aware for some years that contemporary Afropop styles were becoming popular in Caribbean scenes. Decale Gwada or Madinina Kuduro show how connected the French Caribbean islands are to the Francophone capital, and some of those explorations have crossed over into the smaller neighboring islands. In the past, I’ve even heard Kuduro tunes played at house parties during Brooklyn’s West Indian day parade. During last year’s Labor Day weekend festivities, I had to laugh when the DJ at a Soca fete I was attending in East New York threw on Puerto Rican Don Omar’s cover of a Portuguese singer’s misappropriation of an Angolan dance style, and then proceeded to give a massive shout out to Venezuela!
But these incarnations for me are outliers: intrepid explorations into the outer realms of the African electronic diaspora by experimenters or progressive-minded DJs, or just quirky fads. The arrival of the influence of contemporary Afropop on the Soca mainstream didn’t become clear to me until this January. While I was DJing a party in Brooklyn, Dlife, one of New York’s biggest Soca DJs approached me to talk about the Afrobeats tunes I was playing. He then told me about Machel Montano’s Carnival remix of Timaya’s “Shake Yuh Bum Bum”:
I imagine my Sierra Leonean father and his friends, who used to take me to the Caribana Fesitval in Toronto as a child, would be quite tickled if they attended the celebration this year. In order to understand this you have to know that for decades Africans have been consuming Caribbean music, merging different musical cultures and histories into new forms. In Sierra Leone especially, Calypso-influenced styles such as Palmwine are part of our national heritage. Because of this, and because of my experiences going to Carnival-like celebrations in North America, I’ve always felt that Anglophone Caribbean culture from places like Jamaican and Trinidad was part of my own cultural heritage. For me it is a great source of pride to see some explicitly African contributions coming to the fore in Dancehall and Soca circles. Every year in Brooklyn, amongst the roll call of Caribbean nation flags waving on Eastern Parkway, once in a while you might see a Ghanaian or Nigerian one pop up. This year those flags might wave just a little higher!
After a couple of initial tweets, the great Wayne and Wax chimed in, and asked my why I heard the songs as Azonto. We had a quick exchange where we discussed the rhythmic breakdown that identify it as Azonto or not, and Sidhartha called us nerds. Alexis Stephens chimed in with Busy Signal’s version of U Go Kill Me, and pointed out the connections that DJs in London like Hipsters Don’t Dance are making in their work. So Shifty responded with Yung Image’s cover of P Square on the Alingo Riddim, and Iswayski submitted a mix by Brooklyn-based Guyanese Grenedian DJ Speedydon. Erin MacLeod loved it, and overall grand time was had by all.
Later in the night, as almost if to settle the issue @RishiBonneville submitted this video from St. Vincent:
Tempering my excitement for a resurgence of some kind of 21st Century Pan-Africanism, this all tells me more a story of the ascendance of a unitary global pop. This global pop rides the waves of neoliberalism, and aspirational belonging to an individualized consumer-driven global economy. However, it also accompanies an increase in South South connections, albeit mediated often via immigrant populations in Northern capitals – but also new economic relationships and the Internet. It’s doing crazy things to culture, and such musical connections in this day and age are just more proof that we’re living in a hyper-connected world. The differences between Rio, Port of Spain, Accra, London, and New York are melting away to reveal one giant mega city – inside of which the divisions between classes may tell us more about international society than national borders.
However, let’s not dwell on the dark side of globalization too much, after all this is Carnival! The only time in many former-slave/colonial societies that racial, class, and cultural barriers are temporarily lifted in the service of universal revelry. So go ahead, dive into Azonto Soca, and imagine the possibilities of our new world!
Top image by Blaine Harrington.
Es gründet sich dann eine neue Familie: Der Junge und dessen Vater, ein Witwer, dessen neue Frau, ebenfalls eine Witwe und deren Kinder aus der ersten Ehe, ein Junge und ein Mädchen. Der Vater haut dann bald ab, der Junge ist ab sofort der älteste Mann in der Familie. Die (neue) Mutter arbeitet in einer Bar; sagt sie, aber sie sagt es auf eine Art, die klar macht (aber nicht ihren Kindern; und offensichtlich auch nicht der Berlinale-Inhaltsangabe), dass sie eigentlich Prostituierte ist. Nur aus wenigen Räumen besteht die Welt des Films bis hier: Die Familienwohnung, die Schule, auch schon einmal die Bar, glaube ich (eine zentralperspektivisch zentrierte Einstellung, ausgerichtet auf die Theke, an der Seite hochgestellte Stühle). Formal ist der Film hochkontrolliert: die Szenen fügen sich in "metrische" Montagen, die Figuren ersetzen sich nach Umschnitten nicht selten exakt im Bild. Oder sie ersetzen sich ganz ohne Schnitt, in einer Einstellung: Eine tritt aus dem Bild, eine andere tritt auf ihren Platz, die Leinwand läßt Freiräume, die besetzt werden wollen, oder eben auch nicht. Die Kinder freilich füllen den filmischen Raum gleichzeitig auf eine vollkommen natürliche Art aus, mit ihrer Gestensprache (den beim Weinen vors Gesicht behobenen Händen etc). Aus der formalen Kontrolle folgt kein kontrollierender Zugriff auf die soziale Welt, eher scheint es darum zu gehen, den Mustern des Lebens nachzuspüren. Freilich: Wenn man das tut, kann man nur zu leicht auf die Idee kommen, der Musterbildung ein klein wenig nachzuhelfen.
Erst nach dem Zeitsprung, der die Kinder erwachsen werden lässt, zeigt sich ein Problem des (trotzdem faszinierenden und schon auch bezaubernden) Films: Die formalen Schließungen finden ihre Entsprechung in narrativen Schließungen. Als die Kinder schließlich doch erfahren, womit die Mutter ihre Erziehung bezahlt hat, geraten die beiden Jüngeren (also ihre eigenen) auf die schiefe Bahn: Der Sohn wird Gangster, die Tochter (eine verwegene, tolle Schauspielerin), weil die Familie ihres Bräutigams sie verstößt, wird ebenfalls Prostituierte; der Film setzt sich fort in neue, andere Räume, die mit derselben Souveränität erschlossen werden. Kanichi dagegen ergibt sich nicht dem drift, sondern ruft den restlichen Film zur Ordnung: die Mutter, die Geschwister, sogar den Vater (der in imperialistisch-kapitalistische Schweinereien verwickelt ist).
Am Ende hat der Held aus Tokyo gesiegt. Die letzte Szene ist die mit Abstand bizarrste des Films. steht wieder in seinem Kinderzimmer, mit dem Rücken zur Kamera. An die Wand hängt er eine (vorher schon irgendwann einmal eingeführte) Kinderzeichnung, ich nehme an, sie soll seinen Vater darstellen, zeigt aber tatsächlich nur eine mit unbeholfenen Linien skizziertes Strichmännchen. Die Kontrolle, die er seiner Familie und dem Film auferlegt hat, entpuppt sich mit einem Mal als Funktion einer dritten, einer narzisstisch-psychotischen Schließung im Innern der Hauptfigur. Dann stellt er sich vors Fenster und blickt nach Draußen. Die letzte Einstellung übernimmt seinen Blick; auch sie bleibt ambivalent. In ihm entkommt der Film doch noch einmal dem Familienroman und endet mit einer Alltagsszene: Ein Junge verteilt Zeitungen; allerdings setzen auch hier gleich wieder die Jump Cuts vom Anfang ein, der Junge wird von Haus zu Haus gebeamt, er wirft, zack zack, eine Zeitung nach der anderen, der Fluss des Lebens gleich wieder segmentiert, ökonomisiert.
Few government agencies have ever inspired confidence in the state, or scientific progress, like NASA did in the 1960s. So when the end of its space shuttle program was announced back in 2010, the agency celebrated the end of its life quietly. NASA’s current administrator, Major General Charles F. Bolden Jr., tactfully ignored the anti-Communist vitriol that put the first man on the moon, and everyone forgot why the CIA was concerned with space exploration in the first place. Almost everyone. There are stories involving secret military space programs today that can make your head spin.
Among its classified materials, NASA keeps a bag of rocks that Neil Armstrong collected during the first moonwalk. The rocks have no scientific value; the bag wasn’t sealed properly, and the sample was contaminated by regular earth dust in the landing craft. They are an unlikely target in an elaborate conspiracy to undermine the American imperial project. But then again, they’ve been sitting in Houston for decades, reminding young scientists of a time when lunar colonies were just a few years away. As the novelist Deji Olukotun sees it in his new novel, Nigerians in Space, these moon rocks are souvenirs of the future, amulets inscribed with all of the pride, wonder, and anxiety it takes to keep an idea alive. “NASA wanted the astronauts to leave with something no matter what in order to justify the expense” (62).
In Olukotun’s new novel, a Nigerian scientist stuck as a mid-level employee in the Houston laboratories finds himself with an opportunity to rip into the space-time continuum, to reclaim personal and national honor by returning the rocks to the moon “on behalf of all colonized people.” Equipped with such material, Olukotun would hardly ignore classic science fiction experiments and clichés. Nigerians in Space captures the cocksure attitude and dignified clip of the 1950s radio play, with more mischievous and macabre elements that reflect the frustration of anti-colonial and Pan-African politics. As we follow the Nigerian program (codename Brain Gain) from its launch in 1993 to an amorphous present day, cross-generational conflicts give us plenty of time to reflect on changing methods for handling security, national identity, and charisma. But Olukotun doesn’t dwell on the technology that has been developed. More alarmingly—as one generation’s faith in its dreams becomes signs of ill health to the next—he asks us what we believe is possible.
* Nigerians in Space launches tonight at 7 pm at WORD Bookstores’ Brooklyn book store. The red dots in the image above, by the NASA Earth Observatory, is of the non-stop flaring lights in the Niger Delta.
Barefoot and dressed in donated clothes, 12-year-old Renaldo Brown methodically plays scales on a flute under the canopy of trees at a Jamaican vocational school renowned for nurturing many of this music-steeped island’s top instrumentalists, as David McFadden reports for the Associated Press.
“It’s challenging but I like it. I’m getting better ’cause I’ve been practicing nearly every day for two years,” said the serious boy from the gritty Jamaican city of Spanish Town, tapping the keys on the silver-colored wind instrument as he spoke.
Renaldo is among two dozen boys from impoverished backgrounds who are discovering a new world through music after being placed by family courts at Alpha Boys’ School. Some of the boys are orphans, while others are placed at the home because of neglect, abuse or because their parents can’t control them.
A residential facility operated by Catholic nuns since the late 19th century, the school has long been the cradle of Jamaica’s prolific music culture — and a beacon of hope for at-risk youngsters. Decade after decade, Alpha alumni have emerged from the musical hothouse in Kingston to bring the sounds of Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae to the world.
But despite its outsized role in developing Jamaica’s world-famous music, the school is increasingly squeezed between rising costs and shrinking state support, barely scraping by on the $60 weekly the government provides per student. The budget crunch has gotten so bad administrators say they will be forced to eliminate the program’s residential side later this year.
In response, the school is building up its own revenue-generating businesses, including a recently launched “Alpha Wear” clothing line and an Internet radio station that draws 60,000 people monthly by broadcasting tunes featuring alumni. School director Sister Susan Frazer said the online radio program isn’t bringing in revenue yet, but is expected to eventually raise money through sponsorship and advertising.
Frazer, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order, said Alpha also plans to expand and modernize its training for young students to ensure the famed music program survives.
“Moving forward, we’re going to focus a lot more on the music program in all aspects,” she said. “It won’t be just instrument playing, but rather the whole business of music.”
At the school, students between 8 and 18 are taught self-discipline and pride while learning to read music and understand harmony and composition, if they don’t focus on the school’s more traditional trades like woodworking and tailoring. Alpha currently has about 85 kids, and 25 of them are in the music program.
Past students who have transcended rough starts in life to become top musicians include the four founding members of the influential band The Skatalites, the late free-form jazz pioneer Joe Harriott, and dancehall deejay Yellowman. Many others have found work as formidable backup players and session musicians, in Jamaica and other countries worldwide.
“You’ll find old students from Alpha keeping the legacy going just about everywhere. If you go to France, you’ll see Alpha boys playing music professionally. You go to Germany or New York, you’ll see Alpha boys,” said Winston “Sparrow” Martin, an alumnus who has provided a musical foundation to many boys as the school’s longtime band instructor while forging his own international recording career.
Classical, jazz and folk music were long part of the curricula. But when the Caribbean island got wind of American rhythm and blues through distant radio signals picked up at night in the 1950s, Alpha students with trumpets, trombones and other instruments transformed that music to create upbeat-accented ska, which later evolved into rocksteady and reggae.
Alpha’s music program dates back to 1892, when boys participated in a drum and fife corps. The outfit evolved into a famed brass band under the school’s longtime matriarch, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, an avid record collector who encouraged students’ musical talents for decades before her death in 2003 at age 81.
Joshua Chamberlain, a volunteer and organizer at the school, said Alpha plans to create a state-of-the-art recording studio on campus that would lure professional talent from overseas hoping to tap into the school’s musical mystique.
“Who wouldn’t want to come to a place where the music is seen to have gotten its start? The interest from around the world is definitely there,” said Chamberlain, who is from New Hampshire and is a doctoral candidate in cultural studies at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies.
Chamberlain said it’s expected that youngsters will soon augment their instrument lessons by learning about digital media production, recording and promotion. School officials have been raising funds from private companies, institutions and donors, and are now trying to get $23,000 in donations through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to launch a basic on-air radio station to complement its online one. The school hopes to crowd-source as much as $200,000 to pay for a more sophisticated station and sound studio.
The current crop of Alpha boys are jazzed about the future. On a recent afternoon, band members practiced under a high-ceilinged building stocked with trumpets, saxophones and other instruments, some new and others battered and worn.
Immersed in the music, Renaldo played his flute in a circle with other advanced musicians, including a keyboardist and several horn players. During a break, Renaldo and most of his classmates said they dream of becoming pro musicians.
“A lot of other people from here have become musicians,” he said with a half-smile, looking down at his bare feet. “Well, I hope I can, too.”
For the original report go to http://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/2014/02/25/jamaica-school-serves-as-cradle-for-islands-music/
Here’s the ‘other’ news from Uganda this week. Dateline: Kampala: “Police have warned the public against undressing women whom they perceive to be indecently dressed, saying the Anti-Pornography law is not operational yet.” Yet.
Ever since Simon Lokodo, State Minister for Ethics and Integrity and lead proponent for a ban on miniskirts (that’s him above), announced that the Anti-Pornography Bill had been signed into law, women have faced violence, especially in taxi ranks. According to Lokodo, “If your miniskirt falls within the ambit of this definition then I am afraid you will be caught up by the law.”
Except that, despite Lokodo’s most fervent efforts, the miniskirt ban actually never made it into the final legislation. Women across Uganda shut it down. From #SaveTheMiniSkirt online campaigns to Save the Miniskirt parties to formal lobbying to organizing in the streets and off, women shut it down. Women understood that the issue of their clothing was nothing more or less than an attack on women’s autonomy. For Rita Aciro Lakor, the executive director of Uganda Women’s Network (Uwonet), “It’s about going back to controlling women. They’ll start with clothes. The next time they’re going to remove the little provisions in the law that promote and protect women’s rights.”
Control. Protection. These are familiar terms to women who have struggled against the State’s attempt to rein them in, from New York to Jakarta to Kampala and beyond. The discreteness of the discourse serves to cover up the heart and soul of the operation, which is violence and terror, all in the name of protecting women.
So here is the reality of the Anti-Pornography Law 2014. There is no ban on miniskirts. Yet women university students are raped and murdered. Yet women across the country are brutally assaulted in public by crowds of men, stripped, sometimes naked, and then further assaulted. And a nation, and a world, asking, “Why are Ugandans killing, undressing” their daughters and sisters? And the police warn the law is not operational yet.
The government’s largest-ever study of Hispanics’ health may help answer why they live longer than other Americans but the first results suggest that for some, the trend might be in jeopardy, the Associated Press reports.
Overall, high rates of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and pre-diabetes were found, especially among older adults. But troubling signs were seen among younger Hispanic adults. They were the least likely to have diabetes under control, and the least likely to eat recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Hispanics from Puerto Rico were among the least healthy, while those from South America, who tend to be more recent arrivals, were among the healthiest.
The landmark study is the most comprehensive effort to document the health of U.S. Hispanics. It has followed more than 16,000 Hispanics aged 18 to 74 since 2008.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute released initial results Monday, revealing a diverse group whose health habits depend partly on their age and country of origin.
Mexican-Americans are the largest and oldest Hispanic group nationwide, but there has been more recent growth among Dominicans and those from Central and South America.
“With the changing face of the Hispanic population, we need more current information about their health,” said Dr. Larissa Aviles-Santa, the institute’s project director for the study.
Researchers in four cities are documenting prevalence of chronic disease and risk factors, and trying to determine how adopting U.S. lifestyles affects Hispanics’ health. Aviles-Santa said the results may provide a better understanding of what some call the “Hispanic paradox” — longer lives than non-Hispanic white Americans despite some known health risks.
“We’ve never had a study of this magnitude,” said Dr. Martha Daviglus, lead investigator for the study’s Chicago site and a researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “Hispanics and Latinos are underserved and understudied.”
She said the results will help communities find better ways to prevent health conditions afflicting different Hispanic populations.
The other three study sites are Miami, the Bronx in New York, and San Diego.
Hispanics are the nation’s largest, fastest growing ethnic group and make up about 15 percent of the population.
Their life expectancy exceeds whites’ by about two years and blacks’ by about seven years. Diabetes and obesity are more common in Hispanics than in whites, but they’re less likely to have heart disease, previous data show.
Some experts believe that advantage suggests that the healthiest Hispanics migrate to the United States. But the researchers said that advantage may vanish as unhealthy risk factors accumulate in groups who’ve been in this country the longest, and in younger adults born in the United States who may be more likely to abandon cultural customs.
“We already know that the longer that people live in the United States, the worse their health becomes,” said Neil Schneiderman, the lead investigator for the study’s site at the University of Miami.
Study participants were randomly selected. They get free medical exams, fill out health questionnaires, and provide other health information periodically during the ongoing study. The first results provide a baseline description of Hispanics’ health.
Among the findings:
—High blood pressure affects almost one-third of Cuban-Americans and Puerto Rican-Americans, versus one-fifth of those from South America.
—Diabetes affects one in five Puerto Rican-Americans versus 11 percent of South Americans.
—Obesity affects nearly half of Puerto Rican-Americans, versus 30 percent of those from South America.
—One-third of Puerto Rican-Americans are smokers, versus 11 percent of those from the Dominican Republic.
—One-third of all Hispanics aged 18 to 44 have one risk factor for heart disease.
—More than half of Hispanic men aged 45 to 74 eat five or more fruits and vegetables daily, versus about 2 in 5 women of the same age and just 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 44.
This article by Janet Weinstein appeared in Aljazeera America.
It’s been nearly five years since Ileana Sanchez made the leap of her life, from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, to Vienna, Va.
“I was a graphic design professional for more than 26 years on the island,” she told Inside Story. “I had my apartment, family close by and clients.”
Today she owns a hardwood flooring company with her husband, Jose Matos, in northern Virginia. She says a withering economy left them no choice but to leave.
“We could see criminality rising, and we could see the buildings were run-down,” says Sanchez.
She is one of the thousands of educated and entrepreneurial Puerto Ricans who have left the island for work.
“On a lot of the businesses and main avenues, there were ‘for sale’ signs. These were in very nice neighborhoods too. And they would stay ‘for sale’ for a long time. Then you’d start seeing the grass and the trees growing inside, and all of a sudden its like, ‘This property has been abandoned,’” she said.
“I said, ‘This is it. Either I move or I’m going to lose what I have here.’”
Behind each ‘for sale’ sign cropping up on her street, a deeper economic problem boiled.
Junk status — that’s how Fitch, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s now classify Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt.
That debt equals more than 90 percent of the island’s gross domestic product. Per capita income is just over $15,000 — poverty level on the mainland. Unemployment stands at about 15 percent, double the rate in the continental U.S.
Puerto Rico’s government is testing a list of austerity measures to try to climb out of its hardship: tax increases, rebalancing pensions and requesting billions of dollars in new general obligation bonds to help pay the bills.
In Washington, Puerto Rico’s congressional representative, Pedro Pierluisi, is pushing for assistance too.
“I wrote to the president as well as the White House task force for Puerto Rico, encouraging the president to include full inclusion of Puerto Rico in the child tax credit program when the president submits his next budget petition to Congress,” Pierluisi told Inside Story.
“We cannot continue financing operating deficits as we have for the past 10 years.”
As shops board up and schools crumble, crime and corruption are escalating. In 2011 over 1,000 people were killed — the most in Puerto Rico’s recent history.
Carlos Santiago lost his 15-year-old daughter, Karla, to a stray bullet in 2012.
“The police are doing nothing, and we cannot believe in the Justice Department in Puerto Rico,” he said. “When my daughter was killed, they came and re-created the crime scene, and they stayed as long as there were cameras around. But after that, they never came back.”
The island has long struggled with poverty, but today’s situation is different. The grip of the 2008 recession was virtually inescapable, draining livelihoods seemingly overnight.
Sanchez made it out lucky; she left before she lost everything. “What I know is that a lot of professionals are leaving,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the people who are just starting out and who don’t have an education. These are people who have higher education and are saying, ‘We should just start over.’”
Since she left, the population has declined by more than 2 percent — a huge hit for a commonwealth of 3.7 million people.
“You get used to certain things and a certain lifestyle. When you start losing things, you adapt,” said Sanchez. “But sometimes it comes to a point where you’ve changed so much, you say, ‘OK, how far do I really have to go?’”
The question of statehood for Puerto Rico was again put on the congressional table two weeks ago. But with deteriorating societal conditions, an educated population on the move and no financial solutions in sight, the challenges for the island remain enormous.
The year’s biggest celebration of Dominican cigars and culture concluded last Friday evening in the city of Santiago with a gala dinner, a charity auction and an abundant array of cigars from some of the most well-established names in the industry, Gregory Mottola reports for Cigar Aficionado. From the giant Tabacalera de Garcia factory in La Romana to the tobacco fields of La Canela, over 300 attendees got the opportunity to traverse the Dominican Republic’s lush tobacco landscape and meet the people behind the country’s finest smokes. Every day started with a factory or field tour, and every night ended with a jubilant evening of cigars, spirits, food and music.
The ProCigar organization still asserts that the Dominican Republic remains the “number one exporter of premium cigars in the world,” and points to the country’s infrastructure and dense concentration of industry operations within Santiago. In addition to growing binder, filler and wrapper tobacco for the premium cigar sector, the industry is supported by the Tobacco Institute, whose technical expertise helps to ensure that the Dominican Republic’s agriculture remains both sustainably productive and environmentally sound.
“In the year of 2013, exports of Dominican cigars were up 3 to 4 percent” said Oettinger-Davidoff CEO and ProCigar member Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard at the official press conference. “Though countries like Spain and Italy saw decreasing numbers, northern European countries held steady. But the European Union has implemented a new tracking and traceability law. It will be implemented over the next eight years, and we will have to be able to track and trace every element of the cigar.”
Hoejsgaard also mentioned the importance of Asia as a potential area for the Dominican Republic’s growth. “After wine and watches, cigars are the main luxury product that Asians purchase. Last year, 100 million Chinese travelled and America is where they get their exposure to Dominican cigars. The United States is a very important showcase for the Chinese market.”
The annual ProCigar tour started on February 16 in La Romana at the Casa de Campo resort where guests were able to tour the Tabacalera de Garcia factory, a massive operation that produces brands such as Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and H. Upmann. ProCigar’s second leg continued in Santiago on February 19. Here, cigarmakers from Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana to Guillermo León of La Aurora opened up their factories, giving guests the opportunity to see the complex world of cigar production in great detail. Attendees had the option each day of a tobacco-centric field/factory trip or a cultural excursion.
This year, José “Jochi” Blanco, owner of Tabacalera La Palma, officially joined ProCigar. In addition to Altadis U.S.A. Inc., General Cigar Co. Inc., La Aurora, Quesada Cigars (formerly MATASA) and Oettinger-Davidoff, ProCigar also includes Corporación Cigar Export, maker of Augusto Reyes cigars, Tabaquisa S.A., maker of Juan Clemente, Arturo Fuente y Cia., who rejoined two years ago, as well as Tabacalera La Alianza, maker of E.P. Carrillo Cigars, and La Flor Dominicana, who joined last year.
ProCigar’s celebration came in the heart of cigar festival season. In January, Nicaragua threw its third cigar fest, and Cuba has just started its 16th Habanos Festival.
For more on the ProCigar Festival, see the next Cigar Insider.
For the original report go to http://www.cigaraficionado.com/webfeatures/show/id/17492