Daily Archives: Mar 14, 2018

MIAMI — Two and half weeks after Hurricane Maria hammered Puerto Rico, Ivan Nieves’s grandfather had few options. He was not able to get chemotherapy for his prostate cancer, and his main doctor had left the island.

By: Carmen Sesin

So Nieves, 29, made a quick decision, and on Oct. 8, he boarded a plane for Miami with his grandparents, his mother and his partner.

The same day the hurricane hit, Nieves was supposed to sign a contract to open a second location for his bistro, juice bar and organic bakery. Instead, six months later, he and his partner are completing renovations in a space in the historic MiMo district of Miami for La Social, which will offer the same menu as his business in San Juan.

“I’m staying because I’m looking to grow,” Nieves said. “In Puerto Rico, we went backward after the hurricane.”

It is a refrain that has been repeated in recent months by tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have closed shops, quit jobs and raced to Florida, transforming cities across the state. It’s the largest migration ever from the Caribbean island, already surpassing the one after World War II.

Over 135,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to the U.S. mainland since the hurricane, according to a report released by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. The majority have gone to Florida.

Stefan Rayer, the population program director at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, estimates that roughly 50,000 to 75,000 Puerto Ricans may have permanently settled in Florida since the storm.

To come up with the figure, Rayer looked at the number of people who arrived at airports in Miami and Orlando — a total that includes government workers, volunteers, journalists and people making multiple trips. He then compared that figure to the number of Puerto Ricans who used the disaster relief centers set up by the state and the number of children who have enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in public schools.

It appears the influx will continue. Jorge Duany, the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University and an expert in Puerto Rican migration, conducted a randomized telephone poll with 351 island residents in January. Every person he spoke to said they were thinking of moving to the mainland, and over 65 percent were planning to permanently relocate.


Puerto Ricans have a long history in Florida. By the late 1800s, they were settling in the Tampa Bay area and later in South Florida.

“Historically, Miami-Dade County had a much larger Puerto Rican population before Central Florida,” Duany said.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Puerto Ricans started moving in significant numbers to Orlando and other parts of Central Florida. These included islanders as well as Puerto Ricans from New York and Chicago.

But it was Puerto Rico’s economic crisis, which began in 2006, that spurred a massive wave. The Puerto Rican population in Florida has shot up to over 1 million, from 479,000 in 2000, according to the Pew Research Center.

After Hurricane Maria left damages of over $94 billion, the pace of Puerto Rican arrivals increased dramatically. Many were already thinking of leaving, but the storm’s aftermath precipitated the move.

Rafael Ortiz Perez, 57, a civil engineer from Salinas in the southern part of Puerto Rico, arrived in Miami on Oct. 28, after the hurricane’s fierce winds blew the roof off his house.

“The move has been positive,” Ortiz-Perez said. “Things in Puerto Rico have not been good. Maria helped me make the final decision to move.”

Initially, he stayed with his mother, who had settled in Miami 35 years ago. Shortly after arriving, he was hired by a Puerto Rican-owned architectural firm and is now working on a project with NASA.

Luis DeRosa, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of South Florida, said he is seeing more well-educated islanders moving to the area.

He has been helping countless Puerto Rican businesspeople establish their operations in South Florida.

“The Puerto Ricans coming to open businesses are here to stay,” De Rosa said. “They’ve done their homework.”

With so many arriving, the impact is being felt in schools, politics and housing.

Over 11,700 Puerto Rican children have registered in Florida’s public schools. In Miami-Dade County, new students have enrolled in numerous schools across the county, so it has not caused a strain in any one school. The county has hired 65 Puerto Rican instructional employees who were displaced after the hurricane. Orange County, in Central Florida, has 89 new hires from the island.

Colleges and universities in Florida have offered in-state tuition to students from Puerto Rico; Florida International University has 216 such students currently enrolled.

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are eligible to vote once they move here and register. They have the potential to sway elections in one of the country’s most crucial swing states.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican and likely U.S. Senate candidate, declared a state of emergency in early October to help the state provide services and obtain federal money to help Puerto Ricans displaced by the hurricane. He also established disaster relief centers to provide newcomers with information about schools, medical care and jobs.

Across 41 states and Puerto Rico, over 3,500 families are staying in hotels under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Transitional Shelter Assistance program. More than 1,300 of them are in Florida.

Most of the stays end on March 20. Jackeline Soto Perez, 29, a nurse, is nervously counting the days until the deadline. She, her husband and two children, 3 and 7, have been able to stay in a Miami hotel through the program. They have found an apartment to rent, but it’s not available until April 1, so they are figuring out where to stay in the meantime.

In her hometown, Añasco, in western Puerto Rico, the lack of electricity after the hurricane was becoming untenable. Perez’s younger son has neutropenia, a condition that reduces the body’s ability to fight bacterial infections. His daily medication needs refrigeration, a daunting task without electricity. It’s what ultimately led them to flee the island.

On a recent afternoon, she touched his forehead, checking for fever, as he slept. Perez was worried because he had not been feeling well.

Perez’s husband is a paramedic, and she is a home health aide, working an overnight shift three times a week in West Palm Beach, often facing a two-and-half-hour drive to work.

Despite the challenges, the family has no plans to return. “My parents are in Puerto Rico, so it’s rough,” she said. “But as long as I have a good job here, I wouldn’t leave.”


Governor calls verdict ‘personally painful,’ but critics hold him partially responsible

ALBANY — In a split verdict, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco was found guilty of three corruption counts on Tuesday, two months after the start of a federal trial that cast a cold light on pay-to-play culture in state government.

The governor’s former executive deputy secretary — a man Cuomo once called “my father’s third son and my brother” — was found guilty of honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services, and solicitation of bribes and gratuities. Percoco was acquitted of three other counts against him, including extortion.

Outside the courthouse, Percoco told reporters he was “disappointed” in the verdict and would consider his legal options.

Two executives from the Syracuse-area firm COR Development, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, were acquitted of most of the charges they faced connected to allegations that they bribed Percoco, though Aiello was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. In a statement, COR said Aiello planned to appeal.

Sentencing will be held in June — the same month Aiello and Gerardi will return to Manhattan to join another set of defendants, including former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros, to stand trial for their alleged roles in bid-rigging schemes connected to upstate development projects.

The jury, which had been deliberating since March 1, remained deadlocked on charges against a fourth defendant, former power plant executive Peter Galbraith “Braith” Kelly Jr. of Competitive Power Ventures. U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni declared a mistrial on those charges and dismissed the jury.

Percoco was accused of taking more than $300,000 in bribes in exchange for performing state government favors.

Aiello and Girardi had been charged with playing Percoco $35,000 funneled through Todd Howe, a former consultant with the Albany-based firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna who served as the prosecution’s star witness.

The performance of Howe, who in September 2016 pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, proved to be the government’s greatest liability: His testimony was interrupted by Howe’s being taken into federal custody after he admitted under cross-examination to attempting to bilk his credit card company out of the $600 cost of a night’s stay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan just weeks after signing a cooperation agreement that required him to stop committing crimes.

Kelly, whose company is building a controversial gas-fired power plant in Orange County, was charged with providing Percoco’s wife, Lisa Toscano Percoco, with a $90,000-per-year job with a CPV educational program. Prosecutors called it a “low-show” job, and noted that she was paid through an obscure Connecticut-based firm in order to conceal her employment from public view.

During Joe Percoco’s years of service for Cuomo — including work at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal during the Clinton administration, at the state Attorney General’s office and finally in the Executive Chamber — he was the governor’s backstage fixer, whether the task at hand was a late-night call to a recalcitrant lawmaker or arranging the dignitaries sitting behind the governor at a bill signing.

Prosecutors, however, presented a portrait of a man desperate for cash to shore up a household that tipped into debt after the Percocos’ 2012 move from a humble home on Staten Island to a more elegant house in South Salem, Westchester County.

Using Howe’s testimony and an extensive record of emails, prosecutors showed Percoco’s increasingly urgent pleas to Howe — another longtime confidant of the Cuomos — for “ziti,” a term for cash payments that Percoco borrowed from HBO’s mafia drama “The Sopranos.”

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement that Percoco was found guilty of “selling something priceless that was not his to sell – the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York.

“As every schoolchild knows, but (Percoco) corruptly chose to disregard, government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy,” Berman continued.

The case was one of the most high-profile prosecutions brought by the Manhattan federal prosecutor’s office under the leadership of Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump a year ago this week.

It remains to be seen how the trial will affect Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term. The governor and his campaign have so far refused to respond to reporters’ questions emerging from the trial, including queries about Percoco’s apparently open use of his Executive Chamber office during an eight-month period in 2014 when he had ostensibly resigned from his official post to run Cuomo’s first re-election campaign.

The use of public resources to benefit a political campaign is a violation of state public officers law.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo said that he respected the jury’s decision. “While I am sad for Joe Percoco’s young daughters who will have to deal with this pain, I echo the message of the verdict — there is no tolerance for any violation of the public trust,” he said. “There is no higher calling than public service and integrity is paramount — principles that have guided my work during the last 40 years.”

“The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time,” the governor continued. “That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust. Anything less is unacceptable.”

Even before the verdicts were announced, good government groups were using the revelations from the trial to press for ethics reforms that have so far eluded Cuomo, who was elected governor in 2010 on a promise to renew trust in state government.

Instead, the trial served as a gallery of bad behavior, from the use of limited liability companies or LLCs to conceal the true identities of political donors to administration officials’ extensive use of private emails accounts to conduct public business in an apparent effort to avoid transparency.

In the wake of the convictions on Tuesday, a group of five government reform organizations released a statement arguing that the real headline from the trial was that in New York, “state laws are so weak that what is unethical is legal.”

“Percoco’s trial spotlighted a state government riddled with pay to play, influence peddling and unethical behavior,” said the statement from leaders of Citizens Union, Common Cause, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the League of Women Voters and Reinvent Albany.

The groups called for the closure of the “LLC loophole” in state election law, limits on campaign contributions for those seeking state government contracts, more effective ethics oversight watchdogs, and more contracting and budget transparency and accountability measures.

Separately, 10 civic organizations — including several of the same good-government groups — called for the state’s ethics agency, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, to be abolished and replaced with a “single, clearly independent entity” though a constitutional amendment. JCOPE has faced criticism for not flagging conflicts of interest that were disclosed in Percoco’s personal income filings.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican who is seeking the 2018 Republican nomination for governor, called on Twitter for Cuomo to answer questions about Percoco and his conviction.

“It’s over. Speak up Andrew. New Yorkers deserve an answer as to why their state government has been up for sale under your administration,” DeFrancisco wrote.

WASHINGTON — Un año después de los ataques del 11 de septiembre de 2001, la CIA envió a la veterana agente Gina Haspel a supervisar las operaciones de una prisión secreta en Tailandia. Poco después, durante la frenética búsqueda de los conspiradores, los contratistas de la agencia torturaron en tres ocasiones a un sospechoso de Al Qaeda usando el ahogamiento simulado y brutales técnicas de interrogatorio.

La gestión de Haspel en la prisión, conocida con el nombre clave Ojo de gato, marcó su profundo involucramiento en las operaciones de contraterrorismo de la CIA y demostró que estaba dispuesta a formar parte del programa de rendición, detención e interrogatorios, una decisión que cambió su carrera. Era una estrella en ascenso hasta que ese oscuro capítulo comenzó a divulgarse en público.

No obstante, su suerte mejoró con el actual gobierno y el presidente Donald Trump anunció el 13 de marzo que quiere nombrarla como directora de la CIA.

Con el ascenso de Haspel, quien actualmente es la subdirectora de la agencia, Trump demuestra que está dispuesto a ignorar las denuncias de ahogamiento simulado, privación del sueño, confinamiento y otras técnicas de interrogatorio que fueron usadas por la CIA hace más de una década.

Su nominación seguramente volverá a encender el acalorado debate sobre el uso de esas técnicas y los daños psicológicos que le causan a los sospechosos de terrorismo. Aunque legisladores y activistas de derechos humanos condenaron esas prácticas como tortura, el programa contaba con algunas personas que lo defendían. Entre ellos estaba Trump, quien durante su campaña prometió que volvería a usar el ahogamiento simulado y llegó a afirmar que “la tortura funciona”, aunque posteriormente se retractó de esa declaración.

Haspel, de 61 años, se convertiría en la primera mujer en dirigir la CIA, si es confirmada por el Senado.

“Ella es una persona destacada a la que he llegado a conocer muy bien”, dijo Trump el martes en un breve comentario a los reporteros presentes en la Casa Blanca.

Durante su confirmación en el Senado, Haspel se verá obligada a responder preguntas sobre el ahogamiento simulado y sus interacciones con los detenidos. Probablemente tendrá que explicar si, como el presidente ha dicho, está de acuerdo con volver a usar el ahogamiento simulado y si cree que la tortura es una manera efectiva de extraer información de los sospechosos de terrorismo.

“No envidio su intento de lograr la confirmación”, dijo Robert Eatinger, quien fue el abogado principal del Centro de Contraterrorismo de la CIA. “Será la primera vez que los senadores podrán interrogar a una persona que estuvo íntimamente involucrada con el programa y creo que aprovecharán esa oportunidad al máximo”.


WP Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com