Hurray for the Riff Raff Goes Home to Puerto Rico

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This week, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra is back in Puerto Rico, visiting schools to donate musical instruments for students and getting ready for HFTRR’s island debut at La Respuesta in Santurce (free show, familia, free show). Latino Rebels Radio host Julio Ricardo Varela gave Alynda a call on Monday to talk about her week in Puerto Rico, what it means to be Nuyorican and where HFTRR goes next. And yeah, the convo gets pretty deep, but what would you expect when two Puerto Ricans get together to talk about music, life and neocolonialism?

This week’s podcast closed out with the spectacular “Pa’lante’ single, whose video is gaining attention at film festivals all over the world.

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For Alynda’s first interview with Latino Rebels from 2015, click here.

Featured image by Sarrah Danziger

Congress Probes FEMA For Paying Huge Markups On Puerto Rico Recovery Supplies

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Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

GOP Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming is pressing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to explain the stiff markups it is paying on supplies and labor to help rebuild Puerto Rico.

Enzi, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, sent a letter to FEMA administrator Brock Long Thursday requesting information on the Tu Hogar Renace program. The program is FEMA-funded and run by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing and has roughly $1.2 billion to dole out to Puerto Ricans for the purpose of helping rebuild their damaged homes. (RELATED: Taxpayers Are Paying Huge Sums To A System Of ‘Middlemen’ In Puerto Rico)

“I am troubled by recent reports that federal disaster-relief money intended to help Puerto Rico residents recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria has gone to pay excessive contractor markups and overhead costs,” Enzi wrote.

“This has led to the Puerto Rico Department of Housing receiving close to 3,900 complaints from program participants,” Enzi added. “While I understand that sending materials to Puerto Rico on tight deadlines and with the island’s infrastructure affects the costs of materials for repairs, I remained concerned that without proper oversight and controls, money intended to assist disaster survivors has and will be wasted.”

The purchase and installation of a typical $50 door would cost about $700 in Puerto Rico. Power generators that cost $800 are being sold for $3,700. Subcontractors repair roofs for about $1.64 a square foot, but FEMA is spending around $4 a square foot by the time all the requisite paperwork is completed, The New York Times reported Monday.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on preparations for hurricane Florence at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

FEMA Administrator Brock Long listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on preparations for hurricane Florence at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Puerto Rico was left severely crippled after Hurricane Maria struck the Island in September 2017. Maria completely destroyed tens of thousands of homes and left hundreds of thousands more with major damage.

The storm and its effects killed approximately 2,975 people, according to a George Washington University study. Most of Puerto Rico lost power and hundreds of thousands were left in the dark for months.

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Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

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Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 1, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a toadfish during dive 2 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, in the deep waters of the U.S. Caribbean. It will take several years before scientists establish whether any new species were discovered, but in the meantime, they will ship all the coral branches, pieces of sponge, brittle starfishes and rocks they collected to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)

A rarely seen shark embryo. Corals up to 7 feet (2 meters) high. Sponges with sharp edges.

These were among the hundreds of findings reported by U.S. who have wrapped up a 22-day mission exploring waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the deepest dives ever recorded in the region. Guided by other land-based scientists watching live feeds, they collected 89 samples and will now start to analyze them, Daniel Wagner, expedition coordinator with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“When they tell you, ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ it’s a good indication that it’s a new species or something that’s new to this region,” he said.

It will take several years for scientists to establish whether any were discovered, but in the meantime, they will ship all the coral branches, pieces of sponge, brittle starfish and rocks they collected to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Wagner said.

Scientists aboard the 224-foot (68-meter) Okeanos Explorer also identified some 30 species of fish, including some in areas where previously they hadn’t been spotted. These include commercially popular fish such as snappers and groupers, which were seen about 100 meters (330 feet) deeper than reported to exist.

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 15, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a shark embryo during dive 15 of the Okeanos Explorer expeditions, west of the Desecheo Island, an archipelago of Puerto Rico. Scientists wrapped up a 22-day mission Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, where they explored waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the deepest dives ever recorded in the region. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP) “That’s a great thing,” Wagner said.

In addition, they mapped geological features up to 3 miles (5,000 meters) deep, covering an area close to 15,000 square kilometers (5,800 square miles), he said.

The 19 dives performed by remotely operated vehicles over 145 hours were streamed live and drew a lot of online attention. One especially popular video was that of a catshark embryo attached to a branch some 800 deep near an uninhabited island off Puerto Rico’s west coast.

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 6, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a remotely operated vehicle, ROV, recording a shark from the Hexanchidae family in its habitat during Dive 6 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, in the deep waters of the U.S. Caribbean. The ROV’s allow the NOAA to explore much deeper depths that have remained largely unexplored in the region as well as to get high-resolution imagery. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, via AP)

Overall, the ecosystems appeared healthy, although scientists also saw pieces of trash on a few dives and the occasional fishing line, he added.

“It’s a sad thing, but a healthy reminder that our things go down to the deep sea,” he said.

The sites explored were chosen from a list of 80 submitted by scientists worldwide, including the location of a 1918 earthquake that generated a tsunami, killing more than 100 people in Puerto Rico.

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a swimming sea cucumber, Enypniastes eximia, sometimes referred to as the “headless chicken monster,” during a 2018 Oceano Profundo deep dive expedition, in the waters of the U.S. Caribbean. The Enypniastes is encountered widely around the world with records from the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Atlantic, East Atlantic, New Zealand, and the Southern Ocean. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, via AP)

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 1, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows an octocoral or sea fan with many brittle star associates during dive 2 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, in the deep waters of the U.S. Caribbean. Scientists, who wrapped up 22-day mission in Caribbean waters Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, believe they might have found several new species, although it will take several years to confirm. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 5, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a ceriantharian, also known as tube-dwelling anemone during dive 5 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, in the deep waters of the U.S. Caribbean. Overall, the ecosystems appeared healthy according to the scientists, although they also saw pieces of trash on a few dives and the occasional fishing line. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 11, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a mysterious six-rayed starfish during dive 11 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, on a landslide feature north of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Scientists aboard the 224-foot Okeanos Explorer also identified some 30 species of fish, including some in areas previously not spotted. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, via AP)

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 1, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a sea fan during dive 2 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, in the deep waters of the U.S. Caribbean. Corals up to seven feet high were among the hundreds of findings reported by U.S. scientists who have wrapped up a 22-day mission Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, exploring waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the deepest dives ever recorded in the region. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)

Scientists wind up deep-water probes in Caribbean waters

This Nov. 1, 2018 handout photo provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, shows a Pancake urchin during dive 2 of the 2018 Oceano Profundo expedition, in the deep waters of the U.S. Caribbean. 19 dives were performed by remotely operated vehicles over 145 hours and were streamed live. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)

Explore further: Scientists find possible new species in Caribbean waters

Scientists work to save wild Puerto Rican parrot after Maria

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Updated

EL YUNQUE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Biologists are trying to save the last of the endangered Puerto Rican parrots after more than half the population of the bright green birds with turquoise-tipped wings disappeared when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and destroyed their habitat and food sources.

In the tropical forest of El Yunque, only two of the 56 wild birds that once lived there survived the Category 4 storm that pummeled the U.S. territory in September 2017. Meanwhile, only 4 of 31 wild birds in a forest in the western town of Maricao survived, along with 75 out of 134 wild parrots living in the Rio Abajo forest in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, scientists said.

And while several dozen new parrots have been born in captivity and in the wild since Maria, the species is still in danger, according to scientists.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Gustavo Olivieri, parrot recovery program coordinator for Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources.

Federal and local scientists will meet next month to debate how best to revive a species that numbered more than 1 million in the 1800s but dwindled to 13 birds during the 1970s after decades of forest clearing.

The U.S. and Puerto Rican governments launched a program in 1972 that eventually led to the creation of three breeding centers. Just weeks before Maria hit, scientists reported 56 wild birds at El Yunque, the highest since the program was launched.

But the population decline is now especially worrisome because the parrots that vanished from El Yunque were some of the last remaining wild ones, said Marisel Lopez, who oversees the parrot recovery program at El Yunque for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“It was devastating. After so many years of having worked on this project…,” she stopped talking and sighed.

The Puerto Rican Amazon is Puerto Rico’s only remaining native parrot and is one of roughly 30 species of Amazon parrots found in the Americas. The red-foreheaded birds grow to nearly a foot in length, are known for their secrecy and usually mate for life, reproducing once a year.

More than 460 birds remain captive at the breeding centers in El Yunque and Rio Abajo forests, but scientists have not released any of them since Hurricane Maria. A third breeding center in a forest in the western rural town of Maricao has not operated since the storm. Scientists are now trying to determine the best way to prepare the parrots for release since there are such few birds in the wild they can interact with, and whether Puerto Rico’s damaged forests can sustain them.

One proposal scientists will consider is whether to capture some of the remaining wild parrots in the Rio Abajo forest and place them in the same cage as birds that will be released to the wild, so they can learn to emulate their social behavior to ensure their survival, said Jafet Velez, a wildlife biologist with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Scientists are tentatively planning to release 20 birds next year in Rio Abajo.

Another proposal is to release more parrots in Maricao, which was not as heavily damaged by Maria.

“Our priority now is not reproduction…it’s to start releasing them,” Lopez said, adding that breeding centers can hold only so many parrots.

But first, scientists need to make sure the forests can offer food and safe shelter.

Jessica Ilse, a forest biologist at el Yunque for the U.S. Forest Service, said scientists are collecting data about the amount of fruit falling from trees and the number of leaves shed. She said the canopy still has not grown back since Maria and warned that invasive species have taken root since more sunlight now shines through. Ilse said that many of the large trees where parrots used to nest are now gone and noted that it took 14 months for El Yunque’s canopy to close after Hurricane Hugo hit Puerto Rico in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.

Scientists also are now collecting new data on the number of predators at El Yunque, including el guaraguao, a red-tailed hawk that hunts Puerto Rico parrots. Without a canopy and proper camouflage, wild parrots have become an easy target.

Ilse said local and federal scientists plan to help the forest recover through planting. By the end of November, they expect to have a map detailing the most damaged areas in El Yunque and a list of tree species they can plant that are more resistant to hurricanes.

“People keep asking us, ‘How long is it going to take?'” Ilse said.

But scientists don’t know, she added.

“The damage is more extensive than (hurricanes) Hugo and Georges…It’s been a complete change to the ecosystem.”

Going to Dominican Republic? Come to Puerto Rico Instead!

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When I lived in Mongolia, nobody came to visit. When I lived in Montana, I might as well have been living in Mongolia. Same circumstances – no visitors. Now that I moved to Puerto Rico, I expected visitors to be banging on my door and I pretending not to be home. That has not been the case. Thus far, only Uncle Charlie has come for a weekend of booze, beach, and golf. Many that do not come tell me that it’s because Puerto Rico does not have electricity and that it is still not up and running after Hurricane Maria. Obviously, that is not true. I live here and can testify that life is good.

Inexplicably, on more than one occasion, people I know have made the trip down to the Caribbean to visit our neighbor next door, the Dominican Republic, instead of coming here. Although PR is more expensive when it comes to food and drink, everything that DR has, PR has as well. The only two differences are: 1) DR does a much better job of marketing. 2) TPOL lives in PR, which, depending on your love/hate of the blog, is a reason to choose one over the other. For those that still think PR has not recovered, take a look at these photos from my IG account and then book your flight here.

PR, not far from your hometown.