Puerto Rico Debt Crisis Final Draft

A red hot grill begins to cool as it is time for a busy restaurant in Queens to close its door for the night. Joshua Garcia, 26, begins his closing duties and works as a chef to make ends meet. He has relocated from his homeland Puerto Rico, to here in New York City area.

Garcia will be one of many Puerto Ricans who have moved to the states due to lack of opportunities back home. “It was a difficult decision to leave but I felt it was best for me and those who I cared for.” said Garcia.

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. The tropical climate and intoxicating culture makes it a sought after vacation spot for several looking to plan a getaway. While that still may hold true the island is in the middle of one of the worst debt crisis in the modern the era. Simply put, the Government of Puerto Rico cannot pay what it owes and its economy is suffering. Numerous business can’t afford to keep their doors open and those once clear waters begin to seem a little murky.

Financial opportunity is one of the main motivator for moving to the United States, as seen in the Census Bureau data. According to Pew Research, among island-born Puerto Ricans who moved to the mainland, 40% said they left mainly for job-related reasons. As a result, the island’s population dropped by a staggering 9% in 2015 down 334,000 from the year 2000.

Puerto Rico is facing a major debt crisis estimated to be at the $70 billion mark. Many key components played into the debt crisis which almost doubled from $43 billion in 2006 to $70 billion in 2015. Government overspending, which meant it spent more money than it took from taxes. Puerto Rico lost its ability to claim bankruptcy that if were in effect would see the island and the court work toward a viable payment plan. Citizens, most notably skilled workers such as doctors and engineers are leaving the island in search of financial security. Puerto Rico is at an unemployment rate of 12.2% as of 2015 according, to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Things are not looking good over there (Puerto Rico). I worked as a paramedic and still worried about my future” added, Garcia.

Puerto may have difficulty receiving aid from the United States under the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has publicly stated during his campaigning in 2016 that he will not aid Puerto Rico in its debt and sees only one way out, cut spending.

“I wouldn’t bail them out, Puerto Rico has far far too much debt.” Trump told CNN.

However, a solution has been proposed by the Obama administration before leaving office labeled the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The law would enact a federal oversight board that would discuss the reformation of Puerto Rico’s debt.

If put into action PROMESA would enable the Puerto Rican government to enter a pseudo bankruptcy status. This will halt proceedings in the event of default, preventing a taxpayer bailout.

The future of the Puerto Rico and its debts crisis still remains to be seen as of 2017. In order to overcome there has to be unison in the fact that the Puerto Rico debt crisis is an American crisis as well. Many Americans have investments through Puerto Rico’s municipal bonds. Municipal bonds makes up a large portion of Puerto Rico’s debt. Which means many Americans have a significant portion of their savings in government debt that might not be repaid. This may have lingering effect on America’s economy as a result. PROMESA seems to be a step in the right direction.

When asked if he ever considers moving back to Puerto Rico.

“I would love to go back, it’s still my home but things have to change first.” Garcia replied.

Colombia Article #1 (Dylan Diaz)

Poverty, inequality and drugs are few of the main problems in Colombia throughout the years. Some of the more current problems in Colombia include the political issues and the Zika virus. However, the largest controversy continues to revolve around the relationship between the Colombian government and the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC was founded in 1964 during the Cold War and they follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology. FARC started off as primarily poor farmers who sought out for equality.

After voters rejected a peace treaty between Colombia’s government and FARC in October 2016, the Government then went through congress to agree to a newly revised treaty in November, most likely with the disapproval of the people.

Where does one get their news from when the media is primarily controlled by either the wealthy or one of the two main political parties? Colombia was ranked 128th in 2015 on the Reporters without Borders freedom scale, so it’s safe to say that it’s a dangerous place for journalist coming from abroad. Some Colombians in the United States do not believe that the media paints the full picture.

Brayan Cano, 26 year old youth soccer coach for the New York Star Premier, moved to the United States when he was 10 years old for a chance at a better life and more opportunities than his family thought Colombia could offer. Cano is one of the ones currently living in the United States that feels the media isn’t entirely reliable. “In Colombia it’s a lot of corruption so the news and the media are always going to show you what is going to get them ratings and more views. So, they might report on big events but they never get deep within the issue. Like with the whole FARC situation, not once have I seen them go into the poor neighborhoods or to the voters who were most affected.”

Bray Cano, 26

LuizCarime Baez, 49 years old, is one of the ones to move to the United States who was directly affected by FARC.

Like Cano, Baez, moved to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old, in search for a better life. Nearly 20 years ago Baez’s uncle was kidnapped by the rebel group for 30 days. He was deprived of his land and most of his savings.

Many believe that only the voices being heard are the ones in power. Those in power are either the ones with money or guns. Baez, however, finds the media in Colombia to be reliable, even from the perspective of someone living in the United States.

Baez says, “I believe Colombia resources are reliable. We have a variety of sources, we have freedom of speech and we are not controlled by the government.”

The divide between the audiences of the Colombian media is as evident as the divide between those in support of the peace treaty and those who are not. What is not as evident is the future state of Colombia.

Ukraine Story 2 Pitches

I have a couple potential stories for the next assignment. Though these are not newsworthy, there is a Ukrainian concert followed by a meet the composer and a Ukrainian poetry reading through the Ukrainian Institute of America. While it would also be interesting to me to get a taste of Ukrainian culture, any coverage of Ukraine right now gives it exposure and generates awareness for it, which is greatly needed. In addition, either of these could make lovely radio or photo pieces. Another more newsworthy idea has to do with the release of movie “Bitter Harvest” in late February. The movie depicts the Holodomor starvation in Ukraine in the 1930s. While there are many reviews out about the movie, I’d like to hear from Ukrainians. Are they glad a movie is shedding light on this devastating part of Ukrainian history? What do they think of the movie itself? Even better, can I find someone who lived through this time to give their input? This would be a written piece. I need to do some reaching out to gauge the quality of the story I would get for the movie piece, whereas the less newsworthy concert and poetry events seem like a no brainer. 

Haiti’s Ignored Problem: Education – Final Draft

There are families living tents in Haiti, struggling to build their lives back together, hurricane after hurricane and earthquake after earthquake, but in the rural towns of Haiti the view is different. The sun is unbearably hot, but children still willingly pack themselves in non-airconditioned rooms with books in their hands. Their faces are drawn wide in smiles, proud of the blue uniform they are wearing. Nearly 50 of these children pack themselves into this room, while some are in other “classrooms” made up of benches and tarp to shield them from the sun. Although this may seem like terrible conditions for students, it is the reality that some children in Haiti have to face.  

The educational environment in Haiti is very broad, ranging from the best government run schools in the city, to tent schools run by nonprofit organizations.

Haitian children smiling in their temporary tent school

For Pastor Mario Augustave, running his own non-profit organization, tent schools are not an uncommon sight. With his American based non-profit organization, Voices For Haiti, Augustave and his team have gone into his home country and assist it as best as they can, especially when it comes to education in rural communities.

Others running non-profit organizations like Augustave recognize that education is one of the most important issues in Haiti to tackle. “Without the proper education of Haitian children, the country is continually left vulnerable,” Augustave tells me at his pastor’s office at Emmaus Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The church is located in Flatbush, a Brooklyn neighboorhood, with a dense population of Haitian-Americans.  “The children are the future, and an illiterate future is almost guaranteed to go nowhere.”

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the total percentage of people who can read and write in Haiti above 15 years of age is 60.7 percent which is a far cry from other Caribbean countries which are 90 percent and above. These literacy rates are due to a limited amount of schools in the country.

And yet, it seems the Haitian government is not interested in the future of their nation.

According to Sionfonds for Haiti, the government is only responsible for 10 percent of schools in Haiti. Haiti as a whole has only 15, 200 primary schools, of which 90 percent of these schools are non-public and are managed by communities, religious organizations, or NGOs.

“When I was growing up in Haiti, every school I knew was private. I didn’t think there were public schools in our country. I can imagine that it’s worse,” said Adeline Francois, age 46, a current New York resident who lived in Haiti until 1994. “The amount of public schools are probably lower than before.”

Community, religious organization, or NGO – run schools, need constant funding from outside sources – usually United States and Canadian residents – to keep their schools running since they are non-profit organizations. Because they are so reliant from funding from the outside it is difficult for these schools to properly function. Necessities like bathrooms and plumbing are rare. School supplies like textbooks, notebooks, and pencils are in limited supply, and sometimes teachers cannot be paid. Many are essentially doing volunteer work.

The school that Voices For Haiti runs in a state of disrepair

And while these teachers may be teaching students for free, many teachers are not even properly trained to handle a class. According to the World Bank, many teachers are not the most effective at handling a class.  

“Most instructional time is spent on lecturing or eliciting responses in unison from the class, and responses were often related to repetition and memorization. Teachers rarely acknowledged or corrected the many incorrect answers or lack of answers noted by observers. These methods have limited effectiveness in teaching children, especially young children, the foundational cognitive skills they need to succeed in school,” says Melissa Adelman and David Evans of the World Bank.

Even with low funds and ineffective teachers, Haiti is still trudging through. Thanks to organizations like Voices For Haiti, there is good work being done in Haiti when it comes to education. According to The World Bank, there is a happy side to this story. Enrollment rates have risen from 78 percent to 90 percent, and tuition fee waivers are being implemented in private schools around Haiti. There is also more engagement with the government and schools to train teachers to better help and engage the classes.

“It is hard,” Augustave says. “But we are doing God’s work in Haiti. Right now I am going around churches in New York to collect funds to build a well at the school. People don’t think they are doing much by putting in a dollar, but to the kids over there in Haiti, it means the world to them.”

 

Polish Schools – Final Story

Agata Poniatowski is a Bushwick resident whose parents emigrated from Poland to escape communism before she and her brother were born. Though her brother was sent to Polish school when he was a child, she felt as if her parents gave up on teaching her the language.

Now, Poniatowski is taking small steps to learn it. She asks her parents to text her in Polish and tries her best to respond to them in Polish. In her free time, she watches children’s shows with subtitles on, including a remastered version of Baba Jaga.

Poniatowski thinks that this could have been avoided if her parents had sent her to one of the Polish schools located in New York City.

“I was really—I guess you could say a rowdy kid. I would always be crying and be upset. I didn’t like that ballet class was 40 minutes long,” Poniatowski said.

“My parents probably were like ‘maybe not’ for me, but my brother had more patience, so they sent him and he learned how to read and write in Polish. Although he quit pretty shortly … but he did have the opportunity to read and write, whereas I’m trying to do that at 20 years old and it’s really difficult.”

Poniatowski, now 21, was born and raised in Ronkonkoma, Suffolk County, with her parents and an older brother. Growing up, she became fascinated with photographs of nature and rare animals. She is currently an urban sustainability major at Baruch College and aspires to have one of her photographs published in National Geographic.

In an interview, Poniatowski recalled a moment when her cousin decided to test her writing skills by asking her to write down the word “Łóżko,” which means “bed.”

“I gave her a piece of paper with my idea of how to spell it and she just started laughing hysterically. I didn’t want for that to happen. I didn’t want to lose my communication with my family when I’m not in Poland, so I want to be able to text them, to talk to them,” Poniatowski said.

Krystian Surdel is currently 19 years old. His parents brought him to the United States when he was only 3 years old and he attended Polish school from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. He is currently enrolled in John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in global history.

In an interview, Surdel explained that the first five years of Polish school are generally concentrated on teaching students how to read and write. Once students moved on to middle school and high school, they are introduced to Polish geography, history and literature. Eight grade is generally reserved for preparing for Confirmation, as some schools require students to memorize over 100 texts from the Bible in order to receive the sacrament.

Paulina Ekstowicz emigrated from Poland after she finished fourth grade. Her father was the first to move to the United States and her mother decided to rejoin him in order to earn more money and ensure that Ekstowicz could get a good university education.

When they moved, Ekstowicz was 11 years old. Her parents never sent her to Polish school, but she was able to remember the language by speaking Polish at home and watching Polish TV with her parents. In her free time, she also reads Polish books and listens to Polish music.

“I think they [Polish schools] are [helpful] to a certain extent, because you do get to make more polish friends and learn more about your own history and traditions,” Ekstowicz said. “But I also think it’s very stressful, because it is like Saturday school majority of the time and it’s just another level of stress.”

On the other hand, Poniatowski believes that attending Polish school helps build a person’s sense of cultural identity and connect them to their country of origin.

“I’m Polish because of the culture that I have at my house, but I think that I would feel more connected to being Polish if I also had the ability to communicate with that side of my family, or read the newspaper or something like that. Actually know what’s going on in Poland. Not from The New York Times, but from a Polish magazine or Polish news. … Understanding politics or big words, that would be cool,” Poniatowski said.

In the past year and a half, Poland has been ruled by the Law and Justice Party, which proposed several right-wing laws, including a total ban on abortion and reforms that were meant to align the justice system with the party’s beliefs. While the black protests helped prevent the abortion ban, the justice system is under total control of the ruling party.

Surdel said that attending Polish school helped him stay in touch with current events in Poland and understand their historical significance.

“This used to be a democracy,” Surdel said. “That’s what they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years, we haven’t existed for several years as well. Now we have a chance to be democratic and we’re just trying to go back to older roots. They’re trying to rewrite our history and what it means to be Polish. It’s just sad.”

Russian Immigrants Stereotyped in US Culture

As Russia-United States relations dominate headlines with Russian President Vladimir Putin engaging in risky endeavors abroad, such as airstrikes in Syria, interventions in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, many Russian-Americans are left with a less-than-favorable image of their country to fellow U.S. citizens.

 

This is not a new phenomenon. James Bond movies, circa the 1960s, have painted a negative image of Russians in the minds of many Americans, and often Russian immigrants find that image difficult to escape when attempting to assimilate to U.S. culture.

 

Irina Groushevaia, 22, emigrated from Russia after her high school graduation and has found that Americans generally hold negative stereotypes about Russia and its people.

 

“When I came here, I kind of felt that everyone either thinks I’m this crazy femme fatale or thinks I’m going to show up with fake blonde hair and be a super thin model, which I’m not and they are stereotypes that everyone tries to fit me in and I don’t fit into them because the perceptions by Americans of Russians is very different from reality,” she said.

 

“Of course stereotypes exist for a reason, but the way we are perceived in American movies, in American culture is just ridiculous,” Groushevaia added, “We’re all over the top with how we look, always in fur and stilettos and every woman is like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. And we’re always evil and really cold and backstabbing and I think that exists in every culture, not just in Russian culture, but when you ask an American what a Russian is, it’s always a James Bond villain.”

 

Groushevaia reads a copy of The New Yorker, featuring Putin on its cover. (Photo by Rebecca Simon)

 

While Russia-American relations have continued to be tense since the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, Americans’ perceptions of Russia as “the enemy” seems especially relevant in a tense political climate where rumors exist that Putin helped rig the polling system to elect President Donald Trump, an unfavorable candidate to many Americans, according to the popular vote, which he lost by nearly 2 million.

 

Sergey Arinkin, 26, who lives in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn with his partner, another Russian immigrant, has noticed Americans’ attitudes toward Russian immigrants changing since the election of Trump. “Nowadays, there is some sort of a new stereotype that all the Russians are Trump supporters. When we were in LA, in one bar, super liberal folk decided not to continue any communication [with us] because we said that we were Russian,” he said.

 

Arinkin added, “I would say that generally Americans feel uncomfortable that Putin somehow tried to affect the elections. So liberals and democrats don’t like [the] Russian government and people who support it, but I don’t think that true republicans care about it.”

 

Regardless of whether Putin did rig the presidential election, it seems that many Americans have long-held stereotypes about Russians that are a combination of their representation in pop culture and in mainstream media. Russia has been accused of hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails, being a huge financial backer of Trump, rigging the presidential election, appointing certain members to Trump’s cabinet, among many other things.

 

Russian-Americans, who have no involvement in Russian government, often bear the brunt of criticism by fellow Americans for their motherland’s actions. Anastasia Amelchakova, a 35-year-old mother of two, who has been living in the United States for nearly 20 years, thinks Russian stereotypes are, for the most part, a product of Anti-Russian propaganda dating back to the Cold War.

 

Amelchakova said, “There is a widely accepted stereotype about Russians being ‘tough,’ mostly inspired by the legendary cold winters, tolerance toward vodka consumption and Soviet-era propaganda. This stereotype translates into [a] perception of Russians as abrasive individuals, unyielding in arguments, with strict parenting ideology and impenetrable to personal offense.”

 

She went on to say, “Needless to say, this is actually untrue. Russian mentality is actually mostly inspired by extensive fictional literature, spiritual background and connection to nature. A true Russian, to me, is a ‘free spirit’ with a creative imagination, sociable and appreciable and quite impressionable by others’ opinion.”

 

 

Prologue

Jared Diamond’s novel, Guns, Germs And Steel, uses historical archaeology to try to answer the controversial and unknown reasons why different regions and cultures developed with such disparity across the world. “Empires with steel weapons were able to conquer or exterminate tribes with weapons of stone and wood. How, though, did the world get to be the way it was in A.D. 1500?” Diamond also addresses the illusion that throughout history “industrialized states” have been looked at as better than “hunter-gatherer tribes” and that industrialization means progress and happiness.

This relates to the country of India, which I am focusing on this semester. From 1757 to 1858 the British East India Company ruled parts of India after the Carnatic Wars, which were mainly fought on Indian territories. The British East India Company became a monopoly of trade and their dominance led to their control over most of India and then to British Raj, in which the British crown controlled India. British Raj lasted all the way up until 1947. Under British rule, India started producing steel in 1908 to compete with the United States and Germany. The Indian Empire (British rule) also built railway systems in the late 1800’s. Like Diamond points out, throughout history, more developed nations desired to colonize more primitive nations. One explanation Diamond might give as to why India and Great Britain developed at different rates is climate, as Great Britain is colder and needed to rapidly make technological advances to stay alive while India was warmer and people could survive with very little advances.

Feature Story on Ecuador’s Economy

The crowded waiting room was getting hotter as more people came in. Their impatient eyes looked out the tall buildings of Manhattan from the sixth floor where the Ecuadorian Consulate is located.

Hundreds of Ecuadorians visit the Consulate every day after president Donald Trump promised to deport immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. There are an estimated 687, 000 Ecuadorians in the United States, 61 percent of them are foreign born according to The Pew Research Center.

“I am here to get my son an Ecuadorian passport,” said Andrea in Spanish, who did not want to give her last name. Many parents like Andrea who have U.S. born children are rushing to get their children an Ecuadorian passport so they will not have problems if they are sent back with their undocumented parents.

But most of them were at the Consulate to get a document called a “poder” (power). Poderes are documents that authorize Ecuadorians living in the United States to manage their property in Ecuador. When that document is signed, anybody can sell or buy property on behalf of that individual who signed it.

What does it mean for Ecuador’s Economy? The Economist Intelligence Unit categorized Ecuador as the seventh worse economy in the world. Ecuador has always had a fluctuated economy. In 2008 it suffered greatly when the prices of the oil dropped, but then it slowly improved as the new elected president Rafael Correa made some adjustments. Correa brought back the economy by investing in new roads, hospitals, schools and giving electric access to isolated regions.

However, he did not count with all the funds for public investments. It led him to increase taxes, borrow money from the Central Bank and the prices of oil dropped again.

Ecuador’s economy now has two positive events that could change it from being the seventh worse economy.

First, with so many Ecuadorians living in the United States that are buying property, opening bank accounts and transferring their money from American banks to Ecuadorian banks. These movements will inject value to lift the economy up.

According to Maria Ines Costa Vargas, the vice-consul of Ecuador more people are sending poderes to Ecuador compared to last year. In February 2016, a total of 373 poderes were sent to Ecuador compared to 623 poderes this year in the same month. Last year Vargas said, the poderes were mixed either to buy or just manage property, but this year they are mainly to buying more houses, lands and opening bank accounts.

“People are scared and they want to have a plan B,” said Vargas. “Almost all the poderes are for buying or opening bank accounts in Ecuador.”

Second, the upcoming presidential election has Ecuadorian hopeful that the new president will bring new reforms to help rebuild the fallen economy.

“People stopped spending money because the prices for everything went up,” said Jose Alveres a U.S resident who was in Ecuador six months ago. He said the economy could be better if Colombians and Peruvians who come to work in Ecuador spend in Ecuador rather than sending it to their countries.

The public stopped spending as the prices for everything went up. The idea of increasing prices was to make up for the low cost of oil. Ecuador has an economy highly dependent on oil production and public spending. During the years the price of oil decrease from $ 94 a barrel to $32 a barrel.

Another main factor why Ecuador is in the seventh worse economy is the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that happened in 2016. It affected Ecuador’s economy greatly, leaving over $3 billion in damage and killing 660 people. The already hurt economy began to worsen in every corner as people stopped spending more and companies began laying off employees left and righ.

Former president Rafael Correa borrowed $1.5 billion from China in order to bring the economy back, but in exchange, China asked that a 90 percent of oil shipments go to them for the next few years. Ecuadorians hope their new leader will change that as the country depends on oil and they need to be free from China in order to trade with other countries.

“Basically, now we belong to China if we don’t pay that money back,” said Alvares.

Ecuadorians who live in the United States and the new incoming president will determine the future of Ecuador’s economy.

“More money will be circulating with all of these movements,” said Vargas. “They are going to open their own business and create jobs.”

Prologue

 

 

There are many broad patterns in the development of societies. Jared Diamond talks about how each society, how each continent and how each region developed the way they did. Of course, some of the places had and still have more advantages than the others.

Diamond says that almost every societies started either as hunt-gathering, working in agriculture, herding or doing metallurgy. But as they learned ways to improve their way of living, they invented new tools and become civilized. However, in some parts of the world the process of civilization took longer simply they were not in favorable place.

One can infer that those countries that are still struggling had a bad beginning. They were people who used stone and wood tools to survive either from hunger or from other tribes who wanted to invade them.

Ecuador is one of those many struggling countries. Even though it is a developed country, it still has indigenous population and groups of tribes who are not civilized. According to Diamond’s point of view on how geography either favors or not, Ecuador was in a place where not favorable. They were hunters, worked in agriculture so the process to civilization and developed as country took more time than others. And when they were invaded by Spaniards, the natives were slaves. So basically the Spaniards were the ones who made Ecuador a civilized place because they brought their ideas on how to mine the gold and the oil and eventually they developed a political system that control people.