Neanderthals And Denisovan’s Were Mixing With Homo Sapiens



Neanderthals, Denisovans and our ancestors were mixing and mingling a long time ago — and some of our genetics can be traced back to these archaic humans.

In Asians, as much as 3% of an individual’s DNA may be Neanderthal. For Europeans, it’s as much as 2%. A new study has found that our ancestors interbred with two distinct Denisovan populations, increasing the probability of the presence in modern populations of DNA inherited from this ancient and mysterious people.
The study, using a new genome-analysis method to compare whole genomes of humans with Denisovans, was published in the journal Cell on Thursday.
“It is amazing that we can look into human history via current-day human genetic data, and determine some of the events that happened in the past,” study author Sharon Browning wrote in an email. Browning is a research professor with the University of Washington’s Department of Biostatistics.
“In particular, in this study we found two distinct episodes of Denisovan admixture, which adds to what was previously known about the contribution of Neanderthals and Denisovans to our genomes today.”

Denisovans pose questions

Denisovans pose particular questions for scientists because researchers have only a few bones that even point to their existence: a finger bone, toe bone and a couple of teeth. Fossilized DNA sequenced from those bones, recovered in Siberia, has allowed us to learn more about them. But we still don’t know what these extinct hominins looked like.
Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA was sequenced completely for the first time in 2010, which led to the initial discovery that they were interbreeding with our ancestors. Studies found that the population of Oceania and Papua New Guinea received the most DNA from Denisovans, around 5%.
Fifty thousand years ago, as modern humans moved out of Africa, they encountered Neanderthals and Denisovans, and the “admixing” happened. But pinning down exactly where it happened has proved difficult.
It was especially puzzling given that the fossils were found in Siberia, but Denisovans are most strongly connected to Oceania.
Denisovan ancestry was also present in Asia, although researchers believed that this occurred through migration from Oceania.
Comparing the Denisovan genome to that of 5,600 Europeans, Asians, Americans and Oceanians painted a different picture.
The data showed that Denisovans were even more closely related to modern East Asians, specifically Han Chinese, Chinese Dai and Japanese, than those from Papua New Guinea. And this second set of Denisovan ancestry was different from Oceanians and Papuans.
“It makes it clear that there were distinct populations of Denisovans, rather than a single population,” Browning said. “The fact that these populations had diverged somewhat from each other suggests that the two populations were not mixing very often with each other, perhaps due to geographical separation.”
A possible explanation is that our Oceanian ancestors encountered a southern group of Denisovans, while East Asians met a northern group.
“(This) led people to suspect that Denisovans did not just live in Siberia, but also lived elsewhere in Asia, somewhere south along the likely routes that the ancestors of Oceanians may have taken to get to Oceania,” Browning said. “This study makes this hypothesis look very likely.”
This could also mean that there were more than two distinct episodes of Denisovans mixing with modern humans, which Browning believes future analysis could reveal.
“A major novel finding is that some populations (East Asians) have evidence of multiple introgression related to Denisovans while a few others (South Asians, Papuans) have evidence of a single Denisovan introgression,” Sriram Sankararaman said in an email. “The Denisovan ancestry in South Asians is quite diverged from the sequence Denisovan while the additional component in East Asians is quite close. This suggests a complex interaction pattern of the Denisovans and modern human populations in mainland Asia.”
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Sankararaman, who was not involved in the study, has worked on Denisovan research and is an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the department of computer science and the department of human genetics.
Going forward, Browning and her colleagues plan to study other populations to look for signatures of admixture with archaic humans besides Neanderthals and Denisovans.
“I’d love to delve further into Neanderthal ancestry, and understand why East Asians have a higher rate of Neanderthal ancestry — around 3% — compared to Europeans — around 2%,” Browning said.
“It has been hypothesized that the extra Neanderthal ancestry in East Asians is due to an additional admixture event, but we didn’t find a clear sign of that in our study. That doesn’t rule out this possibility — we might need to dig a little deeper to find it.”

Hurricane Maria: The Forgotten Dying People Of Puerto Rico



‘We are the forgotten people’: It’s been almost six months since Hurricane Maria, and Puerto Ricans are still dying

Updated 10:32 PM ET, Thu March 15, 2018

Maunabo, Puerto Rico (CNN)Lourdes Rodriguez heard the scream early on the morning of January 6, before the sun rose and before the frogs began their chorus.

“Lourdes! Lourdes!”
She instantly recognized the voice of her father, Natalio Rodriguez Lebron, 77, a former nurse who cared for the mentally ill, people he believed society had forgotten.
She darted up the stairs.
Her father’s health had long been troubled. He had diabetes, lung disease, sleep apnea and congestive heart failure. And in the months since Hurricane Maria battered this coastal town, Lourdes watched his condition worsen. The sleep apnea machine he needed to help him breathe was useless for months because their hilltop neighborhood in Maunabo was entirely without electric power. In December, a business had donated a generator to power the machine at night, but the family struggled to afford the gasoline needed to keep it running.
As Lourdes reached the top of the stairs, she felt an uneasy stillness in the air. The sky was thick and black. No moon was visible. And the electric generator, a machine that sometimes rumbled like a car engine, had fallen eerily silent.
She swung open the living room door to find her father clutching his chest.
The machine was off. Her father appeared unable to breathe.
Natalio Rodriguez Lebron, center, is shown with his family.

Her mother, Julia “Miriam” Rodriguez, stayed with Natalio while Lourdes rushed to restart the generator, which had run out of gas, and repower the breathing machine. Her mother felt Natalio’s body go limp in her arms and then collapse to the floor, face down.
Frantic, they called 911 and tried to comfort him.
Waiting there on the floor, Julia Rodriguez told me, she felt a wind — a physical gust — leave her husband’s body and pass into her own. She said it was as if the decades they’d spent together — the moves from Puerto Rico to the mainland and back; the hours they both worked as nurses; the three children they raised — hovered in the room, a tangible, living thing, and then became part of her.
Julia Rodriguez knew then that her husband might not survive.
All these months later, it seemed the storm may have won.

* * * * *

It’s been nearly six months since Hurricane Maria.
Its howling winds, which topped 150 mph, long have dissipated. The storm that battered Puerto Rico on September 20 before hooking northward into the Atlantic is a memory.
Yet, in this US commonwealth, people are still dying in Maria’s wake.
That’s especially true of those who lack basic services like electricity.
Rodriguez died on January 6. In addition to his death, CNN identified five people who died in 2018 from causes that friends, family, doctors or funeral home directors consider to be related to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.
It’s not possible to say with 100% certainty that a death this long after a storm was “caused” by Hurricane Maria, experts told me. But that’s beside the point. These deaths show dangerous conditions persist in Puerto Rico.
I spent several days in Maunabo, Rodriguez’s town on the southeast coast, and other areas without power, to try to understand how communities are faring all these months later.
Maunabo, Puerto Rico, is still off the grid almost six months after Maria, the mayor tells CNN.

I had been to Puerto Rico several times since the storm, reporting for CNN on topics from uncounted deaths to water outages and an “exodus” to the US mainland. In December, I drove the entire path the eye of the storm took across the island. On that route, I met a woman whose clock was stopped at 3:27 — the moment the hurricane swept through. Puerto Rico, it seemed, was an island frozen in time, doomed to relive that day again and again.
Would that still be the case after six months?
Metrics on the response to Hurricane Maria told me that might be the case, at least for some residents. So, too, did academics and others who study how we respond to hurricanes.
Puerto Rico, some of these experts said, appears to be stuck between the “emergency” and “recovery” phases of disaster response. Typically, in the United States, the emergency phase — in which people lack necessities like food, water, shelter and power — lasts for days or, at most, a few weeks, said Lori Peek, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. Then comes recovery, when residents, government agencies and others start to rebuild.
“Here we are months after this storm and we are debating if we should still be sending these emergency — really emergency, and life sustaining — supports, or (should we) transition into this recovery process,” Peek said. “That is just truly breathtaking.”
It’s true that progress has been made. Tourists are coming back to San Juan, and parts of the city are humming. Casinos are open in ritzy Condado and the bomba dancers are back in Río Piedras. A month after Maria, roughly 1 million of the 3.3 million American citizens here remained without running water service. Now, nearly everyone has it.
In late December, only about a third of temporary roof requests had been met by the US Army Corps of Engineers, leaving some people sleeping in homes where it rained inside at night. Months later, nearly all those requests for professionally installed tarps have been fulfilled. Formal shelters for hurricane victims are now empty, according to federal officials.
Yet inequities remain, especially when it comes to electricity.
As of March 7, more than 10% of electric customers in Puerto Rico were still without power, according to figures reported to the US Department of Energy by the local utility. Maybe that sounds small — but it represents nearly 156,000 customers, and likely more than that number of people, since the average Puerto Rican household is about three individuals.
Also consider that figure in the context of other recent storms.
Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas on August 25. The next day, an estimated 304,000 customers were without power — yet all but about 2,600 had electricity restored in 19 days, according to data provided to CNN by the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Florida after Hurricane Irma? That storm left an estimated 6.2 million customers in Florida without electricity on September 11, according to the Florida Public Service Commission, which, like the commission in Texas, collects data from electric utilities. In a little more than two weeks, virtually all power was back.
These comparisons are, of course, imprecise. No two storms are the same in terms of intensity, needs or geography. Puerto Rico is an island and, as federal officials have said repeatedly since the storm, you can’t just drive in supplies from another state. Communications systems were down and many roads were impassible in the first weeks after the storm. The island’s power grid also was in lousy shape, by many accounts, before Hurricane Maria. Comparing that grid to Florida’s, which is the gold standard for preparedness, is somewhat unfair, said Seth Guikema, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, who studies grids and disaster response. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he said, some Florida utilities built concrete posts and took other measures to ensure power could be restored faster after storms.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which oversees disaster recovery, says it is doing everything possible to ensure basic services are restored to Puerto Rico.
Michael Byrne, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for Puerto Rico, told me in an interview that Puerto Rico’s unique logistical challenges fully explain the delays. No other US disaster has presented these unique and difficult circumstances, he said, which meant FEMA had to invent a strategy for how to respond to the crisis. The unique situation here also makes comparisons between the response to Maria and responses to other storms problematic, he said.
If storm-related deaths are continuing, he said, his heart goes out to affected families. “The initial reaction is the reaction anyone would have: I’m sorry to hear that. Truly. One of the things that you don’t stop being, no matter your job, is a human being.” There are programs, he added, to help bring generators and financial assistance to storm victims, especially those who are in vital need of medical services.
The US Army Corps and FEMA say logistical issues -- including Puerto Rico's remote location -- explain power-restoration delays.

In a statement emailed to CNN this week, the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is helping with power restoration, said back-to-back 2017 disasters, the remoteness of the island and the fact that some supplies had to be manufactured for installation in Puerto Rico, slowed down work on the electric system. “Helicopters have been used to airlift poles, materials and people into remote locations to perform repair work,” the Corps said.
Yet these explanations matter little to many of those who have been living without electricity for nearly six months, and have gone without running water for much of that time.
They know another truth: The longer the wait, the more a person is at risk.

* * * * *

The family legend goes like this: The first of Natalio Rodriguez’s ancestors to arrive in Maunabo was hidden in a barrel aboard a ship from Africa. He may have arrived as a free man, they said. This much is sure: Rodriguez roots travel deep into this fertile soil. The family has been here as long as anyone can remember.
By the time Natalio Rodriguez was born in December 1940, the 11th of 12 children, much had changed in Puerto Rico — and yet little had, as well. Rodriguez grew up helping his father, Juan Ines Rodriguez Monclova, work the verdant sugar cane fields behind their home on the side of a shark-tooth mountain. This was the work of his ancestors, too. The Spanish enslaved Africans and, before that, indigenous Taino people — who gave Maunabo its name — to work in that industry.
Natalio Rodriguez and his neighbors had all those stories coursing through their veins. His original ancestor in Maunabo is said to have married a Spanish woman, which is how relatives explain the fact that some of their cousins and aunts have bright blue or green eyes, while Natalio’s and Lourdes’ eyes and skin carry the deep hues of espresso and midnight.
Lourdes Rodriguez, right, with her two children and mother, Julia "Miriam" Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez was a boy, slavery had long been abolished, of course; and the Spanish had been kicked out of Puerto Rico by a new colonial power: the United States. The US, which occupied Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, granted Puerto Ricans citizenship about two decades before Rodriguez’s birth. Still, his family members and neighbors couldn’t elect their own governor until 1948. Even today, Puerto Ricans, while subject to US laws and given US aid, can’t vote for president or elect full, voting members of Congress.
Despite all that, young Rodriguez remained enchanted by American culture.
He loved Western movies and books and grew up galloping the family’s horses down from the mountains and into the valley, which was home to the town square, not far from a lighthouse and the radiant turquoise coast. His childhood nickname was “Hormiguero,” Spanish for anthill, his longtime friend, Damian Lopez, 70, told me. I laughed and asked about the origin of that name. The kid was something of a living verb, Lopez said — always moving, never still.
That restlessness would take him places his father never saw.
Some of Rodriguez’s older brothers enlisted in the US military (one lost part of his hand in the Korean War, according to Julia Rodriguez) and, as a teenager, Natalio Rodriguez tried to do the same. Unable to join the service because of a heart arrhythmia, according to his wife, he found other ways to follow in their footsteps. After one brother moved to New York — bringing home exotic northeastern foods like cod, cherries and white grapes to a family that grew avocado, grapefruit and oranges — Rodriguez decided, after high school, to move there, too. He would become a big man like his dad — 5-foot-9 and 300 pounds — and not averse to physical labor. But he began to resent helping in the sugar fields. Maunabo was, and is, desperately poor. (Fifty-six percent live below the poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau). Some of his relatives still plowed up their fields with bulls tied to oxcarts. The brother who moved away seemed so much happier, and so much richer. In the United States, Rodriguez thought, he’d have a better life, too.
So, in his late teens, Rodriguez boarded a plane for New York.
“Right after getting out of the cab, he stepped on a pile of dog s—.”
Natalio loved to tell this story, his wife, Julia, said.
“He’d go, like, ‘Wow, so this is how you all live here, dodging piles of poop in the streets!?'”
Maunabo, located in southeast Puerto Rico, is home to 11,500 people.

Julia Rodriguez grew up in Maunabo, too, just up the hill from Natalio and his family. The couple raised three children together, primarily on the US mainland.
For him, the 50 states were a place of promise and of hope — a place of purpose and duty.
Still, strangely, that first New York impression — the muck on the street — stuck with him, too.
He never felt fully settled, his wife told me.
He yearned for home.
In 2009, he and Julia finally resettled in Maunabo.

* * * * *

“Look,” says Luis Lafuente, Maunabo’s vice-mayor.
He points at a perfectly circular hole extending from the roof of city hall.
“That’s where the clock used to be.”
It was busted by Hurricane Maria.
Crabbing and fishing are popular in Maunabo. The town hosts an annual crab festival.

Time hasn’t just stopped in this town, which is at the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, near where Maria delivered its first punches. After the storm, it’s almost irrelevant. On this day, March 9, Lafuente tells me exactly 0% of the area’s 11,500 residents have been reconnected to the electric grid — the same as the day Hurricane Maria struck. Between 35% and 50% of residents do have electricity, he said, from three emergency generators installed on December 23 by the US government. But those generators are prone to failure, he said, and don’t reach mountain communities. (The Army Corps said the alleged “failures” result from generator switch-overs, not from problems with the equipment. The Puerto Rican power authority — PREPA — told CNN 37% of customers in Maunabo had power as of March 13, but did not specify the source of that electricity.)
At dusk, those mountains turn to charcoal silhouettes. Few lights shine. Only the lucky and the wealthy can afford personal generators.
We drive Lafuente’s Jeep Renegade around the town where he’s spent his life. Parts of it are unrecognizable to him. Playgrounds are twisted. A truck barn turned to scrap metal. Power lines are draped over posts like wet noodles. Some electric posts are so off-kilter, they look like they’re doing pushups.
The hospital had to be relocated to another municipal building, which most recently had been home to emergency management workers and police. Those officers and workers, in turn, had to move into a public school that closed before the storm. The hospital still has a sign that says “Emergencia 24 Horas,” indicating the emergency room never closes. The reconfigured hospital, however, opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Many of those who require emergency assistance earlier or later than that have to drive through an unlit mountain tunnel — it feels like something out of “The Walking Dead” — to seek medical help.
Maunabo’s five schools reopened in late November. But students leave class at 12:30 p.m. because there’s no power. A school principal I met told me she drives to other towns to make photocopies so students can take tests. Teachers assign very little homework, she says, because the students are so overwhelmed already.
We stop by the lighthouse, perhaps the most iconic site in Maunabo, to find that its searchlight and glass have been shattered by Maria. The Coast Guard hadn’t used it since the 1990s, anyway, according to Wanda Marín Rivera, board president of the town’s cultural center. But Lafuente and others had hoped tourism might revive the town, with the lighthouse as a destination, since sugar cane, plantains and crab fishing haven’t been providing stable work. (Maunabo became known as a hub for crab fishing. Crab images are stamped into the sidewalks and painted on walls; a crab statue sits in front of the baseball stadium, which was heavily damaged, and a smaller one perches on the mayor’s desk).
Despite the state of things, Lafuente says Maunabo will improve. Tourists will come. Industry will pick back up. Already, he says, crabbers are setting traps by flashlight at night.
“The people of Maunabo are very motivated and anxious to grow and make the town even better than it was before,” he tells me. “We will rise again. We are rising.”

* * * * *

At first, the mountain protected them.
The day Maria hit, Natalio Rodriguez huddled in a small bathroom with his wife, his daughter Lourdes, her two children, and, nearby, Natalio’s elderly sister. “We were crammed like tuna in a can,” Lourdes Rodriguez recalled. Water poured under the door. Natalio told everyone to stay calm, Lourdes told me. Meanwhile, she said, the house “shook like Jell-O.”
Still, they survived. Most of the house did, too. The hillside, which had raised so many of their ancestors and grown so many of their crops, sheltered them from the worst of it.
Julia Rodriguez has been without electric power service since Maria hit on September 20.

It was after Maria that the real danger began.
The power was out. Water, too. Food was scarce. For several days, the winding, steep-pitched road to their mountain home was blocked, Lourdes said. It was a week before she was able to wait in hourslong lines for gasoline and get her car to a hill in a neighboring city, Caguas, where she could call their many relatives on the mainland to say they had outlasted the hurricane. Communications systems in Maunabo remained essentially inoperable for months, she told me. Island-wide, according to Puerto Rico government data, only 25% of cell towers were functional by October 20.
It was in these isolated circumstances that Natalio Rodriguez’s medical conditions began to worsen. The labored breathing was especially troubling for his wife and daughter. The sleep apnea machine he used at night to get oxygen into his lungs wasn’t working without electricity. That meant he and his wife could not rest, much less sleep. He paced the house at night and walked the neighborhood by day. In desperation, the family made cardboard fans for him to use to try to move air around his face. No one thought it would help him breathe, really, but it was something.
“All of a sudden he became a quiet person. He was a talker. Pepito enjoyed long conversations,” Julia Rodriguez said, using Natalio’s family nickname. “He could spend hours and hours talking. But then (after the storm) he didn’t speak much.”
The family worried also about the insulin he used for diabetes. It required refrigeration. They had no working refrigerator without power. And ice was difficult to come by.
What they really needed, of course, was electricity.
On November 17, Maunabo plaza and city hall got power from a small generator — purchased for $35,000 by the municipality, according to the mayor, Jorge Márquez. From their home in the mountains, Lourdes Rodriguez said, the family could see a faint glow. It looked like the town downhill was on another planet.
About a month later, the family received a small power inverter, Lourdes Rodriguez said. It ran for only two or three hours before running out of fuel, she said.
A bigger generator was donated later, but the family had trouble affording the gasoline needed to run it, she told me. The fuel alone cost them $60 per week while her father was alive, Lourdes Rodriguez said. Plus, there were filters, oil and repairs.
When the machine was on, they said, Natalio calmed some.
But they could not keep it going.

* * * * *

Some of them died during the storm.
A mudslide in Utuado, Puerto Rico, killed two “bedridden” sisters. Another person drowned in Toa Baja. But the aftermath of Hurricane Maria appears to have been most deadly.
Hurricane debris is piled up at a temporary dump in March in Maunabo.

More than 1,000 “excess deaths” occurred after the storm, in September and October 2017, than during the same timeframe in 2016 and 2015, according to Alexis Santos, a professor at Penn State University who analyzed Puerto Rican government mortality statistics.
That doesn’t tell you 1,000 people certainly died directly because of Hurricane Maria. But it does indicate an unusual number of people were dying — and well into October.
The only difference, Santos said, was the hurricane.
In November, I put together a CNN team to survey the funeral homes in Puerto Rico. We were only able to reach about half, but those directors and other staff members told us they had seen at least 499 deaths they considered to be hurricane related, based primarily on their conversations with family members. We then documented the deaths of several uncounted people who died in the weeks after the hurricane, not only the day the storm hit. They included an older man in Cayey who died in a fire set by a lantern he wouldn’t have been using if he’d had electricity; a man in Canóvanas who committed suicide in the storm’s aftermath; and a woman in Corozal who lacked access to medical treatment. (Two deaths we highlighted were later added to the Puerto Rico government’s list of official hurricane-related deaths).
Still, I didn’t expect deaths would continue into 2018.
It’s impossible to use statistics to prove that they are, because the Puerto Rican Demographic Registry has not released data for this year. (CNN and Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo are suing that agency for access to death records). Trends suggest the aggregate loss of life in Puerto Rico is slowing and may have normalized, Santos told me.
Still, I was able to document several deaths that occurred this year and appear related to Maria’s frantic aftermath.
Several of the deaths I researched occurred in Maunabo.
Braulio Salinas Santiago, 71, died of an apparent heart attack in the parking lot of Maunabo’s makeshift hospital on January 18, according to his wife, Margarita Baerga Diaz. It was about 5 a.m., she said, before the hospital, which operated 24-7 before the hurricane, had opened.
Similarly, Fulgencio Velazquez Chevalier died on February 20 in the car of his wife, Litza Rodriguez Figueroa. The 50-year-old suffered depression and intense anxiety after the storm, according to Rodriguez Figueroa, who is a nurse. She believes that stress, along with a related increased smoking, contributed to her husband’s cardiac arrest. When she drove by the closed Maunabo hospital, she told me, Velazquez was still alive.
Carmen Rodriguez Martinez died on January 25 at age 71.
Her doctor, Arturo Torres Borges, wrote two words on the death certificate in a spot reserved for circumstances that may have contributed to the death: “Huracán Maria.”
The causes of death included respiratory failure and heart disease.
Héctor Pedraza, left, lost his mother -- Herminio Trinidad's wife -- when she died in February in the aftermath of Maria.

Rodriguez Martinez required an oxygen machine to breathe, according to her daughter, Iris Janette de Jesus Rodriguez, 54. They still didn’t have electricity from the grid when I visited in late February. A generator hadn’t been enough, she said.
In Corozal, farther into the mountains, Victor Manuel Belen Santiago wept as he told me that his mother, Zoraida Santiago Torres, 58, had saved his life by helping him kick drug addiction.
Their home was destroyed by the storm, and Belen Santiago rebuilt it by hand, puzzling scraps of the roof and walls together like a reassembled house of cards. But he couldn’t restore the power his mother needed to run an oxygen machine. She died on February 13, he said, after getting fluid in her lungs that could not be cleared. Her death certificate lists organ failure and a bacterial infection among the causes of death, along with chronic liver disease.
After the loss, Belen Santiago said he contemplated suicide.
His beloved mother was gone. He had no job — no prospect for a job after the debt crisis, which struck Puerto Rico before the hurricane. It was unclear if life ever would feel safe again.
“We are the forgotten people,” he said. “It’s like we don’t exist.”

* * * * *

The morning of January 5 started like so many others, with a tap-tap-tap of her father’s cane on the second-story patio — Natalio Rodriguez’s way of waking his daughter up for the day.
Lourdes Rodriguez rolled her eyes playfully and walked upstairs to see what he wanted this time. She and her two children, ages 13 and 8, had been sleeping on twin beds in a room downstairs since the storm. The roof of a new home they had been building was torn off by Maria.
She would awake to her father’s screams the following night, but this day now occupies a different territory in her memory. She considers it one of the best days of her life.
Her father seemed so healthy, so alive.
He wanted to go everywhere that day, see everything. He carried his cane with him while visiting his sister, a nun, in Ponce, a city on the south coast. But he kept it in his elbow crease — more ornament than crutch. At an ice cream shop, he pretended to be a clueless American tourist — using affected Spanish, asking to see tourist attractions on the other side of the island. The store’s workers laughed when he broke the gag, Lourdes Rodriguez said. He ordered his favorite flavor: passion fruit with pineapple. That night, they ate seafood at a restaurant near the beach.
In March, power lines were still twisted and broken in southeastern Puerto Rico.

Now, Lourdes Rodriguez wonders why that day was different.
Maybe it was the upcoming holiday? January 6 is Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico, or Epiphany, when Christians commemorate the arrival of wise men visiting the infant Jesus.
Her father had been talking about it for some time, telling her children to prepare their best clothes (the truth was that most of their clothing had been donated after the storm) so they could go to a pig roast in a neighboring community. In years past, they’d gathered up guitars, pots and sticks and gone caroling up and down the hillside — a Puerto Rican parranda — growing the party as they visited one house and then the next, offering food and drinks and collecting stories.
Maybe he was living in anticipation of that day?
Or maybe this day was his way of saying goodbye.

* * * * *

What’s taking so long?
That question nagged at me as I reported on Puerto Rico’s ongoing electrical outages. And it’s a question that clearly haunts many Puerto Ricans.
Experts offered some theories.
“They’re Americans but they’re not represented in Congress,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York. That means there are few political repercussions for a botched disaster response, he said, and few advocates for funding. “It really gets down to money and poverty and politics.”
“It’s unconscionable and unreasonable that it has taken so long” to restore power, he said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘why is that?’ It’s money and politics, the common denominator for so many things. … Can you imagine no (electric) power in Beaumont or Port Arthur or Rockport, Texas, for this amount of time? I don’t care what kind of disaster it was. You would never see this.”
Byrne, the FEMA official, said this disaster has been adequately funded and the federal government is responding to the crisis in Puerto Rico in the same way it would in the 50 states. “We’re not leaving,” he said. “We’re here until we take care of all of the requirements that are needed.”
As of March 15, FEMA had spent $1.1 billion in Puerto Rico; $1.6 billion in Texas; and $993 million in Florida for individual assistance following the fall 2017 hurricanes. “That’s the initial, quickest payment to individual citizens for immediate needs, but the real cost is in long-term recovery dollars for infrastructure projects, like buildings, roads and other public facilities,” which is not included in those figures, said Chris Currie, director of emergency management issues at the US Government Accountability Office.
Congressional appropriations for disaster response and recovery in recent months are not always itemized by storm, he said, making it difficult to say which hurricanes ultimately will be given the most federal funding. An estimated $23.2 billion has been appropriated specifically for Puerto Rico, according to The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Maria caused $90 billion in damages; Harvey, $125 billion; and Irma, $50 billion.
Regardless of financing, the relative slowness of the recovery in Puerto Rico is seen by some people here as dehumanizing.
Life is returning to parts of San Juan, the capital, but hurricane damage remains.

In a way, Maria has revealed the ugly colonial relationship between the island and the United States, said Silvia Álvarez Curbelo, a historian and director of the research center at the University of Puerto Rico’s school of communications.
“This raw nerve of colonialism comes creeping in in every conversation” these days, she told me. “It’s this feeling of subordination. The people — common people — have no way (to respond) except to wait. Wait for this letter. Wait to see if FEMA comes to town. Wait to see if the federal government comes (though) with the money they told us they would give us for recovery.”
Such frustrations reached a boiling point in the past.
There were plenty of other factors at play, but Spain’s failure to address a humanitarian and economic crisis after an 1867 hurricane in Puerto Rico “provided the context for the first political movement for independence on the island,” Stuart Schwartz, a Yale history professor, writes in “Sea of Storms.”
The uprising, however, was “crushed immediately,” said Álvarez Curbelo, from the University of Puerto Rico. Nothing like that ever would be tried today, she said. While Puerto Ricans have worked hard to create a national cultural identity, and while the idea of independence was popular decades ago, few Puerto Ricans in recent years have supported political independence from the United States, according to Florida International University anthropologist Jorge Duany.
If anything, Álvarez Curbelo expects Puerto Rico to sink further into “political paralysis” and become more US-dependent after Maria.
She doesn’t see the United States granting Puerto Rico full rights as the 51st state, a move that likely would require the approval of Congress. Remember, she said, this storm follows a massive debt crisis in which the island’s government declared bankruptcy. What does Puerto Rico have to offer the United States now? A fiscal oversight board, appointed by the US President, is steering austerity measures. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans have been taught, generation after generation, she said, to believe that they cannot survive without the help of a colonial power.
“I’m not a pessimistic person,” she told me. “I’m a historian. I tend to be sober. I watch the long trends. But I don’t see the light — in the total sense of the word ‘light.’ The thing about power is it’s a metaphor for the island. The fragility of the energy system — of the power system — is the perfect metaphor for our condition: The light comes and goes. There is no sense of future.”

* * * * *

The ambulance arrived at 2:18 a.m. on January 6, records show.
It was too late.
Natalio Rodriguez Lebron died at 1:23 a.m.
According to the death certificate, Rodriguez’s death was caused by chronic lung disease, hypertension and diabetes. In the notes on that document, a doctor from the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Sciences also mentioned that he was a smoker and obese.
That bureau, in San Juan, is the only laboratory in Puerto Rico authorized to classify deaths as hurricane-related. In the months after Maria, the office has come under criticism, including from CNN, for possibly missing dozens if not hundreds of “indirect” hurricane deaths.
The US government installed three emergency generators in Maunabo to try to re-electrify the town.

The official death toll has stood at 64 since early December.
In February, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced Puerto Rico had enlisted the help of George Washington University to study the mortality that followed Hurricane Maria. That analysis, due out in coming months, will focus on deaths from September through February.
To date, Natalio Rodriguez’s death has not been classified as hurricane-related. Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety, which oversees the forensics bureau, did not respond to repeat requests for comment on his death and others in this story.
Rodriguez’s family believes his death was related to Hurricane Maria. His doctor, Pedro Lopez Lopez, shares that view. Rodriguez’s health deteriorated in the conditions Maria left behind, he told me. He saw Natalio about two weeks before his death; and he was “stable” then, he said.
The body was not delivered to the forensics office until 2:38 the following afternoon, a time that forensics documents confirm. By afternoon, the body had started to decompose. The family was told it would be impossible to have an open-casket service, as is the norm in Puerto Rico.
The closed casket was the hardest part of the funeral, a longtime friend told me.
“It was terrible,” Damian Lopez said. “If you love someone, you’d like to see him for one last time.”
There was also the matter of the expense.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency manages a program that can cover some funeral expenses for eligible families after hurricanes. But those deaths typically must be certified as hurricane-related in order to qualify.
The Rodriguez family already put $4,000 toward his funeral, a receipt shows.
They still owe $1,115.
In December, FEMA did grant the family $4,000 for home repairs and $3,000 to replace household items that were damaged in Maria, Lourdes Rodriguez said. Julia Rodriguez told me friends and relatives tried to offer the family money after the storm but that her husband turned away the help. He was a proud person, she said, and generous. He also knew that everyone in the community was suffering.

* * * * *

People will keep dying until power is restored.
That’s the stark assessment Arturo Torres Borges shared with my colleagues Leyla Santiago and Khushbu Shah, who tipped me off to the possibility of continued deaths in Maunabo. Torres is the medical doctor who wrote “Huracán Maria” on the death certificate of a local woman.
Natalio Rodriguez’s doctor puts it this way: “This is a public health crisis.” I met plenty of people at risk in Maunabo.
Some are so sick of the situation they try to laugh it off.
Zoraida Santiago Torres, 58, died February 13. Her family members believe a lack of electric power contributed to her death.

Across the street from Litza Rodriguez Figueroa, whose husband died in February, lives Ana Ramos Davila, a 74-year-old who will insist you drink her bottled water and then ask if you have any cute gringo friends who would drink Coors Light and play dominoes with her.
That’s the dream! she said — gringos, Coors and dominoes.
Post-Maria has included little of that.
“Christ! When is this going to be over?” she said of the storm. “I’ve spent $100 or more just on bags of ice” to try to keep food cool without power. “No one is helping me, my dear.”
“I already told my psychologist if you get a call that I took my life, don’t be amazed,” she said, serious. “I’m so tired of this — looking for supplies, finding water, lighting candles. I’m so tired.”
A few houses up the street, I met David Torres and Juanita Guzman, who were having their home repainted. Torres showed me a breathing machine he’s supposed to use at night but doesn’t, he said, because it requires a steady power source and could short circuit without one. He has a small generator — “I use it to turn on one light and one fan; if I turn on the light, I have to turn off the fan.” It doesn’t provide steady enough power to run the machine, he said.
“I need my oxygen mask. One of these days my wife is going to wake up and find me dead by her side,” he said. “She told me that in the night she hears me having trouble breathing.”
“If it’s my time to die, I’ll die,” he said, laughing. “There’s nothing I can do.”
Experts say post-storm stress and depression can be deadly.
Poverty exacerbates the risks, said Redlener, from Columbia University.
The way people interpret a disaster matters, too. If they believe the disaster is simply weather-related rather than manmade, they’re more likely to accept it, said Peek, from the University of Colorado. What she fears is that Puerto Ricans are struggling because of the human response to the hurricane.
“It’s like the despair effect,” she said. “People who feel forgotten and neglected — they may suffer negative mental health effects.”
Up the hill from the Rodriguez family live Miguel Amaro Leon, 79, and Maria Morales Ortiz, 76. They welcomed me onto their outdoor patio just as the sun was setting. A generator roared behind our conversation as they told me how hard it’s been to keep the thing running.
“It’s been really difficult because we have to pay for the gas,” Amaro Leon said. “We only use the generator three or four hours daily. If not, we would have to spend more money.”
Can they keep their insulin cold?
“More or less.”
“We try to eat food that doesn’t need to be in the refrigerator.”
As we talked, the generator ran out of gas.
Frogs chirped in the night.
“Things are getting better little by little,” Amaro Leon said. “We just need power.”

* * * * *

On my last evening in Maunabo, Lourdes Rodriguez took me to see her father’s grave. It’s in a cemetery in the valley, not far from the town plaza. Looking across the property, you can see the foggy mountains in the distance where so many of Lourdes’ relatives cut sugar cane and plowed the earth, first under the rule of the Spanish and now the United States commonwealth.
Natalio "Pepito" Rodriguez Lebron died on January 6.

Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Her father’s family nickname — “Pepito” — was written by hand in wet cement.
The family hasn’t been able to pay for a headstone.
“I can’t fix it,” she said, sobbing. “It’s hard for me to see it that way.”
Álvarez Curbelo, the professor at the University of Puerto Rico, told me earlier that she wished Hurricane Maria’s dead could speak. That way they would not be ignored.
I asked Lourdes what she thought her father would say if he could talk with us now.
“He would tell us to keep calm,” she said, somber. “That was always his saying: ‘Take it one day at a time.’ Don’t think about the next week or the next month.
“Take it one day at a time.”

Multiple people killed in pedestrian bridge collapse at university in Miami



Multiple people killed in pedestrian bridge collapse at university in Miami

(CNN)Multiple people have died as a result of a pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University in Miami, according to a spokesman with the Florida Highway Patrol.

Multiple agencies have responded to the scene.
Lt. Alejandro Camacho, the Florida Highway Patrol spokesman, said “five to six vehicles” were crushed underneath the bridge. A spokeswoman with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue told CNN there were multiple injuries.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is being briefed on the incident by Miami-Dade County Police Chief Juan Perez, according to a schedule released by his office.
Ricardo Dejo, an FIU civil engineering student, told CNN he saw cars pinned beneath the bridge. “I can’t describe it,” Dejo said. “We were really excited about the bridge. Everything looked fine. I went underneath it with my own car and it looked great.”
In a statement, the university said it was “shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge.”
“At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information,” the statement continued. “We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene.”
The bridge was just installed Saturday. According to a fact sheet about the bridge on FIU’s website, it cost $14.2 million to build and was funded as part of a $19.4 million grant from the US Department of Transportation.
It was designed to withstand the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, the fact sheet said, and was supposed to last for more than 100 years.
This is a developing story.

Trump made up trade claims in meeting with Trudeau



Trump says he made up trade claims in meeting with Trudeau

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump boasted at a private fundraiser Wednesday of making up trade claims during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before knowing whether they were true.

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,'” Trump said during a speech to donors in Missouri, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post and confirmed to CNN by an attendee. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.”
He continued: “I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong,'” Trump recalled. “You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.'”
Trump said he asked an aide to check if he was correct in telling Trudeau the US runs a trade deficit with Canada.
“I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it,'” Trump said.
“‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”
According to figures provided by the Commerce Department, the US ran a $2.77 billion surplus with Canada for 2017. That figure includes oil and timber. It’s unclear what Trump was referring to with the $17 billion figure.
Trump doubled down on his claim Thursday morning.
“We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!” he tweeted.
Trump has similarly boasted about pressing Trudeau about the US’s supposed trade imbalance with Canada before, most recently at a December rally in Pensacola, Florida. But he didn’t include the “I didn’t even know” reference, and it’s unclear whether it was an admission that he made up the claim.
Trump’s comments came during a half-hour speech to raise money for Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley, who’s challenging Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
During the fundraiser, Trump also called the North American Free Trade Agreement a disaster and blamed the World Trade Organization for allowing other nations to box in the US on trade.
The President mocked other politicians for supporting NAFTA, attacking Mexico as “spoiled” and arguing that Canada had outsmarted the US, the Post reported.

Body of Nobel winner’s wife found in Illinois landfill



Body of Nobel winner’s wife found in Illinois landfill

Ei-ichi Negishi and his wife, Sumire, in 2010.

Story highlights

  • No foul play is suspected, sheriff’s office says
  • The husband has been hospitalized

(CNN)A Nobel Prize-winning professor’s wife who was said to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease was found dead at an Illinois landfill on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

The body of Sumire Negishi, 80, was spotted in Rockford, the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office said.
Her husband, Purdue University chemistry professor Ei-ichi Negishi, 82, was found walking nearby and he has been hospitalized.
The couple live in West Lafayette, Indiana, and had been reported missing, along with their car, to Indiana State Police on Monday night, according to the sheriff’s office.
The case remains under investigation, the sheriff’s office said, but no foul play is suspected.
Ei-ichi Negishi shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010 with two other professors “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.”
Chemistry professor Ei-ichi Negishi speaks during a news conference after he was awarded a share in the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2010.

Negishi has been a researcher at Purdue University for more than 30 years and is the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor Organic Chemistry and director of the Negishi-Brown Institute.
Purdue President Mitch Daniels mourned the loss of Sumire Negishi.
“Throughout a lifetime of love and loyalty, she supported her husband in a career of tremendous contributions to science and to the teaching and training of subsequent generations of top scientists,” Daniels said in a statement.
“It appears that the Parkinson’s disease from which she has been suffering and the mental confusion that age can bring to the most brilliant minds combined to produce the recent tragic events. That these phenomena are so common does not make their consequences any less cruel.”

ICE spokesman in SF resigns and slams Trump administration officials



ICE spokesman in SF resigns and slams Trump administration officials

  • A spokesman in San Francisco’s division of ICE resigns
  • He says statements from ICE acting director and Jeff Sessions were ‘misleading’

San Francisco (CNN)James Schwab, a spokesman for the San Francisco Division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has resigned, citing what he says are falsehoods being spread by members of the Trump administration including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I just couldn’t bear the burden — continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false,” he told CNN on Monday.
Schwab cited Acting Director Tom Homan and Attorney General Jeff Sessions as being the purveyors of misleading and inaccurate information, following Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s controversial decision to warn the community of an upcoming ICE raid.
ICE released a press release on February 27 about the operations in Northern California in which Homan stated that “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
Sessions also repeated a similar estimate in his remarks while visiting Sacramento last week.
“Those are 800 wanted criminals that are now at large in that community — 800 wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue with more difficulty in more dangerous situations, all because of one mayor’s irresponsible action,” Sessions had said.
Schwab said he took issue with their characterization.
“Director Homan and the Attorney General said there were 800 people at large and free to roam because of the actions of the Oakland Mayor,” he told CNN. “Personally I think her actions were misguided and not responsible. I think she could have had other options. But to blame her for 800 dangerous people out there is just false.”
“It’s a false statement because we never pick up 100% of our targets. And to say they’re a type of dangerous criminal is also misleading.”
Schwab said he brought up his concerns to ICE leadership and was told to “deflect to previous statements. Even though those previous statements did not clarify the wrong information.”
“I’ve never been in this situation in 16 almost 17 years in government where someone asked me to deflect when we absolutely knew something was awry — when the data was not correct” he said.
The Oakland mayor said in response to the former spokesman speaking out, “I commend Mr. Schwab for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie. Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard.”
Schwab also said he is a registered Democrat, but has been a loyal federal servant, regardless of which party is in power.
CNN has reached out to ICE in Washington and the Department of Justice for comment.

Trump fires Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson



Trump fires Tillerson, taps Pompeo as next secretary of state

(CNN)President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and will nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed him, replacing his top diplomat ahead of a potential high-stakes sitdown between the US President and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Tillerson’s departure follows months of tension between him and Trump. Gina Haspel, the current CIA deputy director, stands to take over the agency, Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he respected Tillerson’s “intellect” and said he “got along well with Rex.”
“I think Rex will be much happier now,” Trump said.
Tillerson did not speak to Trump and is unaware of the reason behind his firing, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Steve Goldstein said.
Trump “thought it was the right time for the transition with the upcoming North Korea talks and various trade negotiations,” a senior administration official said, adding that Trump asked Tillerson to step aside on Friday.
Asked how Tillerson learned of his dismissal, Trump said Tuesday that “Rex and I have been talking about this a long time.” He specifically mentioned the Iran nuclear deal as an example of disagreement.
“We were not really thinking the same,” Trump said. “With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.”

Trump: Tillerson and I didn't think the same

Trump eyed Pompeo for months

Trump has wanted Pompeo as his secretary of state for months now, and the White House began planning for him to take the job last fall, sources told CNN. Trump told reporters Tuesday that he and Pompeo are “on the same wavelength” and “the relationship has always been very good and that is what I need.”
Trump’s anger at Tillerson after it leaked last year that his secretary of state called him “a moron”never subsided, and many in the White House saw their differences as irreconcilable.
Tillerson had few, if any, allies in the West Wing. Though chief of staff John Kelly was initially on his side when he took over, he eventually grew weary of defending him — especially after the “moron” remark, which Kelly saw as insubordination on Tillerson’s part.
Sources close to the President say it was clear Tillerson didn’t support Trump. They say Tillerson wanted to handle foreign policy his own way, without the President. Trump didn’t feel that Tillerson backed him, a source told CNN.
Trump and his top aides have spent recent days attempting to quell talk of a White House in chaos, with the President tweeting earlier this month that there was “no Chaos, only great Energy” in the White House. But five top Trump administration officials — ranging from communications professionals to Tillerson — have resigned or been fired in the last two weeks.
Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Trump top economic adviser, resigned from the White House last week after a dispute over new tariffs on steel and aluminum. Hope Hicks, Trump’s communications director and longtime confidante, resigned late last month. Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee was fired and escorted from the White House on Monday, sources tell CNN. And Josh Raffel, a senior spokesman who worked extensively with Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, left the White House last month.
Tillerson: Trump tweets don't change policy

High-stakes moment

Tillerson’s departure comes just as the Trump administration embarks on its most difficult and ambitious foreign policy goal to date — engaging the nuclear armed North Korean regime. Trump is set to meet Kim by the end of May.
It was a rocky tenure for Tillerson. Since his swearing in on February 1, 2017, Tillerson had to contend with a President who publicly undercut him as well as tension with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who effectively ran a shadow State Department on Middle East issues. There was also competition from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and a litany of complaints from diplomats, State Department staff and others in Washington that he was running a deeply dysfunctional agency.
Tillerson’s cost cutting has lead to the agency’s senior tiers “being depleted at a dizzying speed,” and “a decapitation of its leadership ranks,” Amb. Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), a union for US foreign service personnel, wrote in her group’s publication.
“There is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution — and to the global leadership that depends on us,” Stephenson wrote.
Tillerson aggressively pushed back against such criticisms in a November 28 appearance, portraying it as an insult to State Department staff. “I’m offended on their behalf when people say somehow we don’t have a State Department that functions,” Tillerson said. “I can tell you it’s functioning very well from my perspective.”

tillerson trump tenure orig vstan me_00000423

Tillerson on thin ice for months

But a steady drip of negative news, and reports of Tillerson’s alleged resentment over Ivanka Trump leading a delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India in November, continued to undermine Tillerson.
His ouster was preceded by a painfully public airing of his troubles with the President, heightened when one lawmaker faulted Trump for his tendency to “publicly castrate” the secretary of state. That exchange forced Tillerson, when asked about the comment by CNN’s Jake Tapper, to declare, “I checked. I’m fully intact.”
The lawmaker, Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, told The Washington Post last fall that Trump repeatedly neutered Tillerson with tweets that undermined or flatly contradicted policies he was pursuing. That, Corker said, shut down options for the US and damaged Tillerson’s efforts to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea.
By that point, in mid-October, an administration official was telling CNN that Tillerson was on thin ice, even as the President was publicly declaring he had confidence in his top diplomat.
“It certainly isn’t a good relationship and its problems that have been building,” the official said of Tillerson’s fate in the Trump administration. “I think everyone is trying to stick it out for a variety of selfish reasons. But not for the same reasons.”
The castration episode followed an extraordinary October 4 public statement in which Tillerson stressed his commitment to his job as secretary of state, but didn’t definitively deny an NBC report that he had called Trump a “moron.”
That report also detailed Tillerson’s “fury” about the ways Trump has undermined him publicly on several foreign policy initiatives and his thoughts about resigning.
Calling the story “erroneous” during his remarks, Tillerson pointed the finger at “some who try to sow dissension” to undermine the President’s agenda and said he has been asked “repeatedly” if he’s going to step down.
“For some reason, it continues to be misreported,” Tillerson complained. “There’s never been a consideration in my mind.”
The incident cost Tillerson the support of Kelly, a top White House official told CNN.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who was once Tillerson’s fiercest defender in the West Wing, stopped defending him privately, fed up with the moron remark because he saw it as insubordination. As one official described it, he has grown weary of trying to defend the indefensible.
Even as Tillerson lost support in the White House, some lawmakers expressed concern about the prospect of his departure. Many saw Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H. R. McMaster, as a serious defender of US national security interests, as opposed to more ideological or inexperienced voices in the White House.

Difficult situation for Tillerson

As Tillerson exits the national stage, he’s seen by some as a man who tackled a job he hadn’t sought with the diligence and dedication prized by another organization he led, the Boy Scouts of America. Many point to the fact that he was in a situation that made it very difficult to succeed.
Tillerson started the job diverging with Trump on any number of issues, from trade, climate change, Russian interference in the election and Iran policy. And he encountered headwinds from the President who publicly contradicted or undermined his policies on using diplomacy to defuse tensions with North Korea, and on resolving a dispute between Gulf allies and a host of other issues.
“Trump has consistently undermined — even humiliated — his top diplomat” on issues that ranged from tensions among Persian Gulf allies to handling North Korea, said Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center, and Richard Sokolsky, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an opinion piece for CNN.
Others have dismissed Tillerson’s tenure, saying his business experience hadn’t translated into government leadership and pointing to the downsized and demoralized State Department he leaves behind, with many senior diplomatic positions still unfilled.
Critics from both parties said his proposed cuts of up to 30% were damaging US interests, with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declaring in November that the state of the agency was a “national security emergency.”
Foreign envoys also voiced concerns about Tillerson’s State Department. In October, one Washington-based envoy described how ambassadors were finding ways to either bypass the State Department or develop work-arounds, because there were no senior officials in place to speak to or because the usual channels within State no longer worked.
“Technically, the State Department has vanished, has disappeared,” the envoy said. “It’s totally dysfunctional.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.

Mauritius President to resign over expense claims



Mauritius President to resign over expense claims, prime minister says

Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim delivers a speech in Paris in 2015.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)The President of Mauritius will resign next week, the island country’s prime minister has said.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will step down over allegations she misused a credit card given to her by a charity.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Gurib-Fakim, who was facing impeachment proceedings over the alleged expense irregularities, had agreed to step down after the country’s 50-year independence celebrations on March 12.
“The President of the Republic told me that she would resign from office and we agreed on the date of her departure,” Jugnauth told reporters in Port Louis, the country’s capital.
“The interests of the country come first,” he said.
Attempts to obtain comment from Gurib-Fakim and her office were not immediately successful.
The president was left fighting for her political career after local media published a report that she had paid for personal expenses on a credit card given to her by London-based charity Planet Earth Institute (PEI) in 2016.
The report alleged that Gurib-Fakim had spent thousands of dollars on the card on clothing and luxury items.
She has denied any wrongdoing and said she had refunded all the money.
“I do not owe anything to anybody. Why is this issue coming up now almost a year later on the eve of our independence day celebrations,” she said on March 7, Reuters news agency reported.
The Planet Earth Institute is accredited to the United Nations Environmental Program and its mission is the “scientific independence of Africa.” When contacted, a spokeswoman for PEI declined to comment.
Gurib-Fakim was appointed to the PEI board in 2015, but resigned two years later in 2017.
She is internationally renowned and is feted on the world stage, and is the recipient of the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for women in science.
Despite her huge international profile, commentators say Gurib-Fakim’s popularity closer to home was waning.
Mauritians increasingly saw her as a “president in transit,” because of her frequent trips abroad, said Rabin Bhujun, managing editor of ION News, a digital news platform in the country.
“How does it benefit the country for her to be on the Forbes list? This is an important factor which encouraged the government to get rid of her.
They felt she wasn’t a heavyweight in politics and had no problem sacking her,” Bhujun said.

Trump accepts offer to meet Kim Jong Un



Trump accepts offer to meet Kim Jong Un

(CNN)President Donald Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May, the White House and the South Korean national security adviser said Thursday evening.

“President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement.
Trump tweeted, “Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
The stunning announcement came after Kim extended an invitation to Trump to meet through South Korean officials, who met with Trump on Thursday. Trump would be the first sitting US president to meet with his North Korean counterpart, a stunning diplomatic breakthrough with uncertain consequences.
The South Korean delegation first met with national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and then Trump, who then delivered the news, a senior administration official official said. It all happened in about an hour.
Kim told the South Koreans “he is committed to denuclearization” and pledged North Korea will “refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests,” the South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-Yong said Thursday at the White House.
Kim also told the South Koreans he understands that the US and South Korea will move forward with their joint military exercises later this year.
Speaking from outside the West Wing, Chung said Kim “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
Trump has expressed an openness to dialogue with North Korea, but the Trump administration has said North Korea must first take concrete steps toward denuclearization. As of Thursday evening, there was no indication that North Korea had pledged to take those steps.
“All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible moves toward denuclearization,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday. “What we are looking for is concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
Trump’s approach to North Korea has wavered between bellicose rhetoric and expressions of openness to diplomacy — with the President saying the US would rain “fire and fury” on North Korea one day and then saying he would consider speaking directly with the country’s leader under the right circumstances.
Amid the potentially breakthrough talks between North and South Korea, the Trump administration has also credited its campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea as having brought Pyongyang to the negotiating table.
Since Trump came in to office, the US has leveled some of its most significant and far-reaching sanctions against North Korea and has also succeeded in pressuring China to further isolate the regime.

US-Backed Kurdish Militia Now Fighting U.S. Ally, Turkey



Beirut, Lebanon (CNN)A US-backed Kurdish militia is diverting 1,700 fighters from the battle against ISIS and redeploying them to northwest Syria to repel an offensive by US ally Turkey, in a development could hinder the fight against the terror group.

Four branches of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), thus far tasked with defeating ISIS in Syria, have been transferred from east of the Euphrates Rivers to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told CNN in a statement.
“We won’t abandon our positions, but since the beginning of the invasion of Afrin we have said that Turkey is trying to give ISIS another chance at life, and directly affects military operations and campaigns against ISIS,” said Bali.
“Now, offensive operations have ended and we have transformed from a force that hunted ISIS to a force that is concentrated in defensive positions,” he added. Bali said the “majority” of the alliance’s forces are moving to Afrin.
The US-led coalition warned that the SDF’s move could slow the campaign to defeat ISIS.
“The departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley highlights the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-Daesh fight,” said coalition Director of Public Affairs Col. Thomas Veale, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“We remain undeterred in pursuing our mission to defeat Daesh, understanding the effort may take longer with the increased complexity of the situation in northern Syria.”
Turkey, a NATO ally, launched an operation targeting Kurdish groups in Afrin in January to clear the border area of militias it considers to be terrorist organizations. Three Kurdish militias — the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — have borne the brunt of the offensive.
The YPG is considered the backbone of the US-backed SDF, which was instrumental in eliminating ISIS’ territorial foothold in Syria.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has said it is Turkey’s “natural right” to ask the US to halt the SDF’s redeployment to Afrin.
The United Nations on Sunday said it was receiving “disturbing reports” of civilian deaths in the northwestern Syrian enclave, and that it believes “tens of thousands” have been displaced.
Syrian Kurds attend a funeral in Afrin in mid-February for Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has said that the nationwide ceasefire ordered by the UN Security Council last month would not affect its Afrin offensive. The ceasefire has also been ignored by Syrian government forces and rebel groups, mainly in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, where fighting has caused heavy civilian casualties.
Redeployed SDF forces will be joining pro-Syrian government fighters who entered Afrin last month as part of a deal between the regime and Kurdish forces. Turkey’s deputy prime minister warned at the time of “disastrous consequences” should Syrian government forces intervene in Afrin.

An ‘apocalypse’ in Eastern Ghouta

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continue to pummel the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where the UN says more than 600 people have been killed in recent weeks.
In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, UN human-rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused the Syrian government of planning an “apocalypse.”
“It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court,” said Al Hussein, according to a UN statement.
“Nearly half of the food” aid bound for besieged Eastern Ghouta, where reports of malnourishment are rampant, had to be returned, according to the United Nations.
A 46-truck aid convoy — some vehicles stripped of desperately needed medical kits — brought some supplies to the area on Monday, but activists said the convoy had to pull out before everything was unloaded.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties in Syria to “immediately allow safe and unimpeded access” for aid convoys to “deliver critical supplies to hundreds of thousands of people desperate need” in the Damascus suburb, according to a statement from spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday.
Activists say that many of Eastern Ghouta’s residents have taken to makeshift shelters underground, rarely venturing above ground to seek food and water amid nearly incessant airstrikes.
The Syrian government continues to send reinforcements to the rebel enclave, where a ground offensive is underway and regime forces are reported to have captured large tracts of farmland.