Travel: Three Days in Rwanda (Part Two)

Finger Post Travel (August 13, 2017)

(Kigali, Rwanda, July 25-27, 2017)

I had three days in Rwanda , not nearly enough time to give the country the attention it deserved. And one of those days was spent in recovery, nursing what felt like a mild case of food poisoning but was probably just a natural reaction to eating raw meat from a street butcher in Addis Ababa.

My plans to go on a gorilla trek was derailed by the $1,500 gorilla permit, and my plan to do the canopy walk at over the Nyungwe Forest was derailed by the loss one of my three days due to illness.

Hell, even my quest to meet Paul Kagame had hit a roadblock.

But in the end, you can visit Rwanda and skip out on the gorillas and the canopy walk. But any trip to Rwanda will most likely involve coming face to face with the one thing that defines the nation in the eyes of Westerners: genocide.

That is, unless you don’t want to.

You can ignore the dark pages in Rwanda’s history, and Rwanda will even help you do that…if that’s what you really want. Kigali is funny that way. You can make a pit stop at the Hotel des Mille Collines, with its friendly staff and awesome breakfast buffet, and then head west to find mountain gorillas or south to do the canopy walk over the Nyungwe Forest and then fly back home. And you’d be none the wiser that anything bad ever happened in Rwanda. If you haven’t figured out from my last post, Rwanda cleaned itself up nicely.

But despite the fact that Rwanda is willing to let you forget that it was a nation that sadly hosted the most horrific incident of genocide in modern history, they also aren’t willing to brush it under the rug either. They don’t want the world to forget, and if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, they will make sure that you become witness to the scars of the 1994 genocide.

So after my quest to meet Paul Kagame ended in failure, I decided that I would do a cultural tour of Kigali. In the end that would mean I would go and visit the places that, tragically, would forever be associated with the mass slaughter of over 800,000 innocent Rwandans over a period of three months in 1994. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at the very least I was hoping to maybe understand how a country full of the warmest and friendliest people could ever become a breading ground for such carnage. This desire became only more pronounced after I arrived in Rwanda. Tragically the West saw the genocide in Rwanda as African tribalism at its worst in 1994. “There was nothing that we could do to stop the slaughter”, or so we told ourselves as we justified our inaction. But once you go to Rwanda you realize that isn’t the case. Once you meet the Rwandan people you come to an uncomfortable truth: if it can happen to them it can happen to anyone. They aren’t barbarians. They aren’t monsters. They aren’t even jerks. They are warm, friendly, people who are probably more relatable to Americans than just about any nation Africa.

After hitting the breakfast buffet at the Hotel des Mille Collines (which incidentally was excellent, and not in an “I just ate raw meat and got sick and all I want is some raisin bran and a piece of toast” sort of way. It really was a great breakfast) I called Alex and told him of my plans. I deferred to Alex’s expertise to a certain extent but I made clear that I wanted to go to the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Camp Kigali Memorial, where ten Belgium peacekeepers were brutally murdered in the opening days of the conflict.

“And parliament?” Alex asked.

I was indifferent to visiting parliament, but Alex quickly informed me that the country had launched a new museum inside of the national parliament of Kigali: The Campaign Against Genocide Museum. Needless to say I was intrigued. I wondered what a museum inside of a functioning parliament would look like. Especially considering how the national parliament was the scene of some of the fieriest fighting of the war in 1994.

However we kicked off the tour with what would be the least impressive sight I visited in Kigali: The Kandt House Natural History Museum.

I would discover that tickets for the museum weren’t particularly cheap. Don’t get me wrong, in the big picture 6,000 Rwandan Francs (or about $7 USD) isn’t outrageous. But compared to Ethiopia, where their Natural History Museum cost a mere $0.42 and put Rwanda’s to shame, well, $7 did seem a tad bit high. I had been warned about Rwanda on Wikitravel, that it was a surprisingly expensive country. But even with that being said I found that prices in Rwanda were not necessarily unreasonable, and there was a fairly large strike zone when it came to prices in Kigali. They ranged from the extremely cheap to the slightly expensive. But nothing like you’d see in Japan…or Venezuela if you didn’t know about the black market exchange rate. For a ticket to two museums, this one and the Presidential Palace Museum, I coughed up 9,600 Francs (this after a 20% discount for buying both tickets at once), but I quickly found the gift shop at the natural history museum to be one of the best places to stock up on souvenirs in Africa. One large carved wooden statute set me back a mere 13,050 RWF (about $15) and had I had more space in my suitcase I would have bought several more.

But again, the museum was a letdown. It was mostly a collection of basic exhibits ranging in subject to the geography and minerals of Rwanda to the wildlife. Interestingly enough there was a room displaying a exhibit about the European who built the house: Richard Kandt. The exhibit was in German, so needless to say I couldn’t read any of it. But I could tell this exhibit was nonetheless unusual. There seemed to be genuine affection for Kandt, both from my guide and from the display. Again, I couldn’t read any of it, and when you don’t know what you’re looking at and just have to go with the general vibe of things, well, you can miss the mark.

Oh look, it’s Santa Claus!

Still, I left feeling under whelmed, and was also slightly irritated that photos were prohibited inside the museum. Nonetheless, things looked up once I got outside: the view of Kigali from the back of the museum was extraordinary, and the outdoor display of a stuffed gorilla gave me fond memories of a obscure Saturday Night skit from 1989 involving Leslie Neilsen being chased by a guy in a gorilla suit through London (funny the things you think about after eating raw meat in Ethiopia).

But it was time to move on. Alex then took me to the first stop on what I guess I’d have to call the “genocide” tour. The Camp Kigali Memorial, the sight of one of the most shocking moments of the 1994 genocide: the murder of ten Belgium soldiers on April 7, 1994 in the opening hours of the genocide. The Belgians were sent by Canadian General Romero Dallaire, head of the UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda, to the home of the Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

Agathe Uwilingiyimana

Uwilingiyimana was a political moderate who supported the peace accords with the Rwandan Patriotic Front. This sadly made her a prime target for the genocidal Interahamwe paramilitary organization in Rwanda. Initially Westerners saw the Rwandan Genocide as tribalism run amok in 1994: anarchy coupled with ancient hatreds leading to an indiscriminate and disorganized slaughter. But it soon became clear that this was not the case (to be honest, it should have been clear three months before the genocide occurred when an informant emerged to tell the U.N. that the Interahamwe was planning to kill 1,000 Tutsis every twenty minutes) . This was a well planned and well executed system of human extermination. And tragically for the Belgians soldiers, they were part of the plan. In 1999, after an independent inquiry into the actions of the UN, it was revealed that the Interahamwe had planned to kill the Belgian peace keepers from the start. They knew that Belgian blood would be the surest way to drive the UN out of Rwanda. The Interahamwe also needed to remove “moderate” Hutus in the government, which put a target on the back of Uwilingiyimana. In the chaotic opening hours of the Rwandan Genocide General Dallaire ordered ten Belgian peace keepers to accompany the Prime Minister to the radio station where she could call for calm after the assassination of Rwanda’s then president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6th, 1994. They never made it. After the Rwandan Presidential Guard turned on the Prime Minister and the U.N. Peace Keepers, Uwilingiyimana and her husband would be executed at the Kigali U.N. volunteer compound.

For the ten young Belgium peace keepers, the horror was only beginning. After surrendering to the Presidential Guard, they were soon transported to Camp Kigali, and visiting Camp Kigali you can’t help but think of those frantic final hours for those Belgium peace keepers in 1994. But as is often the case with civil wars, the truth seems to be somewhat clouded. The 1999 UN independent report simply states that the ten peacekeepers were brutally murdered after surrendering. This account seems to be backed up by author and journalist Scott Peterson, who said the men were castrated and choked to death with their own genitals. But the building seems to want to tell another story. Of a few men who fought against impossible odds. According to this account, which is backed up by Wikipedia (a source that unfortunately has considerably more credibility when it comes to the Rwandan Genocide than the United Nations) three Blue Helmets would fight their way through a mob of hundreds of armed Hutus. One, Srg. Yannick Leroy, actually managed to disarm one of the armed Hutus and seize his AK-47 (I know we Americans are somewhat dismissive of our Belgium allies when it comes to their military prowess, but there is a special table of honor for that soldier in Valhalla). Sadly, by 1 PM, nearly eleven hours after he was sent to the Prime Minister’s home, Sergeant Leroy was dead. The last Belgium Blue Helmet, out of bullets and tragically abandoned by the United Nations, was killed by the mob at Camp Kigali.

The place is quiet now. Other than Alex and I the place is deserted when we arrive. But the bullet-hole riddled building tells its own story.

The Rwandans put up a plaque commemorating the ten soldiers who lost their lives, and also a monument to the men.

The strange thing is, even though the place is empty, I can’t help but feel claustrophobic while walking through the compound.  You can’t help but feel how trapped those men must have felt when visiting Camp Kigali.  Even if you are the only one there.

We then hit our next stop on the Rwandan “genocide history” tour: The Kigali Genocide Memorial.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, I had already been to the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa earlier in the week, and I also had been to Auschwitz some twenty years ago. But despite seeing the Red Terror Museum and Camp Kigali, the museum was still a gut punch. Early on you see a sign saying that over 250,000 people are buried at the site. That small sign hit harder than anything else on the trip. The entire population of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota were buried in an area smaller than Central Park…and this was less than a third of the people killed in only 100 days in 1994.

The museum inside gave a powerful account of the events that led to the genocide, from the colonial era all the way to the “Hutu Ten Commandments”, which really should have probably been taken more seriously than it ultimately was.

Seriously, warning bells should have been ringing in the U.N.

Also included were hundreds of haunting photos of the victims of the genocide, photos that carried even more of an impact then the ones I saw in Addis Ababa or Auschwitz.  Because these folks were children of the 90s.  They may have been of a different race and from a different country, but looking at the photos I could see myself and my friends In these pictures.  This didn’t feel like history, this felt like my high school yearbook.

The Memorial also had a room where they discussed other instances of genocide that the world witnessed and ignored: Armenia, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and Namibia. (I couldn’t find Rios Montt’s display, but I’m sure it was there somewhere…probably next to the Biafra display).

There was also a powerful display in the “Children’s Room”, with photos of some of the children killed during the genocide.  As with Auschwitz, the image of children so senselessly murdered for no reason other than race was a shocking one…and a stark reminder of what manufactured hate and fear can do to ordinary people.

By this point the day was coming to a close and I decided to hire Alex to take me to Parliament the following day. I needed to absorb what I saw, and there were quite a few stops left that night and for my final day in Kigali.

 

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A fighter to keep an eye out for in 2017: cruiserweight contender Olanrewaju Durodola

 

Finger Post Boxing (July 22, 2017)

 

After the Isaac Dogboe v. Javier Chacon WBO International Junior Featherweight championship in Accra, Ghana we had the opportunity to see a walkout bout featuring heavy hitting Nigerian Olanrewaju Durodola (25-4, 23 KOs), the #10 ranked cruiserweight with the WBC. Durodola possesses what seems to be the defining trait with Nigerian boxers: bone crushing power. But at 36-years old time is not nessesarily on his side. It was hard to gauge how he would do against a Tony Bellew considering the fact that opposition he faced in Accra was minimal. And to be honest, he sort of fought down to the level of his opposition. But what was undeniable was that he was a fighter with tremendous power and power sells tickets and makes things happen in boxing. I’d consider Durodola a fighter to keep an eye out for in 2017…and if he gets world title fight don’t rule him out.  Power, after all, is a great equalizer in this sport.

Travel: Three Days in Kigali, Rwanda (Part One)

The Finger Post Travel (July 25-27, 2017)

The moment I stepped off the plane into the Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda I could tell that this wasn’t going to be your typical African vacation.

It was just shy of one AM and I was suddenly feeling the effects of eating raw meat from a butcher in Addis Ababa (read about it in my “One day in Ethiopia” update).  I was tired and I still had a visa to buy and immigration to clear.  Then I saw the first sign that Rwanda was pulling no punches in trying to change it’s international reputation.

The option to pay the $30 visa fee from a tablet at the airport was really my first introduction to the new Rwanda, the nation eager to establish itself at the “Singapore of Africa.”  I assume there are some airports in the United States that have free iPads for public use, I just never saw them.  But I am pretty sure this is the only airport in Africa that has one of these, and I couldn’t help but feel this was not just about offering a convenient service for those who just arrived in the nation. It was an opportunity to make a statement.  It was an opportunity to tell us that whatever preconceived notions about the country we had, that they were most certainly going to be challenged.

I declined the opportunity to use the tablet, paid my $30 for the visa, and then saw the first introduction to on of Rwanda’s most famous pieces of legislation.  The ban on plastic bags.  A sign greeted those of us stepping off from Ethiopian Airlines flight 821 that plastic ban were prohibited in Rwanda.  Next to the sign was a woman at a table offering cloth bags for those who needed them.

I quickly picked up my luggage and took a cab to my hotel: the Hotel des Mille Collines.  Booking on Hotels.com I got a room for two nights for about $125 a night (including tax) and I was told this was a unusually good price.  However I had been scanning the price on Hotels.com for a month before hand and that seemed to be the going rate.  Regardless, I wanted to stay there.  The film Hotel Rwanda burned in my memory and as morbid as it may seem, I felt a certain obligation to stay at the hotel that helped save so many innocent lives.  Ramada would get my money back in the States, but in Kigali the Hotel des Mile Collines would have my loyalty.

The drive to the hotel was notable in how…unspectacular it was.  In Africa every drive is a dose of sensory overload.  The sounds.  The chaos.  The energy.  The insanely bad drivers.  All are powerful messages to the Westerner that they are now in Africa.  But Rwanda was different.  Sure, it was 1 AM, but still…this was positively Swiss in it’s appearance.  The streets were meticulous and trees decorated the side of the road in perfect rows.

Arriving at the Hotel I was greeted by friendly staff and quickly decided to call it a night.  I had been surviving off three hours of sleep a night since arriving in Africa and the food was finally starting to catch up to me.  I would have tomorrow to explore the city, but tonight…I needed to recover.

Of course, my stomach wasn’t done protesting the raw meat in Ethiopia just yet.   My first day of Rwanda was spent mostly in the hotel, nursing an upset stomach and severe fatigue.  It wasn’t until my second day in Kigali that I was able to contact Alex, who was recommended to me by a guy working the front desk of the hotel.  I hired Alex to drive me around all day to whatever sites I wanted to check out.  I had an unusual request and I wasn’t sure if he could help me with it: I wanted to meet Rwandan President Paul Kagame.  I actually met him once before, when he spoke at my law school in 2004.  I knew he was campaigning and so I figured maybe I could use my press pass and somehow get an impromptu interview set up on one of his campaign stops.  No idea if I would be able to, but I figured I could try.

Only problem was Kagame was not in Kigali or anywhere near Kigali.  He was campaigning several hours away and I had already lost a day due to my illness.  So Alex instead took me to a tent where they were selling campaign swag.

It was at this campaign stop where I got my first weird vibe about the election.  Kagame was legitimately popular, but I also noticed that there was not a single opposition sign to be found anywhere.  Not one.  Alex and others explained that Kagame simply had overwhelming support, and although I retain a healthy skepticism about claims like that I couldn’t deny that he was in fact immensely popular with…well…everyone.  Nobody had a bad word to say about him, and not in a North Korean newscaster sort of way.  They all saw how their lives had improved over the last twenty-three years and they all wanted him to continue to lead the country.  Rwanda had gone from being the worst place to live on the planet to being the jewel of Africa, all in 23 short years.  All this despite the fact that the nation lacks natural resources and had the stigma of anarchy and genocide on the world’s collective memory.  All of that had been accomplished due to good government and a determination to lift the country out of poverty.

But I’m sure even in San Francisco there was one guy with a Trump sign in his front yard.  At least one.

I asked Alex about the opposition candidates and he admitted that he didn’t even know their names.  This wasn’t a Democrat curb stomping a Republican candidate in Berkley, California.  This wasn’t Clinton v. Trump in San Francisco.  Hell, this wasn’t even Clinton v. Vermin Supreme.  This was something else: an opposition campaign that was dead on arrival.  The opposition candidates, one from the Green Party (Frank Habineza), and two independents (Philippe Mpayimana and Diane Shima Rwigara) have complained about intimidation.  But what the foreigner can see is not evidence of intimidation: rather we see evidence of…disproportion.  In the airport it’s the billboards and posters all proclaiming “Tora Paul Kagame.”  On every roundabout are RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) flags and on the back of busses are more campaign posters supporting Kagame. Public areas are painted with the colors of the RPF.

 

And nowhere to be seen is a single Green Party sign.  Hell, you could probably find a Green Party sign in Utah if you really looked for one.  But not in Kigali, where the message was clear: you can’t stop Kagame so you might as well get with the program.  But it is not out of realm of possibility to imagine he is in fact that popular.  Sure, he’s going to win 93% of the vote (or more) but let’s not forget that Mitt Romney won 90% of the vote in Cimarron County, Oklahoma in 2012.  90% doesn’t automatically mean this type of thing is going on.  There is a visible difference between Rwanda today and pretty much any other African nation and the legitimate lack of corruption was something that even his staunchest critics would grudgingly give him praise over.  And in any democracy there comes a point where the opposition starts to lose people not due to policy but  due to that fact that people want to be on the winning team.  There comes a point when the opposition becomes so weak that nobody wants to support them, even if they agree with their policies.

But still…not one Green Party sign anywhere.  Not one.

I buy a few t-shirts from the stand nonetheless, and this weird vibe hits me about the shirt I just buy, although I can’t place it.

Alex gets a sticker placed on his hood and I see a sight that lifts my spirts ever so slightly: a guy selling fruit on the side of the road.

It’s not the fact that I’m hungry (I am) or that some oranges sound great right now (they do).  It’s the fact that I have found my first plastic bags in Rwanda.  

The street vendor is clearly skirting the law as he sells his fruit, something I mention to Alex.  Alex seems a little embarrassed but I try and tell him I don’t mean this as a negative.  In Singapore nobody dares sell gum out in the open. In North Korea nobody dares sell South Korean television shows out in the open.  In Rwanda the rules are in place, but there is at least a little visible pushback.  That’s a somewhat reassuring sign.  That’s how we roll in America.  Speed limit 45?  Everyone goes 50.  No Big Gulps in New York?  Screw that, I’ll bring my own cup/bucket.  Please don’t bring your guns to Chipolte in Texas?  Hold my beer.   I found it slightly reassuring to see a guy skirt the plastic bag ban in Kigali because it told me that maybe things were as good as they seemed.  Maybe Rwanda is a legitimate, albeit slightly dysfunctional, democracy.  Maybe Rwanda is really the African Miracle.

But I never could quite shake that lingering feeling I had about the t-shirt I bought for myself and a friend in Kigali.  Until I got home that was, and it dawned on me.

 

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Travel: Flying out of Roswell, NM

The Finger Post Travel (July 19, 2017)

Southeast New Mexico has two of the best options for departures out there. Both Hobbs and Roswell are small airports that allow a lot more flexibility to the traveler: free parking, short lines, and an ability to check in a bit later than you would have to if you flew out of a Denver or Houston.

But I have to admit, I really love flying out of Roswell.

I feel like if I ran an airport it would look like the Roswell International Air Center. First, it has a free book exchange, which is a nice touch. And the book selection is surprisingly good…usually.  Today’s trip had nothing but Daniele Steele books and some other paperbacks I wasn’t interested in, so I fear I may have jinxed it.

But the best part is the airport in Roswell is like a junkyard full of random old planes and parts just scattered all over the place.

Now I don’t mean that as a negative. It gives the airport atmosphere and an adventurous feel. It can feel comparable to “Brad Pitt escaping the World War Z zombie apocalypse” when you are going down the runway and, looking out your window, you see dozens of old, gutted commercial jets.

 

It’s just a unique experience and coupled with an awesome staff at the Air Center you really can’t go wrong flying out of there.

 

 

Boxing: This week’s top fight (you probably won’t see): Knockout CP Freshmart

Finger Post Boxing (July 13, 2017)

Picture this: Floyd Mayweather, fresh of his win over Andre Berto, doesn’t retire. He decides to defend the WBC and WBO welterweight title and add another world title belt in the process. His opponent: the man widely seen as the second best fighter in the division. This kid is a young, hungry, 26-year old undefeated champion with a 7-0 record in championship fights. He’s coming up on a reign of three years as champion and has beaten some of the top fighters in the division.

You can stop scrambling to Boxrec.com to count the number of title defenses Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, or Kell Brook had when Floyd fought Berto. It’s not any of them. I’m talking about Thai fighter Thammanoon Niyomtrong, aka Knockout CP Freshmart.

Now right off the bat, I’m not sure what the meaning of his nom de guerre is, although I will note that American boxing fans have always been intrigued by the ring names of several Thai fighter’s. Several notable fighters from Thailand used the ring name “3-K Battery” (Yodsanan 3-K Battery, Fashan 3-K Battery, Medgoen 3-K Battery, Pandang 3-K Battery, and Chokchai 3-K Battery) after the motorcycle and automotive battery company based in Thailand. Now, before we start knocking them, just remember that it wasn’t that long ago that fighters stepped into the ring with Goldenpalace.com painted on their backs. Besides, unusual nicknames are as old as the sport. If I want to get really deep in the weeds, these guys have nothing on a guy from 1895 from Colorado who fought Young Peter Jackson. His name was Professor Snowball and on that warm July night in Colorado he set a record that has held up longer than any other in the annals of sports: least intimidating nickname ever.  Although it should be noted that Professor Sunshine gave him a run for his money in 1902.  Nonetheless Sunshine earned some bonus points for winning his only professional fight in Salt Lake City against Professor Pistol.  I am not sure what institution of higher learning gave Pistol, Sunshine, and Snowball their doctorate degrees, but I’m leaning towards Ohio State.  (Go Blue).

Now Niyomtrong (15-0, 7 KOs) has been completely unknown in the United States, through no fault of his own. Unfortunately fighters in the minimumweight division have been ignored by American fight fans ever since Ricardo Lopez retired. I don’t know what it will take to fix the exposure problem for him since he’s certainly earned some respect based on his accomplishment in the ring. I don’t know, maybe a new and even catchier nom de guerre. His Boxrec photo sort of looks like Keanu Reeves, and his last name starts with “Niyo”, so I don’t know; maybe he should call himself “The Matrix” and come out into the ring in a black trench coat. That might actually start trending on YouTube.

But as awesome as it would be to have a fighter named Neo fight as “The Matrix”, let’s be honest, it won’t happen. Unfortunately Niyo is going to continue to get a lot less attention than his skills warrant.

And that’s a shame, because right now the minimumweight division looks poised to enter something of a renaissance. Niyo may be a great fighter, but he is nonetheless forced to play second fiddle to the man regarded as the best minimumweight in the world: his countryman, Chayaphon Moonsri (47-0, 17 KOs).

Now I’m not knocking that fact. I think Moonsri should be ranked as the best fighter in the division. But it’s by an inch, not a mile. Moonsri has a record of 8-0 in world title fights, and some Western eyes are going to be looking toward Thailand in the coming months as he closes in on one of the last great records in boxing: Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record. Yeah, Floyd tied it and looks poised to break it in September when he takes on Conor McGregor. But wouldn’t it be a statement if Moonsri can get to 49-0 and then challenge his undefeated Thai opponent in a unification bout? That would be an appropriate fight for such a legendary record. I don’t know if it is a pipe dream or not, I don’t know what boxing factions in Thailand it would involve. And as I have zero knowledge of what theThai boxing scene looks like I really don’t know if the parties involved would even be open to fighting each other. Maybe this unification fight would involve too many diverse factions in Thai boxing.

But if Mayweather-Pacquiao taught me anything, it was that money talks. And I would think (hope?) that a Moonsri-Niyo fight would have the potential to be very lucrative for everyone involved. Who knows, maybe the 3-K Battery company can swoop in and make it happen.

And I should add, that would just be the beginning.  The best part of a unification fight is the excitement wouldn’t have to end there.

Whoever comes out of that fight could then step into the ring against a fighter who may very well be the second incarnation of Arturo Gatti: Japan’s Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7 KOs). Fukuhara, the WBO 105-pound champion, doesn’t have as flashy a record as the two Thai fighters, but what he has plenty of is heart and grit. Any fight with him would be an all out war and if American boxing fans could get the opportunity to see a Niyo-Fukuhara fight, or a Moonsri-Fukuhara fight, I have no doubt that it would revitalize interest in the division.

But all of that is dependent on Niyomtrong winning this Saturday as he defends his title against Rey “Hitman” Loreto (23-13, 15 KOs) of Davao City, Philippines. Now on paper this looks like it should be an easy win for Niyomtrong, but I wouldn’t completely count out the Hitman just yet. He has only been stopped once in his career and he is coming into the fight on the heels of a seven fight win streak which includes a first round KO over South African contender Nkosinathi Joyi (whose record at the time was 24-3, 17 KOs). The Joyi fight was for the IBO light flyweight title in Joyi’s backyard. The Hitman is a naturally bigger man, usually fighting at 108-pounds, and as he showed against Joyi, he can win in hostile territory.

So what will happen in Thailand this weekend? Most likely Niyomtrong, aka Niyo, aka The Matrix, aka CP Freshmart will come out on top. He looks like he could be the total package and despite the Hitman’s KO in South Africa and his 6 knockouts in his last seven fights, I still think Niyomtrong has enough skill to shut down Loreto’s offense.

From there, big things may be coming to the sport. If Niyomtrong wins we might just end up seeing the biggest fight to ever hit the 105-pound division before the end of 2018.

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Boxing: This week’s top fight (you probably won’t see) runner up: John Vera v. Daniel Rosario

Finger Post Boxing (July 12, 2017)

So continuing this weekly series, “This week’s top fight (you probably won’t see), I wanted to take a moment to discuss the “contenders” for selection.  Right off the bat, I would like to sort of clarify this weekly series.  I’m not discussing whatever fight will be televised on ESPN, HBO, or Showtime.  I’m basically looking at the upcoming schedule and giving a shout out to a meaningful or interesting fight that I know I won’t be able to see until a few weeks later when someone posts it on YouTube after uploading it from the potato he filmed it with.

So an early front runner would be WBA #7 and WBO #14 ranked junior middleweight John Vera (16-0, 10 KOs).  The 28-year old Vera is a genuinely nice guy and I won’t lie, I’d love to see a fighter from the Southwest come home with a world championship.  The young Texan has shown some of the early signs that he could win a world title in 2018, and his fight this weekend on July 15 at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler, Arizona should push him a little closer to that goal.  He will be fighting for the WBA-NABA USA super welterweight title against heavy handed Puerto Rican Daniel Rosario Cruz (11-2, 10 KOs).  Rosario may not have the flashiest record, but his two losses (against Norberto Gonzalez and Edgar Ortega) were both razor thin decision losses that could have gone his way.  Plus he seems to have great punching power and could be the guy who answers the ever important question of “can this guy take a punch?”  Vera picked up a lot of XP in his last fight, a split decision win over former world title challenger Salim Larbi back in January.  But although Larbi had a big edge in experience over both Vera and Rosario, what he didn’t have was a lot of punching power.  At press time Larbi has seven knockouts in 29 fights.  Rosario will possibly be the hardest hitter Vera has yet to face, and if he lands some of the shots Larbi was able to sneak in, he could test the chin of the Texan.

Rosario won his first eight fights, but only one came against a fighter with a winning record: then undefeated prospect Jordan Wisenfeld.  But I’m basing my assessment on Rosario’s power and his ability based on his last two fights before the loss to Gonzalez in November of 2016.  He scored a pair of knockouts over prospects Alphonso Black (KO3) and Aaron Garcia (KO2) for the WBO Latino junior middleweight title.

Now this is not to say I think Vera is there to be upset.  Vera has shown an ability to adapt and some above average power on his end.  Rosario will be there to be hit, and I anticipate Vera will get his chance to test the chin of the Caguas Puerto Rico native before all is said and done.  Vera does a lot of things right and really appears to mostly need polishing around the edges and a little more experience before he should be ready to test the fighters in the top five (I for one would love to see him square off with WBO #7 ranked Kanat Islam or  former champion Liam Smith as I think both fights have the potential to be crowd pleasing brawls that would bring out the best in Vera).  But although some might see the 11-2 record and conclude that Rosario is the sacrificial lamb with little chance of derailing the world title hopes of Vera, I would like to note that at the same time in his career Ricardo Mayorga’s record was 10-3, 10 KOs.  I’m not saying Rosario is the next Mayorga, but I’m not ruling it out, and that’s what makes this fight so intriguing.

So I really pumped this fight up.  Why isn’t it the top fight of the week?  Well, in part it’s for the second part of the equation.  You may not see this fight, but that’s going to be on you, not because it isn’t televised.  The Vera-Rosario fight is to be broadcast live on Facebook via a new series called “FightNight Live!”  I haven’t seen their previous broadcast yet, but I won’t lie, I’m stoked about Saturday’s fight. Having a live broadcast of a fight Facebook that isn’t recorded with a potato or a by guy juggling on a mechanical bull is something that is long overdue and I’m liking the setup with this.  There is a Q&A during the broadcast with viewers, which is a novel concept to say the least.  As long as that guy who keeps posting his Viagra ads in the comment section of my Fightnews articles doesn’t show up, I think that would be a tremendous addition to the broadcast.  But with that being said, the last time I checked the “FightNight Live!” Facebook page only has 3,817 likes.  Now I won’t do a free plug for ESPN or HBO’s upcoming fight, but I will give a free shout out for an upstart online fight series that is getting the word out and pushing a great fight card.  Tune in on July 15th on Facebook and let me know in the comment section what you thought of the fights and of the series “FightNight Live!”.

Tomorrow: the top fight this week (you won’t see).

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Travel: Visiting the Supreme Court in Georgetown Guyana

The Finger Post Travel (July 12, 2017)

Last year (October 2016) I had the opportunity to visit Georgetown, Guyana and spent a day visiting the Supreme Court of Guyana as well as a session of the Magistrates’ Courts of Georgetown.

Right off the bat, the lack of air conditioning was…notable.  I know, I know.  First world problems.  But when it was 90-degrees outside, you quickly notice it when you walk into a crowded room with two dozen people and there is no AC.

Second, you can’t help but notice Queen Victoria.  Like any good commonwealth nation the Queen’s statue can be found in front of the highest judicial office in the country.

Only Queen Victoria didn’t have a left hand.  Or a nose.  The disrepair of the Queen’s statue left her resembling Lord Voldemort.


The statue was clearly put up when the British were still running the show and it looked like it hadn’t been maintained since Guyana declared itself a republic in 1970.

You think the British would have foot the bill to put Victoria’s nose back on her face.

I almost wondered if this was Cheddi Jagan’s way of getting back at Winston Churchill for Britain’s military intervention in 1953.  But the Non-Aligned Monument wasn’t in the best of shape either as Tito’s nameplate was missing.

 

I went ahead and entered the Magistrate Court complex, and after a sign warned me not to “tout” I proceeded to sit in on a preliminary hearing on a homicide case.

I left fascinated at the distinct differences between the Guyanese legal system and that of the United States.  For example, I never knew what the term “robing room” referred to.   I knew it was a webpage, but I never actually saw a robing room until I went to Guyana.

Also, the defendant was required to sit in a box that made me think of a penalty box in hockey.


Perhaps most fascinating was the way that the court made a record of the hearing.  From what I could tell the attorneys made their arguments, questioned the officers, cross examined the witnesses, and gave closing arguments while the magistrate scribbled furiously in a yellow legal pad.  At the end of the hearing came what I felt was the most interesting and fascinating development of the entire hearing: the magistrate read from his yellow legal pad and, if the attorneys were in agreement that this was an accurate record of the testimony, these pages were entered into the record.

Now right off the bat, I wondered how legible these pages could be.  The audio in the courtroom wasn’t the best, and is common in court hearings the witnesses often spoke softly, or in the alternative,  rapidly.

Later I went and visited the record archives of the Supreme Court and, well, let’s just say it didn’t appear to be particularly organized.  It felt like one of those places where the record keeper had been there for a few decades, and when he retired, nobody would be able to find anything.

I bring this up since I recently read about a fire at the prison in Georgetown.  A fascinating article by Dennis Adonis in “Caribbean News Now!” discussed the potential legal dilemma facing the court’s in Georgetown due to the loss of “thousands of conviction records, prisoner profiles, sentence particulars, and committal warrants” destroyed by the fire.  Adonis noted that in Guyana prohibits “the prison system from incarcerating a person without a warrant or an instrument that was issued by a convicting magistrate or judge, to commit that person to prison.”

The end result may be that Guyana is forced to release nearly half of the inmates who were housed in this prison facility.

It sounds like the Supreme Court of Guyana is about to get a lot busier in the coming months.

 

Photos by David Finger

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