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Memo from a third world country

Memo from a third world country

Over the course of the past quarter century or so I have traveled to almost 70 countries. (Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m 50. Trust me, hard as it may be for you to believe, it is even harder for me.) Many of those countries have been in what we today call the emerging world. (Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m 52. See how hard it is for me. Even though many people feel I look considerably younger…than my parents.) Back when I started on these travels, we had different names for them, of course. LDCs. The Third World. Hopeless Colonial Backwaters. There Be Dragons Here. (Ok, I just turned 53 a couple weeks ago. But I still have all my hair.)

Emerging markets sounds so much more hopeful though. And so many of the places I first visited 25 years ago are undergoing miraculous transformations. But some, a few, are faltering. Right now I am in one that has not been denied by globalization, it has actually been ground down by it. It is teeming with people but unlike those you might find in the favelas of Latin America or the sprawling slums of Manila, there is no sense of energy within them. They are drained of hope. They look like the denizens of hell in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. In fact, if Bosch were alive, he would set up his studio here. Try to speak to anyone and you are glared at, spit at, ignored. It is the only place I visit regularly where no one speaks English. Everything is run down, in decline, a fading snapshot of a world long ago obsolete. Suffering is everywhere and the occasional McDonald’s look like oases of high culture. I am of course, in Miami International Airport.

No wonder our relations with Latin America have been so strained for so long. This is the first part of America most visitors from the rest of our hemisphere see. These angry faces are the first to greet them. And worse yet, they often are forced to arrive here after a trip on American Airlines, or as I like to refer to it, our little corner of Guatanamo in the sky.

Note to Hillary Clinton: I know you are going to be too busy to devote much attention to Latin America (that is until Mexico melts down). So here’s one small thing you can do that will transform our North-South relationship in the Americas. It’ll do more than trash canning our ludicrous embargo of Cuba (which has been failing splendidly for almost 50 years now). It’ll be more helpful than passing the free trade agreements that are so long overdue (though seriously, let’s get with it). It’ll even do more than the photo op at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad that is likely to be President Obama’s main contribution to hemispheric diplomacy for the coming year (simply because his to do list is so full…not because of a lack of will or interest). Shut it down. Shut down this airport.  Build one that is more suitable as a gateway, more suitable to this century…more suitable even to the middle of the last century. Go get the airport in nearby Port au Prince and dismantle it and rebuild it here. It’s gotta be an improvement.

Meanwhile, in other Latin American news: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez seems to have lost a little of his bravura recently with reports in the papers today that as his reserves of fuck you money dwindle due to declining oil prices, he is offering the oil companies he once screwed the chance to come back to Venezuela. Bienvenido a Caracas, mis amigos, all is forgiven…er, please forgive me. Now if only we could harness the power of those oil companies to really deliver a lesson. Imagine for a moment a different world, in which big multinationals committed to a program of not investing in countries that were not dependable democracies or showed disregard for the rule of law.  Think of the countries that would be squeezed, forced to change. Now that would really be the power to change the world. Meantime watch: slowly but surely Chavez’s chutzpah-laden outreach will bear fruit…as long as there is a safe profit to be made…and he will more than likely be propped up by some of the same people he once abused.