December 10, 2019

Liddick: Lessons from the Caribbean

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Beautiful sight with turquoise water in Caye Caulker island, Belize. CNN Travel

By Morgan Liddick From Daily Progress

Before Congress decides to dump another boodle of our money into the nations of Central America in a vain attempt to curb the illegal immigration problem on our southern border, its members ought to travel there.

Without the advance teams, weeks of intense planning, embassy minders, staffers and official passports they always use. Just get an ordinary passport and go. They might come back with different ideas about what the problems really are in countries to our south.

I’ve thought about this before, when I lived and worked in the region; the question was reinforced last week as I visited Belize. I was in a former “porte-cochere,” a covered area on a spacious semicircular driveway intended for vehicles arriving at the once-impressive customs area of the Port of Belize. A roughly-painted brick wall now separates the port and customs house from the street; both entrances to the drive are closed by tall iron gates onto which sheet steel had been welded. Outside the narrow gap in the gate guarded by burly, uniformed men with guns was a street full of indifferently clothed and shod, jostling, shouting young men; my Central American Spanish was quite sufficient to follow the main topic of conversation: fleecing the tourists. Inside the port area were many other large, uniformed, armed men, none of them smiling. To even a casual observer Belize looked like trouble.

Because it is. Following independence from Britain in September, 1981, Belize has had a series of revolving-door governments assembled by its two main political parties, neither of whom could effectively come to grips with its most serious problems: unemployment, rampant crime and corruption, the latter two stemming from the ubiquitous drug trade. It is one of the most violent places in the Caribbean, and apparently, no one in the government gives a damn, as long as they are paid off.

Roatan, an island state of Honduras, has a somewhat similar set of problems caused by cupidity, not drug trafficking. According to a mechanic working for the company from whom I rented a scooter, corruption is rampant not only on the island, but throughout the country: there is no government official or employee who is not on the take and their appetites are voracious. The consequences include limited opportunities for personal advancement, business development, economic expansion or even the import of decent gasoline, a fact I experienced directly. Bribes and “considerations” suck up most available profit, so businesses grow slowly, if at all. Most residents wait for “the Government” to address all problems, from unreliable electrical supply to impossibly vague signage to telecommunications issues. The result is a beautiful island with completely enervated infrastructure and few people enthusiastic about moving things along.

Then there’s Grand Cayman and her sisters, three miniscule islands to the southwest of Cuba. Theoretically still a dependency of Great Britain, they are actually independent in all but name — and have been since their founding by the English and Scots who left Jamaica in the 17th century to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Caymaneans have always done things for themselves; in the early 1950s, the islands’ women demanded — and got — both the vote and political separation of the islands from Jamaica. When the turtle meat and rope industries on which Caymans’ economy rested collapsed, an enterprising Caymanean bought a war surplus flying boat and started regular air service to Cuba and the United States; the islands’ tourist industry exploded into a significant and reliable source of revenue.

In 1966, after much work, Grand Cayman received a legal framework to begin international banking — and the Cayman Islands never looked back. A resource-poor, three-speck archipelago became a tourist mecca and banking hub that today has the highest per capita income in the Caribbean. George Town has sleek, modern buildings, well-functioning infrastructure, disciplined traffic; most people smile and seem happy to be where they are.

Why did these three societies, superficially similar, with equally-diverse populations, turn out so differently? Before Congress decides that showering our money on some Central American states is the solution to our illegal immigration crisis, its members should take the time to try to answer that question. What are the keys to success, why have the states of the “Northern Triangle” not found them, and what are the probabilities that they will, given hundreds of times more of the same? Maybe it’s time to ask uncomfortable questions before we act, and insist on sensible answers.

For a change.

For more on this story go to; https://www.dailyprogress.com/newsvirginian/opinion/liddick-lessons-from-the-caribbean/article_846f97e2-0d12-57dc-ab14-5b43b330c7be.html

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