This morning we awoke to news of what looks like a fatal accident on the Rio. Two lancha's laden with tourists collided and a number of people went in to the water near the bridge at Fronteras. One was lost and is presumed drowned, a French man on holiday with his family. We feel very sorry for them as the search continues for his body.
It's Election day in Guatemala as the people vote for a new President. I have been reading about politics here and the struggles for democracy that this country has experienced particularly in the last 50 years. When they were well on their way to a more settled future everything was thrown over when, in 1954, the US, in one of the first documented covert operations by the CIA, orchestrated an invasion from Honduras that forced President Jacobo Arbenz to step down and ensured that agrarian reform that threatened the interests of the US United Fruit Company never took place . For most of the next 50 years violence became a staple of political life. Let's hope todays elections will be more peaceful and productive for the ordinary people of Guatemala
As cruisers we are in an extremely privileged position from which to 'take the pulse' of the countries that we visit. Not really tourists and yet not residents, we often experience a much closer sense of mood within our host nations. We get a feel for how actions taken by our native political leaders impact the impression that other countries now form of us.
The American cruisers have found it difficult to accept that Venezuela is no longer very welcoming, that is until they think about the relationship between Hugo Chavez (the Venezuelan president) and George W.
When we sailed to Morocco in North Africa we didn't fly our British Ensign, and were pleased we didn't as every other fishing boat in the harbour at Tangier was named Osama Bin Laden!
US and UK cruisers coming through the Red Sea tend to take in their ensigns in deference to the current situation in the middle east and so on...
Ecuador has been a popular destination of cruisers in recent years. Cheap and welcoming it was a great place to leave the boat as you traveled inland to explore the delights of South America. But that has all changed. Cruisers report a turn around by the current government and a strong anti-cruiser feeling. Stringent new regulations fror cruisers are reported on the noonsite.
Rules affecting use of agents, buying fuel , length of visas granted have all changed. Now why is this?
We have just read a book 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man' by John Perkins. In it he explains how, in his career for an international consulting firm, he convinced developing countries to accept enormous loans and to funnel that money to US corporations.
Because of EHM (Economic Hit Man) projects, Ecuador is awash in foreign debt and must devote an inordinate share of it's national budget to paying this off, instead of using its capital to help the millions of its citizens officially classified as dangerously impoverished. The only way Ecuador can buy down its foreign obligations is by selling its rain forests to the oil companies. Indeed, one of the reasons the EHM's set their sights on Ecuador in the first place was because the sea of oil beneath its Amazon region is believed to rival the oilfields of the Middle East. The global empire demands its pound of flesh in the form of oil concessions.
These demands became especially urgent after September 11, 2001, when Washington feared that Middle Eastern supplies might cease. On top of that,Venezuela, our third -largest oil supplier, had recently elected a populous president, Hugo Chavez, who took a strong stand against what he referred to as U.S. Imperialism; he threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States. The EHM's had failed in Iraq and Venezuela, but we had succeeded in Ecuador; now we would milk it for all it is worth.
Ecuador is typical of countries around the world that EHM's have brought into the economic-political fold. For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuadorian rain forest, the oil companies receive $75. Of the remaining $25, 3/4 must go to paying off the foreign debt. Most of the remainder covers military and other government expenses - which leaves about $2.50 for health, education, and programmes aimed at helping the poor. Thus, out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most, those whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling, and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and potable water.
All of those people - millions in Ecuador, billions around the planet - are potential terrorists. Not because they believe in communism or anarchism or are intrinsically evil, but simply because they are desperate.
So it really is no surprise that these countries see us as the 'enemy', is it? And no surprise that we are no longer welcomed with open arms. Cruisers usually arrive by the back door, dealing directly with officials and bureaucrats who reveal far more of their country's attitudes than the package tourist is ever going to see.