The sixth of eight observations on a recent Caribbean cruise.
In my own mind, I’m not rich: I work for a living, I make trade-offs, I watch my budget. But the Caribbean islands make me feel as uncomfortably rich as I did while studying Spanish in Guatemala 10 years ago. If there are just Rich Folks and Poor Folks in this world, I’m sure not Poor Folks, but the Caribbean is full of them.
Thousands of years ago, humans moved out of Africa to inhabit almost all terra firma — any scrap of land where they could at least scratch out a living. The calculation of where you could have an acceptable living changed as hunter-gatherers morphed into farmers. Then came the industrial revolution and the equation changed again. Now the information age is upon us.
‘What works’ changes, but what doesn’t change is that there is always a calculation to be made, balancing the necessities/desirables of life against the capacity of the place to provide them. So what capacity does the Caribbean have: what sources of income does it offer? As one Guatemalan tutor asked me rhetorically: What can we make that you will buy? Can islands with populations under 200,000 sustain national governments? Can poor countries subject to periodic or even routine devastation by hurricanes afford to rebuild modern infrastructure, again and again? Can small-scale agriculture and tourism provide opportunities for their kids?
I can’t presume to make the calculation for them, of course, nor do I need to. The folks who live there have it in hand: at least, the relatively Rich Folks do. Curacao, for example, is home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas. The Spanish handout explains the dwindling population of Sephardic Jews on the island — from a high of roughly 1,200 to fewer than 400 today. Why? The answer is unflinching: the kids leave for an education and they don’t come back. The Poor Folks, perhaps, have a different story.
Note: The structure of the first seven of these eight observations was inspired by Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar.