I’ve been an American living abroad for the better part of three years. One fact that comes with being an American abroad is that we are probably financially better off than the people we live around. Sure, we may claim poverty, and that may be true at home, but that is probably just denial in the face of the obvious.
Our prolific use of new electronics and various Apple products usually make this claim a hard sell. At the Latin American School of Medicine this pretty much holds true, with some exceptions of course.
I don’t think this experience is unique to American citizens living abroad. It surely must strike our leaders as well. I am thinking specifically of President Obama and his trip this week to El Salvador, Chile, and Brazil.
In the past US foreign policy in the region has been one where we stated what we needed and Latin America had to ask us for the preferential economic terms. Of course we were not apt to meet these requests unless the proper “democratic” powers were in place, but I digress.
In these years of the financial crisis maybe it is time to recognize that our vast amounts of wealth, never mind the debt please, might not be playing to the dynamics that American business seeks.
In the press President Obama’s trip is being spoken of as a quest to reestablish ties with Latin American Countries in terms of positive trade and job growth for the United States. Nations that were once on the periphery of American economic success have worked around us and now it seems we are left trying to figure out how to proceed.
I say this because rarely does our Head of State travel abroad without important trade “agreements” and treaties to sign upon arrival. Indeed, President Obama will have neither in hand when he is greeted by Presidents Rousseff, Piñera and Funes.
Even at my tender age of 25 I can remember when our success was not an uncertain path, but most certainly assured long before the southern flight plans of Air Force One were ever drawn up. Our Presidents visited these countries with the groundwork laid and ink dried; ready with that photo-op smile, hand shake, and trifling press conference.
Now President Obama is visiting countries that have higher growth rates than the one he leads. El Salvador’s economy is going to grow over 5% next year, Brazil trades more with China than it trades with the United States, and Chile was hardly slowed down by the devastating earthquakes and tsunamis in that country.
The rest of the world doesn’t look much different from where I sit.
While I was living in Botswana I saw a Southern Africa almost devoid of United States products and institutions. The divestment programs during apartheid in South Africa (whose lateness, by the way, was morally repugnant), and failure to place that investment in other African countries, created an economic region whose natural resources are exploited by China and Europe while South Africa expands continent wide in consumer goods and services.
This situation is not primed to change anytime soon, as even United States banks are largely absent from this, and most, of the worlds consumers and barrowers.
And then there is Cuba. Some people in the United States almost salivate when they talk about a Cuba without socialism, and what the market could do here and the money there is to be made and exported back to the United States. On the contrary, I highly doubt the Cuban people will roll over belly up to the wise masters of capitalism no matter what changes come to the island.
So it seems that those Americans living abroad, and our projections of material wealth, might be the penultimate parts of what constituted our curious ability to set terms and dictate economic policies to our neighbors. And as we turn on that latest gadget we are going to have to get used to looking at the screen and reading about our leaders, hats in hand, sitting down to foreign meals of humble pie.