This has always been one of my three favorite American cities — along with my native New York and San Francisco. In the early 1970’s, I ran a line of West Indies freighters out of here when this port was known as the Casablanca of North America.
Back in those days, Miami was a very raffish place, filled with Cuban exiles plotting to overthrow Fidel Castro, drug runners, Haitian voodoo cults, assorted Latin revolutionaries, big-time money launderers, elderly Jewish retirees playing gin rummy, and shady property developers.
Today, Miami has settled down quite a bit, but remains one of America’s most interesting and peppery cities. English is a vanishing language here. Yesterday, I saw the first tri-lingual sign: in Spanish, English and Haitian Creole.
In this downtime between holidays, I’m reflecting on what we learned this past year and what major developments next year holds.
- The world responds to natural disaster when TV cameras are present. We began 2005 with the frightful Asian tsunami that devastated Indonesian Sumatra, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Thanks to TV crews, the world’s heart went out to the victims, and billions of aid were promised. As usual, only about 25% of the money pledged ever materialized.
The year ended with Pakistan’s calamitous earthquake. There were few TV teams covering this disaster and so the world largely ignored the tragedy. The oil-producing states of the Muslim World were notable in their incredibly stingy response, preferring to waste billions on war planes they can’t even fly and white elephant building projects while needy Pakistanis shivered in the cold. India and Pakistan, presented with a golden opportunity to begin resolving the Kashmir dispute, played childish games of tit for tat with one another instead of taking constructive action.
- Many Americans finally began to understand that their government had cooked up war with Iraq based on a flood of outrageous lies, ably assisted by a compliant media that acted as a conduit for propaganda worthy of the old Soviet Union. Towards the end of 2005, Americans also began to realize that a cabal of far rightists had not only hijacked the government, but were hell-bent on sneaking in totalitarian controls designed to stifle dissent, institutionalize the politics of fear, and curtail constitutional rights.
In the fall, signs of rebellion against these Mussolini-like policies became evident in Congress and the courts. But the special interests and rightist ideologues who drove America to war were still in control, and the American media continued to pump out deceptive reporting and act as a megaphone for the war party.
- Europe’s vote on a new constitution turned into a huge fiasco that gravely undermined the cause of continental unity and left many of its political leaders fatally weakened. Anti-American sentiment in Europe surged to unprecedented levels. European leaders proved unable to convince their voters to cut back on their unsustainable welfare states in order to boost competition with Asia. Britain continued acting as an American Trojan Horse in the EU.
In sum, a lamentable year for Europe and very bad news for all the little states of Eastern Europe — and for Turkey — that hope to gain admission to the EU. Riots in France by unemployed hooligans of third-world origin underlined the growing problem of unwanted immigrants in Europe.
- Big trouble was brewing up in Asia. China, its new colossus, chose to adopt a policy of confrontation with its other powerhouse, Japan, that bodes ill for the future of the region. Sino-Japanese tensions are now so bad that senior officials of the two great nations are not even on speaking terms. China’s decision to stoke anti-Japanese sentiment at home has raised tensions across North Asia and is drawing the US into the confrontation. Add the worsening Taiwan dispute into this equation, and North Asia looks headed for some serious trouble in 2006.
For the first time in modern history, both China and Japan are strong: each is determined to be sole master of the region. Meanwhile, the US cannot decide how to handle China’s growing power. The far right of the Republican Party seems determined to put the US on a military confrontation with China, a potential conflict that the US cannot possibly win.
Anti-American and pro-leftist sentiment is surging across Latin America. To most Latin Americans, the Bush Administration epitomizes everything that they detest about stereotypical Yankees: arrogance and bullying, coupled with deep ignorance. Watch Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chavez lead an anti-American crusade, aided by his new comrade in arms, Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Call them the heirs of Che Guevara, and the sons of Fidel Castro. Watch also for the possible demise of Fidel Castro, whose passing will throw Cuba into chaos and likely bring US intervention.
The Mideast will continue a dangerous mess, with intensification of efforts by anti-American groups (`terrorists’ in Washington-talk) to overthrow the medieval and military rulers that make the region a hallmark of terrible, repressive governments and foreign exploitation.
Watch for the possible collapse of Syria’s isolated regime, possibly producing chaos and civil war. Iraq will go from very bad to worse as its US-installed puppet regime turns out to be a cat’s paw for Iran. And watch for possible US and/or Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Such an attack would bring deadly retaliation against over-stretched US forces in Iraq.
The Bush administration’s attempt to grab Iraq’s oil and turn it into a military base from which to rule the Mideast appears doomed. The big question is how soon the US will manage to cut its losses and abandon this stupid and totally unnecessary war. Afghanistan will also continue to fester, as the US-installed puppet regime there proves unable to command popular support and anti-US forces gain strength.
- 2005 saw the opening salvos of the world struggle for energy. As this writer predicted five years ago in his book `War at the Top of the World,’ the advent of South Korea, China and India as major oil importers is producing serious new tensions and a struggle for mastery of Central Asia’s oil and gas. China and India will increasingly find themselves as competitors while Russia plays an increasingly important strategic role as a major energy supplier to Europe, Japan and China.
So it seems that 2006 will be a year of rising international political and economic tensions, played against the backdrop of a surging China and a weakening United States. In short, a year of living dangerously.