Special Feature by Dr. Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.

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Understanding the Love-Hate Relationship with America

Posted November 3rd. 2001

It was a typical morning, mid year 1972. A young man casually walked past an unarmed policeman and into the small lobby of the US Embassy on busy Main Street, Georgetown, Guyana. No fuss at all. Not even a line to join. The place was empty but for two other members of the public filling out forms. The consular officer was cheerful and made small talk as he skimmed the few documents in the young man's possession. Within ten minutes, the youth left the building, entered his car and sped off. He had obtained a five-year multiple entry visa for study in the USA. That young man was I.

Things have changed radically. Then, Guyana was a newly independent country brimming with enthusiasm born of intoxicating nationalism and having good potential for well-anchored economic development. There was also significant naiveté that achieving the latter was going to be easy. Today, the country is the poorest state in the Caribbean except for Haiti. As more and more citizens emigrate in search of a better life, the brain drain problem worsens and makes more difficult the pursuit and achievement of development or any major breakthrough in ending poverty.

Then, the USA was the wealthiest, most technologically advanced democratic nation and the dominant one of two superpowers in the Cold War era. It was a powerful magnet that attracted and welcomed skilled immigrants. Today, it remains the wealthiest and most technologically advanced democratic state. It is now the only superpower while the Cold War is no more. And just as the gulf between poverty and development at that time has expanded between Guyana and the USA, so too has the same chasm widened exponentially and most hazardously between the Third World and the USA. The superpower remains the most appealing of all First World magnets for emigrants but, increasingly, due to worsening Third World conditions, it is becoming necessary to limit severely, if not shut off altogether, this escape route for the world's poor and powerless. The rationale advanced by some is as follows: if the lifeboat is overwhelmed with more and more rescued people, it will sink and drown everybody.

Almost in any country in the Caribbean and wider Third World, it is unlikely that any individual can breeze through the US visa approval process as I and others did three decades ago. In Guyana, the embassy is now a huge fortress at a new, larger and more secure location. Applications for all types of visas have skyrocketed in numbers. The waiting period for approval spans months and many years depending on the type of visa being sought. Major fraud was discovered at the embassy last year and, in the local society, scams remain routine, lucrative business for con artists.

Currently, the big issue between the two countries is the return of an estimated one hundred and eighty criminal deportees by the US to a country hard pressed to cope with the cost in both social and economic terms. So serious is this issue that the Americans have imposed a ban on the granting of all visas to Guyanese officials and their immediate family members - until the government makes more progress in acceptance arrangements for nationals who ran afoul of US law and became felons. About two hundred persons have been affected so far by the visa cut-off.

This difference in tone and context that emerged over three decades since easier times reflects the intensification of a malady I have labeled elsewhere a "love-hate syndrome" in the Third World's relationship with the USA. Put another way, governments and peoples of the Third World love to love and love to hate America at one and the same time. This state of affairs is both perplexing and yet understandable. I amplify.

In the wake of the enveloping sweep of the globalization juggernaut energized by the technological advances of the First World, led by the USA, the world has become a global fishbowl or global village. As nearly all countries now embrace capitalist democracy in some form or other, masses in the remotest parts of the planet are able to see, more than ever before, the good life of material comforts and other desirable wealth which is the norm in the USA (and other developed states). They see that they do not have to remain in their own impoverished status. Travel is easier. Jobs are internationally available in the First World for the skilled. Communication is instant. Possibilities are thus infinite. There is impatience with broken domestic leadership promises and a deeper yearning for individual personal growth and development. Ah! But getting the visa ticket to the assumed USA paradise is more difficult than ever before. People love the possibilities but hate the restrictions and impediments. They love the appurtenances of American technological development such as cell phones, fax machines, video games, computers, etc., but hate their inability to obtain them.

Moreover, masses in the Third World have been socialized to believe that the USA has become advanced, wealthy and comfortable primarily through taking imperialist advantage of raw materials and cheap labour in the Third World. This is certainly a Marxist view and there is also a whole branch of academic writings that give weight to this belief through a body of scholarship called dependency theory. Very little attention is paid by its proponents to native Third World corruption, mismanagement, flawed nation building efforts and curious ideological choices. This fact intensifies the hate that masses have for the USA. It is usually whipped up by embattled Third World leaders in particular whose other responses include summoning their people to make more and more sacrifices for ever increasingly elusive "development."

I have already made the point that ambitious millions of Third World people have been politicized by their leaders to believe that their own lack of progress is due to the rapaciousness of US policy that takes wealth out of the Third World and imports it for its own First World citizens. But it is more than that. Further, to sustain their advanced lifestyle, it is believed more and more exploitation is necessary by the Americans. And this, some people think, is achieved through all sorts of penetrative gimmicks that span religious indoctrination and mass media definings of realities and prioritizing of their importance. In these scales, the Third World usually ranks woefully unimportant. Thus, leaders for domestic political purposes, foment hate among their people for the USA through ideological rigidities promoted as truth but which, in fact, stultify its emergence and visibility.

One might well question whether or not it is possible for any one country to rise to greatness without there being some type of Aristotelian, innate drive or immanent impulse that motivates and moves its people, upward, onward in search of human excellence. In the case of the USA, there are such complementary values/factors as individualism buttressed by a pioneering spirit, Puritanism and a Calvinist ethic that combined to produce a uniquely entrepreneurial human, armed with a self-energizing will to succeed by trial and error, and to reap the consequences of tremendous bounty and catastrophic failure.

In the Third World, however, the picture is an almost opposite one. There is a stifling, perhaps (arguably) even necessary dependence on government largesse and handouts. Taking development to mean the pursuit and achievement of human excellence through which such systemic maladies like poverty would be significantly reduced, very few of my academic colleagues proselytize anymore about development being possible in the Caribbean and wider Third world. The very smallness of the region, once thought to be a facilitator, is now seen as a vexing handicap. My friend Dr. Dennis Conway at Indiana University opined on this decades ago in a classic essay that explored the merits and demerits of smallness. It was titled: "Small may be beautiful but is development possible?" And there is another question which many don't like to ask: was a senior official of US Agency for International Development (USAID) being insightful and prophetic some decades ago when he confided that, honed by decades of observation and aid-granting experience, his view was that the real salvation for the poor and powerless of the Caribbean lay in them being allowed to emigrate to the USA. This would relieve pressure on governments to perform in ways that they could not in order to satisfy people's needs. In his view, obtaining a US visa was perhaps the only thing keeping many Caribbean countries from collapsing altogether as viable states. An American visa was and still is the essential safety release valve for these small states that love and hate America at one and the same time.



Dr. Brotherson is a Guyanese professor of political science and corporate risk-assessment consultant who resides in the USA.