Friday, March 12, 1999

Of mangoes and bananas

For several reasons, the debate about the global economy has recently reminded me of fruit. The wise Henri Pitier wrote his Manual about Common Plants in Venezuela in 1926. In it he wrote the following about the mango:

"It is harvested in abundance, and there are many who, during the season in which they are ripe, dedicate all of their time to the search for this fruit which for some time then becomes their only source of nourishment, very often to the detriment of their health. One can vacillate, then, on deciding whether the introduction of this tree [from Asia] has been a blessing or a curse. The writer of these words is inclined to believe the latter since the mango leads to idleness, to the invasion of another’s property and to vagrancy; additionally, no matter how good or healthy it may be, when ingested in moderation, it sometimes provokes digestive disorders and is far from being wholesome food. It alters, then, both morality as well as public health." 

This interesting quotation shows us that, in addition to oil, the mango should be classified high on the list of culprits that have been the cause of our poor economic development. Most assuredly, in addition to the mango and oil, we must also add to this list the sun, the beaches and all those variables that undoubtedly make it easier to survive an economic recession in a tropical Caracas than in a wintry Moscow.

Since it seems evident that the simplicity of living in the tropics leads to laziness while the hardship of winter promotes the discipline and work ethics that have ultimately inspired today’s global economic development, it behooves us to view global warming with renewed preoccupation and from a totally new angle.

I belong to a group that is identified in Venezuela as Contemporary Adults (sounds better than middle-aged). This implies being up-to-date with current issues such as the environment. I have, with certain frequency made own individual observations about the evolution of global warming. Every Carnival weekend, for example, I stroll out to the beach in Margarita, the tropical Venezuelan island in the Caribbean Sea, in my most casual, monarchic pace, and with all seriousness and responsibility, take note of the width of the shore from the water line to the roadway. Even when I had terrible difficulty in finding a spot in which to anchor my garishly multicolored beach umbrella, I never really worried about it. I simply attributed this difficulty to the increased popularity of the island and not to an invasion by the oceans.

Today, however, I harbor serious doubts as to the validity of my method of measurement. Wherever I look I find evidence of the advanced state of warming in the world.

How else, other than by assuming a certain displacement toward the north of the geographical boundary of the Banana Republics, can we explain the opposite positions sustained by superpowers like Europe and the United States on the issue of bananas, as if they were some modern versions of Lilliput and Blefuscu.[i]

How else, other that by assuming the creation of climatic conditions conducive to the cultivation of mangos, can we understand why Japan has not been able to combat idleness and stimulate the reactivation of its economy? We have all read that Japan has reduced interest rates to an annual rate of one per one thousand. Can you imagine how impressed a botanist like Henri Pitier would be upon observing this unique specimen of a mango?

[i]PS. The current enormous fiscal and commercial deficits of the North might also lend further credibility to the thesis of the displacement of the parallel of the Banana Republics. 

From The Daily Journal, Caracas, March 12, 1999