I wrote earlier this month about the "uncomfortable ride" that I took with two Nicaraguans, on the way to visit their coffee farms, located way off the beaten track. (See the May 13 blog entitled, "It’s No Joke" at http://peacewinds.org/stevesheppard/). All along the route, they pointed out the various scenes of land abuse and disenfranchisements, with each story seeming to have a North American villain somewhere in the plot. Even though our travel partners did not intend any discomfort, I nonetheless squirmed throughout the journey, feeling somehow complicit in the nefarious deeds being described.
I’ve replayed that journey over and over again in my mind, especially the tale about the U.S. businessman who was intent on burning and clear-cutting a parcel of land he had purchased, despite the law which forbids such activities. Authorities approached the man to explain the statutes, but to no effect. When neighboring campesinos complained again, the man was fined for the violation, but again without change in his practices. This "businessman" (if I can call him that) challenged the authorities to visit his property and fine him as often as they liked, but he would continue to do whatever he wanted on his land because the profits to be earned were greater than repeated fines would be. In essence, this U.S. gringo thumbed his nose at his neighbors, Nicaraguan law and the environment all in one ugly act.
I suppose the story raises valid questions about the effectiveness of some Nicaraguan laws, or at least their enforcement, but for me it raised another question: shouldn’t U.S. citizens be held accountable under U.S. laws to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their "guest status " within a foreign country? The damage to credibility and respect caused by one individual motivated by personal self-interest can destroy an entire generation of relationship-building. "The ugly American" is still at work all too often.
Boorishness in your own house is one thing; boorish behavior when a guest in someone else’s home is unacceptable. When the host seeks compliance with the "rules of the house" and fails to receive it, a source for intervention ought to be available. In this case, doesn’t it just seem right that our country would demand and enforce a cooperative comportment on foreign soil?
Maybe such a standard exists and I’m just not versed in it. But it sure turns my stomach to see U.S. citizens deliberately behaving in ways that would never be allowed in their own country. What is the message we’re wanting to send….?