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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: Greatness and Decadence of the United States
Latin American genius Carlos Alberto Montaner on the miracle of the U.S. and the rise and fall of civilizations

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

A humble Honduran lady came to Miami to visit her family, which had fled their country to save their lives. One of her sons, a hardworking and decent young man, died after being stabbed 38 times. Her daughter was a good teacher and her son-in-law was a high-ranking official in a credit institution. Her three grandchildren were (and are) magnificent students. The gangs known as maras threatened to kill them one by one if they did not submit to extortion.

They decided to escape to Miami. The teacher today works as an assistant in several homes. The accountant works in the building sector. It is a variant of the beginning of the American Dream. Fortunately, the U.S. government granted them asylum. This happened before Jeff Sessions declared that his country would not consider the risk of losing one’s life as a sufficient reason to request asylum and protection from Washington. Frankly, however, I cannot think of a more valid alibi.

Now let me go straight to the point. The Honduran matriarch was amazed because of the economic picture she found. "You live like the rich in Honduras," she told them. And then she explained why. They rent a comfortable little house (in a clean and modest neighborhood) with three bedrooms and a bathroom that has cold and hot water. The house has electricity, telephone, TV, air conditioning and internet. They are paying for two small used Japanese cars, also with air conditioning, because they need them to work.

Everyone eats and dresses reasonably well. They have cellphones and, since they know how to save, they have even gone on vacation for a week within U.S. borders. The boys study at a good public high school and the girl, who is the oldest of the young trio, studies at Miami Dade College, where she has not gone unnoticed by the educator and educated eye of Eduardo Padrón, the President of that enormous state college, the largest in the country with more than 160,000 students. She is one of the best. She has decided to be a doctor and she will achieve that goal someday. She has more than enough talent and tenacity.

The grandmother of this (absolutely real) story is right: her poor family in the United States lives like the rich in Honduras. In a way, better than them – there are no stalking gangs or fearsome bodyguards, they have police protection, a judicial system that works, and even a health insurance called Obamacare that allows them to cure their diseases at a low cost.

The United States was already the first economy on the planet at the beginning of the 20th century. How did it do it? There is no other secret: it is a country based on laws and institutions, not on some people. The independent nation emerged with the industrial revolution and has grown and expanded gradually, at a rate of 2% per year, but for two and a half centuries, except for the 4 years of the Civil War. The thirteen suspicious states that declared their independence, with just under 4 million inhabitants, today are 50 states and have a population of 327 million unevenly distributed in a territory that is 6 times larger than the original.

Humanity has never lived better. It has never lived longer and more comfortably. It is worth reading Steven Pinker's books to contrast the data. There is all the reasoned information. The hardworking Honduran family benefits from the American accrued wealth (buildings, roads, sewers, bridges, parks, etc.) and the potential wealth that depends on intangible factors (institutions, rule of law, shared values and principles).

One day, of course, the United States will no longer be the world leader. It has always been like that. The history of Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany and England proves it. China will probably replace the American nation. It all depends on its ability to combine its military power with its technological and economic one. Maybe they will discover a more efficient way to kill human beings than nuclear war. If this happens, they may use that power. It will occur in the middle of this century. I hope that we, the old ones, will not see it.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.


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