Hunting Down The Mojave: Portrait of David Denslow

“Combat is not fun,” the ex-marine says crossing his arms tightly in front of him.

I press my thumb into the map and observe. It does not fill the gray patch of area that represents a massive drag of dessert in southern California’s Mojave where young men outfitted with weapons learn to gamble their lives all inside the vacuum of a humongous playground where the trials of war are understood as best as they possible can be.

I move my eyes southward across the map, and see that there is a space roughly equivalent in size. Another swath of government land.

Joshua Tree National Park is a 1,235.37 sq mi property where Californians arrive in droves to feast their eyes on the natural beauty of the park and wonder over its alien-like Joshua Trees.

What I learn from David Denslow, the man who I meet in the desert, is that the land underneath my thumb – that gigantic gray patch – is not the same paradise that Joshua Tree National park is. The gray patch on the map is a different sort of desert – another desert that David Denslow used to know all too well. The gray patch on the map is Twentynine Palms US Marine Base, Twentynine Palms, California.

The gray patch on the map, according to David Denslow, is more like controlled hell.

“The base is the world’s largest base. 944 square miles of training area. So they can actually do a mini-Afghanistan over there. The only thing they don’t have are camels. They got oil. They got … They have an Iraqi village built out there so they can practice combat insurgency and all that. The only thing they can’t do is drop nuclears. They can shoot drones out of the sky. They can drop 500 lbs. bombs. It’s real life training.” David Denslow tells me in an empty auditorium at Joshua Tree National Park.

When I walk through the door I spot him. David Denslow has his hand raised high above his head. He does not look at me. He ignores me. Or maybe he’s simply absorbed in his own train of thought, a concentration magnetized by a soldier’s discipline. Raising his hand, David Denslow stares down two young boys in front of him. He says a pledge. The boys recite it.

David Denslow does not smile.

David Denslow wears sand-colored canvas, a moustache, and commands a wiry figure. His hair is silver and straight. And it seems that the blood is always rushing to his beat, red face. Maybe it’s just the Mojave and the sun and the dust and the West, I think.

Pure Mojave Man. That’s my guess.

I’m wrong.

“Michigan Man.” David Denslow spells it out and lets it sink in like hot steel, and then he continues. “I was born in Lansing Michigan. 1954. Middle class family. Nobody rich. Nobody poor.”

David Denslow’s life began to unfold fast when he became a rifleman for the US Marines. Between years of 1973 and 1976 he was on active duty and completed tours in South East Asia.

“In the fall of 73’ I was stationed in the Phillipines. That’s where I met my first wife. Then we moved back to United States. From there we went to Hawaii. Things didn’t work out. We got divorced.”

After the pledge, David and I enter an empty auditorium and pull up two chairs. The walls around us are plain. Tightly wound, David Denslow talks bullets. He talks sharp. He talks hard, like Michigan steel.

But what he says takes me by surprise. David Denslow is not the aggression-crazed man one might expect to find wound up in an ex-marine. In fact, David Denslow is very much his own man.

“In the marine corps we don’t have black, white, Mexican… there was never a color difference in my 20 years of experience. If you stab him in the arm and me in the arm, then what color is the blood? It’s the same!,” he exclaims passionately.

But then the ex-marine tells me about his duties, not as a soldier, but as a human resources manager, as if those times were the golden years of his military tenure.

David Denslow was a personnel manager during the US Military’s Desert Storm operation, where he was responsible for processing thousands of marines for training at the base in Twentynine Palms.

“It was the uncertainty that was tough. I was getting the emergency stuff set up. Wills set up. Power of attorneys set up. Making sure service records were current. And I was an office manager at that point. So I was running an office with 50 marines in it.”

“So when desert storm hit in 1990, 50, 60 thousand marines would be called up. They’d have shoved them through Pendleton, but then they realized, oh wait, we’re going to be sending them to a desert, so maybe we gotta give them some desert training, so they’d send them up to us. Camp Pendleton got all the glory for the activation process, but all the training happened here, and Twentynine Palms didn’t get anything, but we’re the ones that trained them for our country,” he says vigorously.

David Denslow holds a Masters in Human Resource Management. He says that he believes he has out-educated himself. Now, in addition to his Ranger responsibilities, David Denslow oversees the Operation Wounded Warrior and Post to Parks Program at Twentynine Palms, which helps young former marines unwind and cope with the monsters that often come hand in hand with traumatic tours of duty as well as help them find jobs. The Post to Park program works by letting tired, troubled, and anxious soldiers wander the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park.

“Some of these young marines – now even though they’re not physically damaged, they’re mentally damaged.”

David Denslow says that the purpose of the programs is to prevent disturbed marines from ending up on the street.

“This is a place for you to unwind, a place for you to forget about it, a place for you to relax.”

The aspiration to join the marines followed from observing his older brothers’ choices, David Denslow explains.

“Growing up in HS I didn’t really have a specific aspiration. But after seeing my older brothers go into the military… I didn’t want the Army, Navy, Airforce because the other three were already there. And the Marine Corps is a challenge. It’s not an application it’s a commitment… so in 1972 I entered the Marine corps.”

“That was one of my aspirations. I knew it would be hard work.”

David Denslow says it without hostility, without arrogance. He says it with a calm, somber, but tired-as-hell satisfaction. He says it as though he is happy it is over, but he is happy to own it as part of his history.

It was hard work, too, explains David, when it came to growing up in Michigan as the son of two alcoholic parents, whom David says caused damage, but that he only realized that later in his life.Both of his parents died of alcohol-induced dementia, he says.

“At one point, I just knew I had to get away from Mom and Dad. I had to get out of dodge,” says David Denslow pensively, thinking about his decision to join the corps.

He also remembers how his father used to believe in the parks and how they kept David and his brothers away from the ubiquitous drug-use that became a normal for kids growing up in the 1970s.

And he also remembers how his father liked to hunt.

“My dad hunted. My Dad liked pheasant. He owned a gun,” says the ex-marine.

And then he shifts his posture and puts his head up in the air, as if trying to present a dignity others might not let him have.

“But I never owned a gun,” he says.

May 2012

Latin America Becomes Most Urbanized Region, Ripe for Entrepreneurship

UN Habitat recently released a report that paints Latin America as the most urbanized region in the world, with a projected 90% of its population living in cities by 2025.

The question of whether or not this is a good thing attracts mixed opinion. The Agence-France Press (AFP) points out that the gap in income is widening. Just as much as it is the most urbanized region, Latin America suffers the most from income inequality.

Erik Vittrup, UN-Habitat head for human settlements, is more optimistic. He told the AP that,

“We’re at the end of an era of urban explosion, with few exceptions,” said Vittrup. “We’re seeing a reduction in poverty, indigence in urban areas; unemployment is going down.”

Overall, he said, Latin America is primed for “a new urban transition to quality of life, equity and sustainability.”

Even though the region might be prepped for a seminal social and economic leap, it still faces the struggle of lifting an estimated 124 million people out of poverty.

That is why Latin America’s budding centers of entrepreneurship that have come with the region’s storm of urbanization should feel as though there is more opportunity for creating new wealth than there are obstacles to stand in the way of its thumping innovation.

According to Techcrunch, a new wave of TechnoLatinas have emerged in certain cities, (think Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Santiago, and Mexico City) where start-up “ecosystems” have already been scrambling to dig in. The Santiago-based Start-up Chile duels with the Silicon Valley for investment. Professionals with business and engineering talent are in abundance since more than half the population of Latin America is 30 years old or younger.

The ingredients to flatten out Latin America’s ugliest wrinkle – its income inequality – are all there. Now its Technolatina entrepreneurs need the sort of angel investment that descends on San Francisco’s hottest entrepreneurs. And maybe a dash of belief as well.

Watching Juanita’s Piñata

September, 2012

A reflection on my three months in Bogotá, what I’ve experienced, and what about the country has changed. Some parts will feel familiar to my first entry, “A Reason for Applause.” Some will not.

There was a celebration when we landed. It’s traditional in Colombia to clap when the plane hits the runway. My hands, however, were cradling my head. It is Tuesday May 29th and I’m dizzy.

Immigration didn’t stop me. I always feel as though officials have the power to come up with a silly reason to stop you at immigration. You didn’t spell your address correctly. You can’t speak Spanish. You’re too old. You’re too young. You’re too beautiful. Hey, you, you’re too beautiful. What’s your name?

After a brief pause and a hard stare from the sad looking immigration man who hid behind the glass, I passed through, back into Colombia.

I’ve been here before. In 2009 I came to Colombia to volunteer as a CEEDer for AIESEC EIA and study Spanish for 2 months. I remember the fear and anxiety that plagued me when I landed in Medellín at the beginning of the summer. But suddenly there was an old friend from university and a handful of others hanging over a balcony in the Medellín airport. They were shouting and waving, and my welcome, indeed my entire time in that city, was warm.

Again, now in Bogotá’s El Dorado airport, even though the air is chilly, my welcome is warm.

Right as I walked away from the currency exchange window, I heard my name being called loudly. Cristian and Nataly, two members of the AIESEC Trainee Integration team, greeted me with huge hugs. They took photographs. They gave me a small traditional Colombian pouch with a hand-made Colombian poncho inside. A small bottle of aguardiente, the national white rum touted as a point of Colombian pride, came tumbling out of the pouch as well. Then they bought me a hamburger. We sat down. And we talked. We talked in Spanish. We talked in English. Everything was coming back. A gust of strong, good memories was pouring in from the smells, the sounds, the feel.

I was happy. I felt comfortable. I felt safe. And the hamburger was delicious.

Now, the first thing you learn when you get to Bogotá is just how dangerous it really is, how you have to tener cuidado or be careful. At first, I didn’t understand exactly what this meant. Did it mean that I was going to get killed? Kidnapped? Robbed? Tripped? Does it mean that some parts of the city are more dangerous than others?

“Everywhere in Bogotá is dangerous,” Yudbeny, the woman who runs my apartment, told me later with a big chuckle. “After 8pm in the evening, if you are on the street alone, and the street is empty, then debes tener cuidado (you have to be careful).”

Living in Bogotá, I realize, can be dizzying when the city around you has suffered decades of civil war, the Bogotazo, forced displacement, and a massive gap between rich and poor. The insecurity and the poverty can get dizzying.

After hopping into a small car with Cristian, the road starts moving underneath me. Small, wobbly buses called collectivos zip and dart around us. It is dark. The road is dented with potholes and cracks. The car shakes violently. Cristian is cool.

As we zoom toward the Alvarez family’s house where I will stay for one week until I get settled, something in Colombia is happening.

What coincides with (almost to the day) of my arrival is the release of Roméo Langlois, a French journalist, by the FARC (Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). The FARC, a left-wing guerrilla group that formed in 1964 in opposition to Colombia’s tattered political climate, took Langlois captive during a firefight with the Colombian military in the mountains of Caqueta (a department in the south of the country) on April 28th.

During his 30 days in captivity, Langlois rigorously interviewed and documented the life of the guerrilla soldiers whose political motives and weaponry could decide life or death for the young Frenchman on a whim. He emerged from captivity claiming that he was treated well, and that the FARC desperately want to talk peace. Langlois came out of captivity carrying the voice of one of Colombia’s most marginalized and feared guerrilla groups – and how the international community needs to put pressure on Colombia for a peace process.

Now, three months later, much has happened around me here in Colombia, and fortunately the dizziness is passing.

Now, much more so in response to a tired 48 year armed civil conflict than Langlois’ hostage theatrics, after sacrificing 2% of GDP ($16bn) on military spending, and an $8bn Plan Colombia to help fight Colombia’s FARC, ELN and a variety of military groups, and after tens of thousands of lives taken on both sides of the fighting, real signs of a peace process have seemed to come alive again.

After a messy and inglorious attempt to start talks in 1998, President Juan Manuel Santos is renewing that failed effort. Colombia and the FARC have jointly declared that they agree to start a peace process starting no later than October of 2012. The talks will take place in Oslo and then later in Havana, and Chile and Venezuela will help facilitate the talks. The US will not be involved.

The mood amongst students in my classrooms, of my boss, around my neighborhood in the Palermo, my housemates – a Venezuelan political science Masters student, and a Colombian history student – is generally a cool mix of tired hope and cautious skepticism.

It has been roughly three months since Langlois came out of the Caqueta carrying the voice of a marginalized group that wants to talk peace – supporting it, promoting it. Finally, his wish is coming true.

Three months, and things are still changing fast around me.

But my changes happening to me are different from the changes that frame Colombia against its tired civil conflict.

Since day one, and beyond the backdrop of the Langlois fiasco and hopeful peace talks, a rich and lucid life has unfolded for me as an AIESEC trainee.

I have learned to listen to the sound of harmonicas whine through the sleepy streets of the Candelaria.

I’ve learned to dance Salsa on rooftops, in kitchens and backyards, and a creaky old joint called the Cubano where the bathrooms might as well be an entrance to purgatory, where no one is younger than 40, and where I reckon they make the mojitos stronger than Hemingway’s beard.

I’ve taught students at a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) call center that handles ATT&T telecommunications accounts, where employees are students making an extra buck next on the side of university classes, oil mechanics making an extra buck on the side, aspiring teachers, and a Eurozone crisis refugee from Spain. I’ve taught engineers, CEOs, and designers.

I’ve learned to bravely cut into a new, strange and exotically delicious fruit each new week, struggling to defeat the element of surprise that springs from Colombia’s insanely endless diversity of botanical temptations. So I cut again. And then low and behold there always is: another surprise.

I’ve learned to be scolded, praised, humiliated and advised by Yudbeny Gonzalez – Queen of an old broken down house in the Palermo where I used to live. Queen of twelve young boys who want to be men. Mother none.

I’ve learned my language from a new perspective, how its complexity is both its flaw and its beauty, and how news of the way phrasal verbs work is always taken as tough news.

I’ve learned that what is important to remember when living against the backdrop of a place, a people, a country made up of a narrative laced with violence, drug-trafficking, street crime, and robbery, is that it is important to stay hopeful, to stay positive.

Colombia is a country that has been led through countless dizzying trials of hope and despair.

Right now though Colombia is leaning toward a hopeful future.

There was a celebration as Juanita struck the piñata and hundreds of dulces scattered across the floor. A group of children converged on the blind-folded Juanita, whose birthday has brought salsa music, grilled meat, family and friends into the house of Diego Jaimes, the man from whom I rent a room in my neighborhood, the Palermo. I stand somewhere off to the side and talk to a father of one of the children about the US. He is curious. For all the dizziness brought about by Colombia’s political conflict, Juanita’s birthday and the people it brings together feels extraordinarily lucid.

Juanita holds up a dulce. She looks at it, and then she looks at me, and then she unwraps the candy and stuffs it into her mouth and chews and smiles. She is shining. Juanita, who has just turned five years old, will grow up with the worst of Colombia’s memories buried in history. It is hoped.

In the snap and thrash of Juanita’s piñata exploding like a bomb in mid air, I realize I’ve been here for three months now. It is September 8th. There are children and dulces and laughter covering the floor of my house. These are clear and beautiful things.

And Colombia is less dizzy than ever before.

“Watching Juanita’s Piñata” is a reflection on my three months in Bogotá, what I’ve experienced, and what has changed. Parts, though by no means the whole, of this piece are taken from my first entry, “A Reason for Applause.”

Untangling the Knot: Colombia Enters Peace Talks

Ask most any Colombian living today and a sad, knotted up story from somewhere within the past 50 years comes out. Some are told by sons of fathers whose credibility crumbled after defending Marxist drug-dealers. Some are told by the sons of fathers whose lives were taken during Medellín’s cartel violence in the 1980s. Some are the fathers of daughters whose lives were taken hostage for years on end. Fortunately, many of those stories are rare in 21st century Colombia. But a handful of Marxist revolutionaries still account for this Andean nation’s history of terror, which is alive but now weaker than ever before.

That terror might end soon. And with it, a deeply complex anxiety and distrust that plagues many parts of Colombian society.

The Financial Times reported that on August 27th, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), have committed to entering into peace talks that will begin on an unknown date in October in Oslo and Havana. They will be facilitated by Venezuela and Chile. In a video broadcast from Havana on (DATE) Londoño (nom de guerre “Timochenko”) declared that “war is not the exit, but rather dialog.”

The Financial Times reported that “the 50-year old conflict costs Colombia’s $370bn economy an estimated two percentage points of output each year, has caused between 50,000 and 200,000 deaths and displaced up to 3m people.” The opportunity for a peace deal brings the possibility of impressive savings for Colombia’s national government. The Farc will be satisfied to see violence disappear as well, since the group’s numbers have dwindled by more than 50% of it’s membership in the early 2000s due to relentless military attacks authored by Uribe. But satisfaction will only be concrete if they also get concessions like policies to rid Colombia’s poverty in exchange for laying down arms.

Santos says the country will enjoy a “peace dividend” of 2% of GDP if the talks lead to success. But forgone spending, according to the Financial Times blog beyond BRICs, might not be re-routed into investment as fast as some might expect. Colombia is likely to continue high levels of spending on security even if the talks lead to Farc putting down its weapons.

Santos’ job isn’t an easy one. He has been drawn and quartered by international pressure groups, and scolded by his predecessor and former colleague, Alvaro Uribe. And even though it has not been too overbearing, foreign influence of the North American flavor is surely a worry. But if he succeeds in bringing the Farc to the table and signing a peace treaty, then both the Farc and the Colombian people could win dividends greater than just GDP savings – they could win a democracy freed from a half-century’s worth of violence and terror.

Even if Colombia and the Farc sign onto a peace deal, there are still tricky knots to untie. The drug-trafficking industry is used as a revenue instrument for the Farc. An entire industry cannot be dismantled in a flash when profits are entwined in a maddeningly complex network of international black market and legitimate trade networks. The matter of whether or not the Farc’s secretariat deserve punishment or pardon is another polemic matter that could arouse deep cracks between the government and its people and possibly rupture Colombia’s strong diplomatic relations with the US. The US, after all, has spent roughly $700mil per year mostly on Colombian military aid. It also has a bounty of $5mil on several secretariat members’ heads. However Santos and Timochenko set out to untie the knots in October, it is hoped that the stories Colombia tells will get lighter, and hopefully its people will have a chance to loosen up its gnarled past.

The Gerente’s English

July, 2012

Ahead of us there is smoke billowing out of the back of something metal, black, stained and industrial. It’s moving slowly.

And it is making me late for my lesson with the Gerente.

I can see the smoke through the front window of my stick-shifting, gurgling, gears-grinding-gears bus that holds more than twenty people. There are roughly ten seats. The driver sits on something soft, maroon, and squeaky and uses one hand to steer as he rips several peso notes out of his fist and quickly turns to make eye contact with his latest passenger, whose feet have barely left the ground as the bus lurches forward and away. The new passenger is a mother holding a child.

Changing cash and driving stick should be classified as an act of God in Bogotá’s gnarly traffic frenzy.

But it is not.

This, like any other concrete vein coursing through the city, is just the way the road is. This time it is the road to Mosquera, a small, and what I expect to be sleepy, town one and a half hours outside of Bogotá

Some sort of divinity, surely, is the only thing I can think of that keeps my driver sane.

That must be why, when looking through the window, the exhaust filled road is not the only thing I see. Hanging from the window there is a string holding several crosses with a crucified Christ dangling from each one. And on the dashboard, The Virgin Mary faces our driver head on.

The lore behind the Virgin Mary’s relationship with Bogotá’s bus drivers goes something like this: some years ago a group of drivers were taking a rest along the road. A group of old hands told some younger fellows that they should get religious quick, that they should start respecting the virgin Mary, and carry some faith with them for their new lives on the road. They declined, and two of the young drivers went off and got into an accident later that day. The story circulated. Anecdote turned to superstition. The superstition spread. And now, years later, decking out the interior of almost every collectivo bus in Bogotá, there is a fervent display of Catholic symbols and paraphernalia. And the Virgin Mary is almost always present.

The bus’s dashboard is almost like a private altar.

Along the way what I see along the road is a chaotic sort of transformation. A gigantic excavator tears up soil from a fallow farm field and deposits it into a dump truck. Modern architecture sticks up on the outskirts of Bogotá with signs draped over its glass window panes, signaling “office space for rent.” Further along a town street lined with grease-stained mechanic shops and heaping junkyards, where every other bus is a truck carrying freight, there are apartment residences under construction.

The small towns toward the West of Bogotá – Funza, Mosquera, Facatativá – are hotbeds of an industrial wildfire, where industrial parks, distribution warehouses, a Nestle factory, and massive flower companies have sprung up and started to thrive in a lively, chaotic way since the early 2000s.

Somewhere in this chaos there is an office where the Gerente of a French multinational manufacturing company is waiting for me to arrive.

Then, suddenly, the bus screeches to a halt. The bus driver shouts at me to get off. This, apparently, is my stop.

My feet hit the ground. Dirt. Next to me something of a makeshift flatbed truck is broken down. Several men hover around two feet, which stick out from underneath the engine. Across the road there is a massive and vacant industrial park. Everything else is flat, open green.

Several paces back in the opposite direction from the broken down truck there is a gate and what appears to be a complex of buildings.

I trudge toward it.

At the gate there is a man with a gun. Security. I pass him my identification card through the thin slats in the fence. Inside his guard house I hear the murmur of a voice on a telephone. The phone clicks. The gates of Saint-Gobain open.

“Siga,” says the security guard, telling me to enter.

I do, and then I set out to meet the man who will be my private pupil of the English tongue for the next several months. I set out to meet the General Manager, the Gerente, of Saint-Gobain Colombia.

The cluster of offices is a two-story box that hangs over a long, narrow factory building with wide sliding doors and no windows. Inside, there is a young, black haired woman who appears to be no more than 20 years old. She points to a set of stairs. At the top, there is a long wide room that stretches the entire length of the building. About 15 shirts and ties face me as I enter. Then, just as suddenly as I appear, they go back to their whirring computer terminals, and all I can hear is the snapping click of keys entering figures into spreadsheets. I behold the finance department.

A woman in her forties approaches me. Her posture says professional and confident, but it balances polite and hospitable too. She explains that the Gerente will wait for me here, and gestures with an open hand to a long black sofa outside a closed door at the end of the room. She asks me if I want coffee. I say yes. She disappears.

After a quick five minutes, the door swings open. A round-faced man who appears to be his late thirties stands in front of me. He is wearing blue jeans, a pressed shirt, and a tie. There is a fast, intense sort of energy in his round frame. Wearing a modest smile, he looks at me, holds out his hand, shakes it, and says, “Buenos días.” Something in the way he says it is hesitant.

We enter the Gerente’s office.

The Gerente’s office is many things. It is the sound of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shania Twain, and a string of Salsa tracks playing softly through speakers close to the windows. It is a round conference table with a projector poised and ready to flash presentations at a screen that fills up one entire wall at the end of the office. It is phone calls. Phone calls from the factory line downstairs, phone calls from the secretary just down the hall, phone calls from Paris, phone calls from Brazil, emails in Spanish, emails in English, sudden ideas for innovation, for branding, for re-branding, debates, resolutions, fast black ink scribbling on white correspondence stock. And it is time, too, falling away at the feet of the man who tries to run faster than everything happening around him.

We sit down across from each other at the conference table. There is a knock at the door. A maid enters with two cups of coffee. She places them in between the Gerente and me. The maid leaves. The Gerente turns back to the table, looks at me, produces a heavy sigh, smiles, and apologizes.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say Buenos dias. I meant to say Good morning, how are you?” he says.

And then class with the Gerente begins.

ECLAC Proposes Structural Reforms to Latin American Economies

Commodities are sweet little things in Latin America. Indeed, Brazil should be excited then, because recent weather data helped forecast a strong coffee crop and high prices for 2013. For Brazil and its neighbors, the past decade has seen a thumping commodities boom thanks to China’s appetite for industrialization. One might think the region’s leaders would be smiling and kicking back, enjoying the good old decade.

But they are not.

Instead serious faces worn by leaders and representatives of Latin American and Caribbean states turned toward El Salvador, where a dramatic pivot in economic policy for the region was discussed last week. The reason for serious attention is because ECLAC, a UN economic policy organization, introduced a proposal detailing a range of structural changes to Latin American economies that intend to defend against looming external business cycle shocks with new productivity reforms, which aim to bring high-value-added industry to the region. The idea here is to close the region’s painfully wide wealth gap.

Soy, oil, minerals and coffee, it seems, are no longer hot kitsch.

“History suggests that developing countries that have succeeded in converging with the more advanced countries have done so through the accumulation of technological capacity, innovation and knowledge, not on the basis of rents from natural resources,” ECLAC told Reuters.

ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) holds a summit every other year, where its representatives discuss economic policy for the region. This year, the structural proposal emerged from a concern that over-specialization on low-productivity commodities and emphasis on import-substitution action has put a drag on the region’s economic performance dating back to the 1970s.

ECLAC means well. And its proposal sounds good in theory. Latin American states wrestle with wealth inequality and a new model for encouraging productivity and capacity building could contribute to closing the gap between rich and poor. One of the region’s biggest challenges, however, is how to agree on a proposal like this. For a roster of states obeying increasingly polarized political postures, there will likely be a handful of states, such as Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Mexico, that have an appetite for the UN’s new economic proposal. Others however, like Venezuela, Cuba and even Argentina, might just as well chew it up and spit it out as if it were a bitter seed.