Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Forgotten Lands: Ste. Julia

Ste. Julia

Capital: Elizabethville
Population: 600,000 (1989 estimate; considered unreliable)
Area: 1,150 km2
Independence: 1888

Economy: Some plantation agriculture (sugar, mangos) and, probably much more importantly, extensive growing and processing of illegal drugs. Some subsistence farming in the interior. Heavily dependent on international aid and bulk food imports.
Per Capita Income: US$3,770
Languages: Ste. Julia Creole, English
Literacy Rate: 40%

It has been more than twenty years since Time magazine described this small Atlantic island nation as “the nightmare neighbor America wants to forget.” In the intervening years, America has indeed seemed to have succeeded in forgetting Ste. Julia, which has if anything slipped even further from media attention. Few now remember the happier times when Ste. Julia’s capital was a regular port of call for American tourists. It is striking and telling that today not a single scheduled flight links the city with nearby Miami, only 120 miles away.

But this is no wonder. These days, Elizabethville’s twisting avenues of rusting shacks are patrolled by the rival militias of local druglords, making a stroll through the neighborhoods too dangerous for anyone but the most streetwise locals. Nor does the barren, sun-blasted landscape offer anything resembling natural beauty or vacation fun. Even the one building in Ste. Julia of any architectural distinction, the decaying national palace, is tightly cordoned off by the army. “They protect it well,” a young man lounging outside of a cantina, one of the few downtown businesses open on a recent weekday, remarked to the author. “They have to, because it is the only territory they really control at all.” Appearing no more than 14 – he claimed to be 19 – this lad conspicuously sported both a machete and an AK-47.

Until the 1930s, Ste. Julia fared no worse than most poor island countries. However, its thin soil (not volcanic, as in the Caribbean, but more akin to Florida’s limestone plateau) proved unable to support the demands made of it from that time on. Ever poorer earth was asked to support an ever-greater population. Today, only the bare remnants of a formerly dominant commercial agriculture remain. The flat landscape has been badly deforested, leaving a scrubby, gullied landscape that provides little shade and virtually no forage for wild animals.

Since the 1970s, drug trafficking has defined life on the island, and citizens live in terror of continual blood feuds among the competing criminal organizations. It is cold comfort to consider that, without the profitable business in drugs, there might well be no way at all for Ste. Julia to feed itself at all.

Flag: A tall, serpent-like “Dragon of Ste. Julia,” the traditional symbol of the island, faces to the right on a trapezoidal field of white. Blue triangles to right and left, bordered by a thin stripe of gold, likely represent the surrounding Atlantic Ocean.

National Anthem: “Hope, Peace, and Freedom.”


Aviatrix said...

Sadly, for me the charm of the forgotten lands recedes as each addition makes it less and less likely that a person could have forgotten that many countries.

Michael5000 said...

Only three more. You can make it.

Aviatrix said...

There's an end? It's not a limitless series? You promise?

DrSchnell said...

My students' map quizzes show that, indeed, it is possible to forget that many countries, and real ones at that!