Wednesday, March 4, 2015

No Chinese Spoken Here!

Capt. Wu Hong under arrest. (Photo: El Tiempo)
Colombia aspires to be a plugged-in, globalized nation, and arguably its most globalized city should be the port and tourist magnet of Cartagena.

So, why in the world, can't that regional capital of a million people find a Chinese-language translator?

A few days ago, Cartagena port officials discovered that a Chinese ship bound for Cuba carried not only the oil pipes declared on its manifest, but also had hidden 100 tons of gunpowder, ammunition for heavy artillery and more than two million detonators.

The captain, Wu Hong, was duly arrested - but authorities found they could not arraign him because they had no Chinese-Spanish interpreter. A search of Chinese restaurants and shops produced no volunteers, perhaps because the people feared involvement in an illegal enterprise. Finally, a student from China was located and presented himself in court. However, when officials asked him for his cedula, the young man "scratched his head and said that he'd left it at home," El Tiempo reports. The youth departed and has not been heard from since.

Crates of contraband arms. (Photo: El Tiempo
Cuba's trafficking of war material is bizarre, unethical and ugly. The island nation has no borders and nor apparent enemies, particularly now that it's making friends with the United States. (And if the U.S. did invade - in violation of treaty commitments - no amount of artillery would save Havana from the planet's only superpower, anyway.) The arms cache is particularly worrisome in light of the discovery in Panama last July of weapons hidden on a Cuban ship bound for North Korea, a totalitarian dictatorship which regularly threatens to attack South Korea.

Ironically, Cuba is hosting the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas.

But back to Cartagena's embarrassing lack of a Chinese interpreter. I needn't observe that China is the world's most populous nation, the world's second-largest economy and a huge investor in Latin America. It's also a great potential source of tourists.

Are there no students who did semesters in Chinese high schools or universities? No businesspeople who travel to China? No Chinese immigrants who've learned Spanish? No Chinese language scholars?

Cartagena's lack of Chinese interpreters is handicapping prosecution of this ship captain. But it surely throws much more of a wrench into the region's economy.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: