Having survived multiple attacks on his life, Colombian president Álvaro Uribe takes no chances with the security of his transport. Even his aircraft has been blessed by a bishop and he rolls with a crew of bodyguards.
One of the world’s most vulnerable heads of state and a man who has survived a dozen or so assassination attempts, Colombian president Álvaro Uribe cuts no corners when it comes to travel safety. Targeted by Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, he has escaped mortar and car bomb attacks during his seven-year tenure. In one attempt on Uribe’s life, a bomb exploded near his campaign convoy. His vehicle was wrecked but its armour allowed Uribe to emerge unscathed.
For daily business, Uribe uses a fleet of five heavily armoured and bullet-proof Toyotas flanked by a two-man police motorbike escort. Security rules over style. Uribe rarely leaves the presidential palace unless dressed in discreet bullet-proof clothing and surrounded by heavy-duty protection, including special forces teams from Colombia’s Elite Anti-terrorist Corp (CEAT) and around half a dozen bodyguards who ride in the presidential convoy.
For security reasons, the 57-year-old Harvard and Oxford graduate rarely travels by river. Moving about by train is not an option either as Colombia’s few railway lines are used to transport coal and not passengers. A conservative hardliner who likes to micromanage and keep in touch with the man in the street, Uribe clocks up the air miles on his $40m (€28m) Boeing 737-700. Every weekend, he shuttles to different provinces across the country in order to preside over community council meetings.
The Boeing, bought in 2005, replaced the ageing Dutch Fokker F-28 after 34 years of presidential service. Following various emergency landings and near mid-air collisions, the Fokker (known as the “el cafetero” or old banger) was often out of action as spare parts were hard to come by. To reach jungle outposts, Uribe usually hops on one of three US-made Bell 412 helicopters, escorted by three military fighter helicopters.
After 13 years of national debate, the Colombian government finally decided to buy the Boeing 737-700, which before its inaugural presidential flight was blessed by a local bishop. The jet, known as Colombian Air Force One (FAC 001), accommodates 54 passengers and a six-member US-trained crew. The VIP cabin area has an eight-chair boardroom and a single bed for the president. Judging by its no-frills interior, much of the $11m (€7.7m) spent on revamping the plane went on upgrading its security and hi-tech communication systems. The jet can fly to Paris and all Latin American capitals without a refuelling stop.
Like many local executives looking for some serious protection, Uribe has opted for one of Colombia’s best-selling cars – the robust Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. The rest of the presidential fleet is made up of four V6 3400 and 3500 grey and black Toyotas.
The state-of-the-art presidential car has been custom-made jointly by a local firm of armoured car specialists and a security company in the US. The mobile fortress is built like a tank, weighs over three tons and is bomb-proof.
For decades, an ambulance has been a standard feature of presidential motorcades in Colombia and has accompanied a string of the nation’s leaders at risk from guerrilla attacks. So far, Uribe has not had to use his personal emergency services.
Bill Clinton heads to Haiti this month in his new capacity as a UN special envoy. Clinton will encourage trade with the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, which is already receiving plenty of non-business help: the country hosts the world’s second largest number of NGOs per capita. India is first.
As wholesale milk prices fall, it’s becoming more attractive for farmers to opt out of the mass market and sell directly to consumers. So in many parts of the US the good old-fashioned milkman is making a comeback. Home milk delivery is booming and customers are rediscovering the joys of getting fresh local milk delivered to their door. “Our prices are very stable, which is good for us and good for our clients,” says Oregon farmer Franz Noris, whose fast growing business already has 400 customers. Let’s raise a weighty glass bottle to that.
Just a short walk from the White House sits the Tunisian Tourism Office, stocked with a predictable array of brochures promoting Carthaginian ruins and Mediterranean beach resorts. It is one of the 24 such bureaux that Tunisia maintains in 19 countries across the world in affiliation with its embassies.
Yet a resident of Tunis would find no similar outpost – there or in any other capital – that trumpets the delights of America. The US is one of only a handful of countries with no national tourism authority: Washington plays no role in coordinating marketing efforts and has no budget for promoting the country as a tourism destination.
“We’re a jigsaw puzzle of destinations without a frame around it,” says Meryl Levitz, president of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. “Right now, the major international message about the US as a place is CNN.”
A short-lived attempt to create a federal tourism board in the 1990s died off after a few years. The Bush administration refused to join the United Nations World Tourism Organisation upon its creation in 2003. Tourism continues to be treated as something of a trifle by American policymakers. But now that the world is generally looking at the US with friendlier eyes than it did during the George Bush years, it seems the time is ripe to do more to encourage visitors.
This winter, Congress looks poised to establish a federal Office of Travel Promotion and a non-profit Corporation for Travel Promotion, the latter funded largely by arrival taxes on foreign visitors. This time around, travel-industry lobbyists worked hard to cultivate rural supporters in Congress. It seems to have paid off somewhat: the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Byron Dorgan, represents North Dakota – not a frequent stop-off for foreign visitors. “This will help the middle of the country, the inland areas,” says Lisa Costello of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “They don’t have as much money as bigger states – they’re probably not spending any money at all.”
American tourism officials have already been eyeing up one audacious effort to rebrand an unlikely destination in tough times. As Michigan’s largest employers were counting on Washington for a rescue, state leaders have spent $20m (€14m) so far this year to advertise “Pure Michigan” domestically – that’s almost four times their total 2005 tourism-promotion budget. Benefiting from cheap advertising deals, Michigan secured a Times Square billboard at a 50 per cent discount.
On the cable-news network MSNBC, it has not been uncommon for a panel discussion of Detroit’s apocalyptic future to be followed by romantic shots of lakeside lighthouses and golf-course sunsets.
Internationally speaking, though, a new tourism authority could have trouble conceiving trip ideas that cross state borders. Will they be able to convince someone visiting a Harley-Davidson factory in Pennsylvania to also tour a Ford plant outside Detroit? Or try to talk a Chicago conventioneer into adding a few ski days in western Michigan?
01. New York 06. Illinois
02. California 07. Massachusetts
03. Florida 08. Guam
04. Nevada 09. Texas
05. Hawaii 10. New Jersey
Presidential elections in Uruguay on 25 October are being contested by a 74-year-old – José Mujica, the current favourite – and a 68-year-old, Luis Alberto Lacalle, who already did the job 20 years ago. We’re wondering, isn’t it time to allow in some new blood to give this South American success story a more dynamic role in the region?
The mayor of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, has banned private coaches from the city centre, unclogging the streets, at least for a while.
As much as 225km of tailbacks around the city have been known to cause chaos at rush hours. Some 650-700 coaches bringing workers into town each day were adding to the problem. The mayor had already banned lorries and trucks from a 70km radius of the city between 05.00 and 21.00. But will passengers jump on public transport now, or into their cars?
Religion may be the guiding hand behind much of the social and political posturing in the US, but Americans only get two official religious holidays per year. The far more secular France, however, has seven.
South America may be staunchly Roman Catholic, but Evangelical Protestants are making great in-roads. This has worked out well for residents of Chile: Reformation Day was made a public holiday last year, bringing the total to eight.