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Orlando Sentinel

U.S. Prognosticators See Bad Times Ahead

Ray Quintanilla, Sentinel Columnist

30 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- There's a group of U.S. government eggheads, the National Intelligence Council, spending hours upon hours analyzing trends around the world to get a handle on the future.

Recently the council released a report that looks at 2020 and makes a profound prediction about this part of the world. If the prediction comes true, this hemisphere faces significant new challenges.

Here's what the report said: In this part of the world, the gap between the rich and the poor is going to grow wider -- rather than narrow, as we all had hoped.

With human despair on the rise during the next 15 years, you can bet the number of people from the Caribbean and Latin America entering the United States illegally is going to grow, and it's likely to include some who would want to do us harm. Illegal drugs will become cheaper and more addictive, finding their way into the hands of a new generation of U.S. children.

Political instability throughout the hemisphere will get worse, giving rise to leaders not friendly to the United States. And judging from calls and e-mails coming my way, the resentment about the flow of Puerto Ricans into Central Florida is going to increase.

It should be no surprise that Puerto Ricans are settling in Central Florida. They want nice neighborhoods and good job opportunities -- just like the rest of us.

Soon, "Floricans" will outnumber the famous "Nuyoricans," largely because a skyrocketing murder rate is tearing Puerto Rico apart.

Then there's the likelihood that another strongman leader in the mold of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will come to power somewhere in the hemisphere, inspiring another wave of migration. Chavez, no friend of the United States, is a charismatic man who is building bridges to Cuba, China and India while severing links to democracy.

That brings me to illegal drugs. About 60 percent of Puerto Rico's 790 killings last year were linked to the drug trade. As economic despair becomes more profound in the next decade and a half, more young people will enter the drug trade to make a living -- all across the Caribbean, Latin America and South America, where drugs offer the only stream of steady income.

Consider these situations:

About 27 million children younger than 14 are working across Latin America (where child-labor laws don't exist). You can bet they aren't laboring in the best conditions.

In oil-rich Venezuela, about a third of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and it gets worse across South America.

Young girls from underdeveloped nations in the Caribbean and Central America are being taken from their homes and forced to work in brothels. Remember the raid a few years ago in Texas of such a place, where authorities found a large group of teenage Honduran girls?

That's a lot to consider. But the facts point to one outcome: When the poor only get poorer, it doesn't benefit anyone.

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