On December 17, I started my day at the airport in Panama City. Having arrived early, I was enjoying a cup of coffee and working on my laptop in the American Airlines gate area, waiting for their Dallas-bound flight. I’d had to pass though Panama’s U.S.-style security–including shoe removal–which is unusual in a foreign country, but that was behind me.
About two hours before flight time, 11 airline employees showed up in the departure lounge. Some fanned out to cover the perimeters, while others set up inspection tables. A portable X-ray machine was rolled into place.
A young man then got on the PA and announced that everyone had to leave the gate area and pass through this ad-hoc security before returning to their seats. So, barely 50 yards from our last security check, American was setting up their own, including a hand pat-down. All passengers had to get into another long line to re-enter the now cordoned-off gate area. Anyone who’d bought a bottle of water for the flight after the first security check had it confiscated.
After passing though this new security lane, anyone who wanted to use the rest room or buy a coffee had to repeat the process upon re-entering.
And, on this particular day, American ended up with Dallas and Miami planes switched at the gates. So the passengers all had to move to a new gate area and repeat the process. More lines and more bottled water confiscations.
All around the concourse, the passengers bound for other countries snickered as they watched us being herded around like cattle.
Everyone who travels knows that American’s dinosaur business and operating practices have landed them in bankruptcy. But in this case, that’s not the problem.
The problem here is that the flight was bound for the United States, an aggressor nation and the world’s self-appointed policeman. As a result, we’re also a target of aggression and a victim of retaliation.
Be assured that I’m not trying to make a political statement on U.S. policies; there are plenty of other writers out there who can debate those issues. My point is the consequences of those policies. The result is that the United States must keep a close watch on its citizens and visitors. Luxuries like buying a bottle of water for the flight–or a bottle of rum…or perfume from the gift shop–aren’t permitted for us.
This morning’s experience points out one of the small pleasures of diversifying your life overseas.
I’m a legal resident of four countries. Not because I’m a residency expert; I just followed their simple directions and applied. And when I’m bound for Colombia, Uruguay, or Ecuador, I can travel with dignity…as a resident of a country that still enjoys its freedom. My laptop stays in its case…I leave my shoes on…and I can count on only one brief pass through security. It’s only when I’m bound for the United States that they’re obligated to treat me like a terror suspect.
And the sense of freedom infringement doesn’t end at the airport.
Colombia doesn’t feel the need to monitor my e-mails and calls…Uruguay doesn’t bother to film my activities on the streets…and Ecuador doesn’t insist on patting me down at its airports. At Brazil’s SÃo Paulo departure lounge, I can pass quickly through the South American screening, and avoid the U.S.-bound line of shoe-removers and laptop-separators.
Contrary to what many believe, international diversity has nothing to do with politics, protesting, or escaping from whoever may be president at the time. It’s about having choices.
No country offers more convenient living than the United States; and as a tax-paying U.S. citizen, I’m entitled to enjoy living there any time I want.
But likewise, I’m also entitled to enjoy the 50s-style values and freedom of Ecuador…the old-world ambiance, secure banking, and currency advantages of Uruguay…and the upscale lifestyle and low costs of MedellÃn, Colombia. Any time I choose.
And I can switch from one to another on a day’s notice for any reason that strikes my fancy, from world politics to next week’s weather forecast.
That’s the real freedom that comes with international diversity.
Lee Harrison has lived all over South America since he retired at age 49 from his engineering career. He’s speaking at the Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference coming up in February. You can read more from Lee at Live and Invest Overseas.