China, Morocco, Africa Conference in Rabat

Lessons from co-leading the recent National Association of Black Journalists’ historic mission to China will be useful next week when I chair the opening plenary of the China, Morocco and Africa conference in Rabat.

The conference is sponsored by the Policy Center for the New South and will be held Thursday at its new headquarters in Rabat. You can follow the conference on the center’s website. You can also check back at my WorldDispatch blog for highlights.

Trump, China, Latin America on Toronto Global Forum Agenda

In conversation with Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General, at the Toronto Global Forum.

By John Yearwood

TORONTO — Another terrific edition of the Toronto Global Forum ended on Friday. I moderated two sessions: A fireside chat with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and a discussion about social entrepreneurship, which attracted a large group of millennials. It was refreshing to see how engaged they were in the topic.

Luis Almagro and I greet Gil Rémillard, founder of the Toronto Global Forum, after our fireside chat.

Here are a few takeaways while the memory is still fresh.

Not as much talk this year as last about a global recession. Some expressed concerns on stage and in the hallways (indeed, there are reports that the British economy has already stalled) but the R-word didn’t dominate discussion

Former Trump administration official Anthony Scaramucci speaks at the Toronto Global Forum.

There was heightened interest in the U.S. presidential elections. Anthony Scaramucci, a luncheon speaker, says he doubts Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee while Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron gives Trump a 50 percent chance of being re-elected.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland leaves the stage after her lunch-time appearance.

Canada signaled a new tone in its tense relations with China by naming a new ambassador to Beijing. The new envoy, Dominic Barton, is a friend of the forum. Despite close ties to Chinese officials, it was clear he has a tough road ahead. On a related note, there wasn’t much public support for President Trump’s trade war with China.

Daphna Edwards Ziman, president of Cinemoi, North America, speaks at the Toronto Global Forum.

Finally, we met as Toronto was abuzz about its international film festival, called TIFF. It seemed to bring a particular energy to city. Unfortunately, I was too busy with forum-related events to check out the festival. Maybe next time.


By John Yearwood

After two days of Capitol Hill hearings into Facebook’s Libra project, a few things become clear. Perhaps the most important – and Facebook should have known this given its history — is that the company suffers from a massive crisis of trust. 

 U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, said it best over the two days. Looking directly at David Marcus, the head of Facebook’s Libra project, Gonzalez didn’t mince words: 

“What today’s hearing is really about is trust and whether we can trust your company,” he said. “You’re really low on the trust spectrum.”

Before Facebook could move ahead, it must address that trust issue. The $5 billion settlement it reached last week with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations didn’t help. Indeed, with the fine as a backdrop, it may have been the worst week for Marcus to show up on the Hill. 

The trust issue aside, the hearings presented an opportunity for Facebook to publicly explain what the Libra project is all about since its white paper was released last month. The company intends to set up an organization in Switzerland called the Libra Association to govern a new Libra digital token.  Facebook also plans to create a Calibra wallet, which consumers can use to send Libra to family members and others around the world. 

As Marcus described it, Calibra will be similar to Venmo, which consumers use to transfer money around the world.  Venmo is tied to bank accounts and credit cards. That’s a big difference with the proposed Calibra wallet. Marcus said Facebook plans to use existing money centers in various countries where consumers would be able to receive funds.  That could be a boon to the unbanked or underbanked, who will not need a bank account to access the financial sector. 

Congress has serious security and money laundering concerns. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., for example, repeated her call for a moratorium on Facebook’s plans until all the security and regulatory concerns are worked out. Marcus said Facebook will not move ahead until all the concerns were addressed. It appeared from the hearings, however, that although Marcus talked about being deliberative in setting up the Libra Association and Calibra, Facebook still planned to launch the project next year.

 Another issue that many in Congress addressed is how Facebook intends to make money from the Libra project. Marcus said the company hopes that the 90 million small- and medium-sized businesses on its platform will increase business with each other, generating more advertising dollars for Facebook. The company will also charge a small fee for commercial transactions, although transfers for non-businesses will be free.

A third way that Facebook will make money, and this didn’t get much attention at the hearing, is its share from interest on reserves controlled by the Libra Association. Facebook has said that it’s seeking to raise a total of $1 billion from its 100 members.  There will be tens of millions more in various wallets at any given time. 

What happens next after two days of high-profile hearings? More hearings and legislation. And not just in the United States. Facebook is facing strong headwinds from various governments. India, for example, has already said that Libra will not be allowed there. Regulators in Japan and Britain also have concerns. Stay tuned.

Congress takes on Facebook’s Libra

And so it begins, Facebook’s efforts to convince the world of the efficacy of its Libra currency project. David Marcus, the mastermind behind Libra and head of Facebook’s Calibra wallet, will be on Capitol Hill this morning for two days of hearings. First up, the Senate Banking Committee. Tomorrow, he’ll face the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Maxine Waters of California, who has called for Facebook to pause the project. 

 I’ve read Marcus’ opening statement and it’s clear there will be no pause, but he pledges that the company will be deliberative and cooperative with regulations as it moves forward.

 There’s little that’s new in the opening statement but it gives a deeper sense of Facebook’s thinking as it prepares to launch Libra next year. Here are a few highlights and some thoughts:

  • As we mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this week, I get a sense that Facebook is thinking of its Libra project in a similarly transformative way. As Marcus puts it, their goal is to “help deliver a giant leap forward toward a lower-cost, more accessible, and more connected global financial system.” And if the U.S. doesn’t lead on this, he says, others will.

Security is key

  • Security is on everyone’s mind, perhaps because it could make or break the project. “I expect that this will be the broadest, most extensive, and most careful pre-launch oversight by regulators and central banks in FinTech’s history,” Marcus says. “We know we need to take the time to get this right. And I want to be clear: Facebook will not offer the Libra digital currency until we have fully addressed regulatory concerns and received appropriate approvals.”


  • Facebook has made it clear that it’s going after money transfer companies, initially. “It is too expensive for people around the world to use and transfer their money. We believe Libra can offer a more efficient, low-cost, and secure alternative,” Marcus says.
  • Libra will be managed by the Libra Association, based in Geneva. Marcus promises that all of the association’s decisions“will be made democratically and transparently.”
  •  I’m struck that there hasn’t been much announced traction on the Libra Association. Facebook has said that it expects 100 companies to join at $10 million each. It announced 27 members when it released its white paper a month ago. Despite the avalanche of publicity that followed, Marcus says that the number remains 27. Looks like many companies have adopted a wait-and-see attitude towards the project.

Money Laundering

  •  Those seeking to launder funds might best look elsewhere. Marcus says that the Libra Association will be committed to supporting efforts by regulators, central banks and lawmakers to ensure that Libra contributes to the fight against money laundering, terrorism financing and more.
  •  The Libra Association will not hold any personal data on people who use the blockchain. And,  Marcus says, Calibra wallet will not share consumer data with Facebook – wait for it – “unless people agree to permit such sharing.” The question that many will ask is whether that permission will be easy to find in the fine print of its terms and conditions. 
  •  Finally, what’s in it for Facebook? Marcus offered some insights. Facebook expects the 90 million small- and medium-sized businesses on its platform to use the Calibra wallet, which will result in more users for Facebook. “That increased usage is likely to yield greater advertising revenue for Facebook,” Marcus said. So, although Marcus talks a lot about helping the unbanked and underbanked around the world, it’s apparent that Facebook hopes this move will grow its wallet.

 Don’t know how far Marcus will go beyond his statement. It will be interesting to find out. You can watch the hearing on the committee’s websiteLet me know what you think. Leave a comment below.

Rene Preval: Haiti’s Quiet Warrior

Preval laid to rest

Bishop Joseph Lafontant incenses the coffin containing the remains of former President Rene Preval during his funeral service in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 11, 2017.

By John Yearwood

It was among the best of times for Haiti. An armed insurrection was squashed. Former President Bill Clinton had become engaged, leading a delegation of more than 100 U.S. business leaders to the Caribbean country. And rich Haitians, who sent their children abroad to escape rampant violence at home, were bringing them back.

It was amid that burst of optimism that I ventured to the mountaintop home of Haiti’s then-president René Préval, who was nearing the end of his second term. Talk at the time was that he would manipulate the constitution revision underway to remain in power beyond his mandate, a disturbing trend of many leaders in the Western Hemisphere.

Quiet and reserved, Preval smiled at my Miami Herald colleagues and me as he talked about returning to his rural farm after leaving office. He had no plans, he assured us, of holding onto the presidency and would leave office as scheduled. His admission wasn’t much of a surprise. Préval liked being president, but didn’t relish the job. At times, he seemed bored with it. His daily afternoon nap was legend.

Preval’s strength seemed to come from the peasants he looked out to from his spectacular perch, those who propelled him to the presidency in a shocker on the first ballot.

Not long after my visit, a magnitude 7 earthquake would shake Haiti to its core and forever transform the country – and Preval’s role in its development.

Préval, who was buried last Saturday after his unexpected March 3 death, would need every ounce of adoration he enjoyed from peasants to withstand the onslaught of criticism from the international community for what was viewed as his inept response to the quake. But amid the criticism, a central question was lost: Would Haiti have descended into complete anarchy or worse had Préval not been at the helm?

I observed Préval up close while leading the Miami Herald’s coverage of the earthquake and its aftermath. It was enough time to conclude that he prevented the country – often referred to as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere — from becoming unhinged. Indeed, his role was no less than that of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, credited with leading Haiti to independence more than two centuries earlier and widely regarded as the father of the nation.

While Dessalines was rambunctious and self-assured — the exact opposite of Préval — both men were critical to determining Haiti’s future at two of the most pivotal moments in the country’s history.

preval palace

Rene Preval outside the broken Presidential Palace after the 2010 earthquake.

It was clear that Haitians felt after the 2010 earthquake, which claimed some 300,000 lives, that they had someone on the grounds of the broken presidential palace who they could trust. And the international community felt that in Préval, it had someone with whom it could deal, even if his response to urgent inquiries from donor nations was at times excruciatingly slow.

It was not the first time Préval appeared to vacillate. He entered the presidential campaign to succeed Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his political mentor who had fled the country amid an armed insurrection, at the last moment. Some questioned whether his jumping in late was strategic or indecision. It seemed more the latter.

But the peasants whom he fought alongside during Haiti’s dictatorship and courted during his first term came through for him. He bested others in a crowded field to score an outright victory in the first round.

In one of his first interviews after becoming president, Préval took the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles deep beneath the Presidential Palace to show the cells where those who opposed Haiti’s dictators were tortured. One of cells was all too familiar. It was his.

So after the quake, as more than a million Haitians sweated in large tent encampments around the capital, the situation could have easily exploded. Food was scarce, help was slow and the unrelenting stench of rotting corpses was a daily reminder of the quake’s horror.

Préval assured the nation that Haiti would rebuild and set about, largely using quiet diplomacy, to secure international community buy-in. The peace held.

“I am sure that I know better than the international community what is good for Haiti,” Préval told Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer in 2010. “We have to listen to everybody, but Haitians have to have the leadership in identifying the strategy of the plan, and in defining the projects.”

Haiti continues to confront tremendous hurdles – fragile democratic institutions, endemic poverty and an international community that now funnels its money to more urgent crises. But when I think of where the country could have been had Préval not been president during that turbulent period, it becomes clear that Haiti is in a much better place today because a quiet warrior was at the helm.


Top 10 Destinations – ‘Year of extraordinary travel’


Always good to have something to read on the road. Another year of extraordinary travel: dozens of countries on six continents.

The Top 10 Destinations I visited in 2016

It’s a seemingly simple question friends often asked: “What’s your favorite destination?” Some cities stand out instantly, while others emerge after more thought. I began compiling my Top 10 Destinations not just to head off the question but to recognize these incredible locations that have enormously enriched my travels.

This year, several favorite destinations didn’t make the list. Those include London and Madrid, both of which I visited multiple times in 2016. Another that fell off is Marrakech, although I visited twice and had a great time there.

I judged these destinations on the quality of my visit and how I felt after leaving. Would I revisit? Would I recommend it to others? Did the destination live up to or surpass expectations? In some cases, a little-known destination might knock off one that is more popular because I believe the real value of travel is exploration and discovery.

For the first time, the list features a tie and no repeats. All the destinations are first-timers. The 2016 list was the result of an extraordinary year of travel that took me to dozens of countries on six continents. By year’s end, I had flown a record (for me) 210,000 miles. Now, the Top Destinations of 2016:


Hadn’t planned to visit Limpopo on brief visit to South Africa but very happy I did..  

10. Limpopo, South Africa.  When I travel, I often like to go off the beaten path. But I hadn’t planned to do so on a brief visit to South Africa. visit Limpopo during a quick stop South Africa. A friend, however, invited me to join her for lunch just outside Limpopo, a four-hour drive from Johannesburg. The drive itself was incredible. I stumbled upon dozens and dozens of teenage boys returning to their villages after the traditional circumcision ritual in the mountains. But the real star was the spectacular vista of the Limpopo Valley itself. Well worth a visit if in South Africa.

9. Cali, Colombia There was a time when many people won’t be caught dead in Cali. Its violent past has now given way to a city with lots of soul. Located on the Pacific Coast, Cali has incredibly friendly people amid a truly authentic Latin vibe. Walk the streets, whether to church or the neighborhood grocer, and you’ll find yourself feeling very much at home. Most people think of Cartagena, Medellin or even Bogota when they consider visiting Colombia. But with the peace deal between the government and FARC guerrillas ending a half-century of civil strife, there’s no better time to give Cali a try. You just might end up learning some salsa steps.


Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai helped to give Dubai a place on my Top Destinations list. 

8. Dubai I’ve been to Dubai before, but about seven years ago. I remember little from that visit. The city has been through tough economic times since then but has rebounded, regaining its position as the place in the Middle East where many around the region go to play. Whether having a drink at the Skyview Bar atop the Burj Al Arab or shopping at one of the many malls, Dubai is a must-visit.

7. Mahabalipuram, India At dinner with friends shortly after arriving in Chennai, they insisted that I visit Mahabalipuram. Once there, it was easy to see why so many people were pumped about the place. If you want to see spectacular stone carvings, you’ve got to visit. It’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason. The carvings date to the 7th and 8th centuries. Two of my favorites were The Great Penance and the Shore Temple, near the shores of the Bay of Bengal.


Tel Aviv bridges the old and the new. A city on the move.

6. Tel Aviv, Israel This second visit to Tel Aviv was as exhilarating as the first. A friend took me on a tour of the Old City of Jaffa, which is not to be missed. Tel Aviv is a city on the move and it shows in the brisk developments taking place everywhere, including Jaffa. The city is blessed with terrific weather, which made lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the banks of the Mediterranean feel like perfection. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough time to go swimming.

5. Taipei/Tokyo For the first time, a tie. It was my first visit to Taipei. In fact, I had purchased a ticket to visit on Sept.13, 2001. Then 9/11 happened. Planes were grounded. I was as busy as ever reporting on the attack. The airline refunded my money. I’m happy to have finally made it. From strolling through the National Palace Museum to shopping at late-night bookstores to riding the super clean subway (no gum chewing allowed), I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. As for Tokyo, it was my second time there. It probably would not have made this Top Destination List had I not dragged myself out of bed at 3:30 am to sit on the cold floor while waiting for the auctions at the Tsukiji fish market. Attending the auction was an unforgettable experience, made even more so because the market is moving (originally scheduled for November, the move has now been pushed into 2017). It has been at the same location since 1935. I had never seen tuna so large — nor sold so quickly. Tokyo and Taipei, two jewels of Asia.


Tuna anyone? A visit to the Tsukiji a must on any visit to Tokyo. But hurry. It’s moving soon.

4. San Francisco I haven’t been to San Francisco much, but there’s probably no more incredible experience than to be suddenly “surprised” by the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. The site left me marveling at this wonder of the modern world. On this visit, I had a chance to walk downtown and was amazed at its transformation into a high-tech city. A friend who used to own an apartment in the city told me as we walked past her former building that she sold it for a small fortune. In San Francisco, the American Dream still lives.

3. Seychelles I’ve seldom landed in a country where I felt the deep urge to jump out the plane and into the ocean. Part of the charm of Seychelles is that it mesmerizes you with incredible island vistas for miles before touchdown. Each small island and the amazingly blue waters surrounding them grew more beautiful as we approached touchdown on Mahe Island, the largest of the Seychelles islands. If unable to dive in right away, a drive through Mahe’s mountainous interior gave me a feel for the people and the country’s history. Eventually, I dove into the Indian Ocean every morning during my visit. Best part: it appeared I was the only one up early, allowing me to have the beach all to myself.


Seychelles, where each approaching island seems more beautiful than the last.

2. Paris I landed in La Ville-Lumière shortly before winter gave way to spring. The weather was perfect: Cool enough to stroll for miles after dinner without breaking into a sweat. This was among my most memorable visit to this mesmerizing city. Tourist traffic had dipped because Paris was bouncing back from a terror attack, making it fairly easy to get into tourist attractions or fine restaurants. From the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, a resurgent Paris laid out the welcome mat.

1. Sydney I’ve wanted to travel Down Under for years. When the opportunity came, I jumped at it, even making it a family vacation. Perhaps that explains why I found myself at the Sydney Zoo. It was one of the best stops on the trip — beautiful and incredibly educational. And it has some of the best views in Sydney. If interested in views, Sydney is among the best places in the world to be. Whether soaking in the sights from atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a seat at the Opera House, Sydney is unforgettable. Well worth the wait!


Sydney celebrates on New Year’s Eve – or perhaps after learning it was selected as my Top Destination of 2016.



Yearwood opens the 65th annual  IPI World Congress in Doha, Qatar.

I left the Miami Herald a week ago after 13 great years as the newspaper’s World Editor. The story appeared in Richard Prince’s Journal-isms, which I’m sharing below.

Yearwood Leaves Miami Herald After 13 Years

John Yearwood, who as world editor of the Miami Herald became increasingly active in international press freedom issues as executive board chair of the Vienna-based International Press Institute, ended 13 years at the Herald on Wednesday.

“I’ve voluntarily left the Miami Herald after a terrific 13-year run,” Yearwood said in an electronic response to those emailing him at the Herald.
Aminda “Mindy” Marqués  Gonzalez, Herald executive editor and vice president, messaged Journal-isms Thursday, “We have not named a replacement yet.”

Yearwood posted a photo of himself on his Twitter account Wednesday with Patrick Talamantes, president and CEO of the McClatchy Co., the Herald’s corporate parent.

“Great way to spend my last day with #McClatchy. Terrific meeting at HQ with @ptalamantes, president & CEO. #grtguy,” Yearwood wrote. McClatchy’s corporate headquarters are in Sacramento, Calif. Yearwood was in Silicon Valley for a conference of Rights Con Silicon Valley 2016, which calls itself “the world’s leading conference convened on the future of the internet.”


Yearwood with Pat Talamantes, president and CEO of McClatchy. They met at company headquarters in Sacramento on Yearwood’s last day with McClatchy. After the meeting, Talamantes tweeted: “Nice to see you John. Thanks for all your great work. Have a productive week at #RightsCon2016 in SF. #pressfreedom”

Yearwood, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, has been the Herald’s world editor since 2003. He had been national/international editor and assistant city editor for government and politics at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and spent 10 years at the Dallas Morning News, where he reported from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

“I’m incredibly fortunate and blessed to have been able to do everything I wanted at the Herald — far more than I ever thought possible when I arrived 13 years ago,” Yearwood emailed Journal-isms on Thursday.

“It’s been a great run that includes coordinating the landmark Afro-Latin American series, coverage of the Great Quake in Haiti and dramatic changes in Cuba, rescuing a staffer detained in Venezuela and initiating Herald scholarships to honor its first African-American reporter. Along the way, I helped galvanize Miami after the quake to save Ayikodans, Haiti’s brilliant modern dance company, a cultural institution.


Haitian modern dance company Ayikodans has performed to sold-out audiences in Miami since 2010’s devastating earthquake. Yearwood led a community effort to save the company.

“I was honored on my last day to spend some time with Pat Talamantes, McClatchy’s president and CEO, in a great discussion of some of the issues confronting the company and industry.

“I plan to take the next month to complete some significant global travel commitments then decide with my family whether to accept a position in journalism or go in a different direction.

“Whatever I decide to do, however, I intend to continue my strong commitment to a free press and free expression. I’m incredibly proud of our work at the International Press Institute, where we just wrapped up our 65th World Congress in Doha, Qatar, and are considering meeting in the U.S. next year.”

“It’s been a great run that includes leading the landmark Afro-Latin American series, coverage of the Great Quake in Haiti and dramatic changes in Cuba, and initiating Herald scholarships to honor its first African-American reporter. Along the day, I helped galvanize Miami after the quake to save Ayikodans, Haiti’s brilliant modern dance company, a cultural institution.

According to Yearwood’s bio, “his department has won multiple awards under his leadership, including two McClatchy Company President’s Awards and the Arthur Ross Award for best coverage of Latin America.  . . .”

Yearwood has been treasurer of the National Association of Black Journalists and a board member of Unity: Journalists of Color, Inc.


Yearwood with Miami Herald World Desk staffers Mimi Whitefield, Jacqueline Charles and Andres Oppenheimer after receiving the COSMOS 2016 Distinguished Citizen Award.

In 2013, the French-American Foundation asked him whether his “foreign origins, and thus a personal connection to multiple cultures, enriched your ability to report on global issues and questions pertaining to immigration?”

Yearwood replied, “Absolutely. I could not do my job as effectively if I didn’t have a personal connection to the many cultures we cover. For example, I coordinated coverage of a breakthrough series several years ago about Afro-Latin Americans. Although it’s been four years, we still get requests to republish it or for me to speak about the series.

“In fact, the Library of Congress called last fall to ask if I would make a presentation to them about the series. A lesson plan was even developed from it for high school students. Our goal was to increase the visibility of Africans in Latin America.

“In the end, the series ended up being more complex that even I envisioned. It added tons of knowledge to what we knew about blacks in the Americas. It was a huge undertaking but, again, it’s something that we probably would not have done had I not had that regional cultural sensitivity.” [Added March 31]



This is one year I wish I was picking 15 cities instead of 10. The decision was excruciating. A couple cities that had been on the list throughout the decision process dropped off right at the end. For those of you who know how much I love London – and I had four terrific visits there in 2015 – probably won’t believe that London fell off. Ditto for Boston, a new city that surprised me with its beauty and wide array of activities. I’m headed back to Boston in a few weeks so there’s hope for it hitting the 2016 list. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.


In 2015, I traveled about 160,000 miles and visited dozens of cities around the world. Some were breathtaking, others were easily forgettable. What follows is the list of cities where I enjoyed superior experiences. (2014 list here.)

A quick word about Miami. Some of you have asked why isn’t Miami listed. Miami’s issue is that I live in the city and the Top Destinations focuses on cities I’ve visited. The fact that I chose to live in the city speaks volumes.

Now, the World Dispatch Top 10 Destinations of 2015. Let me know yours or what you think of my list.


Two women at the market in Accra, Ghana. Accra returned to my Top 10 list for the second consecutive year.

10. Accra, Ghana. Accra is one of two cities making a return to the Top 10 list in 2015. There’s nothing more spectacular than watching a procession of traditional rulers enter a room. Their garments were stunning when I first saw the procession two years ago and it remained so last year. Ghanaians are among the friendliest and kindest people I’ve ever encountered. A unique experience was attending a reception, including dancing, near the base of the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial. My visit was marred a bit by a major storm that claimed more than 150 lives when a gas station where residents had sought shelter exploded.


The Great Wall of China

9. Beijing, China. I must have heard a million times that anyone who visits Beijing should expect to see some of the world’s most spectacular sites but experience some of the worst pollution on the planet. Only half of that proved true for me. The sites I saw were indeed breathtaking — the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, among many others. But I lucked out in the pollution front. There was so little of it when I was there that I went jogging and even joined a group of seniors doing Tai Chi at a nearby park. That said, I still walked with my mask and enough allergy medicine to serve a small army. It was my first visit to mainland China and my lasting impressions will remain the food – from Peking duck to a variety of fish dishes – to the amazing sites.

8. Dusseldorf, Germany. It was my third visit to Dusseldorf in the past several years. The visits have been to attend my friend Kiki Kuhnert’s Dolphin Night Gala. In 2015, Dolphin Night celebrated its 20th anniversary. This visit, however, gave me a chance to explore the city a bit.


Dusseldorf. A favorite activity is jogging along the Rhine.

After I landed at 7 a.m, the hotel told me my room was not ready. The concierge suggested I do a walking tour of the old town and the nearby shopping district, which I did. I had planned to go running along the Rhine, but the walk hit the spot. One thing I missed: the Christmas markets. They opened a week after I left.

7. Marrakesh, Morocco. This is Marrakesh’s second appearance on my Top 10 list. What elevated it over others in 2015 was the range of dining experiences I enjoyed. I stayed at the Four Seasons, which has terrific dining options. But one of my dinners was at a hotel I’ve wanted to visit for years – La Mamounia, one of the best-regarded hotels in the world. In fact, the readers of Conde Nast Traveler named it the World’s Best Hotel. Just a visit to its gardens – more like a 20-acre park – where trees hang low with fruit makes the trip worth it. I was lucky times two on this visit. Not only did the German Marshall Fund have great locations for its Atlantic Dialogues sessions, so did the African Leadership Network a day or so later. I was fortunate to attend both.


La Jolla, California, on a beautiful afternoon

6. La Jolla, Calif. En route to a series of meetings in Asia in the spring, I stopped in La Jolla for a family vacation. I did not know much about the town, which made every twist and turn a pleasant surprise. Both La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores were great places to swim and snorkel. And if you love to watch and marvel at sea lions, La Jolla Cove is the place to be. At the end of the day, there was nothing more peaceful than sitting at one of the restaurants overlooking the Cove to watch the sunset. Can’t wait to return.

5. Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. I flew to Salvador for two days of R&R ahead of a few meetings in Sao Paulo. I could not be happier that I did. I found the city considerably larger than I expected. Yet, it was easy to get around or just relax by the ocean. I arrived after dark. When I awoke and looked out the window, the view was breathtaking. The boardwalk below had started to buzz with locals for the usual Sunday beach lime and the Atlantic looked stunning.


View out my window in Salvador, Brazil

The city has a fascinating history, one I wish I had sufficient time to explore. And the food! You could find a little of everything but the seafood was spectacular.

4. New York, NY. What do I say about New York? I’ve visited the city for years but often left quickly; I found it overwhelming. In recent years, I’ve visited for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly and other events, such as the Clinton Global Initiative. I often walked from one event to another. And as I did so, I found myself growing to love the city. I made four trips to NY in 2015; some were way too brief. One of my last was to speak at the United Nations as part of a discussion on hate speech. I’ve been to the city so many times and seen so many of the sites that New York is becoming for me like London; just being in the city gives me a charge. No sightseeing necessary.

3. Nairobi, Kenya.  I had been to Nairobi several times but the last visit was a decade ago. I was eager on this visit to see how things had changed. It becomes apparent quickly that migration from internal conflicts in Somalia and elsewhere was changing the makeup of the city. Still, there was a dynamism in Nairobi, which I also found on my first visit almost 30 years ago. Nairobi quickly sucks you in, whether shopping at the city market, an upscale mall or buying fried chicken on the side of the road. A wonderful thing about being in Nairobi is that it’s relatively easy to get to the national parks for a safari.


Giraffes try to prove who’s boss at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya.

On this visit, I drove out to Lake Nakuru National Park, home to the famous pink flamingoes and other wildlife. I went to see flamingoes but was captivated by the lake itself. As someone who’s always looking ahead to what I’m doing or where I’m going next, it was intoxicating to sit there and appreciate the beauty of the moment.

2. Yangon, Myanmar. I looked forward to visiting Yangon more than any place I had been in years. Perhaps not since my first visit to Kenya three decades ago had I researched a city as much as I did Yangon, from watching YouTube videos to reading the daily AP report. I was very fascinated by this country, which was opening up after decades of military rule. Once there, Yangon did not disappoint. The room at my hotel faced the Shwedagon Pagoda. The first time I saw its stunning gold dome, I couldn’t turn away – particularly after seeing it so many times in videos and pictures.


Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar. Impressive from my window a few miles away. Even more so up close.

Walking around Shwedagon a few days later, I was surprised to find that it was even more beautiful up close. Interestingly, it was easier to get into Myanmar than many countries I visited in 2015 thanks to a simplified online visa process. In fact, the immigration officer wanted to know if I had trouble getting the visa. None at all, I responded.

1. Vienna, Austria. I’ve been to Vienna many times because it’s the home base of the International Press Institute, an organization that I chair. My visit last fall, however, was something special. The extraordinarily bumpy flight into the airport confirmed that it had been storming. Looking out the window, I jokingly tweeted that low visibility made it impossible to tell whether the hills were alive with the sound of music. It apparently had been raining for a week. There was not a cloud in the sky the following morning as I left the hotel for my meeting . As we met, I looked out the window on a day that became more beautiful by the hour. After the meeting, I decided to walk the half-hour to my hotel toting a heavy briefcase of agenda and other briefing material. As I walked, this beautiful city came alive in ways I hadn’t seen before. I lingered to watch children skateboarding in the park and tourists snapping pictures in front of the Karlsplatz Fountain.


Fireworks over Vienna, perhaps celebrating being named World Dispatch Top Destination of 2015.

At dinner, I passed on dining at the more than 500-year-old Griechenbeisl, which welcomed me the year before, for a bit newer eatery. The Do & Co, across from the famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral, was perfect for the food and view of the plaza below. Do & Co says there’s no place more beautiful to relish life. I can’t disagree. Vienna saved the best treat for last. Moments before the aircraft’s doors closed on departure, the legendary Julie Andrews boarded. And she sat just a couple rows ahead of me. I resisted the urge to ask whether she thought the hills were still alive with the sound of music.


On the road in 2014. Thousands of miles and dozens of cities.

On the road in 2014. Thousands of miles and dozens of cities.

Friends often ask what’s my favorite city. It’s usually difficult to name just one. Each city has a flavor all its own and I like each for different reasons. In 2014, I visited almost 50 cities in the U.S. and abroad, traveling more than 140,000 miles. So what were my favorite stops along the way? This was a very difficult exercise (some cities I thought would make the list, didn’t), but I’ve settled on 10 to come up with the World Dispatch Top 10 Visited Cities of 2014. First, a caveat: This is not a list of the 10 best cities in the world; it’s the Top 10 of the ones I visited. Hope you find your favorites here. What’s your Top 10? Leave a message in the comments and follow World Dispatch if you like what you read. Happy trails.

A young boy feeds pigeons at one of the main squares in Bogota.

A young boy feeds pigeons at one of the main squares in Bogota.

10. BOGOTA I had stopped briefly in Bogota in 2013 en route to Cartagena, a city that would have made the list had I visited in 2014. I looked forward to returning to Bogota and was glad I did. Thanks to Jim Wyss, chief of the Miami Herald’s Andean Bureau, the visit surpassed my expectations. Whether touring the Botero Museum, haggling over prices at the flea market, dining at one of its fantastic new restaurants or hanging out in the Candelaria, Bogota’s Latin American flavor made it a must-list.

9. TORONTO I’ve been to Toronto each of the past four years but the city remains fresh. Always something new to discover or an interesting person to meet. Both occurred on my trip last year, including my visit to Casa Loma. Looking forward to returning to both. I visited Montreal for the second time last year and thought it would make the list but Toronto had just that much more, which elevated it over Montreal.

Marrakesh. Old world meets new. Camels grazing at the side of the road.

Marrakesh. Old world meets new. Camels grazing at the side of the road.

8. MARRAKESH After visiting many cities in Morocco, I finally made it to Marrakesh. And it did not disappoint. It’s the old world meeting the new. I still can’t get the images of camels at the side of the road out of my head. I initially thought this fascinating city would make my top 5 but the competition was stiff.

7. LOS ANGELES I live in Miami where downtown is not as vibrant as it can be. So it was refreshing to visit Los Angeles and see so many people walking about downtown. (A protest happening while I was there no doubt contributed to the pedestrian traffic.) Visiting LA can be intoxicating, especially with such close proximity to the playground of the stars. Also, for someone who lives where it’s flat, the mountains were a real treat.

London. Didn't crack the top 5 but still beautiful -- day or night.

London. Didn’t crack the top 5 but still beautiful — day or night.

6. LONDON It pains me not to have London crack the top 5. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love London. I went to school there and have lots of friends there, even some who claim me as family. I visited five times in 2014 but it had lots of competition from other cities.

5. HONG KONG It was great being back in Hong Kong. The scenery is spectacular and the food, even more so. Wandering through the tiny alleys, you never know what you might happen upon – a major anti-government protest or a night market.

4. ISTANBUL What can I say? Istanbul continues to be a city of intrigue after all these years. I would look out my hotel window onto Taksim Square at all hours of the night and see thousands of people walking about. In Istanbul, it seems, there’s no time for sleeping. Makes sense because there’s so much to see and do there.

Traditional ruler arrives for a meeting in Accra accompanied by courtiers.

Traditional ruler arrives for a meeting in Accra accompanied by courtiers.

3. ACCRA My second visit, even stayed at the same hotel (though now under new management). In Accra, the Africa of my high school and college text books came alive on this visit. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out the hotel window to see a traditional ruler arriving for a meeting draped in gold and wearing an intricately woven Kente robe. A courtier held a large umbrella over his head. The scene repeated itself as other leaders arrived. Glad I wasn’t dreaming. Great history. Great culture. Great people.

2. GENEVA My first visit. The weather was a bit cold but perfect. Strolling along Lake Geneva, wandering through art shops in the Old Town, stopping for coffee at an outside shop and sipping it beneath a warm blanket on the square helped to make my stay exceptional.

The beauty that is Cape Town. Table Mountain in the backgroud.

The beauty that is Cape Town. Table Mountain in the backgroud.

1. CAPE TOWN My second visit to Cape Town but no less mesmerizing than the first. It’s a city that continues to burst with possibilities. And it seems to have it all: incredible beauty, friendly people and great food. Stroll along the waterfront, take the cableway to Table Mountain, tour one of the myriad wineries or go dancing in one of its hip nightclubs and you’ll see why this enchanting city scored as the World Dispatch Top Visited City of 2014.

Crashing the Grand Théâtre de Genève

theatreHow do you crash one of the great theatres of Europe? Here’s how I did it on my recent visit to Switzerland. I was in Geneva in November to attend a press freedom meeting of the International Press Institute, on whose board I sit. When the meeting ended a bit early, I emailed Armando Gonzalez, a soloist with the Geneva Ballet. Armando is a graduate of New World School of the Arts in Miami. I met him earlier this year after the Peter London Global Dance Company invited him to choreograph a piece in honor of my friend Victoria London. He suggested that I look him up if I’m ever in Geneva. He responded to my email, saying that he was about to go on stage in the season’s final production of Casse-Noisette, described as an enchanting fairy tale full of exuberant joy and lyric tenderness. One catch: I had to be at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in a half-hour.


theatre2Fifteen minutes had passed before I saw the email. What to do? Go out for drinks with friends or hustle to the theatre. I grabbed a cab and rushed to the theatre. The show had already started. I asked to purchase a ticket. Not possible, I was told. It had been sold out for weeks. (Armando later said he had planned to take me through the staff entrance.) An usher suggested that I wait for intermission and maybe Armando would answer an email telling him that I was in the lobby. As I waited, I checked out the beautiful lobby, where the production was being shown on a large screen.

Intermission. And no response.

When the bell rang to signal the show was about to resume, the theatre manager walked over to apologize. “Not a single seat is available,” he said.

As we talked, a woman waited patiently to the side with her two kids. I thanked the manager and began to leave. Just then, the woman handed him three tickets. Her children were sleepy, she said, and she was taking them home.


Grand Théâtre de Genève.

The manager handed me one of the tickets. “It’s your lucky day!” he said.

An usher came running and asked me to follow her. Up the stairs we ran. My benefactor had great seats: First balcony and slightly to the right of the stage. I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the show. It’s great having Lady Luck as your dance partner!