About WorldDispatch

I'm founder/president of Yearwood Media, a global media and business consulting firm. I recently ended two terms as executive board chairman of the International Press Institute, the world's oldest press-freedom organization, based a Vienna, Austria. I also served as World Editor at the Miami Herald and editor of its In Depth Sunday section. I was also National/International Editor at the Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram and a senior writer at The Dallas Morning News. My main focus at the Herald was Latin America and the Caribbean. However, my interests are global, which is why you will find here dispatches -- stories, photos and videos -- from my travels around the world. Hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.

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.

FACEBOOK FACES MASSIVE CRISIS OF TRUST

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’

2016-12-12-18-07-00

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:

limpopo

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.

dubai

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-2

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.

tsukiji-fish-market-today-tokyo

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

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-fireworks-2006-07

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

NEW CHAPTER BEGINS

johnipi

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.”

johnpat

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.

ayikod2

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.

cosmos

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]