FROM MARRAKECH TO TORONTO, BEHIND SCENES OF LATEST TRAVELS

When I travel, I enjoy giving you a behind-the-scenes look at experiences that help make the trip memorable. What follows are snapshots from my current dash from Marrakech to London to Toronto to Washington, D.C. to Miami.

LATE IRON LEAVES ME STEAMED

Giving the prologue at the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech.

Giving the prologue at the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech.

I arrived in Marakech on Thursday to attend the Atlantic Dialogues. I was honored to be asked to do the prologue, the opening speech that sets the stage for the discussions to follow. The night before the opening, I asked the hotel for an iron. None came. Fine, I thought, I would use steam the shower to unwrinkle my shirt. It worked. An hour before the speech, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it to find that housekeeping had finally sent the iron. I didn’t really need it but thought what the heck, I should run it over my shirt to give it a crisp look. I untangled the cord and began ironing, my mind mostly on the speech. I felt a sting on my thigh and quickly pulled the iron away. Yep, I had accidentally burned myself. Sometimes, I thought, best to leave well enough alone, as my mom used to say. As I gave the prologue, I could still feel a slight pain in my thigh. Probably explains why some in the audience said later that I was on fire.

CATCHING UP WITH FRIENDS IN MARRAKECH

Karim, left, and Hassan, right. We enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation in Marrakech.

Karim, left, and Hassan, right. We enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation in Marrakech.

One of the great delights of travel is visiting with friends around the world. In Marrakech, I had the great pleasure of catching up with my friend Karim. We met on my first visit to Morocco more than five years ago. His family is connected to the family of another good friend, Madhu Metha. At Madhu’s request, Karim showed me around Casablanca. He was a great host and guide. The best part of the visit was dining at Rick’s Cafe, which made me feel for a moment that I was part of a different time. Sam was even at the piano.

I emailed Karim when I arrived in Marrakech to see if he planned to be here for the weekend. I was surprise when he said yes; he had a wedding to attend. We met up a day after the wedding and his brother Hassan joined us. It was great catching up over dinner at the Pacha Complex, a massive compound of restaurants and clubs that he co-owns in Marrakech. Over great wine and food (I had the rabbit) we talked about everything, from Middle East politics to the Florida gubernatorial elections. After dinner, we popped into a few of his other restaurants and the Pacha nightclub. His Churrascaria Marius Brazilian restaurant was incredible: people clapping, dancing on tables. It was quite a show. Dining there next time I’m in Marrakech. I returned to my hotel just in time to get an extra hour of sleep because clocks were being turned back an hour. (See next post).

MARRAKECH HOTEL AND TIME MANAGEMENT

I had problems sleeping most nights. My first morning, I got up in the night and wondered the time, having forgotten to set by watch. I dialed the front desk. “7 minutes to 5,” came the voice on the other end. “7 to 5?” I asked, a bit puzzled. The TV was showing a different time, although I didn’t quite trust it. “Are you sure?” I pressed. He responded with 6:55, which matched what I was seeing on the TV. Of course, that’s far different from 4:53 – although I could have used the extra couple hours of sleep.

 CONNECTING SIR ISAAC NEWTON, FAREED ZAKARIA AND BLOOMBERG’S DAN DOCTOROFF

Sir Isaac Newton. Lived across the street from my hotel in London.

Sir Isaac Newton. Lived across the street from my hotel in London.

Sometimes you see something that makes your jaw drop. That happened Monday morning as I sat for breakfast at the Radisson Blu Edwardian at Leicester Square in London. As I bit into one of the most delicious omelets I’ve ever had, I looked across the street at what a new library building. A historic marker was etched into the side: “SIR ISAAC NEWTON LIVED IN A HOUSE ON THIS SITE. 1710-1727” Wow! I thought. That night, I was to interview Fareed Zakaria and Bloomberg CEO Daniel Doctoroff at the Toronto Global Forum as part of the Executive Club dinner. I had just read on the flight to London (where I spend the night en route Toronto from Marrakech) that Fareed was listed among the 100 great thinkers of our time. I thought I should refer to this somehow in the introducing both men – I’m a big fan of both – to help begin and

Historic marker to Sir Isaac Newton on library in Leicester Square, London.

Historic marker to Sir Isaac Newton on library in Leicester Square, London.

frame the discussion that was to follow. I told the story of spotting the sign and referred to Fareed and Dan as great thinkers of our time. Dan demurred. But after our discussion, I don’t think anyone in the room disagreed with my characterization. They were outstanding. We traveled the world, touching on issues from Brazil to Obama to the Middle East to the European economic crisis to the attack in Ottawa to 911 to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Wish we had more time: wanted to get to Russia and quantitative easing. Next time.

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GREAT DIALOGUE FUELS BUSY DAY IN RABAT

RABAT — It’s my last day here at the Atlantic Dialogues and, quite frankly, in hate to leave. Two of the plenaries I wanted to attend are taking place this morning and early afternoon. One is on the Caribbean, the other about Africa. I must leave early because of commitments in London tonight before flying early tomorrow to Toronto for the Toronto Global Forum. (More on that important gathering over the next few days).

POLITICAL FIREWORKS

My head is still spinning from Saturday in Rabat. It’s all a blur because so much happened — from an intimate lunch discussion on transforming Africa’s security forces to my plenary on urban cities to fireworks at a panel on the U.S. presidential elections to a nightcap with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s policy secretary.

Here are a few thoughts and observations:
Democratic operative Hilary Rosen, my Friday dinner table mate, gives as good as she gets. She was part of a very stimulating “night owl” session on November’s elections. For full details, go to http://www.AtlanticDialogues.org.
Olayinka Creighton-Randall of Sierra Leone should run for office at home. We met at a lunch breakout session on how to transform Africa’s security forces. She’s smart and extremely perceptive with fresh ideas of what should be done, drawing from her work in Sierra Leone. A shout out to Ambassador William Mark Bellamy and Col. Birame Diop of Senegal, who did a great job framing the discussion over our lunch of chicken tagine.
A big thank you to the panelists on my urban cities as global actors panel: Aart De Geus, chairman of Bertrlmann Stiftung; Graca Fonseca, deputy mayor of Lisbon; Harry van Dorenmalen, chairman of IBM for Europe; and Norberto Pontiroli, international relations adviser to Buenos Aires.
The lively discussion was highly informative. And we had a good time. Shoutout, too, to my Caribbean friends who managed to insert a tourism ad into the session.
Dr. Paul Oquist Kelly, the Nicaraguan Minister and Private Secretary for National Policies, and I met for drinks at the end of the day. Over cognac and a great local red wine, we talked about his new country (he renounced his U.S. citizenship in the 1980s), the region and the world. I cannot get into more details because it was off the record. Needless to say, he’ll be following the outcome of next Sunday’s presidential elections in Venezuela very closely. (See earlier dispatch with The Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss. I’ll have much more on Venezuela over the next two weeks.)

After three thought-provoking days here, I bid adieu to Rabat.

[Photos show me doing moderating the urban cities panel, being interviewed in the lobby of the Sofitel as I prepared to leave Rabat (shot by PRI’s The World’s Lisa Mullins) and Hilary Rosen mixing it up on the political panel.]

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ATLANTIC DIALOGUES FOCUS NORTH – AND SOUTH

RABAT — In Miami, dealing with the South Atlantic is inescapable. Indeed, the city is known as the gateway to the Americas. So being in Rabat, it’s refreshing to hear global thinkers and influencers talk about an Atlantic relationship that transcends North-North. The need for Africa, Latin America and yes, the Caribbean, to be part of the discussion came through loud and clear during the opening speeches and plenary at the Atlantic Dialogues. The 300 or so foreign policy experts gathered here clearly get that. It was also great to hear that the South Atlantic was developing strong partnerships with each other. Brazil, for example, has been busy investing in Africa, according to Jose Humberto de Brito Cruz, a senior adviser to Brazil’s ministry of Foreign Affairs. While not as aggressive on the continent as China or the U.S., it’s making important developmental connections. That all comes as a new census shows that most Brazilians for the first time self-identify as Afro descendants. (For more on this topic, see The Miami Herald’s landmark Afro-Latin American series.)

EUROPEAN CRISIS

I was struck in the opening plenary by the comments of Luis Amado, chairman of the board of Banco International do Funchal, SA and former parliamentarian in Portugal. In response to question after question, he came back to the same point: It’s difficult for Europe to focus on the South when its financial house is so much in disarray. He said all of Europe’s energy must focus on solving the financial crisis roiling the continent (see my dispatch from Spain). “We’re in a very dangerous situation,’’ he said. “I’ve never seen a situation like this one.” Perhaps that’s all the more reason for countries in the South Atlantic to follow Brazil’s lead and deepen South-South cooperation.

GLOBAL CITIES

Later today, I’ll moderate a plenary on cities as global actors in a urban century. Essentially, we’ll be talking about the challenges, tensions and opportunities as an increasing number of cities become globally active. Join me if you can. The session will be streamed live at http://www.atlanticdialoges.org starting at 1:30 p.m. eastern time.

BEHIND THE SCENES: I had hoped to get inside the Medina yesterday, but unfortunately did not, although I did drive by the entrance. What I did get was a rare look behind the walls of the Royal Palace, which occupies many blocks. The compound contains everything from a mosque, elite school, royal residences and a large building where the king and his advisers work. I later drove by the royal tombs, final resting place for the king’s father and other royals.

At dinner last night, I sat next to Hilary Rosen, the CNN political commentator, and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, who worked on the first Obama campaign and is now the U.S. Treasury’s deputy assistant for the Western Hemisphere. We talked politics and policy. But also food, especially about the various meat dishes. The grander the dishes looked, the more painful it seemed for Hilary, who is a vegetarian.

[In photos, delegates gather for dinner, the royal tombs, mosque on palace grounds, dinner lamb dish, leaving the palace.]

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ARAB SPRING AND ATLANTIC DIALOGUES

RABAT — The Arab Spring has already begun, in one way or the another, to transform societies around North Africa and the Middle East. The changes have been most dramatic in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Here in Morocco, change has not come as quickly or as deeply as many would like. King Mohammed VI moved quickly to get ahead of coming storm last year by proposing major constitutional, judicial and political reforms, where advanced separation of powers. The reforms, which the U.S. praised, were affirmed by voters last year. But there’s no doubt that the King remains in charge. You can see that by gazing upward in some of the major cities at billboards of him smiling and waving.

I interviewed Youssef Amrani, minister delegate of Foreign Affairs, before leaving the U.S. – in the wake of the killings of U.S. officials in Libya and release of excerpts of the controversial film on the Prophet Muhammad. He was downright giddy about Morocco’s position in the World – he was in Washington sign a new strategic alliance with the U.S. — and the maturity of its people. There were some protests here but they were not major because “Moroccans love America,” he said. He also pointed out that violence at the protests were minimal compared to other parts of the region.

LISBON TO BUENOS AIRES

I’ve come to Rabat to learn more about the Arab Spring and other global issues in a unique series of discussions called The Atlantic Dialogues. Some of the most influential thinkers on foreign policy – many of whom I admire – are here for three days of talks about issues facing the Atlantic region and the world. It’s sponsored by the Washington-based German Marshall Fund and Morocco-based OCP Foundation, an arm of the OCP Group, a leading producer of phosphates. On Saturday, I will moderate a plenary with leaders from Lisbon to Buenos Aires on the tensions, challenges and opportunities that emerge as an increasing number of cities become global players. It will be streamed live at atlanticdialogues.org. Hope you can join us.

It’s not all work here. It’s almost lunchtime. Soon, the deputy head of the Ghanaian mission to the UN and I plan to have lunch at what I hear is a very good restaurant inside the Medina. Look for photos with my next dispatch.

[Photos show view from my hotel balcony]

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CONFRONTING SPANISH CRISIS ON ROAD TO MOROCCO

MADRID — For more than a year now, Greece has been ground zero of the European Economic Crisis. That ground appears to be shifting to Spain. It didn’t take long for me to realize that after arriving in Madrid on Wednesday. Everyone was talking about the massive protest that occurred here the night before, where police used tear gas to disperse the crowd that had gathered around the parliament building. As Reuters and others reported, confidence is fizzling in a European Central Bank bond-buying plan to help stabilize these faltering economies. The crisis has led to a spike in Spain’s cost to borrow money and come Friday, its bonds might be declared junk after an anticipated credit downgrade.

PROTEST IN THE PLAZA

Many here are feeling the squeeze — prices are on the rise and with 25 percent unemployment, jobs are about as difficult to find as a magic bullet. I learned that first-hand when I heard about a protest not far from my hotel on Wednesday night. Hustling over to the beautiful Plaza de Neptuno, I found hundreds of protesters surrounded on almost all sides by police in riot gear. A chopper buzzed overhead. [See my photos, video.]

The protesters, who appeared to be mostly young people, were fairly orderly. But that did not hide their extreme frustration about the dreadful state of the economy and feelings of being run over in Spain’s struggle to regain its financial footing. I asked one young man what he was protesting about. “Everything,” he responded.
He later added, “We want them to go,” referring to the government.
Another said that even the police were part of the problem.
“In the U.S, the Army protects the people,” he said. “Not here!”

CATALONIA PROBLEM

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was elected nine months ago, has his hands full. Not just with the protesters at his doorstep in Madrid, but those in Catalonia as well. They and leaders of the country’s richest region, which includes Barcelona, are even talking about separating from Spain. A vote has been called for late November to test the waters.

It’s clear that this crisis will not end anytime soon. And the pain is likely to get more acute as it drags on. That’s a different view from what I’ve heard from many European diplomats and others who have appeared on my World Desk show back in Miami. I’m sure they mean well but as I’ve found out, there’s no substitute for being on the ground to learn first-hand what’s happening.

As I leave Madrid in a few hours for Rabat, Morocco to participate in the Atlantic Dialogues, I’m eager to hear what European politicians and business leaders are saying about this worsening crisis. Look for dispatches from Rabat in coming days.

You might also be able to view online the plenary I’ll moderate Saturday about the tensions and opportunities as cities increasingly become global players.

Adios from Madrid.

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After Clinton Global, the Atlantic dialogues

Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative keeps getting better and better every year. All three days were very strong, with the top global newsmakers in attendance. Now, I’m leaving for Rabat, Morocco to participate in the Atlantic Dialogues. Here’s more on the meeting.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in partnership with the OCP Foundation of Morocco, will host The Atlantic Dialogues, a high-level gathering of international public- and private-sector leaders from 45 countries. For three days, more than 300 participants from North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and Asia will tackle the critical issues facing the Atlantic Basin, including cross-regional subjects ranging from security to economics and migration to energy. Participants come from the governmental, business, think tank, and media sectors.

The conference will take place in Rabat, Morocco, from Friday, September 28, to Sunday, September 30.