For me, this past year began in January over the blue-green waters of the Caribbean, as my plane headed home from Panama to Puerto Rico. After a rumbling earthquake nearly thew me out of bed in San Juan a few days earlier, I had passed a few days in the beautiful Casco Viejo in Panama City, and before that in Georgetown, Guyana, where I had given a talk at a workshop for local journalists. I had never been to Guyana before but had always wanted to visit and its spicy mélange of Afro, Indian and indigenous cultures, its beautiful architecture and great spicy food was just to my taste. “Perhaps I’ll come back here later this year,” I thought.
The world was all before where to choose, to paraphrase Milton. I had a series of lectures I was going to given in the United Kingdom for some badly-needed income, had planned a long reporting trip through Venezuela driving from Caracas to Maracaibo, was scheduled to house-sit for some friends in France’s divine Loire Valley and then was planning on moving to Lisbon by the end of the year, a return to Europe I had long hope to make real.
It didn’t quite happen that way, and little did I know, when my plane landed in San Juan that would be the last time I would set foot off the island this year. As a cruel virus cascaded over the world, killing over 340,000 people in my native United States alone, we found ourselves confined to our apartments and houses for long periods of time, separate from our loved ones, apart but hopefully not completely alone, for the balance of the year. As a person whose professional life has been devoted to trying to illuminate for people the common humanity we all share, it was a hard slog, confined as I was to the streets of Viejo San Juan (where the neighborhood even lost Mimi, its most beloved street cat), at first utterly empty and since summer far-too-crowded with travelers, for the duration of the year, a year that somehow vanished into the ether, along with the lives of so many beautiful people.
Coronavirus was not the only struggle the world faced in 2020. The appalling murder of George Floyd reenergized the Black Lives Matter movement in a profound way and spurred what I hope will be a more honest discussion about race and accountability, not just in the United States but beyond. Citizens in countries as disparate as Belarus, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela faced down the awful machinery of state repression as France continued to be stalked by jihadist terrorism and Haiti’s political and economic actors for the most part continued to flail at one another with little concern for their vulnerable people. Here in Puerto Rico, the political duopoly of the two main political parties was broken, but the corrupt system through which they rule seems to remain largely intact.
But there were bright spots. Firstly, the red-hat wearing cult of the 45th president was vanquished in November, and my home state of Pennsylvania, which shamed me by voting for him in 2016, delivered the coup de grâce. Now all that’s left is to kick his political culture into the ditch where it belongs and cover it with dirt. A man and his criminal low travelers who caused so much misery for so many people will soon be gone from the White House. Secondly, a series of vaccines against the pandemic arrived, raising hope that life might return to some level of normalcy as 2021 progresses.
And somehow, amid all the unreality of this year, I managed to start work on two new books, began a PhD and to publish the articles that I like to below.
For me, 2020 will in many ways remain, in the words of the caraqueña band Desorden Público, el año que nunca fue (the year that never was), a strange pause in life between what came before and after. But I hope that, as the sun sets on this most difficult twelve months, it will rise on something brighter, gentler and more humane in 2021, and that I can see you all again very soon.
Y una a una las noches
entre nuestras ciudades separadas
se agregan a la noche que nos une
(And one by one the nights
between our separated cities
are joined to the night that unites us)
Love to you all from Puerto Rico,
Haiti’s Dangerous Crossroads for Newlines Magazine (21 December 2020)New Voices of Rebellion Rise in Cuba for Newlines Magazine (22 November 2020)Mexico slams brakes on clean energy momentum for Energy Monitor (22 October 2020)
Colombia’s financial services industry flourishes despite domestic headwinds for Foreign Direct Investment (15 October 2020)
Le rôle de la communauté internationale dans le royaume de l'impunité d'Haïti for Le Nouvelliste (24 September 2020)
Haiti’s long road to energy self-sufficiency for Energy Monitor (18 September 2020)
Dominican Republic: George Floyd protests spark reckoning with race as elections loom for The Guardian (15 June 2020)Donde las vidas de los negros importaban primero en las Américas for El Nuevo Día (17 June 2020) 'Our heritage is abandoned': burning of Haitian church fuels anger at politicians for The Guardian (17 April 2020)
Puerto Rico earthquakes are just the latest in a string of shocks for US island for The Guardian (12 January 2020)
Michael Deibert speaking on impact of Tropical Storm Isaias in Puerto Rico on BBC World Service (31 July 2020)
L’église de Milot qui vient de prendre feu est un monument unique in Ayibo Post (13 April 2020)
Can Solar Energy Solve Puerto Rico's Energy Crisis? on The Takeaway (13 January 2020)
Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake Rocks Puerto Rico on The Takeaway (7 January 2020)