OnSafari: Unmasking Mascarenes

OnSafari: Unmasking Mascarenes

PortLouisI’m in Mauritius, defined by geography, pirates and free money. I flew in from its much larger and much poorer cousin, Reunion, and the contrast between the two couldn’t be greater.

The ideological and even moral divide between these two main Mascarenes Islands are as great as the political divisions around the world between the right and the left, and one is forced into concluding that in a relatively short time, only one will still be standing.

Reunion is a poor French esne wholly dependent on Paris’ generosity and protection. Mauritius is a stand-alone country/republic/society governed forever by a dosey-doe of two different families, both dedicated to a world without regulation.

A world without regulation is defined by many societies as a world of crime. According to the U.S. State Department numerous successful prosecutions stand as simple evidence of wide-spread money laundering in Mauritius, “primarily the proceeds from drug trafficking – mainly heroin and the prescription drug, subutex.”

But it doesn’t stop there: “Other important predicate crimes … include aggravated larceny, conspiracy, forgery, swindling, Ponzi schemes, and corruption.”

More than a third of all the foreign investment which poured into India last year (more than $773 million) flowed out of tiny Mauritius. Or did it, really? What is known in shaky business circles as the “Mauritian Route” is the way to launder any type of money and then move it north into India.

That way is through the institutions, banks and funds whose modern skyscrapers crowd the picture at the top of this blog in the center of Port Louis, the country’s capital. I took that picture this afternoon from my hotel room on the city’s lovely waterfront.

There are more than 500 “funds” headquartered here. They are undefined and unregulated and rise to the definition simply in quantitative terms.

Few countries in the world rocketed out of poverty so quickly and successfully as Mauritius. So the business defense regularly employed here is to refer to the “Cayman Way” as a simple contretemps infinitely justified by the lifting of the average Mauritian out of slavery, poverty and into the modern world.

And that might, indeed, be true (which doesn’t make it right). Smirking when nearby Reunion is mentioned, a Mauritian banker wouldn’t touch that island with a 40-foot yacht. The French are too moral, too snobby, too clever by half.

Never mine that Reunion has also protected infinitely more of its precious island’s endemic species than Mauritius, has much better health outcomes and lower drug use and crime rates and a carbon less policy visibly apparent from the backs of the vehicles that congest both islands. Reunion citizens, too, have been lifted out of slavery and poverty just like their Mauritian neighbors, but at the expense of the residents of the Champs-Élysées. Mauritians proudly point out, they did it themselves.

Just as they clobbered the dodo into extinction in about 30 years.

For the visitor like me the contrasts are stark: Reunion is somewhat backwards and loving whereas Mauritius already has its foot in the future and lord, don’t get in its way!

The twain will never meet and I think reflects the global divisions in politics and society that seem so irresolvable today.

Everyone stipulates there’s not enough to go around. Reunion is content with what it’s got, sanctified that others are thus able, too. Mauritians laugh at such naivete, pointing out that what Reunions are actually advocating is suicide. For Mauritians, grab everything you possibly can or you won’t survive.

Which Mascarenes Type will ultimately prevail in our world? Need one prevail? I think so, and fast. The two are anti-definitions of one another, a quark meeting an anti-quark. They will annihilate one another if the battle occurs, and that’s what’s happening now, the call to arms.