I've always felt sorry for Nauruans. Exploited by colonial powers that turned much of their island into a moonscape, they became independent and completed the job. Income from their phosphate deposits went into a series of increasingly ill-advised investments and now they can't afford their socialist paradise.
And you thought we had it bad. The hare-brained schemes we sometimes get in the CNMI are nothing compared to Nauru. Harboring refugees for cash, money-laundering for the Russian mafia, just give them an idea.
For instance, what does Nauru have in common with Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela?
This week, it became the fourth country to recognize the breakaway Georgian enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"It has no potential, just to trade in independence," says Russian analyst Sergei Markedonov of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, "Independence is a commodity — people will trade it."
And trade they do. There are reports that Nauru is getting $50 million for the deal. In the past, they recognized the Republic of China, then shifted to the People's Republic for something like $130 million. Ah, but Air Nauru went broke, so they went back to Taiwan (Check the line on the bottom of the home page) to get its replacement, Our Airline, flying.
No criticism is meant here. If countries like Russia, the Chinas and Israel want to practice recognition by checkbook, why not join in.
Picture the island of Banaba in Kiribati. Got it? Pretty remote. Now go 300 kilometers west. There's nothing there but Nauru. No wonder so many birds 'dropped by', and no wonder they have to have their own airline.
Some 11,000 (or maybe 9,000) people ring the island in the fertile coastal area. Nauru sued Australia in 1989 and ended up with a settlement to recover the mined lands. I don't think the amount was made public, but that doesn't matter: it wasn't enough; the interior is a wasteland.
The coastal plains are threatened by rising sea levels, and Nauru estimates 40 percent of its marine biota are dead due to silting and runoff with high phosphate levels.
Did I mentioned unemployment estimated at 90 percent, with 95 percent of the employed working for the government? The highest diabetes rate in the world and one of the most obese populations; this country just can't catch a break.
The first photo is from Nauru's tourism website (Hey, they're really trying to develop), the second's less-flattering pinnacles are from the U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program-- they have a climate station on Nauru.