Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sri Lanka achieve's NBR status

Successive government worthies on this sunny isle have at various times, sometimes entirely unprovoked, claimed to have set our country on the path to NIC (newly industrialised country) status. We reliably learn that we have now achieved NBR status which, we are assured, is on the road to NIC status.

In honour of this great achievement Sri Lanka's National Flower, the Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea stellata) known locally as the 'Nil Manel' is to be changed to the Plantain Flower (kehel Mala) .

NBR status is New Banana Republic

This must not be (heaven forbid) confused with 'Banana republic; (or Bananaland or for that matter trousers made by some idiotic American company) which is a pejorative term for describing a country with a non-democratic or unstable government, especially where there is widespread political corruption and strong foreign influence. It is most often applied to small countries in Central America or the Caribbean.

Sri Lanka is in the Indian Ocean and, thanks to the JVP, quite safe from such evil foreign influences that plague the mid Atlantic.

The original 'banana republic' was Honduras, where the United Fruit and Standard Fruit companies dominated the country's key banana export sector and support sectors such as railways. The United Fruit Company was nicknamed 'The Octopus', for its willingness to involve itself in politics, sometimes violently. For example, in 1910 the company hired a gang of armed toughs from New Orleans to install a new president when the incumbent failed to grant the company tax breaks. The newly installed Honduran president waived the company's taxes for the next 25 years. The company's dominance in Honduras, as well as other Central American countries like Guatemala, led Pablo Neruda to write a poem titled La United Fruit Co. in Spanish.

In Sri Lanka, thanks to state policies, the evil English and Scotch Tea companies were driven out, thereby preventing the calamity that occurred in Honduras and leaving its place the glorious JEDB and SLSPC.

In modern usage the term has come to be used to describe a generally unstable or "backward" dictatorial regime, especially one where elections are often fraudulent and corruption is rife.

In Sri Lanka we have elections at the drop of a hat, (or sari potta as the case may be) so democracy must be working well.

The foreign influence may well be more political (for example through corruption in the elite, or military support for a dictator) than economic dominance of key sectors. The term no longer implies that the foreign influence is a corporation; it could well be a foreign government, in which case the relationship can resemble a colonial one.

In Sri Lanka, as everyone who reads the state press knows, there is no corruption, especially of politicians and their cronies.

By extension, the word is occasionally applied to governments where a strong leader hands out appointments, advantages, etc. to friends and supporters, without much consideration for the law.

Again, transparency, the rule of law and good governance are the order of the day, The Chief Justice says so and who are we to disagree?

In literature, San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico are fictional South American banana republics in the world of Tintin that display all the stereotypes one might expect of such countries. For instance, San Theodoros is constantly limping from revolution to revolution (often fuelled by outside agents); and when Tintin first lands in San Theodoros, he immediately gets bestowed the rank of colonel in the army, leading to a protest of one of the many other colonels, because there are only ten corporals in the army. One of the main contenders, General Tapioca, is supported by some outside power based on Stalin's USSR; the other one, General Alcazar, is supported by the "United Banana Co.".

Joseph Conrad's 1904 novel Nostromo is set in Costaguana, another fictional South American banana republic, which is also heavily prone to revolution. Much political power is held by a foreign mining company.

But then, literature is literature. There is no possibility that life will imitate art....

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