|Patio de Alfandega - Linked from Wikipedia in Portuguese|
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Thoughts on Globalization from the Azores
Accidents of geography, the Azores Islands are the verdant peaks of nine towering mountains in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Situated at the confluence of the African, North American, and Eurasian tectonic plates, the islands are a product of the volcanoes that spurted from these seams. Centuries ago, these scars on the seam of the earth helped link the continents together commercially under the leadership of the Portuguese Empire. The museum at Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island boasts that Portugal led the way to globalization. While this is a stretch, it is certainly true that Portugal presided over the widest trade network to the time, and the Azores were a critical pivot.
The islands hosted major trading and resupply ports for the routes linking Europe, Africa, North and South America, and even India. The explorer Vasco da Gama stopped in Angra on the return trip from his expedition to India. His brother, Paulo, who had grown sick on the journey, died in Angra and is buried in a church there. Standing at the Pátio da Alfândega (Customs Courtyard), which overlooks the port and is flanked by an imposing cathedral (the Igreja da Misericórdia) and the old customs house, one can imagine the bustling activity as caravels came and went to exotic destinations, as well as the mainland ports of Europe, bringing all manner of wares. The port and the city are sleepy, now, as global trade has moved on. Even the airbase there, once a necessary stopping point for military and commercial aircraft alike, is used much less. Technology and new trends in trade are the hallmark of the new wave of globalization. While they make many new champions, some nodes become obsolete and decay. More than just the Azores, the North Atlantic as a whole is becoming passé in some minds as trade thickens between the global south. Far from being a great equalizer, globalization lays some old heroes low while exalting others. Some, too, remain untouched by this wave, as they have been by past waves. It seems that, if anything, globalization and rapid development heighten inequality within and across borders.