A country you’ve never heard of

Would you guys want to read a magazine article about this destination? It’s a place that I definitely want to make it to in my life-time and write about. Unfortunately a few years ago someone beat me to it, in the pages of the New York Times Magazine.

Anyways, for a brief moment in the 1970s, Nauruans were the second richest people in the world. That’s quite a feat considering their island is roughly the size of downtown Manhattan (it’s the third smallest country after Vatican City and Monaco). For over a century, 95% of their economy depended on a single export: phosphate, a key ingredient in fertilizer. While other South Pacific nations have found their niche, such as Fiji and its successful tourism industry, now that the phosphate’s gone, Nauru is floundering in the sea. The country has become a modern-day Easter Island-a cautionary story highlighting the consequences of environmental exploitation taken to an extreme.

Nauru has recently marketed itself as an anything-goes offshore banking destination and as a satellite penal colony for Australia. For $25,000, you can set up your own bank; Russian gangsters laundered $70 million in one year alone. Other substitutes for strip-mining include selling passports and recognizing Taiwan, for which they receive $13 million a year. But by far their most lucrative cash cow has been holding Australian asylum-seekers, for which they’ve been paid $100 million since 2001. The detention camp currently holds 82 Sri Lankans, none of whom can leave the premises because of a recent alleged rape.

If for nothing else, I’m intrigued here by the cultural experience of growing up in a country of that size. If you’re intrigued, tune in next week and I’ll post some more.