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No English. No Service. No Customers.

As I was walking in the historic center of Cartagena, I found a frantic woman asking me if I spoke English and if I could help her find her hotel. She was an American about 60 years old, completely baffled by the confusing colonial streets. She said she approached several police officers and vendors, but no one spoke English so she really started to panic. Eventually, we found her little hotel. Her family was waiting for her with very grateful looks on their worried faces. They wanted to give me money and take me out to dinner for my troubles. I refused, but it got me thinking of why this situation even occurred.

It was the fact that English has not been taught to the people. Cartagena's developers want the city to become an international destination. They are from the larger more metropolitan cities, Bogota and Medellin, and have smoothed talked international investors.  There are already beautiful boutique hotels and excellent restaurants. Shopping is improving. Currently, the Intercontinental, Hyatt, Sheraton, and other luxury resorts are being built. Beach condominium prices are rising. It seems that they have thought of everything. However, they forgot one important detail:  a qualified workforce. Who is going to work at the restaurants, hotels, resorts, and condominiums? Drive the taxis? Who is going to speak English and provide the excellent customer service Gringos demand and Cartagena´s high prices seem to reflect? Currently, the only Cartageneros that speak English are from the middle and uppers classes who don´t plan to make beds, drive taxis, or serve food. They are either teachers or work at international corporations. However, 75 percent of the population would love a secure job at minimum wage and health insurance. They would do anything if given the opportunity.

In Latin America, the upper classes don´t think to educate the poor. They would prefer to keep the masses down and avoid any competition. I can see their logic, but this time it will fail. Cartagena, glamorous international vacation destination, will not happen without the workforce speaking English. I hope the developers and politicians will soon understand that educating the poor will benefit them even though the cost wasn´t noted on their balance sheets.

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