U.S. extends its authority to Benin

Just been sent an open letter from guidebook writer Stuart Butler, would-be author of the new Bradt Travel Guide to Benin, to his editor, Hilary Bradt. As excuses go for missing deadlines, this one is not bad!

So I am finishing up in Cotonu and have a problem. I was arrested today, not by the Benoise who are far too nice to do something like that, but by our friends, the good old US of A... Did you know that by taking notes on a restaurant 100m away from a US embassy (which I did not know was there) you can be arrested by a bunch of yanks with machine guns!!!! I spent the entire day being interrogated about why I should be making notes and maps of restaurants near the embassy. Admittedly I wasn’t very cooperative, but they kept saying that their were certain restrictions I should be aware of and that lingering near a US embassy for more than two minutes was one of these. I tried asking how in the land of the free it could be forbidden to record your opinion of a restaurant and they said "In any free country there are restrictions." The irony of the comment seemed lost on them...

Anyway to cut a long story short they clearly think I am a threat to their security and have confiscated all my notes on Cotonou and the maps!!!! I still have my notes from elsewhere but I need to start again in Cotonou and I only have three days left. I don’t see it being a problem but I am going to be very careful about revealing any maps (oh, they kept telling me it was illegal for me to write anything about the city without their permission and that I was not allowed to take photos anywhere in Benin - quite what gave the Yanks the right to decide this wasn’t made clear). And Bush wonders why he is hated!

There is a another irony. As I remember Hilary B. telling me, the US army was was one of Bradt Travelguides' biggest customers for their guide to Iraq... there not being many alternatives at the time! You'd think they'd be more appreciative!


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