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Kentucky Queries: Why Trade with Cuba is Good for America

For our new blog series, Kentucky Queries, we’ll be taking a different question about world affairs or culture submitted by our members and followers and pose it to a local export. If you have a burning question of global importance that you’d like to see answered, you can ask it using this form.

Our inaugural question deals with the recent White House shift in Cuba policy:

What does the reversal of the Obama-Era Cuba policy mean for the American economy? What are the effects this change could have on Kentuckians?

Why Trade with Cuba is Good for America

by Dr. Robert Brown

A rollback of our Cuba policy would be bad for the Cuban people, bad for U.S. business, bad for U.S. national security and bad politics for President Trump.

Bad for the Cuban people: 

  • The Cuban people overwhelmingly support U.S. engagement. An increase in American travelers and trade has brought increased access to internet and dramatically strengthened Cuba’s growing private sector.
  • Every leading human rights organization agrees that the best way to improve the lives of the Cuban people is through increased engagement, not leaving the Cuban people stranded by returning isolationist policies.

Bad for U.S. Business: 

  • A rollback of Cuba policy would cost the U.S. economy $6.6 billion dollars and affect over 12,000 jobs. U.S. companies are interested in doing business in Cuba. But additional regulations on U.S. businesses will make it impossible for American companies to help bring Cuba into the 21st century.

Bad for U.S. National Security: 

  • The Cold War is over and Cuba is no longer a threat, but Cuba remains within an arms reach of Putin and China. If we reverse course with Cuba, we’d be creating a vacuum for our foreign adversaries to fill 90 miles away.
  • Ties between Moscow and Havana are strengthening at an alarming rate, if we pull out of Cuba, we would be opening the door for Russia to regain its once diminished influence in our backyard.

Bad politics: 

  • President Trump campaigned on the promise of removing burdensome regulations on U.S. businesses. A “reversal” of Cuba policy would actually ADD job-killing regulations on U.S. companies.
  • Morning Consult released a poll showing that 6 in 10 Republicans support policies that expanded travel to and trade with Cuba.
  • Over 60% of Cuban-Americans support these policies.
  • Recently, Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform led a group of conservative organizations in urging Trump not to reverse these changes that have helped U.S. businesses and spread free market ideas to Cuba.

Dr. Robert Brown is the chair of both the National District Export Council and its local Kentucky chapter, organizations dedicated to helping small and medium-sized businesses establish and increase export sales and improving our country’s economic growth.

The art of surviving a Venezuela on the brink

Written by Marcos Gomez, Director of Amnesty International Venezuela.
Read the original article on Al Jazeera.

Image Credit: Al Jazeera

The seemingly endless crisis in Venezuela appears to have entered a new, dark and alarming chapter.

As if coming off the pages of a terrifying thriller, a crisis that seemed to have reached its worst point in recent months, has actually escalated further after weeks of protests sparked by growing anger and frustration around what looks like a never-ending catalogue of problems.

On Monday, President Nicolas Maduro ordered the military onto the streets, two days before planned peaceful protests across the country on 19 April. He said the military would be “marching in defence of morality” and “against those who betray the homeland”.

Amid one of the largest demonstrations in recent months, this “call to arms” by the government was disastrous: at least two people died in suspicious circumstances, hundreds more were injured and detained – adding to the more than sixteen deaths reported during protests over recent weeks. Evidence grew that groups of armed vigilantes are taking the law into their own hands. Further demonstrations have been called for the coming days.

I thought that living (or surviving) in Venezuela had prepared the population here for anything. The endless strategies to find two kilos of rice, get hold of anticonvulsants or high blood pressure medicine has made us all experts in the art of making do.

Now, people also face the utter terror of going out into the streets. Old and young fear stepping out of their homes, participating in peaceful demonstrations, complaining about what it is like to try and survive here.

READ MORE: Venezuela’s crisis explained from the beginning

If you do go out and exercise your human right to speak your mind, you might be tear gassed (including from helicopters), beaten, locked up in jail for years without due process or even shot by one of the paramilitary groups that, although unacknowledged by the authorities, are now running amok across Venezuela.

Violence by some protesters has been cleverly used by the authorities to justify widespread repression and perpetuate the “us vs them” discourse that has done so much harm to our country. You only need to step outside to breathe this climate of fear.

Repression and violence during protests are not new to Venezuela – in 2014, more than 40 people, including at least six members of the security forces, were killed. More than 650 people were injured and more than 2,000 detained. Impunity has been rife.

Many, perhaps naively, thought these events were a one-off. We thought the country would learn from its recent history. But over the past few weeks, a cloud of uncertainty and violence has cast a new dark shadow over Venezuela. Day after day, we wake up with news of fresh protests followed by the frightening images of violent confrontations between protesters and security forces.

How the crisis began

Since this new wave of demonstrations began on April 4, tensions have escalated daily. People looked like they had nothing to lose. Many of them don’t.

What began as ordinary protests against the political and humanitarian situation in the country and against the – since-overturned – supreme court’s ruling to “ban” the National Assembly, quickly turned into something else, something much more worrying.

By the third day, we found ourselves giving shelter to injured demonstrators in the hall of the building where I live, my family and I giving first aid to bruised and battered men and women, frustrated and exhausted by the realities of daily life in Venezuela.

I watched as tear gas canisters were thrown from helicopters while President Maduro, speaking from Cuba, tried to reassure the population, saying that “Venezuela is at peace, except for a few pockets of violence that are being dealt with.”

This contrasted starkly with the reality on the ground – in just over a fortnight, at least seven people died during the protests and hundreds were injured.

A few days after the initial wave of protests, the Venezuelan Public Ministry announced an investigation to find those responsible for the killings. But this effort towards justice and accountability must not be just for show. Instead, it must be a genuine commitment to the full respect and protection of human rights, one where those who think differently from the government are not portrayed as enemies and where those who violate human rights are brought to justice.

The tragic contrast between the Venezuela portrayed by the authorities and the one we live in is so deep it’s hard to explain. The country President Maduro speaks about is at peace. People are handed food donations from government-sponsored trucks. Children happily study in school, none of them fainting in class because they have nothing to eat at home. Hospitals are fully stocked, providing their patients with the best care available.

But this is mere fiction – following in the celebrated Latin American tradition of magical realism.

In contrast, the Venezuela I – and millions of others – wake up to every day is a real-life labyrinth where buying the most essential items has become a nearly impossible struggle.

“How do people in Venezuela survive?” many ask me. I still have not been able to find an answer.

But one thing is certain. The Venezuelan authorities’ “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude to the crisis does not cut it anymore. Hiding behind a veil of propaganda and playing victim to some shadowy international plan to destabilise the country is not helping anyone in Venezuela to eat and stay healthy.

The time has come for all state institutions to fulfil their duties and work on behalf of all the people in the country.

How much longer we can go on like this is anybody’s guess, but the fact remains that something can, and must, be done to prevent our country from falling into an abyss with no return.

Marcos Gomez is the director of Amnesty International Venezuela.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Venezuela: Latin America’s Next Coup

Kenneth Rapoza

 


New York’s biggest Venezuela ‘death watch’ specialist, Siobhan Morden of Nomura Securities, says that the crisis-wracked country is at a cross roads. Here’s where it can go, in the simplest of terms: towards a Cuban style autocracy led by Socialist Party leader and current president Nicolas Maduro, or a military coup of ‘moderates’ who team up with the opposition to kick Maduro to the curb. For now, the Cuban-road is looking like the road Maduro will travel.

Barron’s and others reported on the military take over of certain sectors of the economy on Friday.  Bond prices for Venezuela’s one year debt fell 1.3% to 48.24. The country is being held together by polygrip, but the government continues to bite off more than it can chew.

Wall Street has been banking on cooler heads to prevail. As the economic crisis worsens, the camp that suggests Venezuela’s biggest problem is that it’s not Socialist enough is being vacated by the day. The opposition, meanwhile, remains mired in bureaucratic red tape to get a recall vote on Maduro.  It’s definitely not happening this year.

For the market, if cooler heads do ultimately prevail, an unlikely scenario, Venezuela’s bonds will be the best buy in Latin America. Similar trades were made in Argentina last year, and in Russia in 2014.

Current yield on Venezuela’s debt is over 22% on average. Fitch says a sovereign default is imminent. Venezuela, an economy dependent on oil revenue, is now one that requires its government to work as a grocery store, handing out rations. It’s practically war time.

As a result of this disarray, Friday’s 50-50 chance that Venezuela heads towards autocracy, with Maduro in role as dictator, seems more like a 60-40 chance today.

“The superpowers for the military heighten the debate about autocracy and democracy with significant implications on bond prices,” Morden wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

That superpower ministry position for Defense Minister Padrino Lopez raises concerns as to what type of political transition will occur. There are risks of either a Maduro orchestrated coup, whereas allies in the military take control and install him as defacto dictator, or opposition within the Socialist Party out-maneuver him and throw him out of office. This would require Chavistas to work with the opposition. The opposition represents the private sector, the sworn enemies of Chavez and therefore strange bedfellows.

It is unclear just how strong popular support is for Maduro and whether, given the economic crisis, he could summons popular support to back him up in the event of an anti-Maduro coup détat.

One poll from May that was reported on this month by the Christian Science Monitor suggests 25% support for Maduro’s government, a dismal rating.  One of the only reasons it is that high is thanks to the residual goodwill of voters who benefited from the Hugo Chavez years, when high oil prices and income distribution made Venezuela one of the three richest in Latin America.  As of 2013, Venezuela’s per capita GDP was higher than Chile’s, Brazil’s and Mexico’s, and trailed Argentina with around $14,400 per capita, based on World Bank figures. 

A truck loaded with groceries from the government sits in the Catia neighborhood on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday, July 2, 2016. In an attempt to regain control, President Nicolas Maduro tapped party loyalists called the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAPs), and put them in charge of distributing as much as 70% of the nation’s food. Now, that distribution is in the hands of the military. (Photo by Manaure Quintero/Bloomberg)

If Chavista moderates even exist, they will have to fight among themselves if they are to do anything about Maduro’s tilt to a closed economy. Some Chavista lawmakers have even suggested the legislative branch should be abandoned. Democracy in Venezuela is on the wane.

Maduro’s claim that the country’s economic woes are due to an “economic war” waged by the opposition and the private sector can rally his base. This is especially true if he brings up Washington involvement. Chavez loyalists hate the U.S. for its role in backing a failed coup against Chavez in 2002. 

Nomura’s strategist Morden thinks the main thing to watch now is Lopez. How does the military manage to control food distribution and what will it do with trade at the ports, which is now under its command. The market has no faith this will succeed.

“The centralization or maybe efficient control of bad policies will not resolve the economic crisis,” Morden wrote.

Venezuela’s opposition leader Henri Falcon supposedly endorsed Lopez,saying he represents more of the institutional faction of the military and this may allow him more power over the repressive military leaders backing Maduro.

Lopez could be a straw man. There has been no mainstream reports of dissent from the military and the ‘Chavistas’ that have criticized the Maduro Administration’s handling of the crisis. There are regional elections this fall. That will tell a lot about the future of the Socialist Party, and the grip it has, if any, on the collective imagination.

“It is still our base case scenario that the intensity of economic stress forces a political transition,” says Morden. “However, we cannot ignore the recent autocratic trend.”

Meanwhile, the recall referendum faces impossible administrative hurdles thanks to a biased election authority that is likely to derail the process. Last month, Maduro said there would be no recall vote until next year. That’s like Bill Clinton saying the House of Representatives cannot vote on his impeachment until he says so.

Political risk could pull the rug out from under junk bond traders hoping for a repeat of Argentina.

Venezuela’s 10 year bond traded at 11.73% yield on Thursday July 14, rising 16.2% in just four days and is now up over 11% in four weeks as the market prices in the ‘Cubanization’ of the country.

Investors are hoping to double their money like they did in Argentina, but to do that, Venezuela will have to take the road less traveled — one that gives the private sector more say over the country. Despite the economic crisis in Argentina, the exit of Cristina Kirchner now has three year Argentina bonds at negative yieldBond prices are up 100.24% in the last 12 months.