New Briefing - March 3, 2018

 I want to take a moment to thank you for your contributions to El Hemisferio. Because of your donations (and a Valentine’s Day discount), was able to be upgraded to a business account through Wordpress! The plugins now available will allow I and the other contributors to better reach a wider audience and create new content. 

Your support has been crucial and is truly appreciated! Keep and eye out for new content and new authors in 2018!

-Nathan Davis 

From El Hemisferio

Healing in a Blockade ContextChristina La Fleur writes about a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago and the Cuban Ministry of Health and the history of Cuban doctors abroad.

Presidential Election in Costa Rica Focuses on LGBT Rights – The second round of voting for president will take place in just four weeks and the candidates have staked starkly different positions on a recent and explosive topic: gay marriage. One of Latin America’s most prosperous nations is grappling over how to address a recent Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling that the state must recognize gay marriage with evangelical Fabricio Alvarado harshly opposed to the decision and more liberal Carlos Alvarado embracing it. 

US Trade Mission

Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney was in Guatemala this week with other government and private sector leaders to promote US exports to Central America, according to Tri-State Livestock News.

“‘The Northern Triangle offers significant market opportunities for exporters of U.S. farm and food products,’ McKinney said. ‘Thanks to population and economic growth in the region, demand for imported goods — particularly high-value, consumer-oriented food products — is on the rise. And more than 95 percent of U.S. agricultural exports enjoy duty free access to the region under the CAFTA-DR trade agreement.’”

Guyana-Venezuela Border Dispute

The Guyanese military established two army bases along the border with Venezuela as the crisis in the once prosperous nation deepens, according to Infosurhoy.

“Venezuelan soldiers are entering Guyanese territory in search of food, while civilians are seeking medical attention and selling drugs and whatever else they can, according to authorities in the tiny former British colony on the northeastern shoulder of South America….

“‘Frontier communities are guardians of Guyana’s territorial integrity and national security. They are our first line of defense,’ said [President of Guyana David] Granger in the small indigenous village….

“The army bases were set up in regions close to the border where residents have complained of ‘terrorizing encounters’ with a notorious gang from Venezuela known as the Syndicatos, the government said in a statement.”

NAFTA Renegotiations

Members of the United States Congress are calling on President Donald Trump to make labor laws a key issue in the upcoming round of NAFTA talks, Bloomberg reports.

“‘Labor rights in Mexico is not an issue that can be sidestepped,’ Representatives Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Sandy Levin of Michigan said. ‘It is the central issue that must be addressed in any rewrite of Nafta. Failure by Mexico to stop suppressing its workers’ wages will not only be an obstacle for a new NAFTA, it will be a death knell for any deal passing Congress.’”

Mexican Presidential Elections

Ricardo Anaya, running as the PRD and PAN candidate, denies corruption allegations against him related to the sale of property in Queretaro, according to Reuters.

“On Wednesday, the attorney general’s office issued a short statement saying that a complaint had been filed last October by an unnamed party about suspected operations involving illicit funds, prompting an investigation to be launched.

“The statement did not detail who was involved. However, Anaya said that the investigation targeted his property deal and was an attempt to damage his reputation and help the candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).”

Elections in Cuba

Cuba will hold elections this month and it is likely that for the first time in 60 years the leader of the island will not be a Castro. Javier Corrales, a professor at Amherst College, and James Loxton, a lecturer at the University of Sydney, present a path towards democracy for Cuba in a New York Times op-ed but are skeptical that the Communist regime will take it. 

“If the Cuban Communist Party – the only party allowed to participate in elections under the one-party regime – were smart, it would try to get out while the getting is good. By transition to democracy on its own terms, the party could reap benefits. 

“Newly configured institutions and laws (for example, electoral laws) could be tailor-made to its advantage. The party could take advantage of this new freedom from the Castros to produce new freedoms for Cubans, thus generating good will that could translate into votes….

“But the longer the Communists wait, the less viable this exit strategy becomes – and the more likely that the party will eventually succumb to full-blown regime collapse.”

Venezuela’s Crumbling Oil Industry

The United States is considering an embargo of Venezuelan oil as a way to further pressures the government of Nicolas Maduro. However, as the Washington Post notes, oil production in Venezuela has fallen precipitously in recent years and the industry is on its last legs in a nation with some of the largest proven petroleum reserves in the world.

“Last month, according to a report from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Venezuela’s plummeting oil production hit a three-decade low of 1.6 million barrels a day, a 20 percent drop from January 2017 and less than half of what it was in the 1990s. Venezuela’s headache is also the world’s problem. The sharp fall in output here, experts say, is exacerbating the global rise in oil prices, which has meant higher prices at gas pumps in the United States and elsewhere. In Venezuela, chronic production problems have forced the government to start importing gasoline….

“The state oil company is run by Manuel Quevedo, a military general with no industry experience, after a purge last fall of executives seen as not wholly loyal to President Nicolás Maduro. Quevedo says he is acting to halt the fall in production. But for Venezuela, a bad situation could soon become much worse….

“During his trip to Latin America this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the “nuclear option” could be imminent — in other words, restrictions on U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil, as well as exports of diluents this nation needs to make its sludgy, super-heavy crude more salable. 

“A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities, said that a study is underway by U.S. executive departments — including State, Energy and Treasury — to assess the potential effects of such oil restrictions. If Maduro does not change course on the April vote, or pledge himself to a transparent election with foreign monitors, an embargo of some kind is highly likely, the official said.”

Cuba Cigars

As the Chinese economy expands, so too do the demands of Chinese consumers. Reuters reports that global sales of Habanos S.A. was about $500 million in 2017 buoyed by a jump in sales to China. 

“Habanos S.A., a 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban state and Britain’s Imperial Brands Plc (IMB.L), said sales in China, its third export market after Spain and France, jumped 33 percent in value in 2017…. 

“The Habanos executive said the outlook was also positive, given solid demand and“excellent” climatic conditions. Hurricane Irma, which wrought havoc throughout much of Cuba last year, left the western, prime tobacco-growing state of Pinar del Rio mostly unscathed.

“Cigars are one of the top exports for the Cuban economy, which is otherwise struggling with decreasing aid from key ally Venezuela, a cash crunch and a pushback against market reforms.”

Suriname Debt Outlook

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Suriname’s credit rating from B1 to B2 last week, according to Nation News.

“The drivers of the downgrade, according to Moody’s, relate to the erosion of fiscal metrics, as reflected in an increase in debt ratios and deterioration in debt affordability metrics, despite fiscal reforms adopted by the authorities. The negative outlook reflects Moody’s view that without additional measures to strengthen the fiscal position, the pace of fiscal consolidation may not be sufficient to prevent increased liquidity pressures.”

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings revised its long term outlook of the South American nation’s economy to “Stable,” a move that the Finance Minister Gillmore Hoefdraad praised.

“‘The government is not to be discouraged. Externally, we received mainly encouraging responses about our policies and the path that Suriname has taken to become a strong diversified economy. The interest of investors is unremitting, as is the support of other development partners. The positive assessment of Fitch will support this,’ said Hoefdraad.

“Meanwhile, politicians from the opposition and economists are strongly criticising the government’s allegedly failing economic policies, which according to them has led to ‘embarrassing credit ratings’.”

Fleeing Venezuela

Americas Quarterly writes about the 30,000 middle-class Venezuelans that have fled to Peru in search of economic opportunity and how the Peruvian government has responded to these new immigrants. 

“Peru’s open policy toward migration has also helped. In 2017, the government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, himself a descendant of immigrants, created the Permiso Temporal de Permanencia (PTP), a temporary residency permit that allows Venezuelans and others to look for jobs, apply for a tax number and receive some health and education services. Last year more than 26,000 Venezuelans applied for the program, and about 25,500 were accepted. So far, however, fewer than 500 of those have since sought work visas. On Jan. 30, the government rolled out a new residency category for Venezuelans whose PTP is about to expire and who have no police, criminal or judicial records. There are an additional 80,000 Venezuelans in Peru with tourist visas who could apply for the PTP, according to officials….

“In general, though, Peruvians tend to embrace international visitors and immigrants, an attitude likely enhanced by the country’s own recovery after a period of internal conflict and hyperinflation. Peru has a diaspora of over 2.5 million, and during Venezuela’s oil boom thousands of Peruvian technicians and professionals moved to Caracas and settled there, raising dual-citizenship families. These young men and women were among the first to make the way back to their parents’ country of origin.”