Donald Trump’s Diatribes Hit Latin America / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

President-elect Donald Trump of the United States. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14medio, Andres Oppenheimer, 19 January 2017 — When people ask me if Donald Trump will be good or bad for Latin America, I usually respond that so far he has been bad, because his aggressive speech against Mexico and his harangues against free trade are driving away investments in the region. This week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) partly confirmed my fears.

In its first economic forecast for 2017, the IMF said that the world economy will increase its growth rate to 3.4 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2018. But the exception will be Latin America, it said. continue reading

The IMF revised downward its previous economic projections for Latin America, saying that the region will grow 1.2 percent this year and 2.1 percent in 2018. In addition to slower-than-expected growth in Brazil and Argentina, the IMF cited what it diplomatically described as “an increase of the winds of uncertainty related to US policies in Mexico”

About 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the United States, and Central America depends to a large extent on family remittances from its migrants in the United States

Curious to know more, I called Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, and asked about the economic impact of Trump’s promises to build a wall on the Mexican border, revise the free trade agreement with Mexico, and Canada and annihilate the TransPacific Partnership Agreement among 12 countries that include Japan, Mexico, Peru and Chile.

Werner told me that it is premature to speak of a negative psychological impact throughout the region, because several countries like Brazil have not grown more for internal reasons. But he added that Trump’s proposals have already affected investments of Mexico, the second largest economy in the region, and could affect Central America.

About 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the United States, and Central America depends to a large extent on family remittances from its migrants in the United States

“The mere fact that there is uncertainty about future US trade policies leads many companies to postpone their investments in Mexico,” Werner told me. “It is holding back the investments”

Trump’s economic plans are also putting pressure on US interest rates, Werner said.

Trump’s economic plans are also putting pressure on US interest rates, Werner said. That may affect investments in Latin American countries and make it more expensive to get foreign loans.

When I asked him what would be the best scenario for Latin America under Trump, Werner said that if the US economy grows, whether through healthy economic policies or short-lived populist measures, Latin American commodity exporters will benefit. “If there is more infrastructure construction in the United States, that will help Latin American exporters of steel, copper and other products,” Werner said.

Other economists see another potential advantage for the region: they say that if Trump decided to focus its protectionist policies on China rather than Mexico, and place higher import tariffs on Chinese products than on Mexican, many manufacturers might decide to move out of China to Mexico and other Latin American countries.

My opinion: Trump’s diatribes against free trade – “They’re killing us” – and his threats to dramatically increase undocumented deportations have already had a negative economic impact on Latin America.

It is time for Trump to try to strengthen, rather than weaken, Latin American economies

It is time for Trump to try to strengthen, rather than weaken, Latin American economies. He needs to move from tweetocracy to diplomacy. On the contrary, his populist demagoguery will be counterproductive: it will provoke an economic crisis in Mexico and in other countries, which will result in more illegal migration to the United States, more drug trafficking and a new outbreak of anti-American sentiment.

Postscript: The decision of about 60 US legislators to boycott Trump’s inauguration is a mistake. It is true that Trump won partly with the help of Russia and the director of the FBI, and that for five years Trump himself led a disgusting campaign to delegitimize President Obama claiming – falsely – that he was born in Kenya, but so far no branch of the US government has declared Trump illegitimate. As long as that does not happen, we have to accept that, whether we like it or not, Trump won the election.


Editor’s Note: This article has been previously published El Nuevo Herald. We reproduce it with the authorization of the author.

Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)
Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer, 28 November 2016 – It is not elegant to criticize someone who has just died, but seeing the messages from the heads of state around the world exalting the supposed courage of the recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the truth must be told: Castro was anything but courageous. On the contrary, he was a coward.

In the first place, he was a coward for not allowing a free election in 57 years, from the time he took power in 1959. Only someone who is afraid of losing doesn’t desire to measure himself against others in a free election.

In the second place, Castro was a coward because he never allowed a single independent newspaper or non-government radio station or television channel. His critics didn’t even have access to the official channels. It was as if they did not exist. continue reading

Castro gave the vast majority of his interviews to journalists, models or sports figures who revered and honored him. And the few interviews he gave to serious journalists were monologues, in which he did all the talking.

I remember in the late 1980s, when I asked the Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez to intercede for me to ask for an interview with Castro. He laughed and said: “Why do you want an interview with Fidel? He never says anything in an interview that he hasn’t said in one of his five hour speeches.”

Castro’s fear of losing his omnipresent image as Maximum Leader was such that he forbade the media to talk about his private life. He had to be portrayed as a demigod who had sacrificed his life for the public good. For decades, the names of his wife and children were a state secret.

When I traveled to Cuba in the early 1990s, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) the communist youth paper, told me he had been reprimanded by his boss for trying to publish a photo of Castro eating dinner. The commander could never be shown eating, said the journalist.

Even the circumstances of the death of Castro may have been a government montage: Cuban official media say he died on November 25, which is the same day that Castro and his guerrillas left the Mexican port of Veracruz on the yacht Granma in 1955 to start their armed insurrection in Cuba.

Did they tamper with the date of his death to show it as a heroic journey to the afterlife, which coincides with the date of the beginning of his revolutionary epic six decades ago?

Third, Castro was a coward because he did not allow any independent political party. According to the Cuban Constitution drafted by Castro, only the Communist Party, which he presided over for decades, is allowed on the island.

Castro used the United States trade embargo as an excuse to prohibit independent political parties and freedom of assembly. Even after he handed the presidency to his brother Raul, although he remained a powerful figure behind the scenes, the Cuban regime intensified repression of the peaceful opposition despite the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba that began under President Obama in 2014.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an unofficial group, documented political arrests have soared from 6,424 in 2013 to 9,125 so far this year.

Fourth, Castro was a coward because he never allowed international financial institutions to monitor or verify the positive economic statistics of his government.

Castro boasted that Cuba reduced poverty and improved health and education, and much of the international press believed it, unquestioningly. But unlike most countries, Castro never allowed the World Bank or other credible international institutions to undertake independent studies on the island.

He boasted of the educational progress of Cuba, but never allowed Cuba to participate in the International Student Assessment (PISA) testing program. In fact, many studies show that other countries such as Costa Rica made more social progress than Cuba, without paying the price of mass executions, imprisonments and exiles.

Fifth, Castro never allowed international human rights organizations to conduct on-site investigations into human rights abuses. According to the research group Cuba Archive  Castro was responsible for 3,117 documented cases of executions and 1,162 cases of extrajudicial executions. In any other country, he would have been declared a war criminal.

I am sorry, but the conventional narrative that Castro was a courageous revolutionary who defied ten US presidents and survived numerous assassination attempts does not impress me at all.

Courageous leaders are those who have the courage to compete with others in free elections. Castro was a coward who never dared to allow the Cuban people to exercise their basic rights, and who condemned his island to misery.

His death should be a reminder that there is no such thing as a good dictator. Whether a right-wing autocrat as Augusto Pinochet or a leftist like Castro, all dictators are bad and, deep down, cowards.


Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in Spanish in the newspaper El Nuevo Herald. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.

US-Cuba Relations: A Passing Idyll? / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

First meeting between Raul Castro and Barack Obama at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa
First meeting between Raul Castro and Barack Obama at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer, 28 January 2016 – There is a lot of excitement on all sides about president Barack Obama’s approach to Cuba, but allow me a word of caution: it is likely that the current idyll between Washington and Havana will cool somewhat after the November elections in the United States, regardless of who wins.

The reason is very simple: it takes two to tango (or cha-cha, in this case) and Cuba is doing little from its side to accompany the easing of U.S. trade relations against the island.

In addition, the next United States president will see the trade opening to Cuba as a legacy of Obama, and will likely not spend much political capital to continue unilaterally expanding a policy that will go down in history as the work of a previous president. continue reading

When Obama first announced the opening to Cuba on 17 December 2014, he said, rightfully, that the previous policy of the United States had failed, and that United States trade would help to create a new class of entrepreneurs and an independent civil society in Cuba.

But more than a year later, even the State Department officials who negotiatied the agreement are frustrated with Cuba.

Earlier this month, the official Cuban weekly Workers reported that the number of self-employed workers in Cuba has fallen to 496,000, from 504,000 six months ago, according to Cubaencuentro’s 12 January webpage.

The blog Letters From Cuba, by the Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, said on 17 December that “internally, the paralysis is great.” He added that “during 2015 not one more cooperative was legalized, no new forms of self-employment were opened up, the wholesale markets were conspicuous by their absence and the long demanded unification of the currencies is still on the shelf.”

Politically, the military dictatorship in Cuba continues to ban political parties, freedom of assembly, and independent media.

During the past year, the number of arrests of peaceful dissidents rose to a record of 1,447 in November, according to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Yoani Sánchez, the brave Cuban journalist publishes her digital daily 14ymedio from abroad because the regime does not allow her to publish it from Cuba, even online, wrote on January 6 that “Television, radio and newspapers are maintained under strict monopoly of the Communist Party.”

And she added, “Access to the microphone is granted only to those who agree with the government and applaud the actions of its leaders. They never interview someone with a difference of opinion.”

Despite all this, Obama announced a few days ago a third round of unilateral measures to ease the embargo on the island. The new measures will allow more American visitors to travel to Cuba and increase the number of authorized exports to the island.

The normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba has turned the island into a global object of curiosity. Tourism to Cuba increased to 3.5 million in 2015, up 17.4% over the previous year, according to official Cuban figures.

Cuban art, cuisine and music have become fashionable, and are the subject of countless newspaper articles. In contrast, few journalists report on the political prisoners or investigate the more than 3,130 killings attributed to the Castro regime since 1959, according to the records compiled by the research group

My opinion: As I have said in earlier columns, the previous United States policy of isolating Cuba did not work and Obama’s new measures deserve a chance. However, so far they have not worked.

At this point, the normalization of relations has only helped Obama to cement his legacy as the president who resumed relations with Cuba, as Nixon did with China. So Obama pressed the accelerator with new measures of additional openings a few days ago, and will continue to do so.

But I do not think the next president of the United States – even if it is Hillary Clinton – will invest much political capital in cementing Obama’s legacy, unless Cuba gives concrete signs of an economic or political opening. The ball is in the Cuban court, and this idyll can cool off after November.

14ymedio Editorial Note: This analysis has been previously published in El Nuevo Herald. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.