Thursday, December 15, 2016

Headlines from Latin America 2016


Donald Trump’s campaign, and eventual election, took most of the attention in these pages as well as the world. Nevertheless, some interesting things happened south of the border that will show up on President Trump’s agenda sooner rather than later.    
Let’s start with Cuba. Fidel Castro died and this is the one story most likely to impact President Trump in 2017.    
What will President Trump do with President Obama’s policy toward Cuba? I hope that he keeps the U.S. embassy but immediately takes a stand that the embargo will stay until the Cuban government changes its ways.   
Cuba after Fidel Castro will continue to be the same economic wreck. It means that President Trump will have all the cards, the same ones that President Obama refused to play.   
What happens in Cuba? Raul Castro will have to make a choice very soon. Do he reform or keep the failing show on the air? No one is going to bail him out and President Trump should say that he is on the side the Cuban people. My guess is that a lot of Cubans will be happy to hear that.   
Down in Mexico, they may hate Mr. Trump, but they probably despise the surging violence and slow U.S. GDP growth a lot of more.   President Trump should sit down with President Enrique Peña-Nieto and show concern about violence tearing apart areas of Mexico, as we see in this good post from Kirk Semple:
In the first 10 months of this year, there were 17,063 homicide cases in Mexico, already more than last year’s total and the highest 10-month tally since 2012. 
The relapse in security has unnerved Mexico and led many to wonder whether the country is on the brink of a bloody, all-out war between criminal groups.
You can’t have these levels of violence south of the border without impacting cities north of the border. These criminal elements are fighting for space and lanes to the customers up here. They’ve also turned portions of the U.S.-Mexico border into lawless areas where they decide who goes north or south.    
President Trump will make a lot of Mexicans very happy U.S. GDP grows in the 4-6% range. It will do wonders for a Mexican economy heavily dependent on the U.S. We will buy more oil, consume more avocados and visit more of their beaches. They love a strong U.S. economy in Mexico, as they’ve told me over and over again.
Down in Venezuela, we are watching a predictable human tragedy. People are getting more and more desperate, as we can see by the growth of the black market. Let’s meet “los bachaqueros” and it is not a baseball academy that breeds shortstops for the major leagues. It is the story of Venezuelans turning to the black market to survive:
President Nicolas Maduro blames the so-called ‘bachaqueros’ — a new class of black marketeers who resell goods at hugely inflated prices — for the country’s problems. His critics say they are in fact a product of his own government’s inept policies.
Price freezes and currency controls have given way to alarming shortages of basic goods, creating interminable supermarket lines of Venezuelans desperate to get their hands on products like flour or nappies. Many people the Telegraph spoke to said that, in such conditions, hunger and looting are not uncommon.
Bachaqueros can sell basic commodities like rice and sugar at $2 and $3 per kilogram respectively, a great expense for the average Venezuelan on minimum wage. A family of five can consume up to two kilos of rice per week, spending $16 a month if they buy it on the black market — almost half the average monthly salary. 
In supermarkets the same products are sold under government fixed prices at 900 and 380 bolivares for rice and sugar respectively, less than one dollar. But endless queues and scarcity of products has forced many to search the black market.
This is horrible. I shared this article with my mother and it reminded her of their “black market” days in Cuba.
Venezuela is not as much a threat to the U.S. as Cuba or Mexico. However, it is an oil producer, sits next to Colombia, and could explode at any moment.    
Down in Argentina, a center-right President Macri is a shining light and trying to reform many of the excesses of the left. He was elected by a frustrated Argentine middle class that sees a growing bureaucracy that only takes care of bureaucrats. Does that sound familiar?
Over in Brazil, a “samba” of political corruption now rivals the Rio carnival. During the year, a president was impeached but there is more corruption coming out.Brazilians call it “Operation Car Wash” and we hope that they wash it all around. Corruption has been deadly for one of the Top 10 GDP’s in the world.
Elections in Chile and Peru were good news for  center right candidates too.    
Overall, an exciting year. I believe that there are more big things to happen in 2017. Change is coming to Cuba and that’s something to look forward to.
Of course, let’s not forget all of those Cubs fans in Latin America who got hooked on the team when WGN carried the games via satellite.   
P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

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