Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 21st 2016 Contents BG18 REGIONAL
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JANUARY 21 • 2016
Barack Obama did not sound or look like a
president who was giving his last State of the
Union speech to the US Congress. On January
12, his demeanour, style and presentation was
that of a man who still retained a vision for
his country s future and who was determined
to influence its shape.
Significantly, the Congress, including his worst Republican
detractors, listened with respect however grudging. The Obama
before them was not the rookie usurper so many in the estab-
lishment politics of Washington had resented when he was
elected, despite them, on a wave of popular support. This
was a President with seven years of experience, knowledge
and achievement that could not be denied even though it
might choke some congressmen to admit it.
Obama commanded the hall as the elder statesman he has
become with the greying hair and the additional lines in his
face as marks of it. Naturally, much of what he had to say
was centred on domestic politics particularly as the Congress,
the media and the country are now gearing up for the final
year of the campaign to elect his successor as president of
the United States.
In a sense, the unseen elephant in the room was Donald
Trump, an aspirant for the Republican nomination for the
presidency. Trump appeals to the lowest common denominator
in US society; he plays on fears and exaggerates their source;
nothing is sacred with him---not race, not religion, not even
good manners. Without doubt he engenders fear among decent,
well-thinking and progressive Americans. He does the same
across the globe. A United States of America in Donald Trump s
hands is a terrifying prospect, particularly
when he identifies the North Korean
dictator, Kim Jong-Un, as a leader he
admires, saying: "You ve got to give him
credit. He goes in, he takes over, he s
the boss. It s incredible. He wiped out
the Uncle, he wiped out this one, that
The admiration for such unmitigated autocracy is deeply
worrying in an aspiring leader who has described Mexicans
as "rapists", wants to stop Muslims from entering the United
States, describes Indian and Pakistani immigrants as the cause
of poor wages, and persistently calls for "victories" and seems
anxious to involve the country in military confrontations
abroad regardless of the consequences.
Obama countered this dangerous rhetoric by saying that
the US cannot "try to take over and rebuild every country
that falls into crisis". As he correctly said: "That s not leadership;
that s a recipe for quagmire spilling American blood and
treasure that ultimately weakens us. That s the lesson of Viet-
nam, of Iraq; and we should have learned by now".
Of course, the worst thing about Trump is that he emboldens
radical groups in the United States whose prejudices, bigotry
and predilection for violence would render the country unsafe
for minority religious or racial groups even if they are nat-
ural-born Americans. The unleashing of such groups would
tear the US apart. Its weakening would not be from outside,
but from within. A strong voice needed to be raised against
Trump s disregard for facts and decency and his attempt to
legitimise the worst elements in US society.
President Obama was right, therefore, to say categorically:
"When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our
fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalised or a child is
called names; that doesn t make us safer. That s not telling
it like it is. It s just wrong".
The closest President Obama came to discussing anything
related to the Caribbean were his two references to Cuba---
both passing. But they were important enough for him to
include them in his speech, thus signalling that they remain
key considerations for the US Congress now and in the future.
The first was closing down Guantanamo Bay which the US
has held in Cuba for decades and use as a prison for suspected
terrorists. Obama had pledged to close Guantanamo in his
campaign for the presidency.
The fact that it still operates is entirely due to the hostility
of the US Congress; in part, responding to the militant anti-
Castro, Cuban-American lobby. The second reference was to
ending the long-standing trade embargo which has little
popular support in the US except, again, for those who respond
to the anti-Castro lobby.
The anti-Cuba sentiment that continues in the US Congress
is largely sterile and completely irrelevant. Cuba is no threat
to the US militarily economically or as a base for narcotics
trafficking or terrorism. It would be in the US s interest---par-
ticularly for its business sector---to end the embargo and rid
itself of the irritant and the needless cost of still occupying
Cuban territory. The respect for human rights and the reform
of the political system in Cuba would be best achieved by full
and normal engagement.
President Obama raised one other
issue of vital importance to the
Caribbean: climate change. While he
did not raise it because of the clear and
present danger it poses to the region,
it is crucial that he voiced it to the US
people as a whole in the following stark
"Even if---even if the planet wasn t at stake, even if 2014
wasn t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even
hotter---why would we want to pass up the chance for American
businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future".
In other words, he called on the nay-sayers to pull their
heads out of the sand and look constructively at the oppor-
tunities to combat the dangers of Climate Change. There
remain issues to be resolved between the US and the Caribbean,
financial services being high on the list. But the world, including
the Caribbean, has been safer with the Obama Presidency.
Of course, all those in the United States who resent Obama s
election to the White House would have liked to crow over
his poor performance. He devastated them by achieving the
As he said, "Anyone claiming that America s economy is
in decline is peddling fiction". The facts support his assertion.
Further, for those who say that the US is a weakened nation,
the evidence stands behind his statement that "The United
States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth, period.
He also gave the people of the US an agenda for their future
well-being and prosperity they would be unwise to ignore.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to
the US and the OAS. He is also a senior fellow at the
Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
and Massey College, University of Toronto)
After lifting currency restrictions and free-floating
the peso in December, the focus of Argentina s gov-
ernment will now be on fighting inflation, Finance
Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay said last week.
"To control price expectations is the government s biggest
worry," Prat-Gay said, adding that it will not be easy given the
state the economy.
Annual inflation is expected to reach 25 per cent in 2016. He
said the government hopes to have inflation slowed to five per
cent by 2019.
Prat-Gay recognised that an obstacle to reducing inflation will
be the government s own plan to end subsidies on electricity and
gas consumption, which will cause prices to go up. The subsidies,
a mark of the previous administration of President Cristina Fer-
nandez, helped lift the country s fiscal deficit to a 30-year high,
"Some prices will go up because they have not been adjusted
for 10 years," said Prat-Gay. But he added that he is confident
the inflation targets announced by the government are adjusted
to absorb the shock of these relative price hikes.
Prat-Gay didn t provide details on how the government will
phase them out, but he said the subsidies have also been financing
the bills of "30 per cent to 40 per cent of the richest Argentines."
Argentina s finance minister blamed inflation and a soaring
deficit on Fernandez s government, and said the country s fiscal
deficit will be cut by a point in 2016 and be close to zero when
Macri s term end.
In a bid to restore credibility, Argentina will use a price index
calculated by the Buenos Aires bureau of statistics while it reforms
the Indec, the country s national statistics bureau, which suffered
an intervention in 2011. Two years later, Argentina received a
"motion of censor" from the International Monetary Fund for
failing to release accurate inflation data.
...vows to publish
'pure' economic data
Argentina s new pro-business government said it hoped to
begin publishing "pure" and accurate economic data this year
after its leftist predecessors were accused of manipulating eco-
The head of the INDEC national statistics institute, Graciela
Bevacqua, said the body hoped to relaunch publication of eco-
nomic growth data within the first six months of 2016.
But she warned it would take longer than that to fix the
system for accurately calculating inflation and poverty.
Those are two politically sensitive measures that ex-president
Cristina Kirchner was accused of masking.
Bevacqua said it could be eight months before inflation data
could be published, though "work is being done to do it soon-
er."She said the simplest data to compile were the foreign trade
balance figures, which would be ready in February.
"It is better to have no indicator at all than to have a false
indicator," Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay told a news con-
"The aim is for the indicators to be as pure as possible."
He said he estimated the Argentine economy---Latin America s
third biggest---would start to recover in the second half of this
year. He forecast it would grow by "about 0.5 to 1.0 per cent"
overall in 2016 and an average of 4.5 percent over the following
The International Monetary Fund in 2013 censured the figures
published by Kirchner s administration, which differed wildly
from the estimates of private economists.
Kirchner championed populist social welfare programs and
protectionist policies that earned her the love of many Argentines
but the mistrust of businesses and investors.
Alfonso Prat-Gay estimated inflation last year hit about 30
per cent and the public deficit about six per cent of gross
Since taking office a month ago, President Mauricio Macri
has pushed through a series of economically liberal reforms to
reverse Kirchner s policies. AP
the next goal
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