All posts by Katarina Hall

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Cuba’s self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US embargo

At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16 other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.

Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural Expansion Act would “increase US agricultural exports, create jobs across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality American food.” While these efforts are an important step in improving American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its desired effect.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that restricting the population’s access to cheap foreign goods makes the country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.

While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal embargo.

Continue reading at Washington Examiner.

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When Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un Talk

Over the last couple of months, North Korea seemed to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. As the little Hermit Kingdom toiled away on its nuclear arsenal, many in the West have remained focused on what President-elect Donald Trump and the resurgent Republican Congress could mean for trade, taxes, and health care.

Yet according to the latest reports, President Barack Obama warned Trump that a nuclear North Korea may be the greatest foreign policy concern of the next four years. For all the focus on domestic issues, the Trump administration may find its first challenge in the dangerous game being played by Kim Jong Un.

As many have pointed out, a Trump administration could lead to major changes in U.S. foreign policy. While some of Trump’s proposed policy changes may disrupt the international status quo, an area of welcome policy change may involve how the U.S. and its allies handles North Korea. Despite an on-again, off-again policy of military exercises, foreign aid, and sanctions, the oppressive Workers’ Party of Korea and Kim family continue to rule North Korea, and the country’s nuclear capacity keeps growing every year. In the interest of securing our East Asian allies and improving the lives of average North Koreans, it’s time for three big changes in our foreign policy.

First, the Trump administration should explore withdrawing conventional U.S. military forces from the Korean Peninsula, a move he called for multiple times along the campaign trail. As foreign policy scholar Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute has argued, the 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula likely do more harm than good. There is wide agreement that the advanced South Korean military is more than capable of defeating the poorly equipped North Korean military and the Kim regime knows this.

Continue reading at The Hill.

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New World Optimism: How The U.S. Can Support A Thriving Latin America

If you have been following your newsfeed over the past year, you might be forgiven for believing that Latin America is a wreck. Venezuela has descended into a socialist nightmare. Zika spreads across Central America and South America. Cartel violence ravages Mexico. To the casual observer, it must seem like things couldn’t get any worse.

If you look past the headlines and into the data, the surprising truth emerges: in many respects, times have never been better for Latin America. Since the early 1990s, many of the civil wars and internal conflicts that plagued the region for decades have come to a close. Unprecedented peace has developed alongside a growing interest in economic liberalization: reforms in countries like Peru, Colombia, and Panama have pulled millions of Latin Americans out of poverty. A new trade bloc stretching from Chile to Mexico—the Pacific Alliance—has united much of the region in the pursuit of free trade and free movement. Where functioning democracies were once a rare sight in the region, stable democracies and strong civil liberties are increasingly the norm in Latin America.

All should come as great news for Americans. Aside from the obvious intrinsic benefits of poverty reduction and the spread of democracy, a prosperous and free hemisphere is good for Americans of all varieties. In the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors, here are three things the United States can do to empower these positive trends.

Continue reading at Forbes.
Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado

Rebelling against Castro… with spray paint

For many, graffiti is just another form of street art, but for Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado it is a way to dissent from and protest against the Cuban Communist Party. Through his art, he criticizes the human rights abuses the Cuban people suffer at the hands of the Castro regime.

As a young kid in Cuba, Maldonado always knew he wanted to be an artist. Yet throughout school he was constantly indoctrinated with the country’s revolutionary ideology and saw himself unable to express his thoughts through art. As he grew older, he eventually found the artistic medium that would give him voice: graffiti. However, his artistic expression came at the price of his freedom—he is now one of Cuba’s most detained artists.

The world noticed Danilo when, in December 2014, he performed one of the most subversive acts seen in Cuba in the last couple of years. He was arrested for attempting to stage a performance involving two pigs; one painted with the name of Raúl, while the other read Fidel. As part of his act, he planned to release the pigs in Havana’s central park for people to try and catch them. His main inspiration: George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Danilo never made it to his performance. He was detained on his way to the central park. The Cuban Communist Party accused him of contempt for the leaders of the Revolution—a crime in Cuba that can cost you up to three years in jail. When talking about his arrest, Danilo believes he was arrested “simply because [he] made fun of the highest leaders of this revolution.”

Danilo was not given a trial. He was never officially charged. Simply for trying to express his art, he was held for 10 months in a Cuban prison.

To him, and to the rest of the world, his imprisonment only confirmed the harshness of the dictatorship. While he was in jail, several international human rights organizations picked up his case. Each day he remained imprisoned, more joined his cause. He was classified as a prisoner of conscience by both the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and Amnesty International. The Human Rights Foundation awarded him with the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

With his story in the spotlight, Danilo was eventually released in October of 2015. Since then, not only has Danilo continued to draw graffiti, but he has become one of the island’s leading human rights activists.

Read the full article at Dissident, here.

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Political prisoners kicked under the rug as Castro greets Obama

During President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro’s joint conference in Havana, a daring journalist asked the communist leader about Cuba’s political prisoners. Raúl’s response: “Did you ask me if we had political prisoners? Give me a list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately… they will be released before tonight ends.”

The night passed and none of Cuba’s political prisoners were released.

The fact that no prisoners were released should come as no surprise. After all, the Castro regime denies the existence of political prisoners on the island. Regime officials claim that individuals believed to be political prisoners are in fact either armed counter-revolutionaries or ordinary criminals. The Castros have even claimed some are mercenaries working for the US.

Read the rest on CapX, here.