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Full speech: State of the Nation Address 2021



Right Honourable Speaker,
His Lordship the Chief Justice
Rt. Hon. Deputy Speaker,
Rt. Hon. Secretary General of the NRM, Hon. Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corp, Ladies and Gentlemen.

In fulfillment of the Constitutional requirement under Article 101 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, I am here to deliver the State of the Nation Address, 2021.

Again, I congratulate the Honourable MPs on your Election on the 14th of January, 2021 and some of the special interest groups later.

Pastor Kayanja told me that the 14th of January is a special day in the Bible. It is the day when, in the Book of Leviticus Chapter 23, verse 5, it says: “On the fourteenth day of the first month evening shall be a Holy Convocation – a feast of the Lord’s passover’’. The Electoral Commission, in selecting that date, must have been guided by God.

As I said on my inauguration and on a number of other occasions, at this point in the history of our country, having restored the small enclave modern economy of 1971 that had been destroyed by Idi Amin in the 1970s, having greatly expanded it from US$1.3 billion in 1986 to now US$40 billion, we have a number of points that we need to concentrate on in order to transform Uganda into a Middle income country, on the road to becoming a First World country.


However, before we talk of our medium and long-term strategic plans, I need to, first, remind the country about the really interesting and challenging 2020 ─ pronounced as “twenny twenny” by some of the Bazukulu and some other interesting Ugandans.

“Twenny twenny”, came with locusts, floods, the rising levels of the Lakes, land-slides, floating islands, etc. Soon after, corona came in, starting with March, 2020. I am happy to repeat to you what everybody knows. Uganda did not only manage to cope with these challenges, but also the economy managed a modest expansion of 3% for the financial year 2019- 2020 and will manage an expansion of 3.3% for the financial year 2020-2021.

If it had not been for corona, the economy was projected to grow by 6.3% and 6.2% in the financial years 2019-2020 and 2020- 2021, respectively. We defeated the locusts and coped with all the other problems. In 1964, on the 14th of May, Lake Victoria set a record when its water level reached 13.41 metres at Jinja for the first time since records started being kept in 1904.

Indeed, right from 1961, there had been alot of floods. My family being nomadic at that time, I remember the inconvenience of the flooded plains of Kashaari that time. The plains (empita) of Ruyonza, Kakigoonjo, Rweera, Katebe, Nyakisharara, etc., were all flooded for much of that time.

However, on the 19th of May, “twenny twenny”, the Lake achieved a record higher than that of 1964. It measured 13.49 metres. The Lake, not being satisfied with that record, on the 14th, 15th and 19th of May, 2021, it reached the highest point ever of 13.50 metres.

On the 31st of May, it had slightly reduced to 13.42 metres. This is all in spite of us releasing much more water at Jinja than ever before. Normally, we release 800-1200 cubic metres of water per second. Today, however, we are releasing 2400 cubic metres per second.

In 1964, they could only release a maximum of 1300 cubic metres per second. Today, however, because we built new outlets at Jinja, we can release up to 3000 cubic metres per second. That is how we have been able to cope with this Lake that has been so high and for so long. In addition to dealing with the locusts, the rising Lakes levels, the land-slides, the floods, we had to deal with the deadly phenomenon of the corona pandemic. On account of the tough measures we took quite early, we avoided the sort of catastrophe we saw in other countries.

However, on account of the wide-spread reckless behavior, we are now entering a new phase with a wider spectrum of variants of the virus that may be more dangerous. 49,761 people have been infected cumulatively to-date (1st June); 46,150 have recovered. Therefore, many people recover from corona if they are well-treated and in time.

However, the coronavirus is very dangerous because it targets epithelial cells (which line and create protective barriers) in many organs of the human being (including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, liver and digestive tract). This virus can cause the damage of those organs even if the patient recovers.

Fortunately, as you can see, many Ugandans have recovered completely and with no damage that is permanent to their body systems. Nevertheless, the best is to avoid this disease until one is fully vaccinated and we maintain the SOPs until the pandemic in the World is defeated.

With the vaccination, we, recently, hit a snag when, on account of the very bad situation that developed in India, that country stopped the fresh exports of the vaccine. My advice to the countries that are producing vaccines now, is to be careful with this point.

I had the same problem with sanitizers here, as I said the other day. Being big Waragi producers, when the pandemic started, the only factory that was making sanitizers in East Africa, was Saraya Manufacturing (U) Ltd., in Jinja. In the Cabinet, while discussing this point, somebody suggested that we should stop the export of the sanitizers because we needed them badly here in Uganda.

As a Christian and a traditional Munyankore, I could not accept such logic. It is called okuhemuka (to let down friends, colleagues, partners ─ anybody that trusted in your solidarity) by saying that because you are in great need, those who depended on your solidarity, can go to hell. Apart from the moral issues involved, there is also the issue of strategy. You should always remember that there is a tomorrow ─ hariyo nyentsya.

If you let me down today when I am in such a great need as life and death for my people, just like you also have the same crisis, how will I ever depend on your partnership in future? It seriously undermines international partnership. What I decided in the case of the sanitizers, was to advise Hon. Jane Aceng, to put aside 40% of the production for Uganda and share the 60% with other East Africans.

I could not kuhuunga (to abandon) upon fraternal peoples and partners by kuhemuka upon them (let down anybody), just because I am in acute need myself. I share the hardships with my fraternal people or partners. Nevertheless, the ego-centrism in the World is also good for us the patriots and Pan-Africanists in Africa.

It makes it much easier to arouse even the most indifferent who are busy dancing and taking alcohol, that Africa must take care of itself. I salute our scientists who have developed the diagnostics, have been working on the therapeutics and also the vaccine.

Two of our diagnostics are ready for manufacturing and we are in the process of putting up the factory to mass manufacture; the therapeutic has been tried in 53 patients and we need a minimum of 124. Up to now, results are good. With the vaccine, we have got to phase 4 out of 9 phases.


At this stage, I need to renew my demand, but this time renew it as an order that should be implemented. Many years ago, I proposed that government scientists, must start with Shs 4million when they join the Public Service. The top scientists in the Research Institutions should be earning Shs 15million, like Professors in Public Universities.

This is because we want to retain the large number of scientists we have trained so that they solve our needs ─ health, nutrition, infrastructure, but also benefit from the pathogenic economy. Other people in the World, have been making money from our sicknesses.

We shall earn more money from the pathogenic economy, than from coffee. Therefore, paying our scientists well, is not a favour to them. It is, first and foremost, in the enlightened self-interest of the country.

All these, are temporary phenomena: locusts, floods, rising water of the Lakes, land-slides, corona, etc. We are coping with them; but our real historical task is to cause social-economic transformation of our society.


This society must go from its pre-capitalist, pre- industrial way of life, to a middle-class, skilled working class society. When the French Revolution took place in 1789, the French society, which I suspect, was a microcosm of the wider European societies, was a four-class society: feudalist, capitalist (bourgeois), working class (proletariat) and peasant.

At that time, the society in Uganda was a three-class society: feudalists, artisans and peasants. Today, the European societies are two classes ones: middle-class (being sustained by profits from businesses) and the skilled working class ─ the proletariat (good salaries sustain them, plus a welfare system when they are out of work). No more peasants in Europe. No more feudalists in Europe.

Here, in Africa, so many actors are engaged in peasant conservation and also some elements of feudalism. It is this incomplete metamorphosis of society, that I have been addressing eversince 1986 when we got a chance to run the country and even before, when we were still in the Student Movement. Our appeal is for everybody to join the money economy and get out of okukolera ekidda kyoonka, tic me ice keken, Ateso- akoru lu akoik bon, Lugbara-azi-ngaza aleni.

As you have seen, even modest waking up of sections of our people from kulambaala, nino-matek, okwebaka, kugwejegyera, kulaala saana, even using old methods, generated alot of production. Some of the increased production, fortunately, has got big international demand.

Coffee falls in this category. We have gone from 3 million bags to seven million bags. Fortunately, the global demand is able to take all the coffee because the global coffee demand is 166.34 million, 60kg bags. The global demand for milk products is 906billion litres, valued at US$458.1billion.

Therefore, our present production of 2.6billion litres of milk, can enter the global market provided we solve the problem of cattle diseases (foot and mouth, CBPP, anthrax, etc.) and, of course, also offer competitive prices. Therefore, the Banyankore I once met at Rwakitura clamoring for high milk prices, need to know more about this global competition for market with other countries ─ New-Zealand, Holland, etc.

The global demand for maize (corn) and maize products is 852 million metric tonnes, valued at US$153.4billion. Therefore, our production of 5 milion tonnnes of maize, can be absorbed provided we solve the problem of quality ─ getting rid of the shameful aflatoxins ─ caused by people who mishandle food in harvesting.

Why do you mishandle people’s food? Wait for the maize to dry properly on the kikoonko (maize stalk); when you harvest it, put it on a canvass (ntundubaare) or cemented drying ground, etc. The maize will dry properly and simply and there will be no aflatoxins. The Iranians came here and they wanted to buy all our maize. Their annual demand is 9.4million tonnes. They import 7 million tonnes.

The problem was ourselves ─ negligence in handling food we want to sell to people. Are we barogo (witch- doctors, poisoners) or are we bashakisa (sellers of food)? Algeria imports 300billion tonnes of powder milk per annum.

To produce this milk powder, you need 2.7trillion litres of milk. Nigeria imports 41.1billion tonnes of powdered milk. With many of Uganda’s products, there is a global market; but we must solve the issues of safety. I will not talk of quality, because our agricultural products are the best quality in the World.

I have been telling the World what you know ─ the huge surpluses of so many products as a consequence of the limited waking up of sections of our people. Yet, this is a mere ndozo (tasting something before buying). If you take the beef ─ dairy sector, for instance; the big increase in the milk production, is in spite of still using the free-range method (kuseetura), where cattle are sent to the bush (farm) to graze, when the farm is bush cleared (kukora omwaanya). In this method, the stocking ─ ratio is only one and half cattle per acre per annum. Some years ago, I went to Israel and saw 1,000 fresians, being managed in one acre.

Recently, I met somebody from UAE, who told me that their company has a herd of 18,000 heads of cattle in 250 acres. We should systematically shift to zero- grazing. With 18 million heads of cattle, one third of which would be milking at any one time, each giving 20 litres, the total production would be 44 billion litres of milk in a year.

The same for bananas. While the rural farmers have been producing 5 tonnes of bananas per hectare per year, Dr. Muranga, at Nyaruziinga, has got to 53 tonnes per hectare per year and I hear that in Brazil, they go up to 80tonnes. This increased production is partly due to irrigation, fertilizers, etc.

This is why, in my inauguration speech, I emphasized the question of the market for African products, for Ugandan products, if the Ugandans wake up (kuzukuka, kusimuka, Ateso-akwenyun, Acholi-choo, Lugbara-mi enga). Again, to remind everybody, the answers are four: the internal market of Uganda boosted by increased purchasing power when all homesteads join the money economy by producing for the stomach but also producing for the pocket; the East African market through the EAC; the African market through CFTA; and the Global market, through the trade access agreements like AGOA, the Chinese preferential access market, the EU, EBA and also access to other markets on the merit of the quality and pricing of our products.

Once all the leaders are clear on these points, we shall more easily be able to implement the guidelines we have put out for the whole country. Who is to produce low value crops but on a large scale ─ such as sugar- cane, cotton, maize, tobacco, etc. and who is to produce high value products on a small scale such as coffee, milk, fruits, poultry, piggery, horticulture and who should do both?

Let all the leaders stop confusing people by sending contradictory or divergent messages. The NRM message eversince 1966 has been: all homesteads to join the money economy using ekibaro (cura, otita, aimar ─ profitability assessment) to guide their enterprise selection; prices of products are determined by the market, not by governments unless we provide subsidies which we cannot afford and few have sustainably afforded them in the World; moreover, our products must be safe for consumption, good quality and competitive in prices; and the markets are four: internal, EAC, African and global. The colonial approach is no longer possible: “produce the coffee and cotton, etc., we guarantee to buy them at guaranteed prices”. The World of production is now for competition and it can be done.

With this clear vision, I strongly urge our people to join the 4 sectors: commercial agriculture, industries, services and ICT. With commercial agriculture, we are emphasizing the parish-model. At the parish, you are able to know all the homesteads: Ndangaaro 3,330 homesteads; Rwengaaju 3,196 homesteads; Mawale (Kawumu) 1,480 homesteads; etc. You will be able to know who has woken up and who is still asleep. Our aim is to make all the homesteads, to wake up.

On the side of industries, we shall continue to deal with the issue of costs of manufacturing in Uganda. The cost-pushers are three: the cost of money-interest rates of the exploitative commercial Banks; the cost of transport (to Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam, Juba, Kigali, Congo. Ethiopia, etc.); and the cost of electricity. The other cost would be the cost of labour.

However, that is still low. It is not a problem, yet. Ugandans should be informed that with our fraternal States of the EAC, we are handling the issue of transport costs. By road, a 20ft container, costs US$1900 and a 40ft, costs US$3200 to Mombasa and vice-versa. Yet, by rail, it is US$1400 for a 20ft and US$1900 for a 40ft, respectively. Hence, in addition to our long-term goal of building a modern standard gauge railway, we are, together with Kenya, rehabilitating the metre-gauge railway for immediate use.

The metre gauge railway, is the old railway. When repaired, its cost of transport will be much lower than the road transport. On the cost of money, we are continuing to fund the UDB ─ so that it can give loans for manufacturing, agriculture, some services (tourism, medical, etc.) and ICT (BPOs) at not more than 12% and the more they lend, the lower the interest rate will become.

The cost of electricity is distorted by mistakes committed by some of our actors without my knowledge, even when I was heading the Government. Especially the mistakes of Bujagaali and Umeme, add 55.3% to the cost of electricity per unit.

Otherwise, the cost of power from Kiira is US cents 1.19per unit, Nalubaale – US cents 1.119per unit, Isimba-US cents4.16per unit, Karuma-US cents 4.97 per unit; but Bujagali US cents 8.30 per unit. Bujagaali, at one time, was US cents13.8 per unit. We shall see how to get out of this mistake. One solution that I have already ordered for Industrial Parks, is to supply power direct from some of the Government dams to them. I will not be deflected from that.

The services sectors ─ tourism, hotels, banking, music, sports, professional services, etc., were moving very well, until corona came in. As I said above, the answer for corona, apart from the preventive measures we continue to take, are the vaccines and the therapeutics. Above, I talked about the kuhemuka (let down partners) by our partners. We are continuing to talk with India, the USA for the Johnson-Johnson vaccine, China and Cuba.

I am sure we shall succeed with some of them. With the therapeutics, one of our products has been tried among 53 patients and 43 of them have fully recovered, while the others are still on treatment. We target to reach 124 patients before we are sure that this medicine treats Covid-19 patients.


On the side of the vaccine, we are moving very well only that we were delayed with the perception that Africa is not supposed to manufacture vaccines but was only supposed to buy from others and also work as foot- soldiers in doing field research for others to develop and own the vaccines. I salute the few outsiders that helped us. I am sure God has created space for them in heaven for their Christian-like actions of sharing with other children of God.

Making a vaccine in a kutembuura (starting a new garden from the bush), involves 9 or 8 phases if WHO allows you to skip one phase. Our researchers are now entering stage 4. I congratulate them. We hope to get to stage 8 by November, 2021. I can assure Ugandans that by end of 2021, we shall no longer be waiting for outsiders to rescue us from ekyorezo (mass death). By controlling corona, our services will resurrect. Before the corona, we were earning US$1.5billion from Tourism alone.

Since some decades ago, I have been urging our people in the ICT sector to take advantage of the BPO business in the World. Since many of our children speak Kampala-Parents English, they can, through the internet, do jobs for companies in the USA, Canada, etc., such as call centre services for utilities, hospitals, auditing accounts from here and be paid. India is earning US$191billion per year from this business of BPOs and employing 1.1million young people. The ICT has been un-serious in relation to this sector.

Therefore, again, the Honourable Members of Parliament (MPs), the 4 sectors are: Commercial Agriculture, Industries, Services and ICT. Given the correct policies of the NRM right from 1986, in spite of obstacles erected by those who do not understand our strategy, the economy has grown from US$1.3billion to US$40billion ─ that is 31 times bigger!! This is if you use the foreign exchange method.

If you use the PPP method, it is US$114billion. By 2026, the economy is estimated to be US$69billion or US$193billion by the PPP method. I am, however, nor have I ever been, satisfied by this level of performance. Some companies in the USA have annual turnovers of US$ in billions. You can take examples of the following as indicated in the table:

SN Name Industry Revenue USD billions Employees












Apple Inc.





CVC Health






Petroleum industry




United Health Group





Berkshire Hathaway





McKesson Corporation





Amerisource Bergen

Pharmaceutical Industry



How and why should a company have a size of business that is bigger than the economy of a whole country? The combined GDP of East Africa is US$440billion. You have seen how some of the individual companies have business sizes comparable to the combined economies of the whole of East Africa. Hence, in the medium term, we must aim at the size of economy of, at least, US$300billion by the foreign exchange method.

By 2026, Uganda’s population will be 48million people. If each person is earning US$3,000, that will be US$144billion. This will just be people’s incomes, without including infrastructure. Yet US$3,000 per person per year, translates to Shs.10.8millions per person per year and for a household of 5, this would translate to Shs.54million per year.

Some of our households, using one acre, are already earning Shs.240million which translates to US$67,000 per year and divided by 5, comes to US$13,000 per person.

I, therefore, do not accept the minimalist approach by the Ministry of Finance where the people of Uganda generate wealth that is smaller than the businesses of individual companies in other parts of the World. We shall earn more from coffee and its products, from milk, from fish, especially ennuni (the fish maw). Out of ennuni alone, Uganda can get around US$156billion per year, bigger than what Saudi Arabia earns from oil in a year.


To achieve these aims, we must defeat corruption and disorientation and we shall defeat them. Corruption has become a real enemy. It starts in Finance, where projects are designed with supernumerary elements (extras); these bloated projects go to Ministries, then to Committees of Parliament and, then, to the Auditor-General, where there is collusion all the way.

What the corrupt fraternity did not factor in their kibaro of corruption and criminality, was the large number of the young people the NRM has trained over the years, many of them coming from the middle-class, where they do not have the pressure of home poverty.

I have been discussing with my children, who are now senior adults, the timeliness of creating the DRA (the Descendants’ Resistance Army I) to take forward the work of the original NRA of their parents. This fraternity, recently recommended to me one of their group. When I talked to her about a certain job, her answer was: “No, Mzee, that is not my “pession”, as they speak in their exotic accent.

These are people who work for passion, not money. Against resistance, I put one of them, Ms. Irene Kaggwa, to manage Uganda Communication Commission (UCC). She is doing a commendable and clean job from the little I hear of. The young passionists are liberating the Uganda Airlines. It is easy for the NRM to defeat corruption. With disorientation, I want to appeal to the NRM MPs to grasp our strategy of everybody joining the money economy with ekibaro as we agreed at Kyenkwaanzi recently.

The target of all these efforts, is to ensure two things: prosperity of our people by helping them to create wealth for themselves as well as jobs for themselves and others and also ensuring security of our country. To achieve these, we must ensure the social-economic transformation of our society by phasing out the peasants and the feudalists and creating a middle- class and skilled working class society.

It is a shame that we are still struggling with this social metamorphosis, 232 years from the time of the French Revolution in 1789 when, as already pointed above, France already had a middle-class (the bourgeoisie) and a working class (the proletariat that led the anti-feudal revolution), in addition to the oppressive feudalists and the poor and badly exploited peasants (serfs).

Alot of time was wasted, not only by the colonialists, the ignorant chiefs, but also some of the post-colonial actors ─ politicians, cultural leaders, religious leaders, etc., that many times divert people’s attention to wrong positions of superstition, sectarianism, miracle wealth, etc. Mao Tese Tung in China struggled against these parasite groups. That is why China is now on the verge of becoming a First World country.

Eversince 1986, if you leave out the other years of struggle, the NRM has been insisting on four stimuli to cause this socio-economic transformation. These are: education for all; everybody joining the money economy, away from the pre-capitalist practice of primitive self-sufficiency of okukolera ekidda kyoonka, tic me ice keken, Ateso- akoru lu aloik bon, Lugbara-azi-ngaza aleni; private sector-led growth to attract actors that are already part of the money economy in big numbers; and infrastructure development so as to facilitate the 3 efforts above, including lowering the costs of doing business in Uganda so as to enable our economic actors to make profit in their businesses, thereby making Uganda more competitive.

This vision, helped Uganda, as has been demonstrated again, in this speech. However, much more could have been achieved and can be achieved if all the politicians of the NRM and the civil servants understand and push this effort in a united way.

Many times, we have had to swim against the current. Yet, as Mwalimu Nyerere said, Africa “needs to run while others walk”, if we are to catch up. Some parts of the world are on the verge of the 4th Industrial Revolution while many parts of Africa have not entered the 1st Industrial Revolution.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is the phenomenon of intelligent machines that can replace man in the work place ─ factories, etc. China and India, benefitted from cheap labour and lured businesses to the East. That migration of factories and businesses in search of cheap labour, forced the other societies to look for cheap labour that avoids expensive human beings that were demanding high wages, using Trade Unions power (the Labour Movement).

The answer is intelligent machines as a consequence of AI (Artificial Intelligence). This is what is being referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution. The 1st Industrial Revolution (Mechanization Revolution) was the use of steam power operating machines instead of the manually operated enyoondo (hammer). The 2nd Industrial Revolution (Technological Revolution) was the discovery of electricity to operate machines instead of the steam power. The third Industrial Revolution was automation (Automation Revolution). Uganda, under the NRM, will not miss the bus of history again.


Finally, security will be maintained in the whole country. Cattle ─ rustling that has been showing resurgence in Karamoja, will be defeated. We are expanding the brigades of 3rd Division and 1st Division. The criminality around Kampala was defeated and is being defeated.

The only element to get rid of is the corruption and poor procedures within the Police. NRM people were reporting intimidation and harassment by terrorists at the Police Posts. These good for nothing characters, would tell them that there is no “political desk”. If you do not have a desk for terrorism in your Police Post, you will go home and somebody else will do the job.

The recent shooting of Gen. Katumba by the usual shallow actors, showed the poor organization of the Police. The cameras I put in place did their work. As you saw the killers were running from one area to the other area. Why didn’t the Camera centre alert all the patrol cars and even the UAVs to chase and block these killers? No.

These wonderful camera managers, think that their gadgets are only for storing videos for forensic analysis as part of the post-mortem of the operation. Yes, the cameras are for forensic but also for enduuru (alarm) while the crime is going on.

The criminals will be on continuous viewing by all the camera centres, if these Policemen adopt my directives and rationality on the use of those cameras. Henceforth, the Police is directed to stop using mobile phones and go back to using radios that are open to all stations so that they act promptly in emergencies like the one of Gen. Katumba.

In addition to the cameras, our security leaders have been working on my directive of installing digital monitors on all vehicles, all bodabodas, all boats on the Lake. They have taken long to implement this plan. This will make it easy to know which pikipiki, which car or which boat was at this point at this time.

The country is secure, is progressing and corruption and disorientation will be defeated.

I thank everybody.

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy




PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.

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US pulls antimissile batteries from Middle East: Report | Joe Biden News




As tensions ease with Iran, Biden administration moves to put US forces on more normal footing, Wall Street Journal reports.

The Biden administration is withdrawing Patriot antimissile batteries from four Middle East countries as the US reduces its military footprint in the region amid a reduction in tensions with Iran, a US news outlet reported on Friday.

The Pentagon is pulling about eight Patriot antimissile batteries from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from Saudi Arabia that had been deployed by the previous Trump administration, the Wall Street Journal reported citing unnamed US officials.

The redeployment includes hundreds of US troops who operate the systems and began earlier this month following a June 2 phone call in which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the shift, according to the Journal.

The withdrawal of anti-missile batteries marks a return to a more normal level of defence in the region where the US continues to maintain tens of thousands of troops even as it has reduced forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Journal reported.

“We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners, they aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region,” a senior defence official told the Journal.

The US deployed Patriot antimissile batteries and troops to Saudi Arabia after Iranian drone attacks hit Saudi oil facilities and to Iraq in 2020 after a spate of missile and rocket attacks on US forces by Iran and Iranian-backed militias.

The US military acknowledged that more than 109 US troops had suffered concussions and other brain injuries in an Iranian ballistic missile attack on the Ain al-Assad military base in Iraq following the US air strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

President Joe Biden, who took over from former President Donald Trump in January, has sought to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East and US diplomats have been engaged in indirect talks with Iran on reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

US and Iranian diplomats engaged in a sixth round of talks in Vienna earlier this month as Iran considers rejoining the 2015 agreement prohibiting it from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from punishing US economic sanctions.

Trump had unilaterally withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement and instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran that Biden officials have said failed to achieve goals and had the effect of accelerating Iran’s nuclear development.

Iranians were voting on Friday for a new president to replace outgoing President Hassan Rouhani who had championed the nuclear agreement with the US in 2015.

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Venezuela’s Maduro expresses desire for foreign aid, Biden deal | Business and Economy News




Seated on a gilded Louis XVI chair in his office at Miraflores, a sprawling, neo-Baroque palace in northwest Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro projects unflappable confidence.

The country, he says in an 85-minute interview with Bloomberg Television, has broken free of “irrational, extremist, cruel” U.S. oppression. Russia, China, Iran and Cuba are allies, his domestic opposition is impotent. If Venezuela suffers from a bad image, it’s because of a well-funded campaign to demonize him and his socialist government.

The bombast is predictable. But in between his denunciations of Yankee imperialism, Maduro, who’s been allowing dollars to circulate and private enterprise to flourish, is making a public plea and aiming it directly at Joe Biden. The message: It’s time for a deal.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is starved for capital and desperate to regain access to global debt and commodity markets after two decades of anti-capitalist transformation and four years of crippling U.S. sanctions. The country is in default, its infrastructure crumbling and life for millions a struggle for survival.

“If Venezuela can’t produce oil and sell it, can’t produce and sell its gold, can’t produce and sell its bauxite, can’t produce iron, etcetera, and can’t earn revenue in the international market, how is it supposed to pay the holders of Venezuelan bonds?” Maduro, 58, says, his palms upturned in appeal. “This world has to change. This situation has to change.”

In fact, much has changed since Donald Trump put the sanctions on Caracas and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as president. His explicit goal, to drive Maduro from office, failed. Today, Guaido is marginalized, Venezuelans are suffering more than ever and Maduro remains firmly in power. “I’m here in this presidential palace!” he notes.

There has, however, been little of the one thing urgently needed to end the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian disaster: compromise — from Maduro, from his opposition, from Washington.

Maduro hopes a deal to relieve the sanctions will open the floodgates to foreign investment, create jobs and reduce misery. It might even assure his legacy as the torchbearer of Chavismo, Venezuela’s peculiar brand of left-wing nationalism.

“Venezuela is going to become the land of opportunities,” he says. “I’m inviting U.S. investors so they don’t get left behind.”

Over the past few months, Democrats including Gregory Meeks, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Chris Murphy, have argued that the U.S. should reconsider its policy. Maduro, who these days rarely leaves Miraflores or the military base where he sleeps, has been waiting for a sign that the Biden administration is ready to negotiate.

“There hasn’t been a single positive sign,” he says. “None.”

A sudden turnabout seems unlikely. With broad support from Congress, the Trump administration cited Venezuela for human-rights violations, rigged elections, drug-trafficking, corruption and currency manipulation. The sanctions it placed on Maduro, his wife, dozens of officials and state-owned companies remain in place. While Biden’s policy of restoring democracy with “free and fair elections” is notably different from Trump’s, the U.S. still considers Guaido Venezuela’s rightful leader.

Maduro has been giving a bit of ground. In recent weeks, he moved six executives — five of them U.S. citizens — from prison to house arrest, gave the political opposition two of five seats on the council responsible for national elections and allowed the World Food Program to enter the country.

Although Maduro is seeking better relations with Washington, he has built close ties with Russia, Iran and China [File: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg

The opposition, while fragmented, is talking about participating in the next round of elections in November. Norway is trying to facilitate talks between the two sides. Henrique Capriles, a key leader who lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential vote, says it’s time for winner-take-all politics to end.

“There are people on Maduro’s side who also have noticed that the existential conflict isn’t good for their positions, because there’s no way the country is going to recover economically,” he says, taking time out from a visit to the impoverished Valles del Tuy region outside Caracas. “I imagine the government is under heavy internal pressure.”

Venezuela’s economy was already a shambles by the time Maduro took office. His predecessor, Hugo Chavez, overspent wildly and created huge inefficiencies with a byzantine program of price controls, subsidies and the nationalization of hundreds of companies.

“When Chavez came into power, there were four steps you had to take to export a container of chocolate,” Jorge Redmond, chief executive officer of family-run Chocolates El Rey, explains at his sales office in the Caracas neighborhood of La Urbina. “Today there are 90 steps, and there are 19 ministries involved.”

Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela is now among the poorest. Inflation has been running at about 2,300% a year. By some estimates, the economy has shrunk by 80% in nine years — the deepest depression in modern history.

Signs of decay are everywhere. At the foreign ministry in downtown Caracas, most of the lights are turned off and signs on the bathroom doors say, “No Water.” Employees at the central bank bring their own toilet paper.

Throughout the country, blackouts are daily occurrences. In Caracas, the subway barely works and gangs rule the barrios. Some 5.4 million Venezuelans, a fifth of the population, have fled abroad, causing strains across the continent. The border with Colombia is a lawless no-man’s land. Cuba, of all places, has provided humanitarian aid.

Sanctions on Venezuela date back to the presidency of George W. Bush. In 2017, the Trump administration barred access to U.S. financial markets, and it subsequently banned trading in Venezuelan debt and doing business with the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA.

The offensive was brutally effective, accelerating the economic collapse. Last year, Venezuelan oil production slid to 410,000 barrels a day, the lowest in more than a century. According to the government, 99% of the country’s export revenue has been wiped out.

Juan Guaido during a Bloomberg Television interview in Caracas on June 8 [File: Gaby Ora/Bloomberg]

All along, Maduro was working back channels, trying to start negotiations with the U.S. He sent his foreign minister to a meeting at Trump Tower in New York and her brother, then the communications minister, to one in Mexico City.

Maduro says he almost had a one-on-one with Trump himself at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018. The White House, he recalls, had called to make arrangements, only to break off contact. Maduro blames it on the foreign-policy hawks in Trump’s orbit, many of them in thrall to Venezuelan expats in Florida.

“The pressures were unbearable for him,” he says. “Had we met, history might be different.”

A onetime bus driver and union leader, Maduro has proven the consummate survivor. He defeated rivals to cement control of the United Sociality Party after Chavez died in 2013, withstood attacks in 2018 and 2019, and outlasted Trump.

Guaido, who worked closely with the U.S. campaign to oust Maduro, has been forced to shift strategy from regime change to negotiations.

“I support any effort that delivers a free and fair election,” Guaido says in his makeshift offices in Eastern Caracas, surrounded by unofficial, state-by-state counts of Covid-19 cases. “Venezuela is worn out, not just the democratic alternative but the dictatorship, the whole country.”

If Maduro feels the heat, he doesn’t show it. Several times a week, often for as long as 90 minutes, he appears on state TV to blast the “economic blockade” and pledge his servitude to the people’s power. The populist theatrics drive home a carefully scripted narrative: Venezuela’s sovereignty, dignity and right to self-determination are being trampled by the immoral abuse of financial power.

During the interview, Maduro insists he won’t budge if the U.S. continues to hold a proverbial gun to his head. Any demands for changes in domestic policy are “game over.”

“We would turn into a colony, we would turn into a protectorate,” he says. “No country in the world — no country, and even less Venezuela — is willing to kneel down and betray its legacy.”

The reality, as every Venezuelan knows, is Maduro has already been forced to make major concessions. Guided by Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and her adviser, Patricio Rivera, a former Ecuadoran economy minister, he eliminated price controls, pared subsidies, dropped restrictions on imports, allowed the bolivar to float freely against the dollar and created incentives for private investment.

Rural areas continue to suffer, but in Caracas the impact has been dramatic. Customers no longer have to pay with stacks of banknotes and the supermarket aisles, far from being bare, are often piled high.

Maduro even passed a law full of guarantees for private investors.

Henrique Capriles speaks to residents in the Valles del Tuy region of Venezuela on June 8 [File: Gabriela Ora/Bloomberg]

The reforms are so orthodox, they could be mistaken for an International Monetary Fund stabilization program, hardly the stuff of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. Maduro responds that they’re tools of a “war economy.” Sure, dollarization has been “a useful escape valve” for consumers and businesses, but it and the other reluctant nods to capitalism are temporary.

“Sooner rather than later, the bolivar will once again occupy a strong and preponderant role in the economic and commercial life of the country,” he says.

It wasn’t so long ago that the U.S. saw Venezuela as a strategic ally. Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. had major holdings in the country’s oil industry and refineries in Texas and Louisiana were retooled to process heavy crude from the Orinoco Belt. Wealthy Venezuelans traveled to Miami so frequently, they talked about it like a second home.

All that changed when Chavez was elected in 1998. He expropriated billions of dollars in U.S. oil assets and built alliances with socialists in Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Maduro has gone further, embracing Washington’s most threatening enemies. He describes the relationship with Russia as “extraordinary” and sends a birthday card to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It’s a taunt to Biden: Keep mistreating Venezuela and you’ll be dealing with another Castro, not a leader who still holds out hope for a win-win deal.

Guests at the VIP Lounge at Simon Bolivar International Airport were reminded of Venezuela’s new friendships. Three clocks mounted in a vertical row showed the time in Caracas, Moscow and Beijing.

Asked in the interview what they signify, Maduro replies that the “world of the future is in Asia.” But an idea crosses his mind. Perhaps, he says, there should be clocks for New Delhi, Madrid and New York, too.

The following afternoon, there are indeed six clocks on the lounge wall. In this country, Maduro is still all-powerful.

Except for one thing: Like so much else in Venezuela, the clocks don’t work.

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