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Venezuela is key concern for Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations

Brandon Moseley



The Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations hosted a discussion Thursday on the current situation in Venezuela with special guest speaker Eric Farnsworth.

Farnsworth is a Venezuela expert and vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. He provided analysis of the South American country’s history, current crisis, interim leadership and future. Attendees included a diverse group of Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations members and guests, including U.S. citizens who have fled the harsh conditions in Venezuela.

“It is almost unfathomable to comprehend that Venezuela’s inflation rate currently is one million percent,” economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter. “Venezuela’s economy has crippled because the one-party state, in a quest for control at the expense of its citizens, destroyed the private sector.”

“Oil dominated Venezuela,” Jones said. “The state-run energy sector fell apart because of corruption and a lack of private sector investment. With no oil, the price and production of agriculture fell, foreign investment diminished and Venezuela’s ability to produce became almost nonexistent.”

“Venezuela’s local currency, the bolivar, has almost no value due to a history of mismanagement and corruption by a failed socialist state,” Jones said. “For many, the difference between survival and starvation is determined by access to the U.S. dollar.”

Farnsworth said Venezuela has been a threat since Nicolas Maduro gained power in 2013. Previous leader Chavez’s quest for power turned Venezuela from a vibrant democracy to a one-party state driven by his obsession with power. Chavez’s goal was to drive Venezuela into a socialist state.

Many politicians blame socialism for Venezuela’s failure as a nation that can provide its citizens with the basic necessities of life.

“History tells us socialism is a failed economic system that results in untold suffering and human misery wherever it is implemented,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama. “In contrast, America is the greatest nation in world history thanks to our free-enterprise economic system.”


“Maduro, his successor, was loyal to the Chavez regime, and the Chavez regime knew that Maduro would implement their demands without thinking,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth explained that Venezuela used the elections process to fulfill their national project with threats, violence, jailed potential and current opponents, exiled potential and current opponents, ballot manipulation, movement of polling places and other corrupt tactics. Maduro cut off the media and television so citizens and the world would not gain knowledge of the corruption and oppression.

Venezuela’s government replaced education with Chavismo indoctrination. Venezuela’s inflation rate is one million percent. Venezuela was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America.  That was before Chavez was elected and replaced capitalism with socialism.

Healthcare is a disaster — people are dying with no access to penicillin, saline or basic hygienic supplies.

“The average weight loss of Venezuelan citizens is multiple kilos because they only have access to two meager meals per day,” Farnsworth said. “They have no access to dollars. Only the regime, military and security forces have access to dollars and food.”

The once booming city of Caracas now is cited as the most dangerous municipality in the world, worse than Baghdad. When the U.S. and other countries tried to send food aid last week Maduro’s regime blocked the humanitarian aid.

Farnsworth called the situation “the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history” and “a completely unnecessary man-made crisis.”

“If Maduro accepted the humanitarian aid, the regime would have to admit their national project is a failure, which they are not willing to do,” Farnsworth said.

Members of the Maduro regime told Venezuelan citizens that the “people who consumed the humanitarian aid were poisoned and died.”

Farnsworth and Jones agreed that, “The regime fears delegitimization and lack of access to power.”

Farnsworth said that the U.S. should not use force to get rid of Maduro because there is no economic, political or criminal reason to do so. Also, there are no UN or OAS mandates to do so. Under UN guidelines, the United States has no responsibility to protect.

Farnsworth said the fate of the country rests with its military. If the new leader, Juan Guaido, can convince the military to be on his side, the country may have an opportunity to rebuild; but members of the military also live out of fear – they, too, have families to protect from violence and threats and need their jobs to survive.

Juan Guaido is the leader of the National Assembly. He declared himself the interim president of Venezuela on Jan. 23, 2019, claiming that provisions in Venezuela’s constitution justified his action because the corrupt, fraudulent 2018 election of Maduro left the country without a legitimate president.

The U.S., the Lima Group, Britain, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and others immediately recognized Guaido’s presidency.

Some Latin American and Caribbean nations are refusing to recognize Guaido because many are still getting oil subsidies from Venezuela that are funneled into the bank accounts of political leaders in these nations.

Farnsworth said that for those nations need to “put principle ahead of payments.”

“Petro-diplomacy has led to chaos and has contributed to Venezuela’s economic downfall,” Jones said.

“Oil now is five times more per barrel than under Chavez’s regime, yet poverty is also much more prevalent,” Farnsworth said. “Both factors should not be higher.”

Farnsworth has led the Washington office of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society since 2003. He is a conference speaker and media commentator and has published articles and opinion pieces in numerous leading newspapers and policy journals.

Farnsworth began his career in Washington with the U.S. Department of State after obtaining a master’s degree in international relations from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. He has served in Western Hemisphere Affairs at State, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and in a three and a half year appointment as the senior advisor to the White House special envoy for the Americas during the Clinton administration.

Farnsworth was managing director of ManattJones Global Strategies, a Washington and Los Angeles-based advisory and strategic consulting group. He also worked in the global public policy division of Bristol-Myers Squibb and in the U.S. Senate with Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, and the U.S. House of Representatives with John Edward Porter, R-Illinois. He also worked briefly at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has served as: president of the Western Hemisphere Committee of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and a board member of Princeton in Latin America. In 2016, he was decorated by the king and ambassador of Spain for his work to promote bilateral and regional relations.

The BCFR has been the leading international study group in Alabama since its founding in 1943. Membership in the Birmingham Committee carries with it automatic membership in the American Council on Foreign Relations. Kali McNutt is the chair of the BCFR.

(Original information from the Council of the Americas Venezuela’s Political Standoff Timeline contributed to this report.)



Governor prohibits evictions, foreclosures during COVID-19 outbreak

Jessa Reid Bolling



photo via Governors Office

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an order on April 3 to suspend the enforcement of any evictions or foreclosures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The protective order is set to last for the duration of the state of emergency that was declared on March 13.

The order instructs all law enforcement officers to cease enforcement of any order that would leave someone displaced from their residence.

“Because COVID-19 mitigation efforts require people to remain at their place of residence, I find that it would promote safety and protection of the civilian population to grant temporary relief from residential evictions and foreclosures,” the order reads. 

“To that end: All state, county, and local law enforcement officers are hereby directed to cease enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence. 

“Nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent, to make mortgage payments, or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under a rental agreement or mortgage.”

The protective order on evictions and foreclosures was issued the same day that Ivey issued a stay-at-home order which will require Alabamians to stay at home as much as possible — except for essential outings like grocery shopping and getting medical care.

The stay-at-home order goes into effect on April 4 at 5 p.m. and will expire on Tuesday, April 30, 2020, at 5 p.m. 

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Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them

Chip Brownlee



Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.

The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.

“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.

When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.

So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.

Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.

“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”


“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.

By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”

The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.

At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.

The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.

Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.

“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”

The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.

“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.

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DOJ makes $14 million available to public safety agencies to respond to COVID-19

Brandon Moseley



Thursday, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced that the Department of Justice is making $850 million available to help public safety agencies respond to the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has already killed over 6,000 Americans, including 32 Alabamians.

The Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program was authorized in the recent stimulus legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump (R). The program will allow eligible state, local and tribal governments to apply immediately for these critical funds. The department is moving quickly to make awards, with the goal of having funds available for drawdown within days of the award.

“Law enforcement are – and always have been very best among us. They continue to solidify that fact during this pandemic,” Town said. “It is important that our state and local partners have the resources they need to ensure public safety during this time. These additional resources will allow that to continue.”

Katherine T. Sullivan is the Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

“This is an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history and an especially dangerous one for our front-line law enforcement officers, corrections officials, and public safety professionals,” said Sullivan. “We are grateful to the Congress for making these resources available and for the show of support this program represents.”

The solicitation was posted by the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and will remain open for at least 60 days. The program can be extended as necessary. OJP will fund successful applicants as a top priority on a rolling basis as applications are received. The funds may be used to hire personnel, pay overtime costs, cover protective equipment and supplies, address correctional inmates’ medical needs and defray expenses related to the distribution of resources to hard-hit areas, among other activities.

The grant funds may be applied retroactively to January 20, 2020, subject to federal supplanting rules.

Agencies that were eligible for the fiscal year 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are candidates for this emergency funding. A complete list of eligible jurisdictions and their allocations can be found here.


For more information about the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program click here.

As of press time, there were 1,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama. 32 Alabamians have already died. There have been deaths in Jefferson, Shelby, Mobile, Lee, Madison, Chambers, Washington, Baldwin, Jackson, Tallapoosa, Lauderdale, Marion, Etowah, and Baldwin Counties.


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Fifty major American companies join effort to fight the coronavirus

Brandon Moseley



Wednesday, the White House announced that fifty major American firms have answered the White House’s call to join the national war on the coronavirus.

“The private sector is responding to President Trump’s call to step up and help combat the coronavirus,” the White House said Tuesday.

Many of the companies are shifting their focus and even assembly lines to deliver needed supplies to the doctors, hospitals, and first responders against the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Most did so voluntarily and were not coerced by government or threatened with the Defense Production Act.

Major corporations including: Facebook; Anheuser-Busch; Ford; Fiat Chrysler; Toyota; GE Healthcare; 3M; Jockey; Hanes; Ralph; Lauren; GE Healthcare; General Motors; and My Pillow have all stepped up and are contributing to the COVID-19 war effort.

. “While by no means comprehensive, these are some notable examples of the private sector stepping up,” said an administration official.

The National Sheriffs’ Association have cited: Home Depot, Grainger, and Staples as well as a half-dozen national restaurant chains for their help.

Their pleas for help have been “enthusiastically welcomed” by some top corporations, said National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Thompson. “What they are doing is more than impressive. It’s heartening,” he said.


My Pillow has dedicated 75 percent of its production to the effort making PPE.

President Trump has highlighted the role that our corporate partners are playing in the COVID-19 effort during his daily coronavirus task force press conferences.

“With our great president, vice president and this administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever,” said My Pillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell.

“Joining us this afternoon are CEOs of the great American companies that are fulfilling their patriotic duty by producing or donating medical equipment to help meet our most urgent needs,” Pres. Trump said on Monday. “What they’re doing is incredible. And these are great companies.”

Ford, 3M and GE Healthcare are making ventilators in a joint effort.

Toyota is using their facilities to produce face shields and collaborating with medical device companies to speed up manufacturing of vital medical devices.

General Motors is manufacturing respiratory masks and working with Ventec Life Systems to mass produce ventilators.

Fiat Chrysler is manufacturing and donating more than 1 million protective face masks a month.

Honeywell has doubled their production of N95 masks and intends to increase its capacity 500 percent over the next 90 days.

3M doubled their global output of N95 respirator masks and plans to make 100 million a month.

SpaceX is making hand sanitizer and face shields for local hospitals.

Lockheed Martin donated use of their corporate aircraft and vehicle fleet for medical supply delivery,

Boeing will print 3D face shields for healthcare workers and offer its Dreamlifter aircraft to help coronavirus response efforts.

Anheuser-Busch is working to produce hand sanitizer.

Bayer, Novartis, and Teva Pharmaceuticals donated millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine, an experimental treatment for COVID-19 that has shown some early promise.

·Johnson & Johnson has partnered with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to commit more than $1 billion to co-fund vaccine research, development, and clinical testing.

Procter & Gamble is ramping up its production capacity for hand sanitizer, and is working to produce face masks.

Medtronic is increasing its production of ventilators.

Panera Bread is partnering with USDA to serve meals to children throughout Ohio.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “The private sector has the ability to move with incredible speed. Many companies already own the equipment that can produce various items and have tweaked processes to manufacture products our country needs. For example, clothing companies such as Ralph Lauren, Hanes, and Brooks Brothers are making gowns and masks. Ford and GE combined forces to produce ventilators. Alcoholic beverage companies repurposed what would be normally be discarded into hand sanitizers. All of these are examples of American workers’ willingness to step up at a critical time in United States and world history.”

(Original reporting by the Washington Examiner contributed to this report.)

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