Regina Is Already a King, but What About President?

So, Regina King walked into a 99-cent store. And what’d she get? A prophecy on her life.

No joke. King was shopping around — “sometimes people will say, ‘You at the 99-cent store?’ I like a bargain too” — when a woman walked up to her with something of a prediction.

“She said, ‘You don’t know it but you’re going to run for president.’ And I was like, ‘President of a company?’ She was like, ‘No… of the United States,’” King recalled, adding that she thought the woman was a clairvoyant.

“She said, ‘Close your eyes. You are. I see it,’” King continued. “I was like, ’Girl, I appreciate that but no— that’s not happening. I like my life too much. I like my family too much. I like my friends too much.”

The idea of King, 48, running for presidency isn’t too far-fetched. Rather, it’s not a stretch for people to jokingly ask her to: The seasoned actress is one of the most likable and genial celebrities in the industry, and one fans and peers are constantly rooting for. Remember Taraji P. Henson happily screaming at the top of her lungs when King won her first Emmy in 2015?

King has picked up two more Emmys since — earning acclaim and praise for her riveting roles in John Ridley’s anthology “American Crime” and Netflix’s “Seven Seconds,” where King stunned on-screen as the mother of a son killed by police.

Now King is hitting new heights with her first big screen role since 2010: Her portrayal of a devoted mother in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” already won her honors at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. She’s up for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards, pitting her against Oscar winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz; Amy Adams, a six-time Oscar nominee; and first-time Marina de Tavira, who co-starred in “Roma.”

″(Regina) has been stalwart in this industry for so long. For a long time, she was doing the work to do the work and I think the industry sort of catches up to wonderful artists like Regina. She shows up and does the work, whether it be in front or behind the camera, and the industry is taking notice,” said Colman Domingo, who plays King’s husband in “Beale Street.” ″I think it’s not only an Oscar nomination for ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ I think it’s also for her body of work.”

King called the nomination “extra-special” since it’s her first; the film also is also competing for best adapted screenplay and best original score at the Oscars on Feb. 24.

King has shined on-screen since she appeared on NBC’s “227” in 1985. Her credits include films like “Jerry Maguire,” ″Friday,” ″Ray,” ″Boyz n the Hood,” ″Enemy of the State” and “Miss Congeniality 2.”

But King traded movie roles for TV ones so she could easily raise her son — her regular date at awards show — in Los Angeles: “I wasn’t interested in homeschooling my son.”

“I had the conversation with my team,” she said, “and they felt like TV was going to be the best space for me to live in.”

She landed a starring role in TNT’s “Southland” in 2009, playing Detective Lydia Adams — a part originally not written for a black woman.

“Everyone at the agency had been put on notice, ‘Do not treat Regina King like a black actor. She is an actor,‘” King said. “I hadn’t even quite seen it that way, but that’s what they felt. It kind of started with ‘Legally Blonde 2.’ That was the reach out, like, ‘You know what, why don’t you guys consider Regina King?’”

More TV roles came to her, including “The Big Bang Theory,” ″Shameless,” ″American Crime,” ″The Leftovers” and “Seven Seconds” — all while film stars turned to TV and found success, from Nicole Kidman to Matthew McConaughey to Viola Davis. Even Meryl Streep is heading to the so-called “small screen.”

“I think of myself as a trailblazer for film actors going to television,” King said.

But no matter the screen, King always comes through. She’s known for digging deep into her roles, giving a dramatic, stirring performance that leaves audiences wanting more.

“I’m doing my research. I’m talking to real life people who’ve had these horrific experiences,” King said.

One of the real people was Marion Gray-Hopkins, whose son was killed by police officers. King spoke extensively with Gray-Hopkins as she prepped for “Seven Seconds,” which also earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

While King is usually able to leave the drama on the set, she said it was hard to escape the madness of the TV series.

“I called my son so much (for) just like random things. He couldn’t watch all of ‘Seven Seconds.’ He saw the first episode, and he tried to watch the second. He was like, ‘I can’t.’ He said, ‘It feels like that’s me,’” King said. “And he was like, ’Now I get why you were calling me with just like weird stuff, like, ‘Did you remember to put the clothes in the dryer? I’m like, yeah mom. I put the cleaning towels in the dryer. Did you feed the dog?’ I just wanted to hear his voice.”

King’s son, Ian Alexander Jr., will be by her side at the Academy Awards on Feb. 24 to cheer her on — just like so many others.

“I feel the love,” she said. “I can just be anywhere, from the grocery store to wherever. Sometimes, it’ll be the sweetest thing, I’ll get a woman that’s just like 70, 80-years-old say, ‘Just thank you. Thank you for just representing us.’”

“I’m just living my life and trying to remain a good person and give what I get and remain open so that what I get is good, so that’s what I can put back out. But you’re not thinking about how your walk always effects people that you don’t know,” she added.

But still, she’s not running for president.

“When you make the choice to be in the public’s eye, you are letting go of anonymity. You’re letting go of some things that you want to hold dear and protect. … For a president, that’s on level 9 million,” she said. “I am all here for sacrifices, but not that one.”

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Native American Flutist Shares Authentic Sounds and Stories

These days, Native American Flute Players perform at music festivals across the globe. But few belong to any tribe or nation, something that troubles Darren Thompson, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northern Wisconsin and an award-winning flutist.

This week, he is performing at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York, sharing stories and music that speak to the history, trauma and resilience of the Ojibwe people. And of course, to the instrument itself, which the Ojibwe call “bibigwan.”

“The Native American Flute’ is the name of the instrument, so anybody who picks one up and plays it can call himself a Native American Flute Player,'” said Thompson.

Technically, playing an inauthentic flute violates the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act, passed in 1990 to ban the sale of goods falsely labeled “Native American. But there is nothing to stop non-Native performers from falsely claiming Native American heritage.

“It’s not so much the fact that they are playing the flute that bothers me. It’s the fact that a lot of them are non-Native and try to play the part of a Native, wearing what they think is Indian’ attire. It’s offensive, and it perpetuates the stereotype that Native Americans are still running around as they did in the past,” said Thompson.

‘Singing trees’

Thompson grew up hearing traditional Ojibwe music, but it wasn’t an important part of his life until he left the reservation.

“I went to Marquette University, where there weren’t any other Native kids,” he said. “I was still in Wisconsin, but it was a foreign environment.”

Homesickness led him to the music of Navajo/Ute flutist Raymond Carlos Nakai, which evoked memories of his childhood.

“One of the first stories I ever heard came from the elders, who talked about trees,” Thompson said. “I remember them saying trees sing to us and give us guidance.I think I was four, and that story came to mind 15 years later when I first heard Nakai playing.”

It was then, he said, he understood what the elders had been trying to tell him: Trees do sing — through flutes carved from their wood.

Each flute unique

Thompson bought his first flute from a non-Native vendor at a cultural festival. He taught himself to play, and as he learned, he felt moved to connect to the music of his ancestors — music that preceded government assimilation policies that nearly killed off the Ojibwe language, culture and religious traditions.

“I went out to museums to research actual instruments that were seized 200 years ago and taken into collections,” he said. “Store-bought “Native” flutes are similar in construction, but they are tuned to a minor Western music scale. But an authentic one would be tuned to the maker himself.”

Traditionally, players carved their own instruments from a single piece of wood — cedar, for example, or ash. Each flute would have two chambers, which allowed the player to breathe, Thompson explained. 

No two instruments would have been alike.

“The length of the instrument would be the distance from that person’s armpit to his first knuckle,” he said. “The width would be the same as the width of his thumb. Even the spacing of the finger holes is calibrated to the player’s body.”

The number of open holes carved into the flute varies.Thompson owns several flutes, some he made himself and others custom made. Some have only four holes, which can produce eight notes. Others have five and six holes, allowing for greater range in melody.

The result is a sound unique to each player — a deep and clear tone that Thompson says “touches a lot of people.”

He has wanted to perform at NMAI for at least a decade.

“NMAI has a program called The Art of Storytelling.” My performance is unique, in that I try to reintroduce stories and music from history. Songs I’ve learned that were recorded in the early 1900s, before our culture got erased,” Thompson said.

To hear a sample of Thompson’s work, click below:

The stories don’t just speak to what was lost, but what has survived. And some carry messages that are universal:

“If you take all the four-leggeds, those who walk on all fours, from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself. 

“If you take all the winged ones, those that fly in the sky, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself.

“If you take away all the plants from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself.

“If you take away all the water, and those that live in water, from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself. 

“If you take away man from the Earth, life on Earth would flourish.”

 

 

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Native American Flutist Shares Authentic Sounds and Stories

These days, Native American Flute Players perform at music festivals across the globe. But few belong to any tribe or nation, something that troubles Darren Thompson, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northern Wisconsin and an award-winning flutist.

This week, he is performing at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York, sharing stories and music that speak to the history, trauma and resilience of the Ojibwe people. And of course, to the instrument itself, which the Ojibwe call “bibigwan.”

“The Native American Flute’ is the name of the instrument, so anybody who picks one up and plays it can call himself a Native American Flute Player,'” said Thompson.

Technically, playing an inauthentic flute violates the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act, passed in 1990 to ban the sale of goods falsely labeled “Native American. But there is nothing to stop non-Native performers from falsely claiming Native American heritage.

“It’s not so much the fact that they are playing the flute that bothers me. It’s the fact that a lot of them are non-Native and try to play the part of a Native, wearing what they think is Indian’ attire. It’s offensive, and it perpetuates the stereotype that Native Americans are still running around as they did in the past,” said Thompson.

‘Singing trees’

Thompson grew up hearing traditional Ojibwe music, but it wasn’t an important part of his life until he left the reservation.

“I went to Marquette University, where there weren’t any other Native kids,” he said. “I was still in Wisconsin, but it was a foreign environment.”

Homesickness led him to the music of Navajo/Ute flutist Raymond Carlos Nakai, which evoked memories of his childhood.

“One of the first stories I ever heard came from the elders, who talked about trees,” Thompson said. “I remember them saying trees sing to us and give us guidance.I think I was four, and that story came to mind 15 years later when I first heard Nakai playing.”

It was then, he said, he understood what the elders had been trying to tell him: Trees do sing — through flutes carved from their wood.

Each flute unique

Thompson bought his first flute from a non-Native vendor at a cultural festival. He taught himself to play, and as he learned, he felt moved to connect to the music of his ancestors — music that preceded government assimilation policies that nearly killed off the Ojibwe language, culture and religious traditions.

“I went out to museums to research actual instruments that were seized 200 years ago and taken into collections,” he said. “Store-bought “Native” flutes are similar in construction, but they are tuned to a minor Western music scale. But an authentic one would be tuned to the maker himself.”

Traditionally, players carved their own instruments from a single piece of wood — cedar, for example, or ash. Each flute would have two chambers, which allowed the player to breathe, Thompson explained. 

No two instruments would have been alike.

“The length of the instrument would be the distance from that person’s armpit to his first knuckle,” he said. “The width would be the same as the width of his thumb. Even the spacing of the finger holes is calibrated to the player’s body.”

The number of open holes carved into the flute varies.Thompson owns several flutes, some he made himself and others custom made. Some have only four holes, which can produce eight notes. Others have five and six holes, allowing for greater range in melody.

The result is a sound unique to each player — a deep and clear tone that Thompson says “touches a lot of people.”

He has wanted to perform at NMAI for at least a decade.

“NMAI has a program called The Art of Storytelling.” My performance is unique, in that I try to reintroduce stories and music from history. Songs I’ve learned that were recorded in the early 1900s, before our culture got erased,” Thompson said.

To hear a sample of Thompson’s work, click below:

The stories don’t just speak to what was lost, but what has survived. And some carry messages that are universal:

“If you take all the four-leggeds, those who walk on all fours, from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself. 

“If you take all the winged ones, those that fly in the sky, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself.

“If you take away all the plants from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself.

“If you take away all the water, and those that live in water, from the Earth, life on Earth would not be able to sustain itself. 

“If you take away man from the Earth, life on Earth would flourish.”

 

 

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Chinese Leader Meets with US Trade Delegation in Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Friday with members of the U.S. trade delegation in Beijing where China and the U.S. are attempting to hammer out a trade deal.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin posted on Twitter Friday that he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had “productive meetings with China’s Vice Premier Liu He.”

Another round of negotiations between the two countries will continue next week in Wahington, Chinese state media reported.

Earlier, a top White House economic adviser expressed confidence in the U.S. – China trade negotiations in Beijing.

“The vibe in Beijing is good,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters at the White House Thursday.

Kudlow provided few details but said the U.S. delegation led by Lighthizer was “covering all ground.”

“That’s a very good sign and they’re just soldiering on, so I like that story,” Kudlow said, “And I will stay with the phrase, the vibe is good.”

Negotiators are working to strike a deal by March 1, to avoid a rise in U.S. tariffs on $200 million worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent. President Donald Trump suggested earlier this week that if talks are seeing signs of progress, that deadline could be pushed back.

When asked Thursday if there would be an extension, Kudlow said, “No such decision has been made so far.”

Analysts such as William Reinsch, a former president of the National Foreign trade Council and senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, say the talks are complicated by the three main areas under negotiation.

“Market access, which I think is well on the way to completion. Some Chinese offers on intellectual property, which I think they are not going to offer what we want…And some compliance in enforcement matters.”

Reinsch told VOA’s Mandarin service that U.S. negotiators are specifically seeking ways to hold China accountable for the commitments it makes in any deal.

Munich security conference

 

While American and Chinese negotiators continue talks in Beijing, both countries are setting up for another potential face-off in Europe.

 

The U.S. and China are sending large delegations to Friday’s Munich Security Conference in Germany, a high-level conference on international security policy. Vice President Mike Pence leads the U.S. delegation while Politburo member Yang Jiechi will be the most senior Chinese official.

Yang Jiechi is heading the largest-ever Chinese delegation to the conference traditionally attended by the U.S. and its European allies. He is pushing back against Washington’s campaign pressing Europe to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from taking part in constructing 5G mobile networks in the region.

U.S. officials say allowing the Chinese company to build the next generation of wireless communications in Europe will enhance the Chinese government’s surveillance powers, threatening European security.

Although the technology behind 5G is complex, Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department, said the decisions for European countries is simple.

“Given the nature of modern telecommunication, countries do have to make a choice about whether or not they believe that Huawei, given its relationship, not an ownership relationship, with Chinese government, can be trusted to provide the backbone of their future telecommunication system.”

Both Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned allies in Poland and other Central European countries this week on the dangers of closer ties with Beijing and collaboration with Chinese firms. In Budapest, Hungary on Monday, Pompeo said American companies might scale back European operations if countries continue to do business with Huawei.

Huawei has repeatedly denied its products could be used for espionage.

U.S. prosecutors have filed charges against Huawei including bank fraud, violating sanctions against Iran, and stealing trade secrets. The company refuted these accusations and rejected charges against its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is currently on bail in Canada following her arrest in December.

This year’s Munich Security Conference topics include the “great power competition” between the United States, China, and Russia. Conference organizers have listed US-China tensions as one of their top 10 security issues of 2019.

VOA’s Mandarin Service reporter Jingxun Li contributed to this report

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Chinese Leader Meets with US Trade Delegation in Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Friday with members of the U.S. trade delegation in Beijing where China and the U.S. are attempting to hammer out a trade deal.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin posted on Twitter Friday that he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had “productive meetings with China’s Vice Premier Liu He.”

Another round of negotiations between the two countries will continue next week in Wahington, Chinese state media reported.

Earlier, a top White House economic adviser expressed confidence in the U.S. – China trade negotiations in Beijing.

“The vibe in Beijing is good,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters at the White House Thursday.

Kudlow provided few details but said the U.S. delegation led by Lighthizer was “covering all ground.”

“That’s a very good sign and they’re just soldiering on, so I like that story,” Kudlow said, “And I will stay with the phrase, the vibe is good.”

Negotiators are working to strike a deal by March 1, to avoid a rise in U.S. tariffs on $200 million worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent. President Donald Trump suggested earlier this week that if talks are seeing signs of progress, that deadline could be pushed back.

When asked Thursday if there would be an extension, Kudlow said, “No such decision has been made so far.”

Analysts such as William Reinsch, a former president of the National Foreign trade Council and senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, say the talks are complicated by the three main areas under negotiation.

“Market access, which I think is well on the way to completion. Some Chinese offers on intellectual property, which I think they are not going to offer what we want…And some compliance in enforcement matters.”

Reinsch told VOA’s Mandarin service that U.S. negotiators are specifically seeking ways to hold China accountable for the commitments it makes in any deal.

Munich security conference

 

While American and Chinese negotiators continue talks in Beijing, both countries are setting up for another potential face-off in Europe.

 

The U.S. and China are sending large delegations to Friday’s Munich Security Conference in Germany, a high-level conference on international security policy. Vice President Mike Pence leads the U.S. delegation while Politburo member Yang Jiechi will be the most senior Chinese official.

Yang Jiechi is heading the largest-ever Chinese delegation to the conference traditionally attended by the U.S. and its European allies. He is pushing back against Washington’s campaign pressing Europe to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from taking part in constructing 5G mobile networks in the region.

U.S. officials say allowing the Chinese company to build the next generation of wireless communications in Europe will enhance the Chinese government’s surveillance powers, threatening European security.

Although the technology behind 5G is complex, Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department, said the decisions for European countries is simple.

“Given the nature of modern telecommunication, countries do have to make a choice about whether or not they believe that Huawei, given its relationship, not an ownership relationship, with Chinese government, can be trusted to provide the backbone of their future telecommunication system.”

Both Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned allies in Poland and other Central European countries this week on the dangers of closer ties with Beijing and collaboration with Chinese firms. In Budapest, Hungary on Monday, Pompeo said American companies might scale back European operations if countries continue to do business with Huawei.

Huawei has repeatedly denied its products could be used for espionage.

U.S. prosecutors have filed charges against Huawei including bank fraud, violating sanctions against Iran, and stealing trade secrets. The company refuted these accusations and rejected charges against its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is currently on bail in Canada following her arrest in December.

This year’s Munich Security Conference topics include the “great power competition” between the United States, China, and Russia. Conference organizers have listed US-China tensions as one of their top 10 security issues of 2019.

VOA’s Mandarin Service reporter Jingxun Li contributed to this report

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Hopes High Before Kenya Ruling on Decriminalizing Gay Sex

Members of Kenya’s LGBT community are looking forward to a High Court ruling that might decriminalize gay sex. The impending ruling is raising hopes among LGBT persons across the region.

South of Nairobi, in a remote town, models are in training in a safe house tucked in a quiet neighborhood. These are not just any models. These are LGBT refugees from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Most fled persecution from their home countries because of their sexual orientation.

Lubega Musa, 27, fled to Kenya in 2015. He, together with other LGBT refugees, started an economic empowerment program called Lunco Haute Cotoure, whose activities focus on fashion, design and music.

“There are things we would love to do as Lunco Houte Cotoure for the gay community openly, but we cannot do them because of the law,” Musa said. “So, if there is change in the law, if same-sex becomes legal in Kenya, we as artists, we work with the gay community. The situation will be much better for us to exhibit our talent, and you know the LGBT community is one that is most talented in the arts.”

 

WATCH: Kenya High Court Ruling on Decriminalizing Gay Sex Awaited 

High Court ruling

Kenya’s High Court will rule this month on whether to repeal Section 162 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex.

In Kenya, one can be sentenced to up to 14 years for violating the law.

Activists say the case is a milestone in the fight for LGBT rights in the region.

“This is an opportunity for LGBTI people to claim their spaces,” said Brian Macharia, a gay rights activist. “Whether we win this case or not, there is visibility that is coming by the fact that we managed to get this far at the courts, that we got a lot of Kenyans thinking and talking about this.”

Homophobic attacks are common in Kenya, as a majority of the population objects to homosexuality.

​Too soon, some say

Charles Kanjama, the lead lawyer representing the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum in the case, says Kenya is not ready to accept homosexuality.

“We think that it is in the interest of our country, as do most other Africans in this continent in which we live, to outlaw homosexuality. That is gay sex in particular, and any manifestations as promotion or propagandizing in favor of gay sex, so that we can try as much as possible to encourage and promote healthy sexual behavior,” he said.

Activists in Africa and elsewhere are campaigning against penal codes that criminalize gay sex, most of which date from the colonial period.

The laws in many countries are being overturned. India scrapped them last year. Angola in January.

Kenya might do it in a matter of weeks.

However the High Court rules, both sides are likely to appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Hopes High Before Kenya Ruling on Decriminalizing Gay Sex

Members of Kenya’s LGBT community are looking forward to a High Court ruling that might decriminalize gay sex. The impending ruling is raising hopes among LGBT persons across the region.

South of Nairobi, in a remote town, models are in training in a safe house tucked in a quiet neighborhood. These are not just any models. These are LGBT refugees from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Most fled persecution from their home countries because of their sexual orientation.

Lubega Musa, 27, fled to Kenya in 2015. He, together with other LGBT refugees, started an economic empowerment program called Lunco Haute Cotoure, whose activities focus on fashion, design and music.

“There are things we would love to do as Lunco Houte Cotoure for the gay community openly, but we cannot do them because of the law,” Musa said. “So, if there is change in the law, if same-sex becomes legal in Kenya, we as artists, we work with the gay community. The situation will be much better for us to exhibit our talent, and you know the LGBT community is one that is most talented in the arts.”

 

WATCH: Kenya High Court Ruling on Decriminalizing Gay Sex Awaited 

High Court ruling

Kenya’s High Court will rule this month on whether to repeal Section 162 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes gay sex.

In Kenya, one can be sentenced to up to 14 years for violating the law.

Activists say the case is a milestone in the fight for LGBT rights in the region.

“This is an opportunity for LGBTI people to claim their spaces,” said Brian Macharia, a gay rights activist. “Whether we win this case or not, there is visibility that is coming by the fact that we managed to get this far at the courts, that we got a lot of Kenyans thinking and talking about this.”

Homophobic attacks are common in Kenya, as a majority of the population objects to homosexuality.

​Too soon, some say

Charles Kanjama, the lead lawyer representing the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum in the case, says Kenya is not ready to accept homosexuality.

“We think that it is in the interest of our country, as do most other Africans in this continent in which we live, to outlaw homosexuality. That is gay sex in particular, and any manifestations as promotion or propagandizing in favor of gay sex, so that we can try as much as possible to encourage and promote healthy sexual behavior,” he said.

Activists in Africa and elsewhere are campaigning against penal codes that criminalize gay sex, most of which date from the colonial period.

The laws in many countries are being overturned. India scrapped them last year. Angola in January.

Kenya might do it in a matter of weeks.

However the High Court rules, both sides are likely to appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

‘Fintech’ Could Help Mexicans Abroad Send Money Home

Mexico’s new government is trying to slash the cost of sending cash home for Mexican families living abroad and is hoping competition from “fintechs” (financial technology) will encourage banks and services like Western Union to reduce commissions and improve exchange rates.

Deputy Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said the government did not plan to place new regulations on the flow of remittances, one of the country’s largest sources of foreign currency and a lifeline for millions of poor families.

Sending remittances

However, the former World Bank executive envisaged that the increasing use of money transfer apps would help bring down the cost of sending remittances. Currently, the commission charged and the foreign exchange rates imposed together take a bite out of each remittance of 8 percent on average. Herrera said that should be brought down to 5 percent.

“That is to say, the cost of transactions must come down by about 40 percent. That is something the fintechs are probably in a better position to do than traditional actors such as banks,” Herrera told Reuters in an interview earlier this week. 

“Their great advantage is that they can operate in a more efficient and direct way and at lower costs, which should lead to lower commissions,” Herrera said.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1, has made fighting poverty and inequality a centerpiece of his administration. Herrera said bringing down the cost for financial services like remittances would help many of the nation’s neediest.

Banking costs are a sensitive issue in Mexico. When Lopez Obrador’s ruling MORENA party introduced a bill last year to limit banking fees it triggered a selloff in the stock market. Lopez Obrador distanced himself from the bill.

Calm investors

Other changes were better received, with credit ratings agency Fitch saying a bill introduced by Lopez Obrador to loosen restrictions on pension fund managers could lead to better returns and payouts for beneficiaries.

Lopez Obrador has also tried to calm investors’ nerves by saying there would be no modifications to the legal framework relating to economic, financial and fiscal matters in the first three years of his tenure.

The government says 24 million Mexicans live in the United States, by far the largest source of money sent home. Mexicans sent a record $33.5 billion in remittances in 2018, a 10.5 percent jump from a year earlier, Mexican central bank data show.

Mexico is already home to 75 startups that specialize in payments and remittances, data from fintech platform Finnovista show, while remittance apps like Remitly and Xoom have been gaining popularity.

Herrera said banks and Western Union would have to make their services cheaper to compete with money transfer apps. He did not say how quickly that would happen.

“I wish we could make it happen immediately,” he said.

No comment from Western Union

Western Union and its closest rival Moneygram did not respond to requests for comment. The Mexican Banking Association declined to comment on the topic.

Turning to fintechs for change is part of a broader strategy aimed at decreasing the use of the cash in Mexico, Herrera said. He said the Finance Ministry planned to reveal additional measures at the annual Banking Convention in March.

Ninety percent of transactions in Mexico are made in cash, in a system that he said is inefficient and expensive and creates ample opportunities for corruption and money laundering.

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