conditioning, heating and refrigeration markets. Lennox's Latin American
operations are based at the Miami Free Zone.
The past year was especially challenging for U.S. exporters because of the import permits that Argentina required before products could be shipped. "The permits are valid for 120 days and if you don't ship in that time period, you need a new one -- and they are not easy to get,'' said Mora.
Although the impact still isn't clear, late last month , Argentina announced it would be eliminating the import licenses for hundreds of products.
But as difficult as doing business in Argentina is, Mora said, "Venezuela is even more of a question mark.'' Venezuela may have the world's largest oil reserves and rank as Latin America's fourth-largest economy, but it's having trouble keeping flour and toilet paper on the shelves.
As President Hugo Chavez languishes in a Cuban hospital recovering from a fourth round of cancer surgery, analysts say the economy is also precarious, pounded by soaring spending and draconian price and currency controls that are slamming importers and leading to shortages.
Even so, Venezuela saw its gross domestic product grow by 5.5 percent in 2012 on the back of strong crude prices and a spike in public spending, particularly in construction, in the run-up to Chavez's October re-election.
But industry is getting hammered by foreign exchange controls. The official rate for the bolivar is 4.3 to the dollar. But importers, industries -- and even people who want to study or travel abroad -- find it exceedingly difficult to get those dollars from the government. Many turn to the black market, where the dollar fetches about 18 bolivares.
The disparity fuels inflation, foments speculation and drives a vicious circle of shortages and hoarding that have sparked mini-riots in supermarkets over items such as chicken and toilet paper. Inflation hit 20.1 percent last year, the highest in Latin America.
The government says reforms are coming, but has provided few specifics.
A devaluation, which undercuts spending power, would be highly unpopular and many analysts expect such a move would come only after new presidential elections, which could be triggered if Chavez were to step down or die as a result of his battle with cancer.
The economic troubles have provided fodder for an opposition that's hoping it will have a second shot at the presidency after losing in October.
At a rally last month, the head of the opposition coalition, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, said it was "inexplicable" how in the midst of an oil boom the country was deeper in debt with record-high inflation.
"Our infrastructure is destroyed, our streets, avenues, roads and highways have deteriorated," he said. "We have blackouts in the whole country."
For the most part this also will be a year of tepid growth for the Caribbean.
ECLAC projects economic growth of 3.5 percent for Cuba -- and that would make it one of the Caribbean's better performers. Cuba is in the midst of economic reforms that give the individual a greater role in the economy but the pace of overhauling its creaky economy is moving at a slower pace than many would like.
However, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, who has written a book in Spanish about the process, Cuba en la Era de Raul Castro: Reformas Economico-Sociales y sus Efectos (Cuba Under Raul Castro: Economic and Social Reforms and their Effects), says while there are contradictions in the reforms, they are not stalling. "I think there is an acceleration,'' he said.
Cuba's neighbor, Jamaica, has the unenviable position as the Caribbean nation expected to experience the lowest economic growth -- a scant 0.1 percent. Jamaica was already saddled with a large fiscal deficit and significant debt when it was walloped by Hurricane Sandy last October, causing infrastructure damage that must be repaired with meager public funds.
"This year is definitely going to be a mix in terms of markets,'' said Lennox's Mora. "It depends on whether you view it as a glass half empty or a glass half full. I prefer to view it as half full.''
The Miami Herald's Bogota Bureau Chief Jim Wyss contributed to this report.
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