The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US is historic. From not talking together for more than 50 years, they now talk. From the press coverage you could get the impression that the relations between the two neighbouring countries are now almost normal. Alas, they are a very far cry from that. The embargo against Cuba has not been lifted and the financial embargo against the country has actually been tightened. European banks, which have broken none of their own countries' laws, have lately accepted breathtaking fines in the US – the last one of 8,900 million dollars for French bank BNP. Their crime: they have carried out financial transactions with Cuba, not from the US but from their home country. That is a criminal offence in the US.
Thorbjørn Waagstein, Economist, PhD, since 1999 working as international Development Consultant in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Mention Bolivia, and for the last decade it has been difficult not to mention Evo too. Evo Morales was elected as president for the first time in 2005 with 54% of the votes, and he can now celebrate 10 years as president. An absolute outsider, brought forward by social movements of mainly indigenous farmers, workers and small traders, with a tough anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist discourse, he horrified the traditional economic and political elite and the “international community” alike. His government has lived through conflicts and crisis, bordering to civil war, but at the same time it has brought a decade of economic prosperity, dramatic reduction of poverty and a revaluation of the country's indigenous ethnic and cultural roots.
A canal passing from the Pacifc Ocean to the Caribbean Sea has been a century long aspiration for Nicaragua, but when the US finally opened a canal in 1914, it was in Panama, not Nicaragua. After many false starts, the idea of a canal through Nicaragua looks suddenly as a possibility. But the question is, how realistic are the plans? And is it actually good for Nicaragua?
Vladimir Putin has in the West become the symbol of all that we don't like. He is aggressive, authoritarian, brutal and untrustworthy, and he has ice-cold blue eyes, showing no feelings. The perfect villain for a James Bond movie. Unfortunately, he is also quite intelligent, competent and well formulated, and contrary to his ailing predecessors he has good health and is even sporty. Most Russians tend to think he is a better president than the ones they had before him. But how we are longing back to the days of our good old, corrupt, incompetent and drunk Boris Yeltsin.
Russia's risky decision to get directly involved in the Syrian civil war has been met with furious protests from the Western powers. BBC reports that NATO has urged Russia to end air strikes "on the Syrian opposition and civilians". But who is it that we want to defend against the Russians bombing raids? Are they the long sought for “moderate secular” opposition forces, which now are being destroyed by the Russian raids? Hardly.
As oil prices have plummeted, they have overshadowed the other important reality: renewable energy prices are also falling. And contrary to oil prices, the fall will continue in the future. So renewables are becoming a viable and profitable alternative for electricity generation, helping the world to get off its dependency on fossil fuels. But what about cars? They are intimately linked to fossil fuels, or – if need be – biofuels, to make the internal combustion engine work. Worldwide, transport is actually responsible for around 27% of all energy consumption, and 63% of oil consumption. So is there any future for renewables here?
The recent fall in oil prices has obscured another tendency: renewable energy and energy storage is fast becoming cheaper. In the lack of political will to face the global warming, this fall in the price of renewable energy is now our best hope to assure that much of the coal, oil and gas will stay in the underground, as it will only be profitable to exploit the deposits that are easy to access. We are not there yet, but we may come there faster than expected. So we may be at the turning point for fossil energy.
As oil prices have plummeted, the question has naturally come up: does this mean the end for renewable energies? Can they compete with this cheap fossil energy? The short answer is: yes, it will of course now be less profitable to invest in renewable energies. However, paradoxically, the longer story is more complex. Wind energy is already competitive with fossil energy, and solar has also passed the break-even point in more sunny places. And unlike non-renewable energy sources, the long run trend is towards falling costs. So we may be at a turning point for the fossil energy.
We have heard a lot of nonsense about oil the last couple of months. First we were told that the fall in the oil price would continue to 20 dollars per barrel or even lower – from 100 dollars less than a year ago. Secondly that the fall in the oil price would not affect the US shale oil and gas miracle – US technology and prowess would outsmart the low cost producers as Saudi Arabia. Then, when the number of active oil rigs in operation in the US fell to half, we heard that there was not any connection any more between drilling and production. Of course it now turns out that it is all just that: nonsense.
There is Argentina again defaulting on its debt, we are told. It shows that the big 2001 default and the posterior debt reduction in 2004-5, which has been touted by many (I, for one) as an alternative way for debt ridden countries, did not work, doesn't it? And it shows that the Kirchners instead of being the big saviours of Argentina have led the country into a dead-end, right? And all this has unravelled thanks to a stubborn US philanthropist, Paul Singer, and a courageous US judge, Thomas Griesa. Well, if you believe that story – and many do - you have got it all wrong. Singer and Griesa have made a frontal attack on Argentina, but they have overplayed their cards. Now, wait for the back-lash.