Politics & economics - Apr 20
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Cuba: The future of the revolution in the hands of teenage pump attendants
Richard Gott, The Guardian
At a petrol station outside the provincial Cuban town of Cienfuegos, half a dozen teenage girls stand languidly by the pumps, jumping to attention when a car or lorry pulls up. They work the pumps efficiently, take payment and enter the transaction on to a large official form. They are dressed neatly in T-shirts and jeans and a slogan across their backs proclaims their identity as trabajadores sociales, or social workers. They are Fidel Castro's latest army of guerrillas, deployed in the struggle against corruption, the scourge to which state-run economies have always been peculiarly vulnerable. They are also the vanguard of the generation upon whom the future of the Cuban revolution will depend.
On earlier visits to Cuba I have observed, indeed participated in, the petrol problem. Driving through the countryside you could always find a willing accomplice to direct you to a tank in someone's back garden, where petrol would be sold at an advantageous price, or simply off-ration. It had been siphoned off the state's supplies. The practice seemed harmless enough. Yet it had begun to create a large hole in the economy. Castro complained that "as much petrol was being stolen as sold", and last year his government stepped in with a novel solution. Some 10,000 young activists, more than half of them women, have taken control of the country's pumps, while the usual attendants have been sent home on full pay.
The social workers' jobs do not stop at the petrol stations. They also go from house to house to hand out low-energy light bulbs, to check that everyone has the new electric pressure cookers provided by China and to prompt the exchange of old, gas-guzzling fridges from the 50s for something more energy efficient.
...Castro was originally a guerrilla revolutionary with a utopian programme to create a new society; later, in the 70s, he became a Soviet placeman with a traditional communist blueprint; then in the 90s (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) he was a simple hand-to-mouth survivor, regardless of the ideological cost. Finally, in the 21st century, with the economy recovering from years of disaster, he still describes himself as a socialist but is also a fully paid-up green campaigner. Efforts to curb corruption, save energy and promote organic farming are all part of a new struggle to put revolutionary fire into the bellies of a younger generation...
(18 April 2006)
Chad's president wants more from oil
Tom Maliti, Associated Press
N'DJAMENA, Chad — Chad has felt stymied by an agreement with the World Bank requiring it to spend its oil wealth on improving the lives of its impoverished people - and frustration has grown because of a rebel threat that was underscored when fighting reached the capital.
The government of this central African nation says it needs to spend oil money on defense, not just development.
The pressure facing one of Africa's newest oil producers was illustrated Thursday, when rebels - among them former soldiers - fought for a few hours with loyalist forces on the outskirts of N'djamena, the capital, in battles officials said left at least 350 civilians, soldiers and insurgents dead.
...Before the rebels' pre-dawn assault on the capital, Chad was locked in a dispute with the World Bank over oil revenues, amid allegations of rampant corruption in the country.
(18 April 2006)
China's big need for oil is high on U.S. agenda
David E. Sanger, NY Times
WASHINGTON, April 18 - The competition for access to oil is emerging high on the agenda for President Hu Jintao's visit to the White House this week. President Bush has called China's growing demand for oil one reason for rising prices, and has warned Beijing against trying to "lock up" global
With crude oil selling for more than $70 a barrel and American motorists paying $3 a gallon for gasoline, American officials say the subject cannot be avoided at Thursday's meeting in the Oval Office, as it was sidestepped when Mr. Bush visited Beijing last fall.
China's appetite for oil also affects its stance on Iran, where a growing confrontation with the United States over nuclear programs has already unsettled oil markets. China has invested heavily in Iran, and as a permanent member of the Security Council, its position on the question of sanctions is crucial.
Even as Mr. Hu arrived in Seattle on Tuesday, Chinese and American negotiators were debating a proposal for the two presidents to announce a joint study of both nations' energy needs as a way to ward off conflict in coming decades, when China's rapidly expanding need for imported energy to sustain its growth may collide with the needs of the United States, Europe and Japan.
(19 April 2006)
Beijing's 'new thinking' on energy security
Wenran Jiang, The Jamestown Foundation
China's energy policy has come under scrutiny, with the country being called an 'energy threat' by some in the West. But China believes that its renewable energy plan will silence the critics.
China’s growing appetite for energy has caused widespread concern around the world. The Middle Kingdom is blamed for the sharp increase in global oil prices in the past few years, and the United States grows uneasy about Beijing’s evolving cozy relations with major oil producers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Venezuela - some of which are hostile toward Washington. Moreover, there is a growing call to contain China as an energy threat in a world of diminishing resources. Yet Beijing is resentful of such attitudes and has taken new measures to counter its critics.
In the past year, top Chinese policymakers have emphasized the fact that China, as a developing economy, is paying a huge price for mounting oil prices, a point not always recognized in the West. ....
...the latest action plans for the Chinese economy as passed by the People’s Congress last month reflects at least four new policy priorities of the Chinese leadership on energy security.
...First, Beijing has called for a nationwide paradigm shift in development strategies. The new model is labeled as a “scientific development concept” that will endorse an environmentally friendly approach to industrialization, and regards resource and energy conservation as top priorities. For the first time, Beijing set some compulsory targets on the efficient use of energy: energy consumption per unit of GDP is to decrease by 20 percent, water consumption per unit of industrial added value is to decline by 30 percent, and industrial solid waste recycling and conservation rate is to grow 60 percent—all by 2010.
Second, Beijing has stepped up the overall supervision, regulation and coordination of the country’s energy industry.
...Third, China is re-focusing on the self-reliance strategy that depends primarily on domestic energy sources to meet economic development needs.
...Fourth, China does not want to be tarred as a rapacious energy user willing to enter into deals with any regime—no matter how internationally isolated—to lock up oil and natural gas assets. If Beijing succeeds in keeping demand for oil from growing at explosive rates, it will be less vulnerable on that point.
...It may well be the case that China’s energy demand will slow down substantially this year. Yet China remains the second largest carbon dioxide emitter after the United States, most of its cities and rivers are severely polluted, and it burns three times as much energy as the global average and many times more than industrialized countries in producing every unit of GDP. Consequently, China is now looking to make its GDP greener and is willing to spend US$150 billion on renewable and alternative energy in the next 15 years.
Instead of blaming Beijing for its energy demands or containing China as an energy threat, the industrialized countries may be wise to seize China’s vast energy market potential in technologies of energy conservation and efficiency, environmental protection techniques and know-how, renewable and alternative energy production, and joint-efforts in managing global warming.
(14 April 2006)
About the Jamestown Foundation, which published this article.
Also posted at ISN.
China's insatiable energy needs (Circa 2006) (PDF - slide)
Matthew Simmons, Simmons International
China is now an energy dragon
- World's most populous country
- 2nd largest economy
- 2nd largest energy consumer
- World's largest coal producer and consumer
- 2nd largest petroleum consumer
- Energy use is still embryonic
China's rise should not be so surprising
- "China was the big surprise": A mantra for tripling of natural resource prices in last 3 years.
- China's insatiable energy appetite was extremely predictable
- China is not about to "hard land"
- China is driving towards prosperity
2008 Olympics: 300 millioin coastal people
2020: Country-wide poverty ends (a chicken in every pot)
- China has history on its side
- "Pioneers" proved "The Plan" could work.
(11 February 2006)
Slides for recent Simmons presentations are online.
Got oil? Rice meets with brutal African dictator, calls him 'good friend' of U.S.
The Progress Report, American Progress Action Fund
Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is a "somewhat unsavory and corrupt character who seized power in a 1979 coup" and "runs a regime regularly condemned by the State Department for human rights violations, including torture, beatings, abuse and deaths of prisoners and suspects."
According to one human rights official, he is "one of the most brutal, most corrupt and unreconstructed dictators in the world." He's also a "good friend" of the United States, according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with Nguema on Wednesday.
The meeting was a reminder of the Bush administration position on reform in Africa: you have to be democratic, fight corruption, and promote market liberalization and transparency -- unless you have oil.
Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third-largest oil exporter, though the crude has "done little to help Equatorial Guinea's 540,000 people, some 400,000 of whom suffer from malnutrition," the Washington Post editorializes. "The meeting with Mr. Obiang was presumably a reward for his hospitable treatment of U.S. oil firms, though we cannot be sure since the State Department declined our invitation to comment."
(18 April 2006)