World Review: Cuba, climate change, the Taliban and foreign aid

Cuba may be reaching the end of its search for Utopian Socialism – shop shelves are empty and people are hungry. Ten years from now 2021 will be known as the year that the world was dragged kicking and screaming to the reality of climate change. The Taliban continues its march to victory with the capture of a key border crossing in the southeast corner on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Boris Johnson’s win on foreign aid this week was the world’s loss.

Cuba may be reaching the end of its long search for Utopian Socialism. Shop shelves are empty. People are hungry. The Pandemic is spreading. Jobs are scarce. Money is tight. The people have taken to the streets to demand change. The marching slogan of the communist regime was “Defend our homeland with our life.” Now they are rioting and shouting: “Homeland and Life.”

The cause of the current crisis is fourfold:

  1. The cumulative effect of 60 years of economic sanctions.
  2. The collapse of Venezuela as an economic substitute for the Soviet Union.
  3. Coronavirus and finally, the government’s inability to deal with any of the above.

The Obama Administration’s lifting of sanctions and a promise of future normal relations held out the olive branch of hope and economic prosperity. Then it was snatched away by Donald Trump as part of his pursuit of Florida’s Cuban expat vote. Joe Biden is so far refusing to re-extend it. He smells the strong possibility of the long-established US policy of regime change.

It is the second time that Cuban regime change has been at the edge of the abyss. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s the Cuban economic shrunk by half overnight and tens of thousands of Cubans were encouraged to flee to Florida. Then Venezuela stepped in with an oil for doctors’ scheme and when Obama announced the lifting of sanctions a wave of hope engulfed the island.

Coronavirus is the final straw. Cuba’s much-vaunted health service appeared to have rescued the island from the pandemic. But it has now succumbed with new cases trebling in the past month. When faced with past problems, the communist government has responded with the political stick as its powerful security apparatus simply rounded up and jailed the protesters. This time it is carrot and stick. Protest leaders are being thrown behind bars but at the same time, the government is offering greater consultation. It is a chink in the communist armour which could easily and quickly widen.

Ten years from now—probably less—2021 will not be known as the year of coronavirus. It will be known as the year that the world was dragged kicking and screaming to the reality of climate change.

In the Pacific northwest—a region known for its balmy weather—people are literally boiling to death. Wildfires are spreading through Western and Southwestern America. In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands they are drowning. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef—spawning ground for Pacific marine life—is dying. Sea levels continue to rise and threaten island nations and the world’s coastal communities. Greenland is emerging from under an icecap tens of thousands of years old and the Northwest Passage is opening to shipping.

Against this rapidly changing environmental background, the European Commission this week announced the world’s most sweeping green agenda to date. The business community has attacked it as too much too fast. Environmentalists denounce it as too little too late. The aim of the commission’s proposal is to reduce EU carbon emissions from 1990 levels to 55 percent by 2030 (they have already been reduced by 24 percent) and to be carbon neutral by 2050. To achieve that aim they will tax aircraft fuel; ban petrol and diesel fuels within 20 years; raise tariffs on steel, concrete; provide financial help to insulate homes, reduce coal production and invest heavily in renewable energy projects. The plans still face months of haggling with coal-producing member states such as Poland and trading partners in the US, China and India. But it is a clearly stated and understandable start.

The Taliban continued its march towards victory this week with the capture of a key border crossing in the southeast corner on the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Spin Boldark crossing near Kandahar is one of Afghanistan’s economic arteries. It provides access to Quetta, one of Pakistan’s major cities where many Taliban have sought refuge. Nearly a thousand lorries a day pass through Spin Boldark to Quetta markets and beyond that to the port cities of Karachi, Muhammad bin Qasim, Keti Bunder and Gwadar. These lorries paid a crossing fee which now goes to the Taliban instead of the government in Kabul. Of possibly greater importance is that the Taliban has gained and the government has lost a major route for military supplies.

Boris Johnson won his parliamentary vote on foreign aid this week. The world has lost. British foreign policy has lost. The Prime Minister has dealt a self-inflicted mortal blow to his much-vaunted Global Britain policy; damaged Britain’s standing in the world and achieved a likely pyrrhic victory. The final vote was 333 to 298 to cut £4 billion out of the overseas aid and to tie any increase to economic recovery at some ill-defined date in the future (most experts say at least five years). It is estimated that the cut will result in the loss of 100,000 lives and severe malnutrition for millions. However, it will appeal to Boris’s new found electoral base in the North of England whose long-ignored voters have argued for years that charity begins at home. But it will have a negative impact on a growing number of well-established conservative voters in Tory strongholds in the south, southwest and southeast of England. Foreign aid cuts on their own won’t swing them away from their tribal roots, but the Boris package as a whole is losing its appeal. The key is the prime minister’s penchant for ignoring the law and parliament in pursuit of political gain. British aid had been allegedly set in the concrete of British law at 0.7 per cent of GDP. Boris’s decision to reduce it to 0.5 percent is just another example of his eagerness to ignore the law and parliament and rule by decree. This is unlikely to sit comfortably with a growing number of well-educated, elite-minded voters in the south of England.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.

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14 Comments

  • Peter Martin 18th Jul '21 - 9:10am

    ” Boris Johnson’s win on foreign aid this week was the world’s loss.”

    It’s our loss too.

    On one level 0.7% of GDP isn’t a huge price to pay for the influence it gives us in the world .

    On another level it is actually a subsidy for our exporters. If the aid is paid in UK pounds then they will eventually come back to the UK to be spent. Where else can they go? Where else but the UK are those pounds accepted as a payment for goods and services.?

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Jul '21 - 9:54am

    Thank you for the article.

    Although Cuba cannot be any real threat to the U. S. A., might it be that Cuba’s problems have been made deliberately worse by the U. S. A.?
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/07/16/roaming-charges-19/

    Might it be that the growth of the Taliban involved agencies of the U. S. government?
    http://www.gasandoil.com/oilaround/2011/04/afghan-history-al-qaeda-the-taliban-and-the-texas-oil-giants?month:int=8&orig_query=

    Might it help our increasingly roasted World if we worked for a relatively equitable, relatively peaceful multi-polar World?

    Might this World be the only one we can have?,

  • Nigel Hunter 18th Jul '21 - 10:05am

    In the US people are fighting in the courts the fossil fuel industries that knew of the consequences of using petrol etc (sueing them). Is it not time to do it over here? Another is the destruction of rivers (George Monbiots Rivercide tv) by the reduction in Defra funds and the breaking of laws by the water companies. Equally farming methods are causing change.We seem to be heading for many changes.
    I understand the pass has been retaken by the Afghan Govnt.
    Foriegn Aid IS a loss to the World and UK.It will be remembered by those who have been the victims of this action and opens the door to Russia,China to obtain further opportunities for influence.They say it will help cut the National Debt.Fat chance, that has been with us since the 1700s and is an excuse.It is what we borrow year on year that may be affected. As said, those countries trade with us. At a time when Global Britain?! is the buss phrase loosing their trade should be a no no.To take away the countries overseas benefits for political reasons will come back to bite Johnson. common dinominater

  • The heatwaves along the Pacific coast of North America are truly staggering. The European Commission announcement of the world’s most sweeping green agenda cannot come too soon, if it is not already too late.
    The destruction of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef would be the greatest ecological disaster we have seen yet with consequences for life across the entire planet as far reaching as the destruction of the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and the pollution of the oceans with micro-plastics.

  • Brad Barrows 18th Jul '21 - 5:58pm

    @Nigel Hunter
    “…that has been with us since the 1700s”.
    Yes, the United Kingdom has had National Debt since it’s creation on 1st May, 1707 as it started life taking responsibility for England’s National Debt.

  • Robin Grayson 19th Jul '21 - 9:19am

    The jury is out on whether the Taliban will manage to hold on to the Spin Boldark crossing. The journalistic froth “The Taliban continued its march towards victory this week” is premature. Afghanistan have several better alternative cross-border routes that rival Spin Boldark for trucks. Robin Grayson MSc FGS

  • John Marriott 19th Jul '21 - 6:03pm

    I seem to recall that, the last time they were in charge in Afghanistan, the Taliban threw in the towel. What makes them think they’ll have any more luck this time?

    I guess my doom laden post yesterday morning was too ‘doom laden’ for the editors.

  • Greenland is emerging from under an icecap tens of thousands of years old…

    And underneath this “tens of thousands of years old” ice there are artefacts that date from the Medieval Warm Period when temperatures were higher than they are today…

    ‘’Spectacular’ artefacts found as Norway ice patch melts’ [April 2020]:
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/apr/16/spectacular-artefacts-found-as-norway-ice-patch-melts

    The retreat of a Norwegian mountain ice patch, which is melting because of climate change, has revealed a lost Viking-era mountain pass scattered with “spectacular” and perfectly preserved artefacts that had been dropped by the side of the road.

    The pass, at Lendbreen in Norway’s mountainous central region, first came to the attention of local archaeologists in 2011, after a woollen tunic was discovered that was later dated to the third or fourth century AD. The ice has retreated significantly in the years since, exposing a wealth of artefacts including knitted mittens, leather shoes and arrows still with their feathers attached.

    Though carbon dating of the finds reveals the pass was in use by farmers and travellers for a thousand years, from the Nordic iron age, around AD200-300, until it fell out of use after the Black Death in the 14th century, the bulk of the finds date from the period around AD1000.

    During the Holocene Climatic Optimum Greenland’s ice sheet was smaller still…

    ‘Greenland’s shrunken ice sheet: We’ve been here before’ [November 2013]:
    https://phys.org/news/2013-11-greenland-shrunken-ice-sheet-weve.html

    Think Greenland’s ice sheet is small today? It was smaller—as small as it has ever been in recent history—from 3-5,000 years ago, according to scientists who studied the ice sheet’s history using a new technique they developed for interpreting the Arctic fossil record.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Jul '21 - 4:09pm

    @Jeff – and @Tom Arms
    “And underneath this “tens of thousands of years old” ice there are artefacts that date from the Medieval Warm Period when temperatures were higher than they are today…”
    That seems a rather misleading statement. The article to which you linked refers to the finds being dated to around AD1000 i.e. not under ice ‘ten thousand years old’, somewhere in the upper part of that 10,000 years’ worth of ice..
    Medieval Warm Period. Followed by the Little Ice Age which brought an end to Viking activities in Greenland.

    Various dating methods indicate a Greenland ice cap record of at least 110,000 years
    https://climatechange.umaine.edu/gisp2/data/fancy.html
    https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Paleoclimatology_IceCores

  • The Earth’s natural climate cycle
    Over the last 800,000 years, there have been natural cycles in the Earth’s climate. There have been ice ages and warmer interglacial periods. After the last ice age 20,000 years ago, average global temperature rose by about 3°C to 8°C, over a period of about 10,000 years.
    We can link the rises in temperature over the last 200 years to rises in atmospheric CO2 levels. Rises in temperature are now well above the natural cycle of the last 800,000 years.

    What is causing climate change?
    Geological records stretching back millions of years indicate a number of large variations in Earth’s climate. These have been caused by many natural factors, including changes in the sun, volcanoes, Earth’s orbit and CO2 levels.

    However, research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that it is 90% likely that human activity has caused more recent global warming.

    A 90% estimate? I wouldn’t be betting this planet’s, as we know it, future against tose odds…But the proponents of, “It’s just a natural cycle”, still get airtime..

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Jul ’21 – 4:09pm:
    That seems a rather misleading statement.

    Indeed; the ice which is actually melting is not “tens of thousands of years old”, but a few thousand years old at most and typically less than that.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Jul '21 - 5:24pm

    @expats
    “What is causing climate change?
    Geological records stretching back millions of years indicate a number of large variations in Earth’s climate. These have been caused by many natural factors, including changes in the sun, volcanoes, Earth’s orbit and CO2 levels.”
    Some of these factors operate on a cycle e.g. variations in Earth’s orbit. Some may be less regular and may have shorter cycle times. They can all interact with each other, enhancing or reducing climate change.

    “However, research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that it is 90% likely that human activity has caused more recent global warming.”
    Maybe human activity enhancing the kind of warming which has happened in the past without human intervention?

  • Paul Barker 21st Jul '21 - 5:30pm

    Can I please appeal to sensible people not to argue with the Climate Change deniers – they want you to play their silly games, wasting your time & energy & using up space on this site at the same time.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Aug '21 - 2:44pm

    Politics in this country has been reduced to a numbers game. Will this or that policy produce net electoral gain at the next election? Our best hope is that Labour embraces PR and when it comes there is still a majority for a progressive, values based and inclusive set of reforms.

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