crisis of capitalism
The African island nation of Mauritius exploded into angry protests April 22, with residents of poor Kreol communities erecting roadblocks and fighting the police. The island had seen days of peaceful demonstrations over a sudden and drastic increase of petrol and gas prices, centered on the town of Camp-Levieux. Things turned violent after the arrest of "Darren," a young protest leader, on charges of "participation in illegal demonstrations." The police headquarters where he was being held was besieged, and protests spread quickly to other towns across the island. Police deployed anti-riot units and armored vehicles against youth hurling stones and Molotov cocktails. Things calmed the following day when Darren was released on bail. But it remains to be seen if the increasingly debt-burdened government can strike a deal with the newly mobilized popular movement. (Jurist)
Facing long lines and bread shortages, Lebanon's government has been forced to give private importers $15 million to bring more wheat into the country. But it's a short-term fix for a government that is broke and waiting for the IMF to approve a bailout deal. And nations across the Middle East may be looking for similar solutions as they struggle with the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine—both countries are key wheat producers, and exports are effectively cut off by the war. Oxfam is warning that wheat reserves could run out within weeks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Mercy Corps reports that food prices are up in rebel-held northwest Syria, where food security was already a major concern. Last month Egypt put a cap on unsubsidized bread prices before they could get too high. Yemen, which imports the vast majority of its food, is of particular concern as it already has so many hungry people and is heavily dependent on Ukrainian wheat. Last week, UNICEF said that "the number of malnourished children [in the region] is likely to drastically increase."
Thousands of young Mongolians with no political affiliation filled central Sukhbaatar Square in the capital Ulaanbaatar for two days of peaceful protest April 7 and 8, demanding reforms to address a long list of grievances related to taxation, inflation, job opportunities, police brutality and judicial independence. After the first day's demonstration broke up late that night, one group of some 20 youth was set upon by the police and beaten—which only set off a second day of protests. Support for Ukraine in the face of Russia's aggression was also a popular sentiment at the demonstrations, with many protesters displaying the Ukrainian colors as well as the Mongolian flag. Mongolia's government abstained in the two UN General Assembly votes condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (The Diplomat, IPS)
Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a nationwide state of emergency April 2, as angry protests over fuel shortages and power cuts erupted in the capital Colombo. When police repression failed to quell the protests, Rajapaksa sought to appease demands for his resignation with a purge of his cabinet. The emergency order was lifted April 5—the same day Peru's President Pedro Castillo imposed a curfew in Lima and its port of Callao in response to an eruption of protests over dramatic fuel price hikes. As street clashes broke out in the cities, farmers outraged at a jump in fertilizer costs blocked highways at several points around the country—including Ica, where a toll-booth was set on fire. The world has seen an oil price surge to $100 a barrel in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (The Hindu, PTI, NYT, Jurist, Al Jazeera, DW, BBC News, AFP, El Popular)
Long-depressed oil prices are suddenly soaring in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with impacts already being felt globally. Kazakhstan, recently wracked by internal instability, is facing economic crisis as its crude exports are threatened. Most of these exports pass through a pipeline linking Kazakhstan's western oil-fields to Russia's Black Sea terminal at Novorossiysk. That terminal, owned by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), lies within 250 kilometers of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, now besieged by Russian forces. This proximity is sufficient for tankers loading at the Novorossiysk terminal to incur a "war risk insurance premium." According to S&P Global Platts, the premium has been high enough to deter buyers since the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched late last month.
One knock-on effect of the war in Ukraine has been a jump in the global price of wheat—to its highest level since 2008. Russia and Ukraine account for a third of the world wheat supply, and Ukraine's most productive regions lie in the path of the conflict. If Ukrainian wheat is taken off the market, or ports are badly damaged, prices could possibly double. That would especially hurt the Middle East and North Africa—but also places as far afield as Bangladesh and Nigeria, which are major importers of Russian and Ukrainian wheat. The real test for the world supply will be the next harvest in four months' time. If Western sanctions target Russian production—or Moscow angrily responds to pressure by squeezing wheat supplies—then shortages could really bite, potentially worsening global huger.
In Episode 107 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg continues his rant against the ubiquitous propaganda that normalizes the oppressive and dystopian pre-pandemic normality—or, as it is now incorrectly rendered, "normalcy" (sic). The opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by 2020's pandemic-induced economic paralysis is now being squandered. The fashionable COVID denialism of the anti-vaxxers is ironically complicit in the actual crimes of the pharmaceutical industry, such as the instating of a "vaccine apartheid"—failing to make the vaccine available to Africa and the much of the Global South. Just at the moment that socialist ideas are being legitimized in mainstream discourse again, the drum-beat for "normalcy" (sic) means less pressure for an urgently mandated public expropriation of corporate cyber-overlords such as Verizon, as well as Big Pharma and Big Oil. Meanwhile, consumerist and technocratc pseudo-solutions, such as the bogus notion of reducing one's personal "carbon footprint," obscure the systemic nature of the problem. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Kazakhstan's President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev on Jan. 5 called participants in the protests that have swept the Central Asian nation this week "terrorists," accusing them of attempting to undermine his government at the behest of foreign powers. He also issued a call for Russia and the other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to come to his country's defense.