My AQ piece: Maduro’s Conundrum as UNASUR Starts Venezuelan Peace Talks

Venezuela Pres. Nicolas Maduro during first UNASUR-and-Vatican mediated peace talk with opposition in Caracas 10 April (Reuters)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaking during the first UNASUR-and-Vatican mediated peace talks with the opposition in Caracas 10 April (Reuters)

Here’s my commentary at Americas Quarterly today, 11 April:

A delegation of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) returned to Caracas on April 7 and 8, securing an agreement to hold peace talks to calm political polarization and protests in Venezuela.  The talks are being mediated by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, plus a Vatican representative.

The UNASUR delegation first visited in late March, recommending that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and leaders of the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) enter into a dialogue.  The U.S. State Department had expressed support, as had Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary José Miguel Insulza.

However, UNASUR’s plan will be complicated by Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries within his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), whose loyalty requires his polarizing words and deeds. This conundrum already wrecked a previous dialogue.

In early February, before protests broke out, a highly placed government official explained to me,  …  CLICK to Continue Reading at Americas Quarterly. Continue reading

Venezuelan state’s economic response to protests: Rationing plus Chinese and Russian loans to float a liberal dollar market

The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police BBC
The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police. Three more died in widespread protests. BBC

As protests continue against Venezuela’s faltering “oil revolution,” the political strategy of the chavista administration is striking for its intransigence. President Maduro has refused to recognize any grievances by students or other protesters. He calls protesters “fascists” and blames them for all the ills of the economy.  Protests are attacked by the national guard and often by state-organized paramilitary gangs on motorcycles who are praised by the president.

The administration’s strategy so far appears to be that protests will burn themselves out if they can be delegitimized and contained within middle-class areas.  Accordingly, the president’s rhetoric aims at inciting poorer citizens against protesters.  All in all, this is a risky strategy.  Protests have constantly intensified, with perhaps 25 persons dead now.
After a month of protests, the administration has taken urgent economic measures it hopes will undermine the protests and prevent their spread to poor and working-class barrios.
1. Ramirez announces Chinese and Russian loans and the launch of a very liberal Sicad 2

My DGAP article | Energiewende vs. USA Shale Gas: Can German industry compete?

ImageIn Germany, the impact of the country’s renewable energy transition on the economy is a very hot topic.  Tuesday, Mrs. Merkel’s  new Minister of Economy & Environment (and chair of the Social Democratic Party), Mr. Sigmar Gabriel, declared: “We need to keep in mind that the whole economic future of our country is riding on this,” (NYT, 21Jan14).

Here’ is my article in the DGAP’s (German Council on Foreign Affairs’) IP Journal of 30Dec13  (submitted 24Nov13):

Germany’s Energiewende (renewable-energy transition) is under intense pressure both from consumers facing soaring electric bills and from German manufacturers fretting about their falling energy competitiveness vís-a-vís the US, where manufacturers are benefiting from the boom in cheap natural gas production. What should be done to address these concerns has become a major topic of the CDU-SPD negotiations forming Chancellor Merkel’s new coalition government.  

From the viewpoint of German manufacturers, there are two ways the US shale gas revolution implies a worrisome competitive challenge. First, cheaper natural gas in the US is lowering electricity and other energy costs for American manufacturers, while Germany’s continue to rise. This is especially of concern to energy-intensive industries, where the EU now has 36 percent of world capacity and the US only 10 percent. Secondly, as the US begins to build facilities for export of liquefied gas (LNG), this capacity could have a significant effect on the price of electricity and gas in Asia. … Continue reading at DGAP’s (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik e.V.) IP Journal.

A new syllabus: The USA & the global oil system: The formation of American energy policy

global_barrel_graphic_twodDuring Spring 2014, I’m teaching a post-graduate seminar in Berlin  on the USA and  the global market-centered oil system (a.k.a.”The Global Barrel”)–the syllabus sketch is below here.

While I’ve often taught seminars on “the Geopolitics of Global Oil,” the JFK Institute at Berlin’s Freie Universität had a special request: they would like their students to learn “how these policies are decided in the USA.”

For an American energy “expert”, the how of the USA’s policy-decision process is fairly familiar. However, not only for German students, but also for most US citizens, this process–whose outcome has such a profound impact on the entire world– indeed seems at best rather opaque, and, at worst, like an unseemly, vested-interest-driven and hopelessly partisan process. Continue reading

Petrobras of Brazil v. Pdvsa of Venezuela – Reply to press interns in Sao Paulo

Lula and Petrobras

Lula and Petrobras

I had a pleasant exchange with an intern – in the end a class of interns – at the Brazilian newspaper “O Estado de São Paulo” a couple of weeks ago.  The questions were insightful. I tried to answer in an informative and direct manner.  Indeed, things are not going well at Petrobras lately, and looking at the politics of Pdvsa and Petrobras next to one another is a useful exercise. Here’s the interview.

1) Do you agree that PDVSA and Petrobras have both had political mishaps in their administrations? Why?

Yes. Hugo Chavez used Pdvsa as the “goose that lays the golden eggs.” However, he took so much from Pdvsa — especially to support his frequent election campaigns, before each of which he increased public spending to win votes — that the “goose” has been left to starve.

Chavez’ revolution was, in his own words, an “oil revolution” and “oil socialism.” However, he did not understand how to run the national oil company. While he distributed largess from the country’s oil wealth to the poor, he was incapable of introducing a new, higher productivity of labor in Venezuelan society, which is what any real social revolution requires for success. He left the country in a very dangerous situation with a shortage of foreign exchange. If the price of oil falls further due to a US & EU accord with Iran and/or an improvement in the oil production situation in Libya, and Iraq, then Venezuela will face a deep crisis.

Petrobras too, under Lula, began to be viewed as a cash cow after it discovered the pre-salt. As a president. Lula was much more competent organizationally and in economic matters than Hugo Chavez. However, Continue reading

China y América Latina: ¿Quién gana y quién pierde? – Petroguía 2014 (Spanish)

Inversiones energéticos de  China en Latino américa.  Nota que Venezuela está en tercer lugar, en contra de las intenciones iniciales de Beijing en 2007-08.

Inversiones energéticos de China en Latino américa. Nota que Venezuela está en cuatro lugar, en contra de las intenciones iniciales de Beijíng en 2007-08. HAZ CLICK para magnificar. (Grafico por T.O’D.)

[English readers: This post is an analysis I did in Spanish for Petroguía 2014 - the annual hard-copy guide for the LatAm petroleum sector - of China's oil and gas investments in LatAm and the Carribean.  For Beijing's other investments, or a presentation, etc. drop me a line. ]

NOTA: La siguiente es mi análisis publicado en Petroguía 2014, la guía anual para el sector petrolífero latinoamericano.  Soy agradecido a los directores del Petroguía por haberme permitido publicar el artículo aquí.  El artículo es una resumen de una investigación que hizo sobre todas las inversiones de China en Latino américa. Si tienen interés en una reportaje o presentación detallada, por favor contactarme.

China y América Latina: ¿Quién gana y quién pierde?

Sumario. El mercado de hidrocarburos ya no está en el norte de América sino hacia el este,  y la mejor estrategia de intercambio con esa plaza la lleva Brasil, mientras que Venezuela y Argentina están a la zaga.

Por Thomas W. O’Donnell

El petróleo y el gas que exportará América Latina en las décadas venideras irán mayormente a China y otras partes de Asia. Y eso es por el efecto combinado de menores necesidades de energía importada en Estados Unidos, gracias a la utilización de los nuevos métodos de fractura hidráulica (fracking) que produce cada vez más petróleo liviano, y por el tope que ha alcanzado su demanda doméstica. Continue reading

For Obama, an Iran deal trumped Syrian aid: USA “core interests” are in “flow of energy”

Geneva negotiations between P5+1 and Iran in early November (Reuters)

Geneva negotiations between P5+1 and Iran in early November (Reuters)

In September, President Obama came under withering criticism in Washington for not punishing Assad after crossing his “red line” on chemical weapons.  By October, even Riyadh had joined those in the State Department, the White House and Congress who, according to US press reports, saw Mr. Obama as “aloof” and “indecisive” on Syria.

While Mr. Obama’s refusal to arm the more democratic and secular rebel forces has indeed permitted Assad to retrench–increasing the humanitarian disaster as well as the ability of jihadi forces to insinuate themselves into the conflict– nonetheless, imagining this is due to presidential indecision ignores the realpolitik driving his policy.

Why Has Obama Not Forcefully Supported Syrian Rebels? The Iran Factor

Consider first: What if forceful US action in Syria had scuttled any talks with Iran, or, for that matter, if the present negotiations in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran end up in failure? Continue reading