Sources

In Venezuela, The Maduro Reign Is Doomed

Political repression is one thing, but if store shelves are empty, the so-called "revolution" is destined to crumble.

Maduro, holding on to the past?
Maduro, holding on to the past?
Uriel Ortiz Soto

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — Hunger and misery spell the end of every revolution. The sufferers, for the sake of survival, will seek whatever means are avaible to break the chains that bind them.

It is one thing for a government to be oppressive, repressive and contemptuous of basic rights. Unpleasant as such conditions are, they are tolerable for many. What can't be accepted is a scarcity of basic goods in shops and supermarkets. That's when regimes crumble. And that, right now, is the story in the Venezuela of President Nicolás Maduro.

In spite of his boastful talk about the "Bolivarian Revolution," which Maduro barely understands, Venezuelans are looking for a way to rid themselves of a government whose ignorance and thievery have effectively wasted, or compromised for years to come, the country's formidable oil revenues — money that will be very difficult to recover.

We Colombians should appreciate the precarious state in which our neighbors and relatives have been living in recent years. We are bound by ties of freedom, blood and love, and separated only by a border.

Venezuela's geopolitical situation began to deteriorate in the early years of the reign of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) as he sought to rebuild Venezuela on "Bolivarian" foundations. Honestly, not even Chávez believed in the future of his program, and it wasn't long before his policies provoked dissent in the political class that has been at the helm of Venezuelan democracy and public life since independence in the 19th century.

The petrodollars that served the socialist regime also began to cause disruption across Latin America. Wherever the caudillo went, he arrived with a briefcase full of the oil money that has helped forge such entities as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, ALBA, as it's known in Spanish.

Military patience

These kinds of trade associations may well fall into disuse due to the critical states of their current budgets, but also because of Cuba's decision to restore diplomatic ties with the United States. Venezuelan money has so far financed ALBA and other regional trade blocs to the zinging tune of some $70 billion per year.

The crisis in Venezuela is undoubtedly having a serious impact on other Latin American states, and has particularly affected the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), which includes Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. The Ecuadoran government, for example, is violating basic CAN trading norms because of a recent decree imposing tariffs of 21% on products imported from Colombia and Peru.


As oil prices fall and Venezuela has far less money available for its own development, Ecuador — a kind of economic protectorate of socialist Venezuela — is starting to show signs of economic instability and may seek to extricate itself from CAN alliance.

Restoration of ties between the U.S. and Cuba will also, soon, make itself felt across the continent, impacting regional trading relations and likely damaging Cuban ties with Venezuela. All eyes will be on Maduro to see if he insists on perpetuating his government come hell or high water, which in this case means a deepening recession, shortages, a breakdown of productive capacities and the looming specter of dire poverty and hunger.

Venezuela's deterioration began when Chávez decided days after taking power to obstruct longstanding trade with Colombia by subjecting exports to rigorous controls. An array of natural products spoiled in the heat and could not continue toward their markets. His decision in 2006 to undermine the special relationship between Venezuela and Colombia prompted the closure in both countries of thousands of factories with a long history of cross-border trade.

I believe that was the beginning of the end for the ill-termed Bolivarian Republic, as it opted instead to buy basic products from countries like Chile and Argentina, which had no inclination to export through Andean integration mechanisms. Logically, their products arrived at Venezuelan ports with inflated prices.

So many things have added up to deprive the Maduro government of any semblance of international credibility. His recent tour, which was intended to bring around Venezuela's erstwhile friends and Chávez-era petrodollar recipients, seems to have yielded little. Venezuela has already stopped being the benefactor of noble causes at the expense of everyday Venezuelans, who must now struggle thanks to all those years of generosity.

The Maduro government is at a crossroards, and the armed forces are aware they cannot keep suppressing people's justified protests. Our respect and admiration should presently go to the former candidate and coordinator of opposition forces, Henrique Capriles. His cause is that of the Venezuelan people and the majority of their Colombian brethren.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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