Saturday, March 22, 2014


If in the Capetown area take the Robben Island tour.  It is the place where Nelson Mandela and many other "political prisoners" wasted away good portions of their lives.  It is incredibly ugly, desolate and dismal.  The tourist can only get the faintest idea of the horrors of incarceration in this place.

The tour guide was an ex-inmate and his recollections complemented the sights and smells.  At the end of the tour, the guide echoed Mandela's famous call for reconciliation. To my surprise, he thanked us (the foreigners in his group) for the boycotts, sanctions and protests.  He mentioned that they helped to end apartheid and (paraphrasing) "made his dream come true."

Sanctions are in the news and the big question is whether they matter to V. Putin and his group. If there are gains from trade, there must be losses when trade (and economic ties) are severed. This is why there are blockades in wartime.

But sanctions and even blockades are porous.  It's a big world.  Blockades involve force; sanctions require lots of voluntary cooperation.  The pariah South African regime apparently prompted just enough voluntary cooperation for there to have been an effect.

From what one can gather from news bites from Washington, U.S.-E.U sanctions against Russia are selective and porous.  Will the crisis drive world oil and gas prices up or down? If up, does that not enrich the oligarchs? The Economist has a piece that explores this. Driving the price down might be a weapon. But pipeline and other fossil fuel investments are anathema to the Obama administration. Facing down Putin is nothing compared to facing down the environmentalists.

Conflict has nothing but losers. Who will be the biggest loser when all is said and done?  Among them will be the populations of Russia as well as Ukraine. Both are stuck with corrupt regimes and weak economies. It is hard to see whether any of these weaknesses are remediable.