Most media lists of the most important events of 2012 are led by headlines such as the re-election of President Barack Obama, the appointment of China’s new leader Xi Jinping, the revolt in Syria, the return to power of Mexico’s ruling PRI party and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s battle with cancer.
But there were other less noticed 2012 headlines that will have as much or more impact in our future. Many of them did not even appear on the front pages of most U.S. and Latin American newspapers.
So let me share with you my list of the most important news of 2012:
• The Nov. 12 report by the International Energy Agency stating that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2017, and that Washington will become a net oil exporter by 2030.
That will substantially change world politics as we know it. The technological revolution taking place in the U.S. energy industry thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — a procedure to extract oil and shale gas through water pressure known as “fracking” — will make the United States gradually less dependent on Middle Eastern oil producers.
In addition, the reduction of U.S. oil imports will result in lower world oil prices, which could pose serious problems for petro-populist countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. They have failed to diversify their economies — in some cases virtually destroying their non-oil industries — and have become heavily dependent on oil and gas exports.
• The Nov. 20 warning by China’s new leader Xi that the Communist Party may lose its hold on power if it fails to crack down on the country’s corruption epidemic.
Xi’s public admission, which echoed a similar statement by his predecessor Hu Jintao a few weeks earlier, was a symptom of China’s growing social unrest and defied the generalized assumption that China’s rise to becoming the world’s biggest economy is irreversible.
As I observed during a trip to China in October, there is an unprecedented public outcry against the fabulous riches — and their display — by the families and friends of Communist Party leaders. This could either lead to a collapse of China’s political system that will derail the country’s economic rise or in democratic reforms that could accelerate it. Either way, China’s status quo can no longer be taken for granted.
• The July 16 news report from Kuala Lumpur that negotiations for the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which could become the world’s biggest and most ambitious deal of its kind, could be concluded by October 2013.
At a first stage, the new Pacific basin trade bloc would include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. But South Korea and Japan — the world’s third largest economy — may soon join in, creating a huge economic bloc that would challenge China’s growing economic weight in Asia and Latin America.
• The Nov. 25 vote in Catalonia, Spain, in which about 70 percent of the people voted for parties that support a referendum for independence of the rich northern Spain region, triggering a chain reaction of secessionist moves in the 27-country European Union. Many fear that if Catalonia secedes from Spain, Corcega and the Basque region may seek independence from France, Scotland may split from Britain and Flanders and Wallonia from Belgium, among others. Economic turmoil could be followed by political chaos in Europe.
• Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s decision to fire more than half a dozen Cabinet ministers over corruption allegations or suspicions sent a powerful message to Brazil’s neighbors.
What’s more, Brazil’s Supreme Court decision to sentence powerful ruling party politician Jose Dirceu — the former chief of staff of ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — to almost 11 years in prison for a scandal involving government bribes to legislators may mark a turning point in Brazil’s history. It serves as a lesson to neighboring countries whose governments control the courts to protect corrupt officials.
I probably left out scores of other significant news events of 2012, but we should keep these in mind when we sit around with our loved ones and discuss the world’s future this holiday season. They may not have been big front-page headlines in U.S. newspapers, but they will make their mark in 2013 and beyond.
Happy new year!