News, they say, is almost always bad news. The worse the news, the more important it is. So I decided to take a look at some of the most headline-making events of 2016 in order to see how bad a year it has really been. In doing so, I did not rely on my memory but used a website that specialized in tracing events month by month.
January. The U.S and Europe lift the sanctions on Iran. The longstanding sanctions, both financial and oil, are lifted after inspections prove that Iran has complied with the conditions specified in the nuclear deal. Around $100 billion of Iran’s assets are also released. The U.S and Iran each release some prisoners belonging to the other country they had been holding. Except for Netanyahu, everyone appears to be happy.
February: President Obama announces “historic” visit to Cuba. High time, too! It is another major step in renewed relations between Cuba and the United States since the last and only president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But a “historic” turning point? For the citizens of Cuba, perhaps; for the rest of the world, including 99 percent of US citizens, hardly.
March: The UN Security Council unanimously imposed another round of sanctions on North Korea after the country launched a rocket that put a satellite into orbit in February and conducted a nuclear test in January. The new sanctions call for inspections of all cargo entering and leaving the country, a ban on the import of luxury watches, snowmobiles and Jet Skis, A strange list, one would say; but supposedly justified by the “fact” that Kim Jong-un and his cronies like the items in question.
April: the world first heard a new term, “Panama Papers,” referring to millions of confidential documents that were leaked from a Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The Panama Papers reveal details of how some of the globe’s richest people funnel their assets into secretive shell companies set up in lightly regulated jurisdictions. As of the time of writing, though, it is not clear how many miscreants have been prosecuted as a result of the revelations. Nor how much, if any, money the tax authorities around the world have been able to recover.
May: Nothing. Oh, yes: for those of you who did not know, including myself, a place named Fort McMurray really exists. It is located in Alberta, Canada, and has 88,000 inhabitants who make their living by pumping oil out of the ground. In May a major fire burnt down parts of the town and it was claimed that evacuation routes were closed, leaving those trying to flee stranded. In the end, however, no one was killed.
June: Elements within the Turkish Army launch a coup attempt (many throughout the world are convinced it was staged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself). Following its failure, a wave of dismissals, investigations and arrests sweeps the country, which now seems to be well on its way to a dictatorship. One positive result of all this: talks about Turkey joining the EU are definitely put on hold.
July: On Bastille Day, France’s most important holiday, tragedy strikes. A large truck is driven through a crowd in the southern city of Nice. The truck barrels through the crowds, fatally crushing 84 people and injuring more than 200, children included. The driver is a Frenchman (really?) of Tunisian origin, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who is shot and killed by police officers responding to the attack. In case anyone still had doubts, terrorism is in Europe to stay—and will almost certainly never go away.
August: Contrary to the expectations of many the Olympic Games, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, go without a hitch. True, they cause attention to be focused on a disease named Zika, of which few people had heard before; in the end, though, almost nothing happens.
September: Nothing. True, the first and only president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, died from a stroke after no fewer than 25 years in power. Putin published his condolences; but I suppose I will not go very wrong if I say that few people outside his own country ever knew he had existed.
October: In Colombia, a peace deal between the government and the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is submitted to a referendum. The intention was to end the 52-year civil war. The question read, “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and construct a stable and enduring peace?” An easy to answer question, one would have thought; yet the voters say no. Fortunately President Juan Manuel Santos announces that the armistice then in force with FARC will be honored. A golden ray of common sense shines onto a war-torn country.
November: Much to the surprise of many pollsters, and to the fury of Democrats, Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States. What this means for the future remains to be seen. Not least because of the man’s own tweets, which so far have doing little except sow confusion.
December: Following a months-long battle, the Syrian city of Aleppo fell to Assad, Hezbollah, and the Russians. It makes no difference since the war, resuming its original terrorist/guerrilla character, goes on. And on. And on.
Summary: A large meteorite has not hit the earth. No city has been flooded by rising ocean water. There has been no natural disaster comparable to, say, the 2004 Tsunami which killed an estimated 250,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and eleven other countries. A nuclear war has not broken out. Peace among the most important powers has been maintained, more or less. The world financial system has not undergone a meltdown. Zika has gone, or is going, the way of SARS and swine flu and Bug 2000 (in case anyone remembers it). And Hillary will not be president of the U.S.
All in all, taking a global perspective, not a bad year.