Bolsonaro in Brazil; Kim Jong-un health speculation; COVID-19 in Africa
What is going on in Brazil? Is it at a tipping point?
I'm not sure it's tipping point for Brazil, but it's a tipping point for Bolsonaro. When he came in, it was after years of political scandal, Lava Jato. You had impeachments, ministers getting thrown out of office. Former President Lula in jail. Dilma Rousseff impeached. Finally, somebody clean who has the former federal justice who helped put away a lot of these ministers as the new minister of justice. Now, a president that mishandled coronavirus, attacked the governors as fake news, you can't have shut downs, and cases in Brazil are spiraling much higher per capita than in other major Latin American economies; now he's gotten rid of his minister of justice. He's resigned, said Bolsonaro is interfering with investigations, getting too close to his family. That is the opposite of what you want in the midst of the worst economic contraction, maybe in Brazil's democratic history. His approval ratings are dropping, down in the low 30s. He might end up getting impeached. He'd have to lose more support. But, the idea that he governs effectively in Congress with a reformist coalition is off the table. He is in a lot of trouble. This is the beginning of what I suspect will eventually be the end of Bolsonaro. It's much harder to imagine him getting another term. Even lasting the full term.
Why is speculation surrounding Kim Jong-un difficult to confirm or debunk?
It's the world's most closed totalitarian dictatorship. We haven't heard from Kim or anyone representing Kim saying how Kim is doing for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, President Trump said we're going to hear from him soon, which is the closest we've had to intelligence, believe it or not. It sounds like Trump has heard through US intelligence that Kim Jong-un is still alive. Probably vis the Chinese. Not from the North Koreans. We still haven't heard from him and that does imply, especially given rumors and a big national holiday just a few days ago, that he's not well, not able to appear publicly for mass consumption. Does that mean he's a vegetable? No, but it does mean he's hurting, there's a real problem. If he does die, if there needs to be a transition, it's dangerous. The potential that the Chinese might have to step in is real. They would if it looked like instability could shake the regime or lead to a dispute over control of nuclear weapons and conventional forces in North Korea. Until we find out Kim Jong-un is okay, there's a lot of concern.
Finally, has Africa been spared by coronavirus?
Numbers of cases in Africa are very low. The main reason is because they're not testing. Helps that there isn't as much travel to/from Africa, which is part of why it's economically underdeveloped, but also limits cases into African countries. Chinese from Wuhan went to Africa, working there. They were in China during the New Year's celebrations and left. That's different from spread from travel that you get in the US or Europe. Also, many cases are asymptomatic. We're finding that in New York, in Massachusetts, in Washington State, in California. These are very young populations in Africa. The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, 18 years, I think, is the average age. The vast majority of people that get this disease won't have symptoms, never mind getting sick. If you're an African leader and don't have ventilators, adequate health care personnel, test kits - and your economy's in bad shape, you keep economies open. That doesn't mean that Africa is spared because we have economic slowdown globally, and people aren't going to be traveling there, you won't get tourism, supply chains will get disrupted, but you probably don't get the kind of closures of African economies as in other countries, even emerging market economies. Even where they do, so much of the economy is informal, not controlled by the government, so it doesn't shut down. You'll see a lot of people getting sick, people dying. Whether or not that's known publicly, or it's considered dying from some other comorbidity, is an open question. But some of the poorest countries in the world probably won't have the same impact from coronavirus. If there are silver linings, we'll take them.