Coronavirus Politics Daily: Salvadoran gang crackdown, Taiwan and the WHO, Russian (dis)information

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Salvadoran gang crackdown, Taiwan and the WHO, Russian (dis)information

El Salvador's crackdown on gangs: After days of violence that left at least 60 people dead across the country, El Salvador's president Nayib Bukele authorized a "lethal" crackdown on gang members. The president said that after months of relative quiet on the streets of the Central American country because of coronavirus quarantines, gangs are taking advantage of a distracted government to wreak havoc. Most of the recent attacks were directed by gang members already in custody, prompting authorities to round up hundreds of semi-naked inmates, packing them together on prison floors while guards ransacked their cells. Human rights groups say that even before this, the virus was spreading wildly in notoriously jam-packed jails throughout Latin America. El Salvador has long been a hotspot of gang violence and human rights abuses, with police committing hundreds of extrajudicial executions between 2014-2018 as part of a state-sponsored crackdown on street gangs. The combination of a surging coronavirus outbreak in El Salvador, and emboldened gangs who dominate much of the country's informal economy, is a recipe for disaster.


Taiwan pushes to join WHO: Taiwan used a call with US health officials Tuesday to ask for support in its bid to become a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) – a move long black-balled by Beijing, which considers the island nation part of China. As the US is the single biggest donor to the WHO, Taipei is hoping Washington can use the power of the purse (which the US has already done by recently withholding funds for 60 days) to pressure the World Health Assembly, which decides who can join the organization. Taipei, for its part, is using its success at containing the coronavirus as leverage, telling allies that its exclusion from the organization has in fact undermined the global effort to end the pandemic. (To drive the point home, Taiwan recently released a memo showing that it had warned the WHO about human-to-human transmission of the disease back in December but received no response.) It's worth noting that while the US is Taipei's most reliable advocate on the world stage, Washington also wants to avoid an open rupture with China over the issue.

Is Russian information reliable? Russia, which this week surpassed China in new cases of coronavirus, currently has 93,588 reported cases of the disease, and 867 deaths. More than half of cases are in Moscow. A government like Russia's, which has strong sway over the media, poses a special problem during a pandemic. In the heat of a health crisis, reliable information is critical to help the public avoid infection and contain the threat. But that can be a challenge in countries where state control over mass media forces people to seek info from unsanctioned sources. Some Russian doctors have used social media to cast doubt on the official coronavirus data, by posting the names of more than 70 medics who died fighting the virus but whose deaths weren't recorded as COVID cases. In addition, an investigative website reported this week that more than a dozen nurses have walked out of the largest of Moscow's two dozen coronavirus-only hospitals to protest low wages and inadequate protective gear. Russian public health officials have denied both stories.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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