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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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