The number of deaths caused by terrorist attacks worldwide has declined in recent years, according to reports meticulously compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. In 2017, terrorism-related deaths fell nearly 25 percent compared with the previous year. And since 2014, the global numbers have fallen a full 64 percent. Here’s a region-by-region look at the recent trend.
Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.
There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.
In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.
But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.
How'd we get here? The Colombian government has a common math problem: it spends more money than it raises.
Even before the pandemic, the country's oil exports — a major source of government revenue — were dwindling, and over the past year, the deficit tripled. Now, to pull the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades, it's even more urgent to top up state coffers.
But Colombia has one of the lowest tax hauls of any country in the OECD, and ratings agencies warn that without a tax reform of some kind, a downgrade awaits. That would make it more expensive for Colombia to borrow money abroad, depleting state resources even further.
Duque's proposal would have raised levies on corporations and the rich, while boosting social spending to alleviate poverty. But it also expanded taxes for the middle class and poor, eliminated exemptions for pensions, and added a sales tax to many staple consumer goods and services. Even water would have gotten more expensive. Water!
The math may have been sound but, in a country reeling from the pandemic, the politics were horrific. Over the past year, 3 million more Colombians fell into poverty, raising the poverty rate by 7 points to a staggering 42 percent of the population (source in Spanish.) Thousands of businesses have closed. And the country is now in the throes of a third COVID wave: daily new cases have soared sixfold in the past two months.
Small wonder that when the tax bill was unveiled, three-quarters of Colombians supported a national strike in response.
But these protests are about more than taxes. For several years, a large part of Colombian society has been upset about rising inequality, an epidemic of violence against human rights leaders, rising crime in the cities, and poor healthcare and education.
Just before the COVID crisis started, in late 2019, mass protests over these issues shook Bogotá for days. Today's protests are in part a resurgence of grievances bottled up — and made worse — by the pandemic.
Elections loom. Next year, Colombians will elect a new president. Term limits keep Duque from running again — and with his meager 30 percent approval rating, that's probably just as well. But the social crisis has boosted the fortunes of Senator Gustavo Petro, a leftwing former mayor of Bogotá who got his start in political life as a Marxist guerrilla.
A recent poll showed Petro would get close to 40 percent of the vote if the ballot were held today, an increase of 15 points since last fall (source in Spanish). That a leftwinger should be so popular is a sea change in Colombia, long a center-right country in which decades of war with Marxist-inspired militants — and the recent disaster next door in socialist-led Venezuela — had created a stigma around leftist politics at the national level.
Colombia's crisis is also a broader caution: Many countries are staggering out of the pandemic with weak state finances. The IMF recently found that debt as a percentage of GDP in emerging market economies soared 10 points last year to an average of 65 percent. Meanwhile, poverty and social spending needs have only risen as a result of the economic crisis.
The current upheaval in Colombia is a taste of what could come for many middle-income and poorer countries if they botch the politics of raising revenue.
But no matter how they go about it — not taxing the dead is a smart way to avoid antagonizing the living.
While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.
What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?
Scope of the crises. Both India and Brazil are experiencing catastrophic outbreaks of disease. These countries have the two highest death rates in the world, recording 2,367 deaths (Brazil) and 3,571 (India) respectively on average over the past 7-days. (However, data coming out of India is vastly undercounted.)
Both are seeing a steady stream of new daily cases and deaths: Brazil and India recorded 28 new cases per 100,000 on average over the past week. But there's one big difference: while India's deterioration has been recent and swift, Brazil's crisis has been relentless over the past 12 months.
Global (in)action: While both Brazil and India are spiralling, the international response to India and Brazil has been vastly different.
For India, the Biden administration mobilized to deliver $100 million in emergency aid in mere days, and directed vaccine supplies to Indian drug manufacturers.
And while critics have pointed out that US aid to India is still too stingy, compare that to to Washington's tight-fisted approach to Brazil: despite repeated appeals for help from Brazilian officials, Washington has doled out just $19.7 million in pandemic-related aid over the past year, including less than $2 million for hard-hit Amazonian communities as they were literally fighting for breath. Similarly, Brussels has offered help to India, while remaining apathetic towards Brazil. (Germany recently sent 80 ventilators to the Amazonian city of Manaus.)
Politics is personal. One contributing factor is that Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has not cultivated much goodwill from the international community over the past few years. The brash populist has denied the severity of COVID, scuttled states' efforts to implement lockdowns, and sowed doubt about vaccines' efficacy. And his history of insulting world leaders hasn't helped: He amplified a social media post describing French President Emmanuel Macron's wife as "ugly," and questioned President Biden's electoral victory. Meanwhile, his own government has managed to insult Beijing (mocking Chinese-made vaccines and tweeting racist content about the origins of the pandemic) despite the fact that Brazil depends heavily on China — its largest trade partner — for vaccine supplies.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by contrast, has cut a different figure. Although he is a divisive leader who has made a series of recent blunders in handling the pandemic, he has not diminished the seriousness of COVID-19, and has maintained warm relations with governments whose help his country desperately needs. That approach appears to be working better than Bolsonaro's.
The power of the diaspora. At 18 million, India has the world's largest diaspora, 17 percent of whom live in the United States. As India's crisis spiraled, student groups and non-governmental organizations around the world quickly stepped in to raise funds. Indiaspora, a DC-based non-profit, announced that it had raised $1 million in just 48 hours. Meanwhile, GoFund said that 60,000 donors from 106 countries had contributed to India-related fundraisers since April 17.
While Brazil also has a sizable diaspora population, 450,000 of whom live in the US, its size pales next to India's. And there has been almost nothing comparable in terms of online fundraising.
Acute vs chronic disease. Since COVID exploded in December 2019, hotspots have come and gone. But Brazil's crisis has been more or less constant for a year now. COVID cases — and deaths — have continued to plague populous states like São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Many people around the world seem to have gotten used to things being very bad in Brazil.
India, on the other hand, seemed to have things under control as recently as March. The crisis appeared to come out of nowhere just as economies in Europe, North America and elsewhere were preparing to reopen. This created a sense of global panic and served as a call to action because no one is going back to normal until we all are.
At the moment, neither Brazil nor India is close to that.
What We're Watching: French and Brits fight over fish, Nigeria's insecurity, Duterte cozies up to China
Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.
Nigeria's insecurity woes: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has made tackling worsening insecurity in his country a political priority, but nothing seems to be making much of a difference: attacks and kidnappings by armed criminal gangs and Islamist militants have become a constant part of life in northern Nigeria, and have already claimed hundreds of lives this year alone. Buhari's new security chiefs, expected to bring fresh blood into an aging security apparatus, have so far failed to deliver on their promise to end the violence (including by Nigeria's often trigger-happy police against civilians). The situation has gotten so bad that members of the president's own party are now openly criticizing the leadership of Buhari, a former general who led a military junta that ruled Nigeria in the early 1980s before being elected as a civilian in 2015. Earlier this week, the armed forces came out in support of the president amid growing calls for Buhari to step down before his second term in office ends in two years time. But if the security situation continues to deteriorate, the generals could change their minds.
Is Duterte getting too cozy with China? Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has had a busy few days. This week alone, he has berated his top diplomat over an expletive-laden Twitter tirade against China, apologized for getting vaccinated with a Chinese-made COVID vaccine that hasn't yet been approved for domestic use in the Philippines, and said the 2016 arbitration ruling in favor of his country's claims in the South China Sea is not worth the paper it's written on. While Duterte cozying up to China's Xi Jinping is nothing new, this might be starting to have political consequences for him as support for China has plummeted among the Filipino electorate. While Duterte's popularity has not been tested in a major nationwide survey since October 2020, when it hit a whopping 93 percent, if current trends continue, the incumbent may have a hard time in next year's presidential election. Since he can't run for a second term, Duterte's allies want him to be a candidate for VP alongside his daughter so the family can stay in power. But will Duterte's infatuation with China ruin his chances?
Hard Numbers: Josh Wong sentenced again in HK, carnage in Rio de Janeiro, global food crisis, Florida restricts voting
10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.
25: At least 25 people were killed Thursday in a shootout in Rio de Janeiro where drug cartels were allegedly trying to recruit children. Police said that it was "the largest number of deaths in a police operation in Rio." Gang violence has surged in Brazil during the pandemic, after it declined in 2018 and 2019.
155 million: The UN World Food Programme released its new annual report this week, and the findings are staggering: 155 million people required food assistance globally in 2020, a five-year high. Some of the worst food-related crises are in Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Yemen.
40 percent: Florida became this week the latest Republican-run US state to enact fresh laws placing restrictions on voting. A new bill will limit the use of drop boxes, making it harder to vote by mail in a state where 40 percent of people — that's 4.8 million Floridians — cast mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election.
What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.
Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days
- Trump didn't invent Americans' rejection of US post-war leadership ... ›
- Who is Tony Blinken, Biden's pick for Secretary of State? - GZERO ... ›
- “A referendum for the whole world”: Global voices on the US election ... ›
- Anne-Marie Slaughter on a Biden administration's top foreign policy ... ›
- Quick Take: "America Is Back": Biden on Munich's virtual tour ... ›
The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.
We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.
And it is true, of course, that the relationship between the two most powerful countries in the world, the US and China, is very rocky indeed. Back in March, a meeting between the US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their counterparts from China got off to an icy start, in Anchorage, Alaska no less. The Biden administration has declared that China's treatment of Muslim minorities constitutes "genocide" and also continues to push back on the unilateral erosion from Beijing of Hong Kong's autonomy. So, this is not a good relationship.
Of all the issues, the most volatile and explosive could well be Taiwan. The Economist argues that China may finally look to capture the small island democracy.
And yes, there is a lot to be concerned about, but The Economist doesn't have it quite right.
So, let's get out the Red Pen.
First, a central point in the magazine's argument is that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would have global economic repercussions, including disrupting the world's most important semiconductor manufacturer, TSMC, that's Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. That company makes more than half of all of the chips outsourced by all foreign companies globally. A quote from the piece: "Were production at TSMC to stop, so would the global electronics industry, at incalculable cost."
And yes, war would be devastating for many reasons, including the interruption of TSMC's operations. But that's precisely why it's not going to happen. China relies on a functional TSMC as much as the United States does for advanced semiconductors. In fact, China right now is way behind the US in this particular aspect, though not all, of the technology battle. Taiwan is a critical player in the great decoupling battle and an attack would seriously set back China's own tech ambitions.
The article also states that "China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia" if China attacked Taiwan and the United States didn't intervene.
That's doubtful. Actually, the "Quad," the US, Australia, India, and Japan, would be turbocharged overnight. China could completely undermine its own bid for regional dominance if it were to suddenly assault Taiwan. Also, the argument fails to acknowledge that Taiwan itself could mount significant military resistance, exposing weaknesses in Beijing's military power. Not to mention any such attack by China would further damage its ties to the European Union.
Finally, The Economist speculates that China's President Xi Jinping may want to "crown his legacy" as they say, with the takeover of Taiwan.
That is a huge gamble. What happens if Xi attempts an invasion and fails? His legacy would be defined by a reckless move that would destroy China's long-term strategic prospects.
Which brings us back to that very splashy and provocative cover and headline. Is Taiwan really "the most dangerous place on earth?" No. Or at least, not right now.
We've laid out a few of the reasons, but here a couple more: The Winter Olympics in Beijing, already super controversial as human rights groups call for boycotts based on abuses of Uighurs, Tibetans, and actions in Hong Kong. Beijing wants to avoid boycotts as much as possible, they see themselves as quite vulnerable in the upcoming Winter Olympics and attacking Taiwan would make matters far worse.
Also, President Xi is looking to secure a third term next fall. Remember, he ended term limits. A military attack on Taiwan could weaken China's standing if it fails. Xi's not likely to go there.
Still, there are other ways for China to assert greater control. For example, the very fear of a looming threat would likely erode Taiwan's quest for independence over time without any shots fired. How do the United States, the Quad, and Europe respond to that? The answer to that question is going to tell us a lot about where the GZERO world is heading.
That's your Red Pen for this week. Stay safe and we'll see you again here real soon.
Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.