Three Stories in the Key Of: Borders

Three Stories in the Key Of: Borders

Borders. Who gets to define them, control them, and cross them is a critical political issue in dozens of countries across the globe these days. Here are three recent stories about borders that caught our attention.


Backlash in South America: As Venezuelans continue to flee their country’s government-driven humanitarian crisis, the exodus is beginning to generate pushback in neighboring countries. Earlier this month, Brazil sent the army to quell a local riot against Venezuelan migrants at the border. Now Peru has tightened restrictions, requiring Venezuelans to hold a passport, rather than an easily-forged national ID card, to enter the country. Passports are expensive and rarely held by Venezuela’s most vulnerable people, meaning that the measure in effect shuts out thousands of impoverished migrants. The UN has criticized the move, which the Peruvians argue is needed to preserve order and security – but it may just end up spurring more clandestine border-crossings. Colombian, Peruvian, and Ecuadorean officials are currently meeting to discuss. South America has typically been less affected by the kinds of border issues that have plagued Central American countries further north, but issues of security, sovereignty, and social backlash are coming to a head fast as Venezuela’s monstrous deterioration continues to take a toll on its neighbors.

Border dwellers who like things loose: Often it’s the people who live just inside the frontiers who clamor loudest for their governments to tighten the borders against migrant flows. Earlier this year, for example, the Bavarians who live along Germany’s southeastern border nearly brought down the national government by demanding that Berlin impose more checkpoints to stem the flow of Middle Eastern and North African asylum seekers. And of course, Italy, which makes up a large swathe of the EU’s southern border, is already bucking Brussels by turning away boatloads of migrants.

But in North Africa, the situation is different. There, people who live right along (often arbitrarily-imposed) borders, far from major population centers and economic hubs, are typically marginalized populations who depend on smuggling for survival. So when central governments tighten borders to stop militants, weapons, and migrants – but fail to address the broader economic problems that cause black markets in human trafficking and contraband to flourish – they may end up exacerbating the problems of poverty and economic exclusion that breed militancy and social instability.

Fluid borders: Lastly, while some border disputes are about who’s crossing over them, others are about what’s flowing under them. A recent report on water resources along national borders by Quartz finds that two-thirds of the world’s frontier rivers aren’t governed by cross-border agreements, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk in the event that governments clash over those resources. There are currently open or potential water disputes between dozens of countries including the US and Mexico; India and Pakistan; Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan; and between Egypt and almost all of its southern neighbors along the Nile. As climate change and population growth place growing strains on water resources worldwide, the question of who gets access to rivers and underground aquifers is an increasingly urgent one.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

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India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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Nasal sprays, oral vaccines, and other new types of COVID-19 vaccines may be ready soon, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. She previews some of these needle-less vaccines and notes that the possibility of being able to store vaccines at room temperature could be a game-changer for vaccinating poorer nations. The advantage of nasal sprays, she explains, is that they "would generate local mucosal immunity in addition to systemic immunity." Dr. Swaminathan's conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 9. Check local listings.

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