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The politics of COVID aid and compassion: India vs Brazil

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.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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What We're Watching: The world ignoring Brazil, El Salvador's strongman, the US' vaccine stash

Why is the world ignoring hard-hit Brazil? In response to the COVID crisis pummeling India, foreign governments quickly mobilized: the US, the UK, Singapore, Thailand, and the EU have all sent much-needed oxygen tanks, medical supplies, and materials to make vaccines. But now many analysts — and Brazilians — are questioning why the same goodwill hasn't reached Brazil, where the death tally of 410,000 (the world's second highest) is a much larger percentage of the population. Brasilia's pleas for help have, they say, often fallen on deaf ears. One explanation is that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has simply made himself too many enemies: he has not only dismissed the severity of the pandemic but has also insulted much of the international community whose help Brazil, which relies heavily on medical imports, needs. Who could forget that Bolsonaro called French president Emmanuel Macron's wife "truly ugly," and questioned US President Joe Biden's electoral win? But in recent months, Bolsonaro's administration has also chided China (his economy minister recently said China had "invented the virus" and others have mocked Chinese-made vaccines), endangering ties with Brasilia's main supplier of vaccines. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by contrast, has certainly been a divisive and confrontational figure at home, but he has maintained warm relations with governments whose help his country desperately needs.

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Bolsonaro's Brazil is divided and in crisis

Ian's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone and got a Quick Take for you as we kick off this week. Thought we would talk today about Brazil. It is the epicenter today for coronavirus. The healthcare system in the country is getting overwhelmed. Over 90% of ICU beds are filled in most of the states in the country. As a consequence, you are triaging healthcare. This is what you remember happened briefly in Northern Italy at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. It's what we feared could happen in New York City, though never quite did. You've got nearing 4,000 deaths a day in Brazil right now, per capita that's worse than anything we've seen in the United States. And yeah, we blame the government. We blame President Bolsonaro.

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Can Bolsonaro bounce back from a terrible March?

March was without a doubt the most difficult month for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro since he came to power in 2019. The country's healthcare system collapsed under a surge of Covid-19 cases. He was forced to reshuffle his cabinet and had a falling out with leaders of the military, an institution that has been one of his biggest supporters. And to top it all off, the courts vacated the corruption conviction of Bolsonaro's biggest rival, the popular leftist leader Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, who will probably challenge his re-election in 2022. What comes next? Eurasia Group analysts Filipe Gruppelli Carvalho and Silvio Cascione explain the deepening political crisis that Brazil's controversial president now faces.

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What We're Watching: Brazil's COVID battle, crimes against Asian-Americans

Brazil's healthcare system is on the verge of collapse: Brazil recorded more than 90,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the country's highest daily caseload since the pandemic began. As the country grapples with the world's second highest death toll, even President Jair Bolsonaro, a COVID skeptic who has rejected masks and refused a vaccine, warned this week that Brazil is entering a "more aggressive phase" of the pandemic. Bolsonaro's refusal to take the virus seriously, and his attempts to stop state officials from enforcing lockdowns to curb the virus' spread, have led to a shambolic and fragmented pandemic response. That, in turn, has allowed the virus more time to mutate, giving rise to a new more contagious variant that is now ravaging the country, experts say. The country's sluggish vaccine rollout has only made things worse. Amid the chaos, Dr. Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, was appointed Brazil's health minister this week, the country's fourth since the pandemic began. Queiroga said that he will need the president to grant him "full autonomy" to bring the country back from the abyss, but many analysts warn that it might be too late: Hospitals are nearing capacity in many states, ICU beds are scarce, and oxygen rationing has been rife, resulting in otherwise preventable deaths. Fiocruz, a Rio-based health institute, recently warned (Portuguese) that the crisis is "the biggest collapse of the hospital and health service in Brazil's history." While Bolsonaro appeared to defy gravity last year and maintain a steady approval rating, polls show that his star is falling: 54 percent of Brazilians now saying his handling of the pandemic has been "bad" or "awful." It doesn't help Bolsonaro's chances of making a comeback that the Supreme Court last week overturned the corruption conviction of popular leftist Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, allowing the former president to run in Brazil's 2022 election.

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